Sunday, February 9, 2014


“I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either.”
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 “Come ride with me.”  That’s how he’d always put it.  It often meant work, but it mostly meant spending time together.  “Come ride with me.  We need to help somebody move a few things.  It won’t take long.”  It was a Saturday morning, and I was a teenage kid not thinking about much. 

The Sunday before I had surely been paying attention, to see if I could understand what was being whispered, to see if certain people came, to hear if there was any more news from the pulpit.  Our church’s minister had just resigned because of an affair.  The church was in shock, hurt, and fuming over the deep breach of trust.  It was probably my first time to feel scandalized.

That Saturday morning my dad drove us to an apartment building I didn’t recognize.  Standing on the balcony of an upstairs apartment was the last person I would have ever thought I’d see: our former minister.  It was so surprising but happened so matter-of-factly that all I could do was follow along.  And pay attention. We got out and shook his hand.  It’s amazing how instantly you can move from scandal to compassion when you’ve got the right teacher.  And then our truck and us in it carried furniture from a storage unit to that apartment for the rest of the morning. 

And then we went home.  We didn’t talk about it, or if we did, I don’t remember.  “That’s just what we do,” was the message either way.  “Come ride with me,” was how a lot of my practical theology lessons started.

My dad would be 66 years old this week, and he is never far from my mind.  When I think about him, I often think about “eternal life.”  And I try to think about all the things that phrase is, its surplus of meaning. 
I think of a beautiful soul that has died back into the God he so faithfully loved.  I think of the life he lived, a life lived so much in the eternal truths of the faith he practiced.  Here was a man of such tender spirit who did what he could while he could to brighten the lives of so many people.  And I think of how living that way, a life eternal, still matters, how that spirit still permeates the space and people around where he lived.  It’s sappy cliché, but it’s true: the measure and reach of a life goes on long after we are gone.  Each life has changed the world for eternity, for better or worse.

I’ve heard life on earth described as a social gathering (a party of sorts), one that started before we got to it.  And the conversations are well underway by the time we arrive.  But we come, and we mingle, meet, and begin to pick up on the conversation.  We gradually start to engage and become fully involved in it for a  good long time, and then it comes our time to retire for the evening, and as we leave, we look back to see the gathering and the conversation still going on. 

Like anyone invited to such a gathering, I have hopes for the evening. 

I hope my conversation partners are gracious listeners.  I often open my mouth before I should; it’s an insecurity response that’s not hard to see. 

I hope I can be quiet and listen.  I get the feeling I’ve happened upon some wise, wonderful and funny people. 

I hope I can ask the right questions to the wallflowers and the overbearing ones.  I sense that a few just need somebody to show some genuine interest.

I hope I can find a circle where I can really be me.  I hope I can find at least one person I can be totally honest with about the hard parts of my life.  It’s going to be entirely too stuffy of an evening if I can’t find a few people to relax around and who really seem to like my weirdness.

I hope I can talk with some people very different from me.  It’ll be a much more relaxed time if I just smile and meet the people who look and think differently rather than occupy my mind with thoughts of “those people over there…”

I hope I remember to thank the host for a wonderful evening every time I see him.  I’m not entirely sure I’ll get a chance to when it’s time to say goodbye. 

I hope I can remember often the people I met when I got there who were so welcoming to me and taught me so much.  I hope I can show the later arrivers the same hospitality. 

I hope that at the end of the night, when I’m in bed asleep and the party is still going, that there’s a story or two to tell about me like the one I get to tell about love and a teenage kid and his dad on a Saturday morning.  Or maybe the people I was talking to will raise a glass and say to each other that their time at the party was a little brighter because I was there.    

I hope I can live into that eternal life.  And I hope each of us can stop, remember, and raise a glass for someone we knew who lived an eternal life around us. 


“Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either.”


Unknown said...

Thanks for letting me be a part of your social gathering. You're a inspiration to us all.

Unknown said...

You made me cry. You're a lot like your dad, you know. I see his legacy of love and faith in you. Love you. Thank you for sharing.

Sam Parkes said...

My brother, please know that your strain of weird is one of my favourite things about this party. And I'm always willing to hear whatever you need to say whenever you need to say it.

Such a wonderful post, Nathan. Thank you for it