Today marks the seven year anniversary of the loss of our pastor and dear friend Kyle Lake. Kyle’s legacy lives on in many ways. One thing that has been especially meaningful for UBC’ers, those who knew him and those who have joined us along the way since his passing, has been Kyle’s benediction that we say as a congregation at the end of the service. I have asked several people to reflect on the benediction and share thoughts with us. I will be posting their stories and artwork here for the next few days. _________________________________
Kyle had a gift. He had many gifts, but one I remember quite well always amused me.
When we were around town, going to lunch or a midday movie, Kyle Lake never had to look for a parking spot. Almost without fail, the second he pulled into a parking lot the car closest to the door of wherever we were going would be pulling out. If we were in separate cars I would usually be stuck parking as far away as possible. If I was ahead of Kyle, I'd drive by the first row of cars and nothing would be open. But the second I drove past, someone would walk out of the restaurant or theater and head directly to their car in the front row.
When I rode with him in his car, once he pulled in and saw the open spot right in the front, he would giggle with such childlike intensity at his luck. Over time we made a joke of it. It started with one of us (I can't remember who began this) exclaiming that the Lord sure is blessing him today. (We were not-so-subtly mocking a strain of theology that suggests God blesses his children with things like convenient parking spots.) Over time the joke morphed away from being a simple blessing and toward a works/reward theology of righteousness. He would scream at the top of his lungs, "I'm being blessed by God because of my CLEAN LIVING!"
The evolution of the joke settled into a statement we shared among ourselves whenever the parking spot would open. The giddiness subsided into a simple, routine phrase, almost as perfunctory as saying "Thank You" and "You're Welcome." He simply saw the open spot and said, "That's clean livin' right there."
A couple of weeks ago at Common Grounds, the coffee shop near the Baylor campus that often served as Kyle's informal office, during the busiest time of day I drove to the back parking lot and a spot closest to the building opened up. After I pulled into it and got out of my car, a student walked by. On my way walking past him I instinctively nodded toward the car and said, in passing, "That's clean livin' right there."
"Huh?" he said?
"I said 'that's clean living' right there.'"
"Oh, uh, ok."
I've been given a gift as well. On almost every Sunday I get to lead our congregation in Kyle's benediction-- "As we approach this week, may we Love God, Embrace Beauty, and Live Life to the Fullest."
Growing up in an evangelical church, it isn't uncommon for us to be taught about loving God. I mean, the Bible tells us to love him with all we are. So "As we approach this week, may we love God..." isn't strange to hear. But "...embrace beauty, and live life to the fullest?" Seems a little odd.
Yet in our immersion into these words of our friend Kyle, they have proven not to be odd. Embracing beauty and living life to the fullest are not addendums to loving God, they are signposts, guides along the way in our efforts to love God. For Kyle, we do love God in the same ways we were always taught to love God-- we pray, read the Scriptures, worship and devote our lives to being transformed into the image of Jesus. But we also love God by embracing beauty, by seeking it out like detectives or, more appropriately, like treasure hunters. We love God by living life to the fullest, expanding our capacities as humans to love, laugh and, yes, even to grieve.
Kyle lived life to the fullest. While I don't believe those parking spots opened up for him because of God's special blessing on his life, nor do I believe special rewards always come to those who live "clean," (and he didn't believe these things either,) I still think the story is a perfect metaphor for what Kyle tried to teach us with his life, and what we've tried to do after his death-- Regardless of whether we park in the front or have a long way to go, there's always reason to laugh. And laughter is never an impediment to loving God, but an accomplice.
Craig Nash finds it strange to be writing about himself like Jimmy or George, in the third person. He is a community pastor at UBC, a graduate of East Texas Baptist University and (kind of, soon-to-be) of Truett seminary. With Kyle as his inspiration and teacher, he has mastered the art of sneaking away from the church in the middle of the day to watch a movie without anyone noticing.