Dear Friends of Second Church,
Earlier this week, I learned on NPR that Ed Walker, a longtime Washington, D.C. radio man on station WAMU, had died.
Blind since birth, Walker fell in love with radio early…and deeply. The connection may seem obvious; nevertheless, in college, Walker had to convince his academic advisor that his lack of sight did not summarily disqualify him from broadcast work. Ultimately, he did, and his career began…just as television was coming into its own. Maybe it is no surprise, then, that while he enjoyed a successful career, his greatest love was “The Big Broadcast,” a Sunday evening show he hosted, beginning in 1990.
If you never caught it, “The Big Broadcast” was a celebration of the Golden Age of Radio—a four-hour show with music, comedy, and classic serials like “Gunsmoke” and “Dragnet,” many of which Walker remembered hearing as a boy, lying on the living room floor, or with the transistor radio hidden under his pillow as he pretended to be asleep.
His love of those stories, and of radio as a way of storytelling, was obvious, and it helped turn two—maybe even three—new generations into fans.
He always began “The Big Broadcast” with the same signature welcome: “If you have anything that’s bothering you in the coming week, don’t worry about it now. Or any problems that you had in the week just past — forget them too. This is our time in the week — right now. The island between last week and the coming week. So settle back, relax, get yourself a cup of coffee or whatever you want, and get ready to enjoy The Big Broadcast.”
I don’t know if Walker knew it, but the great rabbi and teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel once described the Sabbath in remarkably similar terms, as “an island in time” for humanity to rest and reconnect with those we love, and to reconnect with our Creator.
For Heschel, this wasn’t about “escaping” so much as it was remembering to put our lives in context. Remembering who matters most has a way of helping us stay focused on what matters most, and it has a way of teaching us to use our time more wisely.
Heschel taught that if all that the Sabbath does is patch us up a bit for doing the same old things in the same old way, we have not used it fully according to God’s purposes for it. The Sabbath has the capacity to ground us—crucially so—but also to grow us. That growth is crucial, too: not just for us, but for all those who depend on us, and not only now, but in the future, as those who come after us inherit the world we have built.
That’s how we remember to pay attention to the legacy we will leave, and to find joy in creating it, even though it may only fully blossom well after we have handed it to the next generation. Nevertheless, it matters for the living of our own days, as well as for the living of theirs.
Escaping to the Golden Age, whether it’s the Golden Age of Radio or some other one, is important to do once in a while. It’s always nice to visit the “island in time” between the week past and the week to come, and many of us need to do it a lot more often than we allow ourselves. But Sabbath allows us to find energy and commitment toward creating a better world to come—it teaches us not simply to enjoy rest, but to work for peace.
Ed Walker worked to find new life in old stories. He offered his listeners a measure of escape, yes. More deeply, I think he offered them a way of learning to imagine that was once familiar, but which time and technology have made strange. Those stories gave him a way to see. May they help us, in turn, find new ways to see, and new courage to repair the world.
Rest in peace.
See you in church,