There is a lot about heaven I don't understand, but I do know three things about heaven that are true today that were not true on Saturday:
1. It is more crowded.
2. The harmony is a lot better.
3. The laughter has increased in volume and frequency by a couple of orders of magnitude.
You see, Joe is now there. That is very hard for me to type. Joe is not here anymore. He is there.
That is, of course, much better for Joe. But it stinks for us.
The word mentor is overused in today's society, but it is appropriate here. Joe was on a very short list of people I consider to be my mentors. He came into my life when I was 12 years old. He was my youth choir director, my church's minister of music, and my friend. I went on five choir tour/mission trips with him. From Joe I learned efficiency, professionalism, planning, excellence, the way to put the right people to work so as best to distribute the talents at your disposal, and an appreciation for humor (even if am not always successful at being funny myself).
Then, later in life, I learned something else from Joe. I learned that demons can be faced. I don't know if Joe would say that his demons were defeated, but I know that he demonstrated to everyone around him how to fight the righteous fight, even when it requires radically changing your lifestyle and finding a new calling.
One of the most fun and most daunting things I ever had to do was direct a play in which Joe was an actor. I know that does not sound like a big deal, and on the scale of life's problems, it is obviously not major. But as a stepping stone in my life, to direct my director was huge.
A natural comedian and entertainer, Joe could be serious when the situation called for it. Nobody who was with us at the Chicago Union Mission in the summer of 1978 will forget Joe's very personal discussion of what it meant to him for us to sing and minister to that group of men. Joe knew that there was no telling who might be in the crowd, and Joe brought that message home to a bunch of upper middle-class teenagers in a way that was both transparent and permanent.
There is no way that this blog can capture who Joe was or what he meant to me (or to hundreds of others), but I can say this: When you picture "Christian" in all the ways you want to picture what that means - caring, loving, active, taking risks then they are necessary to help someone else, unobtrusive, kind, lovable, gifted, excellent - you are picturing Joe. When you think of the person who smiles and causes smiles, you are thinking of Joe. When you envision a man who draws people to him without trying, who shows up to sing a song or play a saxophone or tell a joke and suddenly everyone around is smiling and having a good time, you are envisioning Joe.
In the wake of Joe's death, the words I have seen and heard used about him all follow the same theme: "good man," "encourager," "friend," "inspiration."
Joe was talented. Joe was funny... no, make that hilarious. Joe was giving. Joe touched many, many lives.
And now, in words that Joe taught me... God holds Joe in the palm of His hand.