In a speech to the city of Athens, the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once likened himself to a ‘gadfly’ and the city to a ‘well-bred horse.’ By pestering the horse, the gadfly keeps it awake and alert.
I always considered Wilford Winholtz – activist, troublemaker, family man, urban planner and priesthood member – to be one of the church’s foremost gadflies. In his recent passing (16 August 2009), the church lost one of its most vocal and prophetic voices for peace and social justice.
As a pacifist, he submitted numerous World Conference Resolutions calling on the church to clarify its standpoint on the use of violence. He was also a draft counselor during the Vietnam War, presenting people with the option of conscientious objection.
As a passionate believer in the equality of all people, he campaigned tirelessly for civil rights and an end to racism.
As a community builder, he sought to make cities livable and human places through his vocation as an urban planner. He also saw the call to community as a divine injunction and was one of the founders of Harvest Hills, an intentional community in Independence, MO.
“Wilford’s purpose was to call us to our better/higher selves, to hold before us a mirror, as it were, and to ask us to look at the difference between what we say and what we do,” his wife Pat Heady Winholtz told me.
Finally, Wilford, like Socrates, was a master of the aphorism. I have collected a few pieces of his unconventional wisdom here:
- “Are you a Christian? Yes? … Oh good! I never met one before.”
- [While holding a blank sign] “Only the righteous can read this.”
- “No one has the right to misunderstand what I am stumbling around trying to say.”
- “I don’t know about you, but me and Jesus, we’re pacifists.”
- “When you consider that every word in the English language has five or six definitions, and there are more than 500,000 words, it is no wonder that people cannot communicate.”
- “The Republicans are no good and the Democrats are no good either because they are just like the Republicans.”
- “You can’t just be good – you have to be good for something.”
- “I’m a peacemaker, no matter how much trouble I cause.”
Perhaps in honor of him, it would be nice for readers to post their own recollections of ‘Wilfordisms’ in the comments section below.