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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Louise Brooks: Stay on Message

Louise Emerson Brooks
Note: The following is the sermon preached today at the Memorial Service for Louise Emerson Brooks by the Rev'd Ed Bacon, rector of All Saint's Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA. Louise would have been well pleased, especially since she produced most of it herself. Get out your hankies. Trust me. It's wonderful.

Louise Brooks: Stay On Message
Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Rev'd Ed Bacon, rector

Louise Emerson Brooks’s email address was tvprod@____. It was a double entendre.

Of course, tvprod was short for television producer. I think it also invoked the word, ‘prod,” meaning  to poke or jab in order to rouse or urge to action

Louise was an Emmy nominated producer for The Love Connection and Leeza.  She was one of the first women producers of ABC’s Wide World of Sports at the lake Placid Olympics. A member of the Screen Writer’s Guild, she taught screenwriting and earned a law degree from Loyola Law School of L.A. No one will ever know how many documentaries, shows, and most of all people Louise actually produced.

I can certainly testify to the fact that she produced me.  By that I mean that she inserted herself whenever she thought I needed media training.  The most dramatic example was during the years 2005-2007 when All Saints Church was being investigated by the IRS.  Louise sent word that I needed her and that she would be in my office on such and such a day at such and such an hour for my tutorial.

I didn’t resist because I had seen her in operation when a few years earlier she had transformed this campus of All Saints Church into a production studio, producing the internationally used Via Media instruction series to disseminate throughout the Epipscopal Church what many of us consider healthy religion and theology.  She transformed my office here into a film set and in three days had developed a set of DVDs still in use in some places.

So when Louise sat me down for media training in 2005 her main thesis was the importance of Staying On Message. We rehearsed the fact that All Saints Church had promoted the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and had not blurred the line separating church and state.  Then she role-played with me, she playing the role of a journalist trying to get me off message.  My job was to ignore the bait and feed the message back with consistency.

When it was time to fight for marriage equality in the Prop 8 days here in California, she sent me an advisory email.  Included was a paragraph on “Not Buying Into Scare Tactics.”  Louise wrote for me and others to say the following words,

“As a pastor I’ve counseled dozens of troubled marriages over the years and in not a single one of them was the problem in the marriage the gay couple down the street.”

There was a second document attached to that email on “words to use and words to lose.”

She was forever annoyed that there were no progressive religious voices on TV.  She had been formed as a Christian in Richmond, Virginia, by John Shelby Spong, one of the strongest and most articulate progressive voices the Episcopal Church has ever had.  Although Louise’s mother was a delegate to the Republican convention for Barry Goldwater, Louise’s politics and theology were differentiated by 180 degrees of separation.

When I appeared on Oprah TV Louise volunteered to share with me her evaluation: 
Wed 1/7/2009 7:02 PM
Hey Ed,

What a thrill it was to see you on Oprah today! It is exciting on so many levels, but especially seeing a national forum with a progressive religious voice...that was YOURS!!!

As a former producer of daytime talk shows, I recognize their strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are a huge audience in the millions. The weaknesses: a tight format, short segments, too many guests and a host that talks more than anyone. In spite of that, the Oprah show did a great job of highlighting all the guests. You were exceptional! Pastoral and interesting...two qualities any talk show producer prays for in a guest.

One of (the many) moments that resonated for me was the intros. I know I have nudged you in the past to write a book and I hope you will give that some thought. (I am bugging Susan about that as well.) We need progressive religious voices on the best seller lists.

Oprah did a much different show than I had imagined but it was extremely relatable for her audience.  You did a wonderful job with the constraints that situation offers. I especially liked your responses to the woman whose mother has cancer and the gay man. As one of your media trainers, I have only good reviews for you and one piece of advice:. The person who jumps in and answers the question first usually gets more airtime, so I would urge you to think about jumping right in next time. I know it doesn't always feel like the right thing to do, but it is proper protocol for tv.

I am very proud of you and looking forward to next week.


When All Saints Church, Pasadena, hosted Bishop Christopher of Uganda who had had to escape for his life and come to the states in sanctuary because he had stood in opposition to that country’s evil anti-gay laws and had himself protected openly gay Ugandan men and started the first Integrity chapter in Uganda, Louise wrote me schooling me on how I should interview Bp Christopher.

The last email I received from the “tvprod” was a congratulations for a recent re-airing of an interview with Oprah Winfrey.  Her evaluation?

“You stayed on message.”

Louise herself stayed on message.  She told me when I conducted pre-marital counseling prior to marrying her and Susan Russell, the love of her life, she spoke of how important it was to her to have a relationship where you could really let the other person know what you believed and how you felt without any fear that the relationship would fracture or fray because of the candor. Probably the only thing she agreed with the first President Bush was when he said, “Candor is a complement.”

