Unification News for May 1997

In Memoriam - Dr. Henry Thompson

by Michael Kiely-Redhook, NY

UTS professor Dr. Henry Thompson passed into the spiritual world on the morning of April 24. He was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago and had pursued various treatments without success.

What a giant of a man has just slipped away from us! True, he was also of very human proportions. When he was not teaching or talking with students, Dr. Thompson would sit in his office for weeks on end amidst stacks of papers on the floor hunched over his antiquated laptop typing out a bibliography on some prophet. He was not intimidated by the technology which sometimes eluded him. And he was quite modest enough to ask a student for help with his sometimes naughty little machine. He was always grateful for the help. Another familiar image is of Dr. Thompson standing patiently at a photocopier waiting for one of his frequent class handouts to be produced.

Dr. Thompson was an indefatigable writer and editor. It seemed half of every bookshelf at UTS was taken up with books he had written, edited or contributed to. That is why writing papers for him was a daunting task, as many UTS students who received humiliating F's or better will attest. He expected the same high standard of us that he did of himself, much to our chagrin-and growth.

That standard of excellence spilled over into his teaching as well. The vitality of his classroom presentations-listen to his graphic description of what Boaz and Ruth did one night at harvest time on the threshing floor!-helped us Unification students dig our roots deep into the Old Testament, or, perhaps better, discover them. He had profound respect, even reverence, for key biblical figures, but he also brought them to task for their foibles and sins. Great reformer that Nehemiah was, it was, nonetheless, horrendous, said Dr. Thompson, that he cast out non-Jewish women to their near certain death by forbidding their husbands to take or keep any but Jewish spouses. Dr. Thompson seasoned his lectures with archaeological facts he himself had unearthed or heard firsthand from other archaeologists, and he shared liberally and articulately with us from a seemingly inexhaustible storehouse of knowledge. He would then extract moral lessons from what he had shared and exhort us to become more moral, serious Unificationists.

Possessed of a Shakespearean sense of balance between the intensely serious and the humorous, Dr. Thompson punctuated his presentations with wry wit. "Present in spirit but not in body?" he would ask a musing student lost in thought-and to the lecture as well-in order to bring him back to the present. Dr. Thompson would similarly excuse an absence from class with the same quip. As one of his many handouts, he might pass out a copy of a newspaper comic strip that poked fun at the foibles of some religious figure.

In one memorable strip posted on his office door, a portly parishioner asked her parson after Sunday service, "Have you ever considered publishing your sermons?"

"Why, no, Mrs. Somebody-or-Rather, I have not!" he replied blushing and smiling, obviously pleased at the implied suggestion.

"Good!" she replied.

The final frame was a classic caricature of human dismay.

On the rare occasion when Dr. Thompson consented to preach a sermon in our morning chapel service, we in the congregation were transfixed with the hot, well-targeted words of a Jeremiah or an Isaiah, both of whom themselves might well have appreciated Dr. Thompson's eloquence, fire and force. Standing sometimes as a Unificationist at the feet of True Parents whom he loved and respected deeply, sometimes as a fierce critic of Unificationists who did not live by their own principles, his clarion call in those special moments at the pulpit was for us to be better Unificationists. If not, we should not even call ourselves Unificationists at all because our cherished Kingdom of Heaven would certainly elude us on our present path. His words penetrated our hearts with the accuracy of an exocet missile because he knew our weakness and our potential well. He pursued both of them relentlessly in those few moments until both were ablaze from his intensity. Finally, when the echo of his last sonorous words had faded away, it seemed that even the organ hesitated to break the ensuing silence. When we dared to breathe again, we all sensed, as if with one mind, that we had been led to drink deeply at some well of new life and were much the richer for it.

Dr. Thompson was a prophet to Unificationists in that he took seriously his mission to help us grow as individuals and as a movement. He admonished us, laughed with us, flunked us, commiserated with and guided us, told stories and inspired us, and listened to and responded to our ideas. With a privileged few he shared about his love for his wife and family and about their activities, and he explored the Divine Principle and the meaning of the Blessing. It is, indeed, joyous news to hear that he and his wife, Joyce Thompson, participated in a pre-blessing ceremony before his death.

The irony is that this giant of a man has been brought down by so prosaic a malady as cancer. A chariot of fire would have been more in keeping with the way he lived. Short of that, I suppose a lightning bolt would do.

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