Remembering BJ Warren (1940–2014)

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A Thanksgiving Mass remembering Roberta Joan (BJ) Warren, May 10, 2014. The Gospel is Matthew 14:22-33.

Some of you will know the work of Garrett Hardin. He was an ecologist and bioethicist who published a book in 1968 entitled, The Tragedy of the Commons. Until the end of his life was concerned with issues of overpopulation, fertility, and the care of the earth. In 1974, he published an article for Psychology Today entitled, “Life Boat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor.” In that article, Hardin put forth a metaphor that many of us encountered in introductory ethics. The metaphor involves a lifeboat in the ocean with 50 people and room for only 10 more. Any yet, struggling all around them in the water are others. What do the 50 do and how do they make their decisions?

This idea of “life boat ethics” is used to suggest that we live in a world of limited resources and so one of the hard facts of life is that there simply is not enough for everyone, and so difficult choices must be made.

B.J. Warren lived her life in defiance of such a so-called “ethic.”

For B.J., there was no such thing as “limited resources”—not when there exist such principles as compassion, as strategic help and encouragement, as love, as miracles. BJ spent a lot of time in church and here and elsewhere she heard the story of how Jesus fed thousands when there appeared only to be a few loaves and fishes. But through sharing, through compassion, through people reaching deeply within themselves to find gifts they didn’t even know they had, and through a little bit of miracle—all were fed.

BJ shared everything she had—and there was always room for another—at her table, in her house, and in her heart.

BJ understood in her soul the truth of today’s Gospel, the fear is what makes us sink. Fear, so often, is why we fail. But faith—that keeps us upright. Faith gives us what we need to grab ahold of the hand of God who tries always to steady us, to lead us, to draw us closer into the place of blessing and abundance.

Like many of you, when I think of BJ, I think her love of the water. I think of how, when one is out on the water, or even just looking at water, often there are currents that come by that come from a long, long way away. Sometimes I’ll look out and see waves and wonder where they come from—and the boat or ship is way out in the distance, almost invisible. And yet, the current remains. And the current continues to affect me. BJ’s life is a little like that – as long as we live, we’ll feel the current of her life. It will affect us, making us better, making us remember others, and leading many of us to yet more faith.

Thanks be to God for the life of BJ Warren and for the way it will continue to shape us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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