Tuesday, January 5, 2010

David Gentiles: Rest in Peace

In ways eerily similar to what happened just 10 months prior in February of last year, on Tuesday, December 15, I answered a call while at school, after receiving a flurry of texts from my wife, only to hear her crying on the other end. David Gentiles, Katelin's youth minister growing up, the father of her best friend, and the man who married us, had had a terrible accident the night before and was in critical condition in Austin, Texas. After coming home that night, we worked it out for her to fly to Austin the next day to be with the family and her friends. Three days later, on Friday the 18th, David passed away, having turned 58 just weeks earlier and leaving behind three daughters, all in their early 20s.

The service remembering David was on Wednesday, December 30, at a baseball field (fittingly for the lifelong Indians fan). Hundreds of people gathered to share in the memory of this extraordinary man who, as father, minister, brother, and friend, impacted more people in more ways than any but God can know. Just to be in the man's presence was to know the love of Jesus. (You can read more about David at his church's website or at the newspaper article.)

Donald Miller offered the eulogy at the memorial, and here were some of his words:

But if it’s true a person’s life is a sermon, David Gentiles preached the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I’ll never forget him, or what he did with his life. David was a rock of a man and his sermon was love. His life and what it pointed toward will remain with me, and no doubt with many of you, as a foundation on which you will build your families, your friendships and your faith. It’s hard to imagine a sermon on love has ever been said better. I learned more about Jesus from David than any other person I know.

David was not a typical minister, though. I don’t think he liked preaching. He was my youth pastor when I was a kid and the only sermon I remember him giving was about the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of salvation. With each descriptive metaphor, David donned an article of baseball gear, and by the end of it he was dressed as a catcher for the Cleveland Indians, complete with a mitt and catchers mask. Then he asked us if we wanted to go outside and play baseball. I think he just wanted to play baseball.

In a culture where professional ministers are tempted to use people to build churches, David Gentiles used the church to get to people. The Churches where he worked were just buildings where he could bring us together. Sunday morning was a trick that got us in the room so we could share our lives. He didn’t care about buildings or salaries or status, he cared about us. That’s why hundreds of us have come today to fill this stadium, to say goodbye to a very simple man who never wrote a book or recorded an album, who never put his name on a marquee over a church, or sold his sermons on the internet. We are here because we have been loved personally by David Gentiles. For some of us, at some point in our lives, he may have been the only one.

. . .

I confess I often wondered why David never wrote a book of his own. He had enormous talent and a heart that networked effortlessly amongst the marginalized and the powerful alike. He could have sold a million books. I’d talk to him from time to time about these things and he’d smile and say he might have an idea or two, if he only had time to get around to it. And what was he doing with his time? He was showing up the concerts by The Daylights or Andy Davis, he was promoting the new Bob Bennet record or gathering up a group to go out to Billy Crockett’s ranch for a show. He was sending me Grace Pettis’ CD’s or telling us about Rick Diamond’s new book. He was too busy shining the spotlight on everybody else to bring any attention to himself. I don’t say this because David would want us to feel shame or guilt. I say this to say thank you. Thank you David for believing in us, cheering us on and even showing us the way. And thank you for giving us a perspective on love worth writing about, and a friendship worth dedicating our work to.

But all along, David was the one creating the great work of art. Perhaps he didn’t know he was doing it. All the great artists are hardly aware of what they are creating, or that they are creating at all. They lose themselves in their loves and passions. I confess I spent time wondering whether or not David was getting robbed. I watched him give his life away. I watched him live in rental houses, drive old cars, house people without charging them rent. I watched him wear the same work-boots day after day and I wondered why he didn’t use that incredible ability to make people comfortable to sell something. Who wouldn’t have bought a house from David Gentiles? He could have been a rich man.

I know now what I was secretly wondering was whether or not love could win. I was doubtful that a person who didn’t comodify his experiences to barter for status would leave this world with any status at all. But it’s obvious today that all along, David was right. His intuition was right.

The whole time David was building us. We are all he cared about. Us. Bringing us together, introducing us to each other, shining a spot light on our gifts and our talents, on our hurts and our needs so that this community of common humanity could find in each other the love for which we were bartering. I don’t know how David Gentiles saw through it all. There seemed to be little fog in his world, there seemed to be clarity.

. . .

His sermon, then, was Christ. It’s clear now. Like Christ, he created the church to get to people. He never wrote a book. He leaves behind no home, and few possessions. His passing was untimely and seemingly unjust. He spent his life ushering people home, standing in as a father, a shepherd, a brother and a friend.

It’s our only comfort, then, that David and Christ are together now. They have everything in common.

Finally, I leave you with my personal favorite picture of David. Having not known him very well but knowing full well how important he was and is to my wife, this is the picture of us with David after I had just laid a gigantic smooch on my only-just-then-pronounced-wife Katelin.

Thank God for the gift of his servant David: may God give David rest in the peaceful embrace of Christ: may God sustain the memory of David in our hearts and in the good and unending work of love. Amen.

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