From Our Archives Sept. 2014
WILLIAM EDELEN (1922 – 2015)
The Contrary Minister
On Monday Sept 22, I went to the front door and picked up my LA TIMES, took it to the kitchen with my coffee, and gasped. A Huge OBIT was written for GERALD LARUE, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at USC, and one of my true “kindred spirits”, “role models” and friends.
He was 98 years old. An internationally respected scholar, a maverick, free thinker, humanist, and “Debunker of biblical stories” in the words of the LA TIMES. His books are treasures filled with the thousands of contradictions and errors in the bible… that the bible thumpers still comically claim is “without error” and “infallible”. It is very similar material to what I have been writing in my newspaper columns for 50 years, and what Joseph Campbell and other biblical scholars have been trying to teach the very gullible and naive public for years.
Our wonderful friendship started at a delightful and stimulating “book signing” event in that incredible book store on “Fashion Island” in Newport Beach, years ago. (Hope it is still there?) We both had written essays for a new book with the title of “THE BOOK YOUR CHURCH DOES NOT WANT YOU TO READ.” Essays included, not only present biblical and religious scholars, but also historical ones of monumental stature, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc.
It was an inspiring moment in my own life. Seated on my right at the “signing” table was GERRY LARUE… and on my left was STEVE ALLEN… yes, THE Steve Allen who was quite a scholar, unknown to fans. He also became a good friend over the years. We both loved poetry and exchanged our poems with each other, poems that we had written. His famous wife, JAYNE MEADOWS, and I also became good friends, with the following humorous event. At that time I had a radio show on KPSL (Palm Springs Life) owned by the Palm Springs Life Magazine. Every day for three (3) years. It was called ”EDELEN’S WORLD,” and my musical theme was ” Thus Spake Zarathustra”. I told the station I wanted the brilliant interpretation by a new group… “DEODATO”. They had not heard of it, but FOUND it, played it, and in the process got a musical education.
I had many unforgettable interviews with people and experts on subjects from all over the U.S. One I will remember forever was with the wife of Steve Allen.
MEADOWS. She said to me on the phone, “Bill, I am so thrilled about our interview that I am going to spend the day before at my beauty parlor so I will look my best.” (remember this is RADIO… not television. smile) I then said to Jayne… “Well, Jayne I am going to wear my new shorts and sport shirt for you… so I will look good also.” We both started laughing and had an outstanding interview.
And of course, GERALD (Gerry) LARUE and I had interviews that just made the fundamentalists and bible thumpers and Jesus jazzers shake and quiver for ages. They still wanted to believe the earth was flat, and that guy Jonah was really eaten by a whale, and that the bible was “without error” regardless of the THOUSANDS OF CONTRADICTIONS.
It was truly amazing, mystical and magical how much our two lives blended. Six months after I had my aortic heart valve surgery in 2012 at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, with their latest procedure, Gerry Larue had the exact SAME procedure (at Keck USC Medical Center). Helped him make it to 98. I have 6 more years to make 98, but I expect to make it to 100… with another glass of wine and a daily cigar… smile. My doctors just shake their heads. (Some of them are already dead)
Our interests on death and dying were, and are, similar. He became the founding president of the Hemlock Society, and the right to choose to die. Years ago, in all my funeral meditations involving a suicide, I quit, totally stopped using that word. I always started saying they chose “voluntary Euthanasia”. Family members and friends THANKED ME over and over for wording my memorials in that manner.
Another very important subject that we loved and shared together was ‘HUMANISM.” I have been invited to give many lectures on “A SACRED HUMANISM.” At the large Episcopal church in Long Beach was one of my largest responses.
Gerald Larue, along with Paul Kurtz and Vern Bullough were the “globe hopping brain trust of secular humanism.” In teaching “death and dying” to students, he would pass around a bottle filled with the ashes of a friend who was cremated. He would tell his students to live in the moment, and cherish it, as they come daily, one by one. Don’t worry about weeks and months… take the moments, the NOW… as they come to you.
I personally have a close friend who was a student of his at USC. She has told me about his warmth… with no judgments… how easy he was to visit with… comfortable… which is exactly what I found in Joseph Campbell, as we took our morning walks together among the quaking Aspen….
Only last year, she talked with him about his “Medicine Wheel of Trees”…(to the American Indian, trees are people. Another essay on that coming.)…His answer to her was quite eloquent. This in September of 2013. He talks about all the wars of civilization and then: Quote “I caress the thick heavy bark and sit with my back against a 2000 year old living growth. I press into it, trying to incorporate its essence. I relax and rest and reflect…” He is talking about his “centering tree”, the giant Redwood.
He is still responsive and warm, at 98 years of life, to a former student. Just imagine how many of those types of letters he still receives… and tries to take time to respond.
There is my picture of my “ultimate role model” He would say “we don’t live in days or years… we live in MOMENTS.”… His former wife said, “He was very connected to life.”
Ours was a friendship that began… sitting side by side… signing our books… in a Newport Beach book store… and still survives, and I know he would agree with me… that this life… with our “moments”… is only a brief interlude between two mysteries… which are yet ONE.