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Friday, July 25, 2008

Death

I gave the following remarks at Dad's funeral at Chalice Christian Church, I gave slightly different remarks at his service in Meadlawn Christian Church, where he was baptized, married, and ordained. Like almost everything from this week, I had decided not to post this. It seems some how vulgar to do so. But, I've since decided I want to keep it as a record. For those who weren't there, I want to share it. If it seems vain, it probably is.

Well, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. [Display Tab Can] When other people who started drinking Tab in the 70’s abandon it for new colas, colas without saccharine, colas that, you know, tasted good, Dad stayed true to Tab with an enduring, almost unsettling affection for the drink. We also, cannot remember him with remembering that physical characteristic about which he had so much pride. I’m talking about hat size, which, even with a full head of hair, was a mere 6-7/8. Of course, that means the inheritance he promised Jeff and Jay and me growing up, a 1/3 share of his extensive hat collection, is basically worthless to us, given our enormous, normal sized heads. [Rest very small hat on my head]

One evening when Dad was walking with Gary and me in Yorktown, he told us how he wanted to be remembered. He said that when people thought of him, he hoped they would smile. I think they surely will. They will smile remembering his charm and his wit, but they will also smile remember his uncommon kindness. A kindness that he did not only reserve for family or even close friends; but a kindness that he showered on anyone he came in contact with.

But if you will indulge me, I’d like to remember another aspect of Dad’s life. His favorite hymn that we will close the service with is Love Lifted Me. That is how Dad saw God working in his life, that is, lifting him up through the love of those around him. And he responded to that by lifting up those around him, with his love.

He started early, when he met a little girl in his Sunday school class who he tried to make realize how pretty she was & how smart she was. He raised his sons to have every advantage he could bestow upon us and was always there for us. He was a stalwart for his brothers to lean on in times of grief, most recently eulogizing their mother, which he characteristically began with a joke.

He reached beyond his family to lift people up. As a grade school teacher in a predominately black school that had no library, no class pictures, and a dearth of hope, he took his class to the public library; he brought in a Polaroid to give them pictures, and dressed in costumes on creative writing days: letting them know that he had not given up on them.

As a pastor, he baptized countless to members into the Church Universal and counseled scores of parishioners, even those who literally sought to have him fired, but he also started the first county-wide food bank in Lawrence County. He was instrumental in starting discussion groups in Delaware County to tackle race relations. How many refugees seeking a better life in this country did he resettle? He took work trips to the Navajo reservation, helped build a church in Jamaica, and indeed, he finally made it to Africa when he went on an information gathering trip to the Ivory Coast. In his last days, there was a disabled veteran who he was still helping with a few bucks when he could, even as he was in thick of battle with cancer. It is natural for children to see their parents as heroes, but Dad made it so easy.

In the end, though, he should have the last word. So as you think about him today, and for the weeks and years to come, make sure the first thing you do is smile.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Death: Metaphysics II

While in college, I wrote a paper about the unity of space and time. The idea is that time is just a dimension like width, length, and height. Duration is not different than displacement. The obvious challenge is that time sure seems different. But perhaps, college student JimII continued, time only seems different because we are human. Our powers of perceiving spatially are limited to three dimensions, thus in order to experience everything around us, we experience it as a sequence. Perhaps motion, cause-effect, all of it is a human construct. You do lose free will, though not the perception of free will, but still a downer.

I've fiddled with this stuff every once in a while. I've come back to it several times during this period when my life has been so touched by death. I find it strangely comforting. I think because it suggests that the past is real. That the idea of time passing away, is just a convention, like the idea that the earth is motionless. Sure, you have to live your life assuming the earth is motionless and fixed, but it really is not.

It also feels kind of juvenile to find comfort in such things. But, I don't guess it makes sense to judge what brings us comfort. We judge also most everything we do: our work, how we spend our money, how we raise our children, work on our marriage, how we eat. Seeking comfort should probably be done without judgment.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Death: Formality

Reverend James Evans Barton. Rev. Barton was born to Harrison and Marjorie Barton on August 18, 1948 in Indianapolis. He grew up in Indianapolis, where he met Pamela Watkins; the two were married on July 6, 1968.

Jim dedicated his life to his country, his church and his community.

Before his ordination into ministry, Jim served one tour of duty in Vietnam in the United States Air Force, taught grade school children at P.S. 73, and was active at Meadlawn Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), where he was youth group leader, elder and chairman of the board.

As a minister he served the Disciples of Christ congregations in Oakwood, IL; Mitchell, IN; and Yorktown, IN.

He established the interdenominational food bank, Lawrence County Interfaith Endeavor, was instrumental in forming discussion groups in Delaware County to address race relations, and resettled numerous refugee families from Vietnam, Iraq, and Bosnia.

After leaving the parish ministry, he taught religious studies at Ball State University, where his quick wit and open heart made him popular with faculty and student body alike.

Despite his litany of good works, Jim never took himself too seriously. He took supreme joy in helping those around him whether they be a student in his class, a parishioner he was counseling, or someone working the check out at the supermarket who had the good fortune to ring him up.

Jim is survived by his wife, Pamela; brothers, Harry (wife, Claudia), Neil (wife, Barbara) and Gary; sister Shelly; children, James (wife, Patricia), Jeffery, and Jaysen; and grandchildren, James and Katherine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Death: Metaphysics

You don't directly interact with people, right? Your interactions happen inside of your mind. You sense stimuli (like someone's voice) that your brain decodes giving rise to a perception. You have a response, which gives rise to some sort of signal in your brain that sends a little electric signal to you muscles and you respond by talking or hugging or whatever.

Last night I was sitting out in the rain and really spending some time focusing on Dad's memory. I was revisiting what it was like to talk with him on the poarch, or more often in front of the TV in our living room. I was consciously recalling times other than the last days to make sure I didn't lose the memories of the joyful, healthy person.

I thought about a colleague who said she still talks to her deceased father every day and I thought also about what Dad would have to say about current events in our family. Then my brother poked his head out to check and see if I was still doing okay, because they had all gone in the house a while ago.

I said I was fine, and then had that feeling of returning to a conversation, where you've lost your place. You know, a What-was-I-saying moment. Then I thought, again in a split second really, "Who was I just talking to?"

As they say, it is all in your mind.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Death

About a week before my father died, I pledged to be more disciplined about blogging. It has now been just over seven weeks since his passing, and I thought it might be time to return to the hobby. But, I want to capture some bits and pieces in this format. I have found a way to capture an interview dad gave to Ball State. I linked to it before, but this version should stay up if Ball State removes it from its website.
video
Okay more later.