Forgetting the Former Things

Twenty years ago today, my friend Tamara Puffer and her husband Michael were driving home from an after-dinner outing for frozen yogurt. When another car slammed into theirs, their lives were profoundly and permanently altered. Tamara spent two weeks in an induced coma, followed by months of rehabilitation, relearning how to walk and speak, read and dress and eat.Tamara

Tamara had recently left her career as a professional violinist and was serving her first church as an ordained Presbyterian pastor. Her theology was deeply shaped by the homeless people she worked with as a volunteer at the Open Door Community in Atlanta. She embraced the Gospel as good news for people on the margins. After her accident, she reflected, “In one life-shattering moment I went from feeling like someone in control—with a clear career path, the privilege of choice, and a measure of power—to being an invisible person on the sidelines, merely trying to cope with each challenge as it came and get through each hour as it unfolded. I wasn’t simply feeling called to ministry among the marginalized. I was the marginalized.” Continue reading

‘Don’t Be a Bystander’: A Tribute to Hedy Epstein

Last Sunday at the memorial service for Hedy Epstein, an old cardboard suitcase lay open on a table in her favorite park in the heart of St. Louis. Inside it, arrayed on her mother’s bright white monogrammed tablecloth, were a few pieces of silverware, the tea set she played with as a little girl, her mother’s elegant beaded purse, her school records and baby pictures. These were the cherished items that Hedy carried out of Germany in May 1939 when she was 14.

Hedy at 14

The Nazi official who oversaw her packing and wired her suitcase shut forbade her from bringing the stamp collection she couldn’t bear to leave behind. Late that night, huddled under the covers of her bed with a flashlight, Hedy took every stamp out of her albums, snuck upstairs, and slipped them one by one through a sliver of an opening into the suitcase.

It was an act of bravery, given what she had witnessed of Nazi power. Her math teacher, one of Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary SS men, had pointed his revolver at her when he asked her questions in class, and stormtroopers had ransacked her home, breaking windows, furniture, and dishes. She had seen Jewish men whipped and marched through the streets, including her father Hugo, who returned from a four-week ordeal in Dachau with his head shaved and his body so swollen from beatings that her mother Ella had to cut his filthy clothes off of him with scissors. Continue reading