Lessons From My Father
He has a million books…OK, not a million, but it seems like it. Some people collect stamps or old rare coins or fungus samples …my father collects books. When you walk into his office you cannot see a single inch of wall space. From floor to ceiling, it is covered with book shelves and the shelves are filled with books. (By the way, the ceilings are 12 feet high.) As a matter of fact, most of his desk and the usable floor space are also covered with stacks of books. Oh, and don’t forget about the boxes of books that he “hasn’t gotten around to yet”. These have to be categorized before they can enter the ‘sacred shelves of the organized’. I’m sure that he has not actually read all of these books but the possession of them is equivalent to owning a piece of the Shroud of Turin or perhaps the Holy Grail itself. I think the only thing that he enjoys more than the mountains of manuscripts is the organization of them. Meaning no disrespect to Mr. Dewey, my dad’s collection would probably even be a challenge to his System.
In all fairness, my dad uses most of these books as reference for his research. Scientist? Doctor? Historian? No! My dad is a preacher. (I suppose that makes me a PK [preacher’s kid]… And, NO! All the things you heard about PK’s are not true – only exaggerated! But the truth will have to wait for another time.) Dad has always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Sometimes it is just trivia about the origin of toothpaste or the history and ingredients of authentic guacamole (of which he would never eat). It should be no surprise for me to tell you that he has the entire collection of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader resting on the tops of multiple commodes – 20+ books of worthless, albeit, interesting trivia.
However, when it comes to his preaching, he will hunker down in his library and consult dozens of authors to harvest their thoughts and observations before he steps in the pulpit to present his Sunday homily. There is no pretense or grandiose puffery – dad does not flaunt or parade his exhaustive research when he steps onto the platform; actually, just the opposite. He will share the bits of insight that he has gleaned from his studies but his presentation of these findings is a unique mix of basic wisdom spiced with a colorful ‘country preacher’ flare. Dad has a knack for creating his own vocabulary complete with pronunciation key. He artfully – and unknowingly – swaps the mundane words of the common man for his version of verbiage. On any given Sunday, if dad, for any reason, has the need to offer consolation (comfort), you can be sure that he will be extending his most sincere “constellations” to you. Every Christmas we are treated to a joyous sermon on the birth of Christ and we are guaranteed to hear how Jesus was of the house and “lintage” (lineage) of King David. It is a little like having a good solid meal of meat and tomatoes! You know what he means but the words get a little tangled. Whenever dad would drop one of his clever word twists, my brother and sister and I would look over at my mom. Even if everyone in church missed the faux pas, they only had to look over to her. She would be sitting with her head down and her shoulders bouncing up and down in silent laughter. These oddities in the King’s English were so common as I grew up that it became a Sunday afternoon ritual. We would sit around the table for dinner and with a grin of strange pleasure, dad would say, “Ok, what did I say wrong this week?” One of us three kids would start with a classic verbal blunder of how Jonah had built the ark or that the first five books of Moses are now known as the “Pentatoot” (Pentateuch) and my mom’s shoulders would start shaking again and continue throughout the whole critique. At some point, my brother and I started our own lexicon of words and phrases with interpretations just so we would always know exactly what was meant rather than what was said (I carry my copy in the back of my Bible at all times…just in case).
Another person comes to mind as I think about my dad with his vast resources of knowledge and his lack of verbal exactitude…Moses!
“Lord, I am slow of speech. Who will you send with me to speak to Pharaoh?”
Moses spent forty years in the house of Pharaoh learning from the best teachers and scholars of the day and yet he says that “he don’t talk good!” Perhaps this disconnect between Moses’ God-given ability and his knowledge of this ability is why God refers to Moses as the humblest of all men! (Numbers 12:3) I tend to think that my dad has a little bit of Moses in him…for all the best of reasons. He may not have led millions through a desolate wilderness, but he certainly has touched the lives of a small group of people in a little country church in southern Michigan. But more importantly, he has done so with sincere humility and a servant’s heart. Some of those people were his own children.
We all learn lessons in life. Sometimes the lessons come from coaches or teachers, janitors or grandparents. Most of the time, we do not even choose from whom we will learn these lessons. In some cases, the “teacher” gives but a single lesson. For others, we enjoy years of continuous training; but with all of these lessons, we either learn by experience or by example. Every week my dad researches in his books and every week he stands in the pulpit and “teaches” lessons to the people of his church. But the lessons that have made the biggest difference to me, his son, are the lessons that he lived; rarely intentional, but always sincere. This series of posts is an attempt to capture and crystallize a few of the lessons that my dad has shared with me, not from the pulpit, but from his life.
Open Mic: Share your thoughts
- What are some lessons you have learned from people in your life?