Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A joke Jack would have loved

I heard a joke today that would have pleased my friend and mentor, Jack Parker, a great deal. He would have never have been able to tell it because he would have started laughing half-way through and would have sputtered out the punch line.

I preached at Jack's funeral, as I have at too many funerals of dear friends and mentors.

I'll share that sermon, then tell you the joke Jack would have loved.

OCTOBER 17, 2009

          Years ago, I went on a day trip with three men who I love like uncles and mentors and dear, dear friends. Jack Parker and Bill Penny and David Pritchard and I drove up into the heart of New England. I remember that we went to a place called ‘The Cathedral of the Pines’ and we also went to see Jack’s mountain—the one he loved and had climbed time and time again and where some of his ashes will be scattered by his remarkable family—we had a great lunch at some place one of them knew and somehow got back before it was too late for such a motley crew to be out without getting into mischief!
          A friend of mine told me that there are only two plots in all of literature. One is, “A stranger arrives in town”. The other is, “Someone sets out on a journey”.
          I have memories of sharing part of the journey that is life with Jack Parker.
          Memories like that are precious, rare, wondrous and, finally, Holy.
         I’ve ONLY known Jack Parker for 20 years or so. I say ‘only’ because I know some of you have known him much longer than that—his children, his family that he loved so fiercely…and others. But knowing him for two decades was a bountiful gift to me from God. And, if I had to choose a word to describe that gift it would be this—‘holy’.
          I’ve never known anyone who loved a bad, corny joke as much as Jack.
          Most of the jokes Jack loved began something like this: “A rabbi and a priest and a Baptist minister went into a bar….” Or, like this: ‘Three elderly men were sitting on the front porch of the nursing home….’ Or, like this, “A man was trying to sell a talking dog….”
          I think you get the point. Jack would start laughing half-way through telling the joke and anyone who was listening would start laughing with him, entranced by Jack’s laugh, caught up in his story, not caring at all how the joke turned out—it would turn out ‘bad’ and ‘corny’—but thankful and joyous to be sharing a laugh with Jack….
          There is a word for sharing a laugh with Jack. The word is ‘holy’.
          There is a word that occurs to me for anything, anytime ‘shared with Jack’. The word is ‘holy’.
          OK, he was not St. Francis of Assisi. Not quite. But he was, for me, a ‘holy’ man. Truly, really, without fear of contradiction…Jack was ‘holy’. No kidding. I’m not exaggerating. Not at all.

          He taught me….so many things…. Knowing Jack was like post-Doctoral work in kindness and love and long-suffering and generosity of Spirit and joy. Knowing Jack was like a seminar in prayerfulness. He was a priest to be admired, a man to be emulated, a quick study in sweetness. It seems an odd word, perhaps, but Jack was a sweet, sweet man. I know you all know what I mean.
          And learning these things from Jack was—have I mentioned this?—Holy.
          The words from Jesus in today’s gospel are among the most beautiful and comforting in all of Scripture.
          “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me…In my father’s house are many rooms…If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you?”
          The Greek word translated ‘rooms’ is ‘mona’. That word has many possible translations—rooms, resting places, mansions (as we used to say) and abodes. That’s the one I like “abodes”…places to be, space to ‘abide’ in the nearer presence of the God who loves us best of all.
          The last time I saw Jack, I made him promise that he wouldn’t die until I got home from a trip to the beach. He said he’d try, but he wasn’t sure he could. It was the only promise he didn’t keep to me. He had other plans, another place to abide.
          That last time I saw Jack, I offered him communion. The sacrament was Jack’s favorite food and drink, but that last time, he said ‘no’.
          “You’ve been a priest to me long enough,” he told me, with that crooked smile and twinkling eye he always had, “we’re just two old friends saying goodbye….”
          Jack taught us all so very much about ‘living’. And he taught us how to die.
          And it is time now—he would have wanted it this way—it’s time for us to smile and remember and thank God for the journey and say ‘good bye’ to our old, dear friend….
          “I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
          Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
          Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
          I triumph still, if thou abide with me.” Amen.

(Has it been that long--nearly 9 years since dear Jack died? Something I didn't mention in the sermon was that Jack supported me in the most dire moment of my career. I was a supporter of GLBT rights and invited "Integrity"--a group of GLBT folk and their friends to use St. John's as their worship home. Jack became their chaplain and I attended most of their meetings. Four (surprise) older white men were enraged and tried to get me fired. Jack was with me as we met with them and then with the parish who rallied around Integrity and supported me profoundly. He was my rock in those few months of turmoil.)

So, here's the joke he would have loved because it is so bad, and would have started laughing before he got to the end.

"Why did the cowboy buy a dachshund?  Because he wanted 'to get a-long little doggie."

I can hear Jack laughing in my heart....


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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.