Friday, July 30, 2010

Dr. Robert A. Reid - My Friend and Colleague!

(Reprinted below is my eulogy which was read at the "Celebration of Life" in Carthage, Texas for Dr. Robert Addison Reid on Friday, July 30, 2010.)

It is said that the true measure of the magnitude of a tall tree can only be known when it is felled and lies beneath our feet. If that is true, then you and I are discovering that a soaring giant has fallen in our forest. Today, those of us who have lived within the blessed shade of the impact of Robert Addison Reid and who have enjoyed the lyrical sounds of music which happily came to life within him give witness to a personal and spiritual upheaval, even as we honestly acknowledge our loss.

Robert Reid was my friend and colleague for many years. I first knew him when he came to serve on the faculty of Houston Baptist University. At a school where high academic standards were the norm, where faculty were expected to share themselves as whole persons, beyond the classroom, and where the authentic Christian commitment of academic role models was strongly encouraged, Robert’s calling was easily and naturally expressed. As an administrative dean with daily relationships among students, I was pleased to have Robert serving closely with me on a significant committee which routinely called for discernment and wisdom in making critical decisions.

When, in God’s providence, it was time for me to leave the university, to serve as a Pastor in a Houston-area Baptist church, I recall seeing Robert, one day, in the hallway. With that gleam in his eye and his ever-ready grin, he called me aside, looked into my face and, borrowing some syntax from the King James Version of Scripture, said: “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Both of us knew that Robert was signaling that he would like to serve with me on a church staff at some point in the future. We both laughed at his turn of phrase and happily acknowledged that such a prospect was, indeed, an attractive one.

Several years later, when the Minister of Music resigned at the Memorial Drive Baptist Church, I sought Robert out. I can still recall the joy I felt when I brought Robert’s name and resume to the Personnel Committee of our church, along with my highest recommendation.

From before we began to work together in the church, it was clear that we shared a passion for the priority of corporate worship. Robert understood and firmly agreed with me that acknowledging God in our midst, praising Him and seeking His face in worship were the church family’s first and highest concerns. Further, we covenanted together that we would devote significant energy, creativity and time to the planning and preparing of the worship experiences, each week.

I have worked with and planned worship with many ministers of music over the years. It is rare, indeed, when one finds the equal and authentic combination of both “minister” and “musician” in the same person. It is also rare when one discovers a gifted and creative worship planning partner who brings energy and innovation to the process of worship creation and implementation. Today, I can tell you honestly that Robert Reid, without question, was the best partner that I have ever had in this lofty aspect of my calling.

Robert’s role with me was far more than simply selecting a few hymns to “warm up” the congregation for the Pastor’s sermon. On the contrary, he keenly understood that the entire worship experience was our joint responsibility and that, although our roles were different, as partners in planning, each of us was free to suggest elements and ideas.

It was in this regard that I especially witnessed Robert’s many gifts and his penchant for spiritual curiosity and profound creativity. In those sometimes long and challenging worship planning sessions, where giant Post-it type posters lined the walls of my office, we sought the presence and leadership of the Holy Spirit, desiring to lead our congregation to offer its highest praise to God. We prayed together; we laughed together; we disagreed and agreed; we tried out possible scenarios; Robert often sang or whistled, to help me to catch the impact of a particular musical option; and, we struggled together until we had reached that acceptable and challenging worship plan that we could offer to the congregation. With courage and originality, Robert helped me to lead the congregation, adventurously, to new heights of devotion in their responsibility to honor God.

Robert was a man of impeccably high standards, both for himself and his music. He would settle for nothing but the highest offering of music, when given to God or as an expression of his stewardship to God. He was, of course, especially talented as a composer. So often, his original works served to express his God-given abilities and to advance the cause of Christ. My ministerial colleagues in Houston would marvel when I told them of Robert’s routine contributions to the worship life of our congregation.

Time will not allow me a full exploration of Robert’s many positive characteristics. He read broadly and was capable of and interested in a wide range of profound intellectual topics. He loved the turn of an English phrase. He valued our common Baptist heritage. He loved to pursue ideas and willingly explored many avenues of thought. He was eternally cheerful. Music, like sap in a tree, flowed through him. He whistled, he sang, he laughed and he caused others to do the same. So positive was his ethos, so optimistic was his outlook, so generous was his capacity to give to others.

The last time I saw Robert was last December. Janice and I had been invited, through the influence of Robert and Carolyn, to speak at the Central Baptist Church of Carthage, Texas. They wanted the church to hear about the challenging work to which God has called us in serving among Albanian immigrants in Athens, Greece. We spoke for a lunch meeting, for an evening meeting and enjoyed a quick meal with the pastor at a local restaurant. In between, Robert and Carolyn hosted us in their home. Absent-mindedly, I left my computer laptop at the Reid’s house.

On Thursday morning, just before leaving Henderson, Texas, I realized that I had left the laptop in Carthage. Over the telephone, Robert insisted that he drive to Henderson and bring the laptop. I would not allow it, since, the day earlier, he had driven to Henderson, picked us up and, late at night, returned us to Henderson. So, I drove back to Carthage to pick up the computer.

When I reached the Reid’s home, I knocked on the door at the garage. From the den, Robert shouted to me to “Come on in!” With that hospitality and familiarity characteristic of good friends, I made my way back to the den, where I found Robert sitting in his recliner. Immediately, I could see the weariness on his face. I realized that the previous day of hosting us had taken a toll on his tired body. Since Janice and I had to be in Austin later that day, I quickly retrieved the laptop, said my farewell and was engulfed in one of Robert’s “bear hugs.”

