My father died last Wednesday, February 17, of complications from a stroke. Since 1992, he's also been treated for a blood disorder; his bone marrow hadn't worked properly, and he'd had numerous blood transfusions, iron infusions, and experimental treatments that kept him going far longer than his original doctor predicted. Three radiologists checked his chest x-rays last weekend because something wasn't quite right. None of them drew an absolute conclusion, but they thought maybe they saw something that was perhaps lung cancer, if it wasn't one of several other things. [And here all along you thought medicine was a science.] Daddy was 87 and not much of a church goer, although he was raised in the Church of England. Mother is thoroughly anti-church. If you ever need an oral dissertation on "holy rollers," look her up. In her inclusive way, she counts everyone from Lutherans and Roman Catholics to Four Square Gospel Holiness church folks as holy rollers.
But all of the best people are multi-dimensional. A few hours after Daddy died, I asked what the date was and then what the day was. With both established, I said, "Oh, it's Ash Wednesday."
Mother promptly replied, "A high holy day. That means your father's in heaven. You know he was an altar boy in the Church of England."
I didn't, but I did know England has a state religion, and my father was thoroughly taught and tested regarding the Church of England's history, theology, and polity, not to mention the fibs it tells itself. That's one of the reasons he chose to become an American citizen. He believed in the separation of church and state. He also never allowed his children to address others as "sir" or "ma'am," saying they were indications of inferiority and totally out of place in the United States.
The point I'm after here, though, is that my parents have lived on Middle Bass Island, Ohio, for more than 60 years. After his stroke, Daddy was taken to Akron Hospital and from there to the hospice setting in Medina, Ohio. Meanwhile, my mother was getting settled into a care center in Seville, Ohio, where my brothers live. We planned a memorial service for Saturday with many lovely gestures -- a copy of the book he wrote, bottles of the herbal vinegar he made and marketed, a picture of the Swordfish he flew during World War II. The family cookie jar (a jovial McCoy pig with a green necktie) even made an appearance. But we needed a pastor.
The lovely folks at the funeral home made contact with Tim, pastor of a United Methodist Church nearby. He and I talked a bit (we both had Ted Campbell for Methodism, but at different divinity schools), and he spent way over an hour with Charlie and me on Friday. That night he pondered at length about us, our parents, the nature of love, the joy of planting. The scripture passages he chose (including Psalm 103 and the Isaiah "Have you not known? Have you not heard?") were brilliant. In his short message he spoke of love's endurance and how planting is a forward-looking activity that sustains us all. Tim was sane and generous and gave abundantly of his time and brain and knowledge.
It makes you wonder, doesn't it, that the UMC is thoroughly godly and kind in some areas and yet devilish and vicious in others, especially when it suits the political climate. Torture is no longer the rule of this land; and exclusion has no place in the UMC church. The righteous clergy out there exhibiting lovingkindness and righteousness every day deserve more.