And He Gave Some Pastors

I wrote this a long time ago, but didn’t post it then because I knew it would embarrass Clayton. I’m heartbroken that he can’t be embarrassed today.
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I once had a bishop whom I loved, and who loved me. I thought I was very special to him, but I’ve since learned that most of my friends in the ward thought they were particularly beloved as well.

Once, the day after my visiting teacher and I had talked about Alma 5, about receiving Christ’s image in your countenance, I happened to see the bishop across the street, at a distance of a couple of hundred yards. Unbidden, but also undramatically, came the thought “Oh, that’s what it looks like.” There was nothing spectacular I could point to, no special light emanating from his face, no transformation of his physical features (indeed, the best description I’ve ever heard of his physical aspect was from a friend speaking in Sacrament Meeting, who said that the bishop looked like a very large and exceptionally distinguished auto mechanic. It seems about right, and he laughed heartily, so I think it’s ok to repeat it). He just looked kind, and that kindness somehow overwhelmed every other impression one might have had.

Later on, a decade or so after I had moved away from his ward, I was desperately seeking inspiration about what was (and remains) the most difficult, soul-tearing decision I have ever had to make. I was (and remain) lousy at distinguishing impressions of the Spirit from the restless, neurotic activity of my imagination, so I went to the temple fasting and praying fervently that if there were words I needed to hear, that there would be someone there at the temple to say them to me in a way I could hear and recognize. It turned out to be a good thing I hadn’t been hoping to receive vivid inspiration on my own, because I spent the whole session near tears after walking in and seeing my dear old bishop for the first time in years, and sitting next to his wife (whom I also adore). Neither of them walked up to me and said, “the answer to your question is…,” but they both listened to me lay out the problem, and said something completely unexpected, which freed me from the agony of the questions enough to make a decision possible.

My bishop is still a young man, but he has had a series of major illnesses in the last few years, each seemingly crueler than the last. The first life-threatening crisis happened in November a few years ago, coincidentally a few months after I had gotten divorced. He spent days in the ICU, then several more days in the hospital, before being discharged just a couple of days before Thanksgiving. The next morning, early, he called my ex-husband, whom he barely knew, and said “I’m so sorry for the belated invitation–I’m hoping you might be able to join us for Thanksgiving dinner.” He knew I had family close and would be ok, but remembered, miraculously, that my ex-husband did not, and he wanted to make sure he wouldn’t be alone. This thoughtful gesture was both astonishing and completely unsurprising–completely typical of my bishop’s way of ministering. The circle of his love is always expanding, not because he casts his net wide (though he does), but because he loves individuals so deeply that his caring inevitably overflows to those around the ones he first cares for.

Last week, I heard that he was in the hospital again, after another serious crisis of a new and unexpected kind. I was furious. Every time I went to pray for him, I ended up sobbing in frustration, livid like a petulant child at a god who would let such a good man suffer so. I know better, and I should have more faith. But I don’t, and so I raged and sent petty blasphemies heavenward at regular intervals for a few days.

And then one day, out for a morning run, I passed their house, just as the door opened. And there he was, walking slowly and a little too carefully, taking out the trash. I managed not to cry right in front of him, but I wanted to, out of pure joy at seeing his kind face. We spoke just briefly, and I spent the rest of the morning repenting, vowing to learn to patiently take out the trash instead of demanding that the universe be ordered as I deem just.

I couldn’t stop thinking of a Carl Sandburg poem I love:

God is No Gentleman

God gets up in the morning,
And says, “Another day?”
God goes to work every day
At regular hours.

God is no gentleman for God
puts on overalls and gets
dirty running the universe we know
about and several other universes
nobody knows about but him.

I wonder if our heavenly homecoming will be a little less grand than we dream, less like the triumphal march of returning heroes, and a little more like my clumsy encounter with one of God’s best servants in the driveway the other morning. Perhaps He will look up from his work, and embrace us, even though we are grubby and a little stinky from the labor of getting there–and then we’ll both go back to our work, and it will seem just a little easier and more joyful, lightened by the grace of our belonging.

Comments

  1. You are not alone. In loving and being loved and remembering. May the memories long survive him.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    This is simply lovely.

  3. An amazing being. Always struck me as an elongated, authentically Mormon version of Mr. Rogers, but with a minor business school gig on the side. :-) So grateful to have frequented his University Ward neighborhood.

  4. Yes hpm–that seems about right.

  5. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Thank you for this. It is so poignant.

  6. Thank you, Kristine. This is marvelous.

  7. What a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you, Kristine. BCC posts frequently make me think; this one stopped me in my tracks and reminded me of all that is humbly great and Good about those who truly love and truly serve. Amidst all the difficult and complex issues at the intersection of Church and society, I need to more often remember this. I hope God is much like a bishop I knew far in my own past, who could make the most troubled and uncertain jack-Mormon feel like a loved and needed part of a caring community.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you for these memories, Kristine. They inspire me to be better.

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  9. I love your conclusion. And the example you laid out of a true disciple of Christ.

  10. CMC had a wonderful article in the Ensign, February 2007.

  11. This is beautiful, Kristine. It makes me love and miss Clayton even more.

  12. So beautiful, Kristine. I felt that way about him and I only knew him from his books. ❤️

  13. Stephen Hardy says:

    An amazing post about an amazing person. Thank you

  14. MK Solomon says:

    I am sorry for your loss and for ours. You expressed yourself beautifully and showed what an unusual and wonderful man he was.

  15. I only knew him through his writing. In his theory of Disruptive Innovation, I see much of the gospel of the restoration as similarly disruptive. It appears to me that he made no distinction between his professional and spiritual lives. His book on member missionary work made it seem so easy, but that is because he was the kind of person that you describe here. Thank you for sharing this.

  16. Antonio Parr says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  17. I met him once in an airport. My grandfather served with him in Boston-area church callings. And he was so kind. I remember distinctly describing my grandparents as “contributors.” It made me want to give of myself. Incredible man with an incredible spirit.

  18. Kristine, I love your thoughts and you express them so beautifully.

  19. My mom was visiting last week and I told her I missed reading your BCC essays. The next day, she was reading this beautiful one to me. Touching and inspiring as always. I find myself pondering how I can be more humble. I wish I had known him better. I also find myself thinking, “Smart, humble, kind, loving – those are Kristine’s qualities, too!” And so refreshingly funny. My favorite combination. Miss you! Keep sharing your words with us!

  20. (hiattus2 = Elizabeth Hiatt :)

  21. I’m with Rebecca J and hiattus2. I knew of his work from the most smart, humble, kind, and loving of my siblings who applies those principles as a health-care administrator and a member of a dysfunctional Mormon family. His influence has spread widely, and your elegy here expresses the most needful things so well.

  22. Carol Boswell says:

    Beautifully written about a man you were privileged to know. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  23. Carol, you’re right–it was such a privilege, and a great joy.

  24. Billy Possum says:

    How profoundly hopeful. Thank you, Kristine.

  25. Beautiful. Thank you.

  26. Connie Stromberg says:

    What a beautiful, thoughtful tribute to a wonderful man. I loved him when I read “Why I believe, Why I belong”.