While preparing for today, I asked my brother Dan for his thoughts and he shared a story that summarizes Granny’s faith. It happened a couple years ago as he and his wife, Cara, were getting ready to move to Indiana so he could take pastoral position at a Quaker Church. Now Granny didn’t know anything about Quakers beyond the Quaker’s meeting game she taught us when we were kids. It’s the one that starts: “Quaker’s meeting has begun, no more laughing, no more fun, no more showing whites of teeth, no more chewing bubblegum.” And then we all went silent, like the Quakers … she used to play it with us on road trips when she wanted us to be quiet.
Anyway, Granny was obviously concerned about the Quakers and Dan going to be a pastor there. After internally processing for a bit she asked, “Do they love Jesus?” Dan smiled and replied, “Yes, they love Jesus.” Granny didn’t have another question, that was all that mattered to her. You see, Granny’s faith was simple, and yet, as Pastor Doug put it the other day, it wasn’t simplistic. Rather, I believe her faith was rich and complex, but not in the sense of dogmatic statements or theological proclamations, rather, it was richly and complexly lived.
In Genesis 1 we read that people were created in the image of God. More and more, I believe those words mean that we were created as those who can, like a mirror, reflect the image of God to each other and the rest of creation, and that’s where the richness and complexity of Granny’s simple faith is revealed. Let me share three stories that highlight different ways that I remember Granny and see Jesus.
The first comes from my younger years and it involves getting back to Granny and Grandpa’s house after Sunday services. While most people would do something like leave the pew, shake the pastor’s hand, have a cup of coffee, and go to the car, that didn’t work for Granny. You see, she had to stop and talk to everybody, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say everybody. If she knew you, she followed up on something you’d talked about the week before. If she didn’t know you, she needed to meet you and find out something she could check in on the next time you talked. Everybody was reached out to, connected with, and embraced. Everybody mattered. Everyone was important. And every name, was remembered. In a world where so many people are disposable, forgotten, and nameless, Granny didn’t ignore anyone … not the tax collectors, or lepers, or sinners, because Jesus liked to image himself off of her.
The second story that comes to mind is more recent and far more personal. A few years ago, sin and brokenness in my own life manifested itself in a very public way. It was painful, humiliating, and destructive, not only in my life, but in the lives of everyone close to me including Granny. Her initial response were the simple words, “I’m mad at you.” After a few months, her daughter, my Aunt Debbie, arranged for the three of us to meet and talk. Over a couple hours we shared, processed, explored next steps, and wept. As the conversation closed, I asked for forgiveness, and she gave it. But she didn’t just give it, she lived it. From that moment forward, our relationship was different. There was an extra twinkle in her eye as she told me she got a speeding ticket. Laughter was heartier, hugs were warmer, and conversations were more real. Granny was someone who could say, “Is nobody left to condemn you? Then neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.” because Jesus liked to image himself off of her.
Finally, as long as I can remember, Granny was amazed that she’d reached whatever age she was at. The first birthday I recall her being shocked at was 55. Every year brought another surprise and more amazement. But something happened over the past few years and Granny developed a bit of a wild side. She decided to embrace life in a way that I’d never seen, be it going for a ride in a hot air balloon and handling a crash landing with ease, or putting on her leathers and taking a motorcycle ride through the Garden of the Gods, or taking the family to Mexico and stepping out into the ocean as part of her 90th birthday celebration, or finding herself a younger beau … and Red, what a gift you are. Now what grabs me isn’t so much the activities she chose, it’s that she decided, instead of waiting to die, that she was going to live. It’s as if she realized that her Jesus lives, and that he came to give abundant life. And as she made the most of every day, Jesus imaged himself off of her.
Like I said at the beginning, Granny’s faith was simple. It was Amazing Grace and I Know That My Redeemer Lives. He faith was Away in a Manger and Jesus Loves Me. It Was Abide With Me. But her faith wasn’t simplistic, because Jesus liked to image himself off of her.