There are those who talk the talk and those who walk the walk; there are those who read holy scripture and there are those who try to live out its essence. I’ve just had house guests for the past eight days—old friends from up north with whom I’ve had very little face-to-face contact over the past couple decades. They came south to escape the worst winter in years and reconnect with an old friend. It was certainly a good visit—a bit of an encounter with God’s grace.
My friend Ted is a semi-retired art teacher. He has a studio up in Rockford, Illinois, he does a few shows a year and teaches a class now and then. He taught in the public schools for about 30 yrs, and in that role impacted hundreds (probably thousands) of young people. He’s stayed friends with many of his former students—one rented a room from me for a couple of months three years ago while he was transitioning from Illinois to a new life in Florida. My guess is that many of his former students would rate Ted as their most memorable teacher. He is a relentlessly upbeat, positive person who tries to bring out the best in people—both as creative beings and as human beings. I imagine he’d rank in the top 1 or 2% of teachers who positively impact students. I’m pretty cynical about public education in this country, but then there are some teachers like Ted.
We’re quite different as people and over the years we’ve had our ups and downs. He tends to be quite liberal in his politics. I would describe my views as independent or mixed. He thinks I’m nuts because I once said something positive about Rush Limbaugh. He likes Obama, I don’t. He’s a real child of the midwest and doesn’t much like the south or southerners. Me, I’ve been here 40-yrs and don’t feel much like a Yankee any more. But like I said it was a great visit; we only had one argument about politics. Our best discussions were about what he does with art, his encounters with movies, books or ideas—and with teaching/mentoring young people.
In our discussion/argument about politics he said his views always are governed by the concept of “generosity”—as in is a policy or a politician who is generous. This is why he thinks Obama-care is a good thing. It is generous because people who could not be previously insured will be helped by it. I think he’s viewing Obama-care thru a very narrow lens–but this isn’t about politics anyway.
His life is characterized by generosity. He shares his resources, his gifts and himself. He affirms people. In his own way his best gift is the essence of Graham Cooke’s view of prophecy— seeing people similar to how God sees people—their basic goodness and their potential; and I see him living out his generosity in ways both big and small. He constantly engages clerks and waitresses with humorous banter, complements, gentle chiding. He gives a lift to people I generally tend to ignore. Without being Pollyanna he brightens their day.
Me, I think about doing good more than actually doing it. Myself, and many of my friends here in Florida, tend to be religiously obsessed. We talk about God and the Bible all the time. Sometimes all the “holy talk” wears me out. While my friends were visiting holy talk was minimal. Ted said, “I don’t read the Bible but when I go to Mass I get peace.” Even tho he doesn’t read scripture he understands the essence of the message. He was raised semi-observant in some mainstream Protestant denomination, maybe Methodist or Presbyterian. His wife is a Roman Catholic and when they married he converted. Now that the kids are grown he doesn’t attend church often—but he understands the essence of what it means to be a Jesus-follower. For him it’s about living generously and I think he’s right. In a way, affirming life and seeing generously is reflected in his paintings. I seem to recall a preaching series a few years ago by Pastor Joel titled “Living A Generous Life.” Ted does that, and I think he and Pastor Joel have a lot in common.
Anyway, I think he is one of the folks who really walks the walk. And tho right now I feel quite sad about my friends heading back north, I know it was a good visit, and I know that I was left enriched by an encounter with God’s grace, with generosity.
And hopefully, some of it will rub off on me.