Every year on this date, I thank God for Kathe Darr

candle hands 2It was the second full day of classes in the fall 2001 semester at Boston University School of Theology. The basement lecture hall was filled with first year graduate students, cut off from the sunlight and the outside world for the duration of the 9 am church history class. These were the days before smartphones and wifi, and only the students in the last row could see the rest of us playing solitaire games on our laptops or palm pilots, but no one was checking Facebook or Twitter, or receiving push notifications. One student came in late, and we thought nothing of it.

At the break before the next class, the student who had come in late described what she’d heard on the radio during her drive: that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Only when we took our break, and some of us ran to the mailroom to huddle around the radio, and others to the Student Union to find a TV, did the unfolding story begin to emerge.

Shell-shocked and horrified, we gathered again for Intro to Hebrew Bible. Dr. Kathe Darr walked in, her black binder and stack of papers clutched in her thin arms. She placed her burden down on the table at the front of the room, just next to the table-top podium, and walked out in front of the assembled class.

“I won’t wish you good morning,” she said in a voice that sounded angry, “because it’s not.”

We shuffled in our seats.

“This,” she said, lifting a stack of printed pages up into our view, “is my lecture for today. Yes, it is important. Yes, the material will be on the midterm. No, I will not rearrange my syllabus to deliver it at another time. My TAs will have copies for you before the next class. I expect that you will all read them. Thoroughly.”

She walked back behind the table, placed the pages on top of the podium, and gripped its sides in her long-nailed fingers.

“Now,” she said. “Let’s pray.”

And pray we did. She prayed, we prayed, whoever wanted to prayed. Then we talked and expressed fear, and tried to help one another contact loved ones in New York and Washington. And we prayed some more.

Together with my undergraduate professor, Fr. Joe McCaffrey, Kathe would go on to teach me the large majority of what I know about the Hebrew Bible, about the visceral and strange Book of Ezekiel, about the Hebrew language, and no small amount about biblical interpretation, history, and hermeneutics.

But that day, she taught me in word and deed how to lead in the midst of fear and sorrow and impossible turmoil. She taught me to be kind and firm, flexible and disciplined, to assess my own gifts and shortcomings and the needs of my congregants, and respond quickly, decisively, and always compassionately. And to pray.

7 thoughts on “Every year on this date, I thank God for Kathe Darr”

  1. Thank you for painting this vivid picture of a most terrifying and difficult morning at STH. I remember it well, groups clustered in the halls and stairwells, groups clustered on Marsh Chapel plaza, groups clustered and weeping, groups clustered and praying. It was my 30th wedding anniversary.

    1. Yes, it was a difficult day at STH, but I am forever grateful that I was in a place of prayer, love, support, and theological reflection at that time. BUSTH taught me a lot, but a huge portion was in that week. What a beloved community!


  2. On the Sunday following 9/11 (Sept. 16) our ministerium,sponsored a county-wide memorial service at our own “Flag Park” near the Beaver River. (This park boasted the largest American flag in all of PA.) 1000 people came as well as over 100 first-responders and every politician who was available to shed a tear, give a smile, and shake a hand. We, the sponsoring clergy, each took turns praying for victims, their families, all those first-responders who died in NYC, and our own “angels of mercy”. As usual, I, Dr. Schlemozl, drew the “short straw” that instructed me to conduct public prayer for the terrorists and their families. As I approached the microphone, I remember praying, “Your words, not mine, O Lord Jehovah. Your words, not mine.” I remember praying that the wives and children of the terrorists must be protected so that they would grow to become, not even greater-fueled zealots of inhumanity, but that they would live to see a world of peace. I prayed for those who forced the jets into the towers, “Father, forgive them, for they knew not what they did or will do.” I then prayed these words, “O God, may these men not be hunted down with impunity by our revenge-driven nation, instead, may they be captured with all due speed, and then brought before your Godly and righteous judgement.”
    This did not go over very well. After the service, I was accosted by a mob of around 25 very hostile men, most of them dressed in camouflage gear. Suddenly, two of my closest clergy friends appeared from nowhere and each protected me: one in front and one behind. (It didn’t hurt that Bob was 6’2″and weighed around 225, and it really didn’t hurt that Dave was 6’4″ and weighed well over 250.) Bob yelled, ‘You fine Christian bigots can go home now. Cover your Old Testaments up with the words of the Christ you claim to love,’Pray for your enemies. Pray for those who despitefully use and abuse you…’ And if any of you dare to lay a hand on this righteous man’s head, then I will call down fire and lightening from heaven, and you will be reduced to dust and ashes on the ground.” With that, he put his arm around me and walked me to my car, while Dave watched my back with his “wide body” of protection. For the next year I was shunned by many community “Christians” who said, “Don’t ask him forhelp. After all, he prays for terrorists.” 9/11 was and is an unspeakable tragedy, but their was a man in PA who saved a preacher’s life that day. I shall never forget that horrible Tuesday when the skies were sunny, the weather mild, and the clouds were raining terror. And I will never forget how I was labeled a “prayer warrior for those evil Mooslems.” Funny, I still am.

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