Tuesday, November 20, 2012

God Speed Johnny!

Busy, busy, busy! Yep…that’s life for a father of an 8 month and 2 year old boys.  I love it!

I’ve been intending to write, but there’s been so much happening lately in addition to the growing boys. 

However, after last night I thought it was time to write and give thanks…it is Thanksgiving week after all.

On Saturday, a dear friend, Johnny Johnston (88) passed away.  Sadly, I only learned that he was in the hospital within a couple of days of his passing and that his condition was such that visitation was not possible.  So…last night was his final viewing.  I knew that I had to go and pay my respects to the kind soul of this gentleman.

I entered the funeral home looking for familiar faces; spoke to his widow briefly and then stood over Johnny to say goodbye. I was immediately drawn to 2 items there in the casket with him.  The first thing I noticed was the bright and shiny Disciples Men pin affixed to his suit jacket lapel and secondly, hanging about his neck was a cross.  Not just any cross, a special gift that was given to him.  I have the same cross as it was given to me for the very same remembrance.  Both Johnny and I were members of the 12 Disciples in our church’s production of The Living Last Supper.  Johnny portrayed, ‘Thaddeus’ and I, ‘Thomas’.  The production ran for about 5 years in the mid 2000’s.   At the conclusion of the production each cast member was given this special hand crafted metal cross as a keepsake of the experience.

A warm glow came over me as I stood there smiling at the sight of both of these items knowing that they would be buried with him.

That cross was indeed a special connection we shared, but we also shared fellowship as Disciples and Jesus Followers off stage.  Johnny was a devoted attendee of the Disciples Men book study group that I had the honor to be a part of.  As I stood there, I recalled giving Johnny the lapel pin and I remember how honored and appreciative he was that I had given it to him; no ceremony.  I had an extra one and I told him that he deserved it for his steadfast commitment to the church and the men’s group. 

We learned so very much in that small group setting.  5 to 8 men met every Monday night for a time of fellowship; discussion of spirituality and perhaps do a book study.  Johnny was the eldest in the group.  Many times this small framed man would sit quietly through an entire evening’s reflection and discussion.  Then other times he would become a giant of wisdom in the room, recanting in his soft gravelly voice some special encounter or treasured personal story.  On more than one occasion Johnny shared his questions and views on what happens at death.  The topic of the ‘golden rule’ came up often with Johnny present.  We talked about how ‘burning bushes’ are all around us and we asked how we’re to know how to recognize them.  We asked what would clue us in to someone in real need or someone only looking for some change to collect for that next ‘40’ at the convenience store.  Johnny would remark by asking how could we ever know whether someone would use a gift of compassion for good or for bad.  He believed it's not our place to worry about that.  The importance for him was the act itself because that’s what he felt Christ had taught him.  

One special moment that sticks out for me that I can recall in group with Johnny present is when we discussed where we went to be close to God.   Johnny talked about how growing up he would walk through the woods to a small stream and once there listen for God’s voice in the quiet rippling of the water.  There was no doubt that all of us learned something whenever he would speak.  I think he enjoyed the fact that it was a relatively small group and that it was a genuine safe place for us all to share our inner most thoughts on spirituality.  What happened in men’s group stayed in the men’s group.  So, yes, seeing the Disciples Men pin I’d given him was truly heartwarming and very meaningful for me.

God speed Johnny!  Peace be with you my friend.

He told us, ‘Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’”-Line of Thaddeus from ‘The Living Last Supper’ drama (Matthew 10:16)

God thank you during this Thanksgiving season for the spirit of Johnny Johnston and for the wisdom, compassion and friendship he shared with us.  Amen.


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