Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Eulogy for Leo James Stromberg


Leo was a restless searching soul. The popular Bruce Springsteen song goes, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” Leo had the hungriest, most insatiable heart of anyone I have ever known. What was he so hungry for?

Like all of us he was hungry for love, affirmation, and ultimately God, a life with real meaning and significance. Unlike many of us who learn to dial back our expectations, accept the way things are, and become comfortably numb, Leo could never do that. He relentlessly pursued truth beauty, and experience.

As a young man Leo was captivated by the wild, untamed spirit he found in the music of Jim Morrison and the Doors. I think he saw in Morrison a kindred spirit. He was always trying to break through to the other side, to find the deeper reality at the heart of things. Leo was a radical and an agitator that railed against the status quo. He felt everything so deeply and intensely. He was bursting at the seams with passion.

Like Morrison, Leo was a force of nature like a hurricane. Sometimes the hurricane was in your living room. It wasn’t always easy to have Leo around. The experience of talking to Leo was like having ten conversations all at once. Anything from scripture to William Blake, song lyrics, and movie quotes could all be weaved together into his stream of conscious rant.

Perhaps the most decisive moment in Leo’s life came through an encounter with some missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). He heard from them a message about Jesus Christ and he accepted him as his Lord and savior.  Leo had a powerful conversion experience that changed his life forever. His faith was at the center of who he was. He had a testimony of Christ and a fire in his bones to share what he understood to be truth.

At one point Leo made the decision to leave everything behind and spend the next couple years as a missionary with his church. It didn’t go very well. He never quite fit the stereotype of the clean cut, smiling young missionary in a white shirt. He was much more complicated and troubled than that. In many ways however, Leo saw all his life as a mission. Leo was at his core a missionary with a message of peace, love, and justice.

Leo’s faith did not make all his struggles disappear. Far from it. Leo continued to struggle with his own personal demons. We loved him and we tried to help him, but it wasn’t always easy. The dark side of the passion he felt was an often black depression.  Despite this, Jesus Christ was always a source of hope and strength for him.
Leo was not perfect. He never hid his brokenness, concealing it under a facade of respectability. He never mastered that skill. It would be easy to look at the lack of discipline and emotional disarray in Leo’s life and dismiss his faith as not genuine. Like many of his heroes, such as Johnny Cash, Leo was a mass of contradictions.  Kris Kristofferson song The Pilgrim, one that Leo loved, could easily have been written about him,

He's a poet, he's a picker
He's a prophet, he's a pusher
He's a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he's stoned
He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction
Takin' every wrong direction on his lonely way back home

Jesus never said “Blessed are they who have it all together.”No he said, “Blessed are thepoor in Spirit” or as Simon and Garfunkel paraphrase, “Blessed are the satupon, spat upon, and ratted on.” It is those who seem cursed and hopeless that the Lord calls blessed. It isn’t the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. Leo knew that he needed Jesus and he clung to him.
This world is not kind to sensitive wounded hearts like Leo’s.  I think of the words Don Mclean wrote about another kindred spirit of Leo’s, Vincent Van Gogh“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

 Leo never felt at home in this world. His heart was in the Highlands. He was always looking toward that eternalcity with foundations, who's builder and architect is God. Leo believed in the resurrection of the dead. I look forward to meeting him--with all of you--once again in the streets of that city.