Albert Schweitzer vs. Henry Whipple

Welcome to the Faithful Four! From an initial field of 32 saints, we are down to a holy four: Albert Schweitzer, Henry Whipple, Julian of Norwich, and Andrew the Fisherman.

Today it’s Albert vs. Henry. To get to the Faithful Four, Albert defeated Henry Mühlenberg, Thomas the Apostle, and Cornelius the Centurion. While Henry made it past Jackson Kemper, Clare of Assisi, and Canaire.

So, what happens in this round? Well, throughout Lent Madness, our saintly heroes have battled via basic bios, quirks and quotes, and even kitsch. In this round, we let our remaining Celebrity Bloggers loose as they answer the question “Why should Saint XX win the Golden Halo?” In other words, they’ve been charged with letting us know why their particular saint is so awesome. We have also invited them to share their two favorite images of their saints.

The Faithful Four continues today and tomorrow and then, on Spy Wednesday, 24 hours of voting begins to determine the winner of the 2024 Golden Halo.

The end is near! Vote now!

Albert Schweitzer

Over the years when I’ve made it to this round, I like to use it as an opportunity to reflect and think about what this saint means to me as a Christian. This year, the reflective process seems a little bittersweet as I plan to retire from Lent Madness and because I’m in a funny season of life that it is defined by change and transition. It makes me wonder what Albert would do.

And I keep coming back to what I wrote last round, “To be like Albert, you should dress like Albert, while you spend money on the poor. And while dressed like Albert and look like Albert and pray like Albert, you should care for the world like Albert, because the most important gift Albert left the world was love. He knew that if you sprinkled that care, compassion, intentional faith, walking in service to others in dark and ugly places, that’s where you will find true happiness, and consequently, where you will find God as well.”

In the deepest and darkest places of my personal life, the moments where joy sparked again, were when I leaned into service of others. I think this is what Albert found as a missionary. Sure, like any Christian, Albert had his flaws. It’s easy to judge some of his words, actions, or choices from a modern perspective, but he’s also a polymath/genius that went to those places when others would have pursued greatness and fame, but he pursued people (and cats and dogs and music). When I think of Albert, I think of someone who was so in touch with the sound of God within that it came out in every encounter he had and from those encounters with people and music and writing was where joy, peace, happiness, and love bloomed. Albert didn’t seek out success, he sought out God through service and art and healing and consequently success just happened to follow. And I like to think he likely didn’t care about that success as his soul was fed from pursuit of the song God laid on his heart.

As I sit in my season of change, Albert reminds me of my dad. You’ve heard me write this in years’ past, but my dad always whispered to me, “Soft overcomes hard.” Albert once reflected, “constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”  And so, these two men send me a message in this season and hopefully to you as well, that it’s never wrong to try and be a good human, to lean towards love, even when you don’t like nor understand; to turn to service of others, when your thoughts may be all on the self; and to pause when overwhelmed to enjoy a cat, a dog, some beautiful music and the softer things in life, so that the hardness in your heart may be soothed.

Anna Fitch Courie

Henry Whipple

At some point, I remember having a long conversation with my parents. A phrase from that conversation has stuck with me since then, especially since becoming a parent myself – in parenting, and in life, I was told, we only hope “to make the best choices we can with the information we have at the time.”

That phrase has echoed in my head as I consider Henry Benjamin Whipple. We remember Bishop Whipple for being the first Bishop of the Diocese of Minnesota, and for the choices he made in the place he was called to serve. We recall his championing of the rights of indigenous people against the abuses and unkept promises of the Federal government, and for presiding at the ordination of the first Indigenous Episcopal priest, Enmegabowh.

Yet his legacy is complex. We want our saints to be without blemish, yet invariably, they are not; for they are human, and humans are sinful. Augustine was a philanderer; Jerome was cross and grumpy; Paul had a literal body count. Whipple was not without fault – he was by modern standards an assimilationist, believing that the best way to help indigenous people was to make them integrate them into the norms of white American Protestant Christian culture. He was often blind to the privilege he carried, and as such, his desire to share the good news of the gospel most likely didn’t always present itself as a truly free choice to those he was evangelizing – and force, whether implicit or explicit – is not of God.

Yet I can still count him a saint. Because for all his flaws (and they were undoubtedly many), he made the best and most faithful decisions that lay within him with the information he had at the time. When Whipple made his pleas for clemency following the Dakota War of 1862, his public stance brought him scorn and derision of not only his neighbors, but even of many of his fellow bishops. He did it anyway. When the vast sway of public opinion called for genocide and murder, he used his privilege to speak against vengeance and for mercy – to speak for what he understood to be right. When it would have been easy, permissible, and even lauded to remain silent, Whipple spoke out.

