I was still thinking a lot about my last Reflection, the one where I closed with thoughts about already being in Eternal Life (The Past is Never Past [9/21/16]) when I got the news that a friend from church, Ted Hill, died that morning. Heart attack during his morning shower; doctors thought he died instantly.
The day before -- a Sunday -- Ted and I had exchanged our usual fist bump as I went past his end-pew spot on my way to communion. After service, we made plans to bunk together at the upcoming Men's Retreat -- I'd drive; Ted would bring the cigars. Monday morning he was dead.
My meditative thoughts about maybe we are already in Eternal Life and death is passing from one phase of that Life to another were hit with flesh and bones reality: A vibrant man and friend was here one day, but gone the next. I expected this reality might dash those well-conceived thoughts about Eternal Life. However, my processing actually strengthened those speculations to a kind of solid sense of reality about Eternal Life.
That same Monday, a friend had commented by email on my Reflection with something he said the Lord had taught him years ago: Based on John 17:3, "This is Eternal Life -- that you may know Him." To know God and Jesus IS life, life eternal. Sunday, Ted was in Eternal Life; Monday, he continued in Eternal Life.
Ted was about 10 years older than I, but still seemed young. Retired from a 45-year dentistry practice, he still drove to Temple University twice a week to teach dental classes. He was quite active, playing paddle tennis several times a week (all seasons of the year), hiked, and enjoyed frequent fly-fishing vacations in New Hampshire.
A favorite picture of Ted is at Beer Missionship. First Wednesday night of each month, men of all ages from the church gather at TJ's, the local watering hole. We call it Beer Missionship, just an informal gathering of 15-20 guys of all ages who filter in for drinks, talking sports, kidding, with faith-type conversations often popping up around the bar. (Ted and I were probably the eldest of the gang.)
Most of the missionship guys study and discuss the craft beer menu before making a selection. But two in the group, my son Alan and Ted, need no thought. When Alan comes in, Scott the bartender already is handing him his bottle of Yuengling. As Ted nears the bar, with his ready laugh and mischievous sparkle in his eye, a glass of cabernet sauvignon is out for him before he even makes it to an open spot. "Yuengling" and "Cabernet" are present and accounted for and all is right and good for a couple of hours in our corner of the world.
Through various church groups, bunking together at Men's Retreats, and at Beer Missionship, Ted and I formed a nice, warm bond. Telling fishing stories was a regular topic, and I, never getting the hang of fly fishing, envied his prowess with the fly rod. But, in many ways we were so unlike. Miles apart on the political spectrum, as well as some differences on many social issues, and different perspectives on various topics of faith. (Ted was also an avid hockey fan; I still have no understanding or appreciation of that sport.) But, we both had a sincere desire to know Jesus and God, which allowed us to form a bond of respect regardless those differences ... and in some way an appreciation of our differences. We were able to hold many of our secondary religious biases loosely, which permitted us to listen and sometimes even change a view or two.
At Ted's funeral, I thought a lot about him ... and me ... and our bond of understanding. I must confess that for much of my adult life as a Christian, I saw my faith viewpoint as the "mature and valid" Christian perspective. (Most likely because most of my Christian experiences were with folks of similar persuasion ... as well as similar political views.) I could be tolerant of those who thought a bit differently, but don't think I was honestly respectful or accepting.
Then my circle of Christian colleagues expanded and I got to know ... really know ... committed, faithful Christians like Ted. I've learned to appreciate that those who know and serve Christ is a much larger, broader, and diverse people than I ever realized. I'm learning, too, that the beliefs and views of others that seem to prevent relationship disappear or become less divisive when we get to know each other as fellow human beings trying to live out faith in the tough real world.
As Ted's casket was carried down the aisle during the funeral's recessional hymn, I said a prayer of thanks. Thanks to God not only for knowing Ted, but for the gift that Ted (and many like him) have given me: The gift of better understanding, respecting, and appreciating the wideness of God's Kingdom. "Thanks Ted! I think I'm a better person for knowing you."
While most of us believe a heaven awaits at the end of this earthly journey, none really knows what heaven will be like. A few like to think they know, but no one here really knows. Through faith in Jesus though, we do know it will be good ... and that there will be many rooms. "If that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?" (John 14:2) But, the nature of heaven is something we do like to speculate about ... sometimes in fun, other times seriously. Streets of gold? Being greeted by all our loved ones? The women stunning, the men slim and trim?
Ted, here is one of my speculations: You know when on earth, Jesus' first miracle was at the wedding feast where he turned water into wine (the best wine of the feast!). When you are passing into that phase of Eternal Life, I see Jesus standing there waiting, you shuffling toward him with that infectious grin. His hand is out, but not for a shake of greeting. In his hand is a glass of cabernet sauvignon. "A glass of my finest, Ted. Welcome my good and faithful servant! ... Later I'll show you a favorite trout stream."
At this year's Men's Retreat, Ted, I guess I'll smoke my cigar alone. But, I will think of you as I watch the smoke circle its way to the heavens.