In Memoriam for a Friend and Peacemaker: Scott Kennedy
The program for his Memorial Service read, “Activist, educator, politician, great father and husband, Scott died in his sleep of natural causes on November 19, 2011, at age 62.”
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While I was in England last month, I got the message that my good friend, Scott Kennedy, had died unexpectedly. After hearing the news, each of the literally thousands of others who also considered Scott a dear friend, quickly shared a state of shock and disbelief.
About 2,000 of us gathered together, last Sunday in Santa Cruz, Calif., to remember and celebrate Scott’s life.
A long-time activist rooted in Christian faith, Scott and I had shared many common causes, actions, travels, projects, meetings, friends, and some of the best conversations I've ever had with anyone. We just had another one, six weeks before his death, around our dining table in Washington D.C. That table had previously belonged to William Stringfellow, a mentor to both Scott and I, and was a regular place where Scott and I had long conversations — at Stringfellow’s home on Block Island, Rhode Island.
Always a brilliant mind with a quick and very funny wit, Scott both clarified and brightened every situation he was ever in. Like many of us, he confronted the Vietnam War early in college where Scott decided to become a Conscientious Objector. On the central California coast, he and others engaged in both service and protest, formed a Christian community, and eventually founded the Resource Center for Non-violence in Santa Cruz.
Stringfellow said to me one day, “You should meet Scott Kennedy, you’re a lot like each other and would get along well.” Bill was right, I liked him from the first time we met and always loved working with Scott. We both were in on the founding of The Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, and collaborated on many other ventures and adventures for peace and justice. Scott was deeply converted to non-violence by both Martin Luther King Jr. and, especially, Mahatma Gandhi. He worked consistently as a practitioner of non-violence, and was one of the best strategists I ever knew for developing non-violent campaigns-- for a nuclear free future, for farm worker organizing, for human rights in Central America, for peace efforts in the barrios of California, for solving the problems of homelessness, and much more. Lots of people in movements for peace and justice are good at talking. But if you actually wanted to get something done, you brought in Scott Kennedy.
In fact, he was one of the few peace activists that ever became mayor of his own city! Scott served three terms on the Santa Cruz City Council and two terms as mayor. In office, he not only passed resolutions against the Iraq War but also completed a city greenbelt, community soccer fields, and several affordable housing developments. And when Scott came to Washington, to attend the Conference of Mayors meetings, he regaled me with the most hilarious stories of politics and political meetings. And then he would do the same about all the “movement meetings” that we both had to endure.
As was typical of Scott, he decided to apply his best thinking and commitments in non-violence to the very hardest conflict in the world to resolve—the Middle East and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He had just returned from leading at least his 40th delegation to the region only days before he died. His Middle East work became the center of his own peacemaking mission in the world. At his service, both Palestinians and Jews tearfully said how much they would miss him. And when peace finally does come to that violent but holy land, it will be in part be because of the foundations laid by people like Scott Kennedy.
So many people made us laugh and cry with their stories of Scott at the Memorial. His local Congressman, Sam Farr, gave an emotional testimony of how much Scott will be missed. “We need the Scotts to give us hope!” he said through his tears. But the most moving to me were the words of his three children; Peter, Ben, and Meagan, who told of their father’s great example and unconditional love for them, and read us Scott’s own words about the love of his life and “bedrock” he had found in his high school sweetheart and wife, Kris.
I was asked to do the Invocation at Scott's service. I prayed, in part:
“Oh Lord, Lord, Lord…. This is a hard one.
You know why we are all gathered here today—Because Scott Kennedy, your good and faithful servant, has always brought us together—to do good things in the world: Necessary things, visionary things, courageous things, and often hard things. But they were things that must have warmed your heart, because they were the things that make for peace.
Jesus told us. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ And Scott brought us together, time and time again, to be those peacemakers and thus, really, to be your children—by doing what we were supposed to do.
And now, Scott is with you….and has likely heard you say something like, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ But we miss him terribly, and we weren’t ready for this. We just thought we would always have him.
Scott never brought us together for himself; it was never about him, but always about being peacemakers for the sake of other people. But today we gather for Scott. He has brought us together once again, and what a crowd it is—both here and online all around the world. We are all Scott’s peacemakers.
So here we are Lord, all together now, simply to give you thanks for the life of R. Scott Kennedy. We are here to mourn, in the best and deepest sense of that word—to miss him and feel the loss of his big physical presence in the deepest places of our hearts. And coming together brings comfort in that. But more—to remember him, to celebrate a life so well lived, and to know that he will always be with us as another kind of presence that both comforts and calls us to keep doing the things he helped us to do.
Scott must be smiling to see us all here and together like this—he must have always wanted to get us all together! You did it Scott! Good job. And he will likely enjoy hearing some of the wonderful things we will say about him today!
But he would also want us—to laugh. ‘Tell some good stories and some good jokes,’ I can almost hear him say. And there are some great stories to tell. He would remind us that even in the midst of the hardest things—and this is a very hard thing—that it is important to laugh.
So today, we will cry and laugh, with tears of grief and joy. And we say ‘Thanks Be to God for Scott Kennedy.’ We raise the glass.
……We pray too for each other, because we need it today.
But we are here today to give y
ou thanks for such a good: husband, father, comrade, dear friend, mentor, leader, ally, companion for such great conversations, partner in justice, and jokester in holy mischief.
So Lord, we give you thanks for our beloved Scott. And now, we will try our best to give him back to you—simply as a peacemaker and as a child of God. And, we all think, he was one of your very best. Let all God’s people said, ‘Amen.’”
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.