Monday, March 19, 2012

He's Taken the Journey Away

When I was a security guard in California during college, I used to ride a patrol route, checking several different buildings, throughout the course of a night, contracted by my company. When I was first starting on the patrol duty, a security guard experienced with that route was assigned to train me for it. His name was John. John was Native American by descent and spoke much about his tribe's culture. One night John was somewhat quiet on our patrol route. Sensing something wrong, I asked him what was the concern. Apparently a close friend of his had died and he was mourning that loss. Respectfully, John asked me if I minded if he "mourned" his friend in the truck as we drove along. I consented, and John broke into his tribal song of mourning. The words were in his native tongue, which I could not discern; but John translated for me after:

He's gone away.
He's gone away.
He's taken the journey
far from me.
From herd and land and kin,
my friend has gone away.
To run and hunt where I cannot see,
my friend has gone away.
He's gone away.

As I heard him sing those repeated lines on his native language, I mourned with him. It was a sad song of loss. The tune echos in my mind to this day.

Christians sometimes get it wrong by refusing to mourn as is fitting. Yes, we have the hope of the resurrection in Christ, but there is sadness when my friend "has gone away." Certainly we mourn differently than "those who have no hope" (cf. 1 Thess 4:13), but we still mourn. As King David of the Old Testament spoke about the his own child's death, "I will go to him, but he cannot return to me" (2 Sam 12:23). Therefore I mourn the death of my dear friend David Shelton, who saw the face of the Lord Jesus Christ (directly!), who he had portrayed in many an Easter play, Saturday night on March 17th, 2012.

He's gone away.
He's gone away.
My friend has gone away.

I first met David when my wife and I were attending the college group at Overlake Christian Church in Kirkland, Washington (it's now in Redmond a mile away). He was telling his original story "The Great King" for the gathering. I admired him as a man of God then, and saw in him the rare character of godliness that had not shed any manliness. A meek and gentle man, his smile was infectious, but the words he spoke you knew were true. It was no wonder he was always selected to play "Jesus" in the Easter musical at OCC...he looked and acted like we all "think" Jesus must have been like when he walked through the Jerusalem or the Judean countryside.

David and I became peers when we were both on the facilities staff at OCC, working together cleaning the building, setting up classrooms and repairing things here and there. I was working through college and he was supplementing income between bookings for his performance ministry (http://www.davidshelton.org/). We talked about our respective ministries all night as we cleaned restrooms, stacked tables or repaired communion cup holders for the Worship Center. Theology and family, stories and children kept the conversation always lively. His humor and demeanor kept me wanting to work in the section of the complex where he was as often as possible. Of course breaks times were spent together, and on nights when my children were on site, he'd spend the break time telling my daughter stories that other venues would book him to perform.

We interacted over what makes a good story, how you tell it and what keeps people interested. He agreed that all good stories cannot help but tell aspects of God's story because people are naturally drawn to stories that tell things that are true. Just a few years later David, and his wife Deb, would welcome me back to their home to tell my own "Bright Knight" story in places that had been previous enjoyed David's "Great King" trilogy. David was not merely my friend. He had such vast and far-reaching influence that many, many friends are mourning him now. David Shelton was a friend to me though, in a way that I've not had many other friends before or since. Therefore I mourn him. After several years of suffering from alzheimer's disease (a rather unjust affliction, in my opinion, for a man whose mind glorified Christ so greatly), he was freed of it when his mortality put on immortality (cf. 1 Cor 15). He was my friend, and I loved him. I know I shall clasp hands with him in the resurrection of the body promised in Christ Jesus, but in the meantime I also know that I will go to him, but he will not return to me.

He's gone away.
He's gone away.
My friend has gone away.

1 comment:

Paula Popp said...

I am so lucky to have had a little slice of David, enough that I can picture everything you describe. We had a Christmas open house one year and I will never forget him sitting down with the children at the party and reading the book about Mr. Toomey. Now we read it every year. And we watch Innkeeper's Dream on Christmas Eve. Some of my absolute favorite traditions.