The saints, like Bishop Whipple, shine not for their perfection but because their choice to be faithful – each in their time and place – reveal to our eye a broader view of God’s redeeming purpose in our lives and world. For their moments of courage and faithfulness to the call of Jesus Christ, we give thanks; and for those moments in which human nature is transparently evident in their lives, we commend them to Jesus, knowing that what God cannot bless, God will always redeem.

Whipple chose to make the most correct and courageous decisions he could make from the place where he stood; it is for that courage and wisdom that we can give thanks and find hope.

David Sibley

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66 comments on “Albert Schweitzer vs. Henry Whipple”

  1. Both write ups were excellent, and made this a tough choice between two great saints. Dr. Schweitzer was born in Alsace-Lorraine (like my Jewish grandfather!) and was drawn to serve the poor in Africa, and Bishop Whipple was Born in upstate New York and championed the native Americans being murdered systematically to make room for the white settlers.
    There are many reasons to respect both men and their laudable efforts, so I will ponder a while longer before voting. I am ever grateful to the Lent Madness Supremes and the bloggers for all their work to make this an educational and thoughtful Lenten season. Thank you all, and Have a Blessed Easter!

  2. Chose Albert Schweitzer but wouldn't have minded a contest between Whipple and Norwich, assuming neither get to final, with Whipple the victor. So, how many of you also heard, perhaps even were a reader of,the Passion reading yesterday, to be hearing again this week, and of Joseph of Arimathea who BOLDLY approached Pilate, NOT hiding out in the cave/tomb. May we all find the courage to come "forward" and do the right thing, not closing ourselves off!

  3. During my upbringing, Schweitzer was revered as god-like in today's ultra materialistic world. Probably the American Bishop Whipple is also a highly revered man, but I a Canadian, had never heard of him - so I went with super-hero Schweitzer.

  4. Some beautiful writing from both celebrity bloggers today. Thanks for your contributions to Lent Madness over the years, Anna Fitch Currie.

  5. I voted for Bishop Henry Whipple. And, again, for David Sibley. His eloquent apology (meaning, of course, formal defense) on behalf of Bishop Whipple is convincing and moving. Albert Schweitzer was a good guy. But he remains for me part of the wallpaper of Victorian earnestness. Pictures of him holding black African babies (whose language he never learned to speak) are ubiquitous and "nice." But I feel that engaging with the brutal history of colonialism is today's necessity. I don't know if Bishop Whipple learned to speak any indigenous American languages, but his stance against overt cruelty was brave and timely. In our time, when political organizations such as AIPAC are maneuvering to crush free speech and dissent, we need figures such as Bishop Whipple. He has my vote today. Thank you to Anna Courie as well for a lovely encomium on behalf of Schweitzer.

  6. What a difficult choice today. Both write ups spoke to different aches in me. I will carry both with me, but we are here to vote, so I opted to vote for Henry Whipple, a flawed man who did the best he could with what he knew at the time.

  7. What a hard choice today. Both these men are so worthy and so human. I appreciate the contributors who pointed out their failings as well as their moments of true grace. Thank you

  8. Albert Schweitzer was certainly a saint. He shed so much light and love in so many places and so many ways. He was a genius. I'm not a genius. Henry Whipple found in his faith the courage to stand up for justice when his stance was very unpopular, and was able to make a difference that would not have happened had he been less bold. I don't know whether I would rise to such an occasion as well as he did, but his is an example I can imagine following. I have voted for him in every round, and I would vote for him again for the Golden Halo.

  9. I had come into today's reading thinking that I would be voting for Henry Whipple. But Anna Fitch Courie's write up and emphasis on "soft overcomes hard" was compelling and fits with the theme that I have been sharing for weeks now, especially as politics keeps pushing us toward hardness of heart. Excellent writing by both Courie and Sibley.

  10. Super hard choice. But as David Sibley says, “What God cannot bless, God will always redeem”. These are words for all of us in these challenging times.

  11. My favorite quote is from Rudyard Kipling…” Teach us to delight in the simple things.” Albert Schweitzer seemed to live his life delighting in the simple things. Therefore my vote goes to him.

  12. I am very sad to see Schweitzer beating out Whipple. Whipple let a Native American become a priest; Schweitzer discouraged Africans fm becoming medical professionals. That says it all.

  13. Tough choice! We have Albert's love of dogs & cats & music--all of which I love as well. But then we have Henry choosing to stand up for what is right in the face of censure, which sadly is all too pertinent in our country today. As much as I appreciate Albert, I had to go with Henry.

  14. This is the hardest vote this year, mostly due to the excellent final writeups of both bloggers. Each of these saints is deserving of the Golden Halo. It is only in this time when the world so needs LOVE, that I must vote for Albert.

