Since we are surrounded… (Hebrews 12:1)
When my brother got bit by the genealogical bug, one result was a massive framed portraiture of several generations that now moves around the walls of our home. It is an august bunch, these unsmiling German and Swiss progenitors of mine–mute reminders that I hail from apparently mirthless stock. Little wonder: they were hard-working farmers who dug life out of the ground, or serious, shrewd business folk who logged long hours. If there was a jester among them, I can’t tell it by the pictures, and family memory is mostly silent on the matter. True, artists have sprung up in subsequent generations, which suggests those genes were lurking, but mostly, when I think of my ancestors, stern is one of the operative words.
In my early years of church work, a few parishioners took it upon themselves to add to what I inherited by strapping on criticism and downright meanness in regards to what I was bringing. It was Statler and Waldorf without the comedy, and like many young pastors, I acquired baggage not of my own packing. The canard about how in the church we can eat our own? This charge is not without foundation.
But thankfully, there are others who take a wholly different approach. I’ve been reflecting on experience with that this father’s day weekend.
During last week’s Sunday service we looked at Elisha, the servant of Elijah. This young prophet had the great good fortune of a mentor who knew God and didn’t mind sharing that experience. When Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, it puts in mind the Hebrew custom of awarding twice as much of the inheritance to the oldest child; when I notice no indication of a family for Elijah, and how Elisha left his, it seems to me that a father/son relationship existed between them (might 2 Kings 2:12 express more than a term of respect?). And when I consider that, I’m struck by how Elisha was shaped by his mentor.
I’ve been blessed by many who have done that for me–a gallery of people who have helped nudge out the stern-faced (whether they are silent or heckle), replacing disapproval with far better words. And I’m thankful to God for Jerry Hawthorne, Dick Lauber, Bruce Metzger, Gary Hopwood, Allan Wilks, Brian McLaren, Tom Sacher, Carl Cassell, and others–those who were a little or a lot older who set an example, offered wise counsel, lightened life. They’ve been good mentors, Elijahs as I was finding my feet.
My own dad, too, who grew up a bit closer to our forebears: I’m grateful that he broke the mold in some significant ways. He’s been faithful and consistent in showing me God, in opening doors and clearing space, in cheering me on. My life is richer for his role in it.
For some of us, where we’ve grown up has been just fine; others need to find shade under different family trees. And all us, I expect, benefit from getting close to people who know some important stuff and don’t mind letting us look over their shoulders. Which brings me back to those in the balcony of our hearts and minds: are they like those erstwhile Muppets? Or might they better resemble the crowd at the end of Rudy, when young Samwise Gamgee breaks through to sack the QB? Schmaltzy, sure–but if your peeps are like his? Being surrounded by a bunch like that is gonna make for a pretty good run.