Louise wanted others to stand toe to toe with her, argue for the sake of arriving at truth and justice for all.  She wanted to talk across the divide and exercise such compassion in the process that the relationships became stronger for the conversation.

Louise served on two different discernment committee processes here at All Saints – prayerful probing conversations to discern if the Holy Spirit was not only calling an aspirant to the priesthood but calling the faith community to recognize that calling. One of her best friends in that process was Cooper Thornton.  He wrote:
“In my time with Louise, there didn't seem to be any noticeable transition, any distinct switching from the pleasant conversational surface exchange to the level of interchange where two people can be transformed by each other, by what happens/is shared between them. 

“It was glorious to be with Louise when I knew she knew that what was being offered up was pure tripe, and witness her still work to walk that person through their tripe and out the other side... especially when it was my tripe we were wading through. Louise had the amazing ability to set aside her own prejudices and just listen. I think she had such a strong sense of who she was that being with her made me more sure of who I am.”
Someone we all know and love who is in great pain because after strenuous efforts he could not arrange flight itineraries to be with us is Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.  I asked him to send us some words.  He wrote,
“The last text message I got from Louise was explaining her decision to have surgery.  "Surgery will be grueling but I will be cancer free, so it's a no brainer," she wrote.  And indeed, today, she IS cancer free, resting in the arms of Jesus who loved her "beyond her wildest imagining" from the womb to the grave, who gave her life purpose and meaning, and gave her soul Susan, her beloved.

“Susan Russell and I know something about being married to the strong, silent types!  They don't talk a lot, or often!  But they listen, and they watch, and when they DO decide to speak, you'd better listen up -- because it's gonna be something powerfully wise, something astoundingly perceptive, or something very, very funny.  Louise brought her keen eye and sensitive ear to everything she did -- and we all benefited from her sight and her listening.  And her latest creation, that which turned out to be her last, crowning achievement, the video "Out of the Box," put her skills to the perfect test in opening up The Episcopal Church to the reality and the beauty of transgender people.  Official, institutional discrimination in our church against transgender people was challenged and defeated because Louise Brooks herself thought outside the box, and then acted.

“Louise, I'm going to miss texting you about everything and nothing.  I'm going to miss your crazy, unworkable ideas that turned out to be brilliant and possible after all.  But you've got better bigger fish to fry now on the other side.  Tell Jesus we'll all be right along in no time.  And know that we loved you more than we ever told you, and were loved BY you, more than we ever deserved.”
+Gene Robinson
Louise, I think, wants me to remind each of you that your job in life is to “Stay on Message.”  And here are the words she would suggest to you.  These are her very words she sent to me as her understanding of the Message:
“As a person of faith who believes that all people are created in the image of God, I believe it is just plain wrong to take fundamental rights away from anyone.

A core value of my faith is the call to love your neighbor as yourself. You don’t love your neighbor by taking away their rights; it is simply wrong to eliminate fundamental rights from anyone.

My faith teaches me to love my neighbor -- and ALL our neighbors should have the same fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of the kind of happiness that marriage and other basic human rights can bring.”
Now, Louise is free of cancer and all the other mortal coils that impede us in any way.  In death, life is changed not ended.  So don’t be surprised if you hear and feel Louise even more powerfully telling you that your job in life is to Stay on Message.



Lisa Fox said...

A marvelous sermon. Thanks for posting it, Elizabeth. I wish I had known her. But I know her work ... in Out of the Box which transformed the Church.

Ann said...

So excellent.

DannyJDC said...

Thank you so very much for sharing this is deeply, beautifully moving...I am just so touched by hr words, and all the words in this piece. THank you, so very much...

Kay & Sarah said...

I wish I had known Louise. There is no doubt that I have benefited from her life and wisdom. I will always be grateful for her documentary, "Out of the Box." No doubt it will make life easier for Sarah and I. This was a beautiful and touching eulogy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa - OOTB absolutely transformed the church by allowing personal stories and faces and bodies to communicate with the rest of the church. Yeah, she was all that and more.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ann - Ed always knocks it out of the park.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Danny - I was delighted when Ed sent me a copy of his sermon and even more delighted that he gave me permission to post it here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kay&Sarah - She would have been at GC 2012 if she could have. As it was, she was on the phone every 2.5 minutes, directing from afar. You would have loved her.

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this. I, too, wish that I had met and known her. Our lives are richer because of Louise.

Mary Lou C said...


Anonymous said...

No, I did not know Louise, but reading of her says so much. The Book of Louise has been written - and the Epilogue to come will be memorable.

May all experience the Peace of God.

Unknown said...

I shared an office and credit with Louise on Love Connection for two seasons. She taught me everything about writing "reality" tv and I had been proudcing for 30 years. She was grace under pressure and the buck always stopped with her. She was wonderful to work with. Now that I've read TELLING SECRETS, I know much more about her.