  15. Thank you so much for these wonderfully evocative reflections on the lives of truly complicated saints. Living the way of the Christ always comes down to making a decision or making many decisions over time that reveal the presence of the Risen One alive in the midst of human made injustice, oppression, and violence. Both of these people made choices that revealed the presence of God's reign despite the prejudices, racism, white supremacy rooted in Christian supremacy that was as present in their historical times as they are in our own. Using your voice to speak into such times when injustice flourishes may be the most courageous action anyone can take. That's why I voted today for Bishop Whipple.

  16. Huge props to both bloggers today! Both of them acknowledged that their candidates were products of their times, and not without flaws -- which is so important in reminding us that the saints of God were and are just folks like us. If God could use them in spite of their bigotries and blind spots, then God well might have use for each of us, no matter our misdeeds and imperfections!
    ... I am truly torn today. In taking a unpopular public stand for his indigenous neighbors, Henry Whipple showed his spine -- a part of the anatomy of human character that we desperately need more evidence of in our politicians, religious, and community leaders; and in ourselves as members of Christ's body and as neighbors, citizens, and voters. Albert Schweitzer lived and eloquently spoke of the kindness that "causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
    ... What does the world need more of right now: kindness or backbone? Why not both?

  17. Goodness, two great leaders who were both humanists and authentically “walked the walk” of their Christian journey.

    “When it would have been easy, permissible, and even lauded to remain silent, Whipple spoke out,” wrote David Sibley.

    “…it’s never wrong to try and be a good human, to lean towards love, even when you don’t like nor understand,” wrote Anna Fitch Courie about Schweitzer.

    I wonder how either man would respond today to the current genocide of the Palestinian people by the leadership of the very people who themselves suffered horrific genocide under the hands of the Nazis. It takes huge courage to speak out and advocate for a people who have lost their voice in the devastation of violence. In that regard, I vote for Henry Whipple. May we all gather our voices of courage to speak out.

  18. Both bloggers did admirably with two complicated figures. It's a hard choice to make this late in the game! Thank you for pushing me toward kindness and compassion in these reflections.

  19. I truly find it amazing that many feel choosing between these two men is a question of "the lesser of two evils." We seem to have little or no historical humility. Of ourse by our "enlightened" standards today both men were "flawed if for no other reason than that they were white men who served people who, unlike them, had limited resources and little voice to speak up for their own justice. I wonder what WE are doing now that future generations will look back on with such disdain and dismiss so easily.

  20. So interesting that both celebrity bloggers today brought their parents into their thinking. Thank you

  21. I had to vote for Minnesotan Whipple, for his courage and honesty in expressing his convictions when they were not popular, and for his work with the Native Americans.

  22. Anna Fitch Courie are you SURE you have to leave us? You are a wonderful writer, as is David Sibley.We are blessed to have had you both. I would vote for Zippy the wonder horse if either of you wrote the biography .Which made this voice impossibly hard . Still decidingv

  23. After reading both accounts and remembering back, I had to vote for Albert Schweitzer. He gave us so much through his work in Africa.

  24. Albert Schweitzer appeared in LM several years ago and was eliminated early in the series. I was heartbroken as I have studied his life and earnestly consider him to be one of the greatest human beings ever to have lived. I am deeply gratified to see that this time may be the charm.

  25. I did some research on Albert Schweitzer and from what I read, he did not believe in the divinity of Christ. It seems to me that that should be a pre-requisite to being voted a saint.

  26. I've been reading the commentaries about the photography and we need to remember when we are dealing with photography, that Schweitzer's photos were taken in a more modern time than Bishop Whipple's. The photo there is a "snapshot". Picture someone using a Brownie or Kodak or Instamatic or SLR camera. With Whipple, the setting is studio. That's what was available. Strike the pose and hold it, don't move.
    We look at the lives of these people from our own biased perspectives. Both of these men did the best they could and don't deserve to be judged by the "modern" stuff going on now.
    My vote goes to Bishop Whipple because of what he accomplished for the church in Minnesota and for his work with the Native American population. He truly deserved the nickname of "Straight Tongue" that the Dakota gave him.

  27. When I was young I learned about Albert Schweitzer…
    I was struck by his unselfish desire to help those in need even though he could have been a professional, and world renowned musician. It still resonates with me.. how a modern man could live like Christ.

  28. As a member of a Coastal Salish tribe, I have felt honored to get to know Whipple. Thank you for introducing me to him. While I appreciate Schweitzer, I feel as if I have to vote for Whipple today.

  29. This was really difficult! Both men contributed to the betterment of humankind in their own way. I was pretty much 50-50 on this vote. Either could wear The Golden Halo.