As Robert sat down again and allowed the weight of his body to find its familiar place in that recliner, I remembered another recliner in Houston, where Robert reported that, in the middle of many a sleepless night, he often had tried to rest. It is my last image of Robert on this side of glory. Today, as I remember this good man and grieve his loss, I am, nevertheless comforted by the realization that, at last, he has found a heavenly resting place and that his journey in this life is over.

Rest well, my friend Robert Reid!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Almost Cool Again!

As I write, it’s 7 AM on a Tuesday morning in Athens, Greece. Stepping out on the veranda of our Pangrati apartment, in the still, quiet, earlyness of the morning, it feels almost cool. I know that, even as I type, the blazing sun is rising over the Pentellic marble of the ancient Parthenon on the Acropolis, radiating the heat and generating higher temperatures; I am aware that, soon, the temperature will soar, no matter whether calculated in Celsius or Fahrenheit; but, it’s almost cool.

I am not stupid; I recognize that Athens, Greece in summer is identical to Houston, Texas in summer, without the humidity. I know that sweat is the constant companion of every one of my five million fellow Athenians, at least three million of whom are already in traffic gridlock or on crowded, underground metro cars, cursing each other in contemporary Greek. I know that hot weather is so common in summer that we begin every sentence with “Κάνει ζέστη, alla…” (“It’s hot, but ….”). I am certain that, when August arrives, it will be even hotter. But, at the moment, it’s almost cool!

“Almost” is admittedly “not quite,” but “almost” is far better than “not.” “Almost” is the stuff of which dreams are made. “Almost” is the gift and product of faith, memory, imagination and hope. “Almost” is, sometimes, a deliberate, willful decision to anticipate a better world. Without the capacity to articulate an occasional “almost,” none of us could anticipate an improved future or recall a treasured past.

Sure! I’ll agree! “Almost” is also the repository of disappointment, sometimes yielding to despair. “Almost” carries with it the potential for hope deferred which can so easily become hope denied. But, “almost cool” means that I haven’t entirely forgotten what “cool” is like. “Almost cool” means that, within my sweaty breast there rests a fanciful vision of a more comfortable morning or evening, somewhere in the not too distant days to come.

It’s almost cool because a rain shower visited us yesterday. It’s almost cool because scarce wind has travelled down from the surrounding hillsides and the air is cleaner for a while, this morning. It’s almost cool and, as a result, I can sit on the veranda and watch the little pinwheels spin in the slovenly air currents, even though their movement is more likely the result of the furious flapping of a few thousand dirty pigeon wings.

But, it’s almost cool again in Athens and, in a micro manner, I am celebrating. It’s certainly too hot to jump up and down and the almost coolness surely doesn’t warrant strenuous exercise. But, I am sensing the slightest possibility that the fall is coming and, for this, I am grateful. This morning, I am saying “thank you” for predictability and for routine regularity. While climate change is an undisputed reality and global warming must be acknowledged, sitting in a semi-comfortable chair on my “front porch to the world,” I am here to say that it is almost cool again in Athens!

And, you?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Have Told You A Thousand Times Not to Exaggerate!

On the budget airline which Janice and I recently used, it was apparent that management was trying to retrieve as much cash as possible from “cheapo” flyers like us. We could have paid extra to check our bags, to board first and to enjoy an in-flight snack.

In addition to the attempt to swell alternate income streams, “product placement” was also evident. As I settled into my tight-quarters seat and tried to ignore the larger-than-average, sweaty guy seated next to me, while simultaneously attending to the overhead announcement encouraging me to fasten my seat belt and locate the emergency escape exits, my travel-weary eyes met the advertisement that had been affixed to the back of the seat in front on me. With recognizable food label logos promoting the presence of several brands which could be purchased mid-flight, the velcro-attached sign said, with a flourish: “Now Available on Board!”(In the small print which followed, the sign then said: “Subject to availability!”

Methinks that this is more than mere marketing. In this age in which language in general and public rhetoric in particular seem to have been severely devalued and their credibility stretched beyond recognition, we have grown to accept such obvious linguistic inconsistencies as the message in front of my seat. Many people trying to communicate a message these days seem to have learned too well the old argumentation device which I was taught years ago in my varsity debate days in college; subliminally, you can get your message across by exaggeration, hyperbole or outright stretching of the truth; just be prepared immediately to take it back. Like an attorney getting his point in the ears of the jury before the opposing lawyer appeals to the judge, many today are willing to say “too much,” followed by a quick retraction.

Almost routinely these days, politicians say outrageous things about their opponents or those in another party and, as soon as public outcry demands, simply take back the statement by saying that they “mis-spoke,” that they were “confused” or that their remarks may have been “taken out of context.” Even religious leaders now seem willing to say horrible things about those with whom they differ, especially those from another religion; only later, with mock sincerity, they issue statements like “I am so sorry if the things that I might have said may have caused others harm” or “I regret that some have seen malice in my innocent remarks” or “It is unfortunate that some have mis-construed my statement.”

Marketeers, politicians, religious leaders and anyone utilizing words to express a grasp of truth must make much better use of language than this. How long will we allow persons, prejudices and platforms to be advanced by the use of this cheap, shoddy perversion of the spoken or written word, at the expense of both truth and clarity? When will the general public reach the maturity to acknowledge such devices for exactly what they are?

Wish I knew!