Saturday, October 10, 2009

Father, Pastor, Teacher, Friend... and Uncle

My Uncle Charles Wellborn died on October 1, and his funeral was today. What a man.

The short version - national champion debater, decorated ski troop soldier, featured presenter/personality on "The Baptist Hour" radio program, leader of Texas youth revival movement, pastor of Seventh & James Baptist in Waco, the "most outstanding graduate student ever" at Duke University, university chaplain and religion department chair at Florida State, director of FSU overseas programs, multiple-publication author, actor/director, preacher, teacher, speaker, football fan, joke teller, world traveler, philanthropist, Christian, father, brother, uncle.

His last book is called Grits, Grace, and Goodness. It is primarily a collection of some of his previously-published essays and sermons, but the last section, called "Credo," is a combination personal testimony/autobiography that is one of the most transparent and inspiring pieces I have ever read.

He asked that his tombstone bear the words "Father, Pastor, Teacher, Friend." His pastor used those words today as the basis for the memorial message in Uncle Charles' honor. I will not try here to duplicate that sermon. Suffice it to say that those words - and many more - cannot do justice in trying to encapsulate Uncle Charles.

As is often true for me at funerals, I found myself wishing that I had taken more advantage of the days - in scriptural language, I would say that I should have better "redeemed the time" - that I had with him. Our relationship was largely one of typing - letters, emails, reading things that each other had written. I should have called him more often. I particularly should have called him more during his last months when he was sick. Hearing from his best friends today what he thought of me made me wish all the more that I had called him more often.

And yet, I am happy with the relationship we had. Of course I wish I had known him better. Of course it is my fault that I did not know him more. Still, I knew him, and I think I understood him.

Our politics were not identical - often not even closely related - but I believe we both brought the same idea from our debate lives to our politics. That is, he modeled for me how to listen to the opposition with all the kindness in the world without sacrificing personal conviction.

Our religion was - I hope - very close to identical. There is very little of what I know of his spiritual life to which I do not ascribe or hope I follow. He lived his life in certainty of the victory that was gained on the cross.

These words of his, from his last book, are a challenge to me: "Wherever the church is, there is love. Precisely to the extent that the church does not live by love, it misses the mark of authenticity. The early church made no claims to out-organize, out-promote, out-build, out-manipulate, or even out-think anyone else. It did promise to out-love everybody else. The hostile world in which if found itself marveled that these women and men of faith out-loved the pagan world. Their love reached out to embrace those who did not accept the church's doctrinal teaching, as well as to human beings of both genders, all races, and every economic or social status."

I encourage you to read his stuff. I was lucky to know him as well as I did, even recognizing that through my own fault I did not know him better.

Rest in peace Uncle Charles. Heaven is a better place because you are there. Our lives are certainly better because you were here.

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