Tribute to a Great Man

My grandparents, Arthur and Norma Schultz

My grandparents, Arthur and Norma Schultz

What makes a man great? What he gains? What he accomplishes? I want to adhere to a countercultural definition of greatness: a simpler but harder definition than success. I want to define greatness as being present, loving well, and remaining steadfastly faithful. My grandfather, Arthur Schultz, by that definition was a great man.

He was not wealthy. He never received any magnificent career accolade. He was rarely the center of attention in any room.

The greatness I see in his life cannot be summarized in a few great moments. It was in a great many simple moments. It was in the great many moments he served his congregation as their pastor, loving them and being present in the times it counted as well as in the week-in week-out slow labor of leading, guiding, teaching, serving, and loving. It was in the great many moments he served his wife Norma who for most of her life was in poor health especially the last 20 years after her debilitating stroke.

They dreamt of a retirement in Arkansas, enjoying the Southern climate, hosting family for vacations, traveling some, and integrating themselves as members of a community no longer charged with leadership only service. But that’s not what happened. Instead Arthur took a new call as caregiver rather than pastor. I never heard him complain about that.

His greatness too was in his moments of leadership in the family. He and Norma buried three of their five children: Nathan first from a brain tumor, then Alan in a shocking helicopter accident, and Paul from skin cancer. Finally, he buried his wife too after almost sixty years of mundane, faithful, and gloriously beautiful love. At those funerals, he sang the hymns as loudly as his strong bass voice could utter. He grieved but not without hope.

In a life full of tragedy and joy, he was present and engaged. He even committed many of his experiences into writing including several books and his memoirs which are a great gift to us his family. He loved well.

A few summers ago, my parents, my siblings plus families, and I (now numbering 18 in all) took a vacation on the shores of Lake Michigan. Grandpa joined us too. I watched him several times on the patio outside the inn looking out upon his great grandchildren playing on the nearby slide and monkey-bars. My parents were with him as were a few of my siblings and their spouses, reading, watching the kids, talking, and relaxing. I saw that faint satisfied grin on Grandpa’s face. He was quiet and peaceful and at the height of joy in his own subdued manner.

I have often said that throughout my life I want to say honestly that those who are closest to me would feel the most loved. In other words, I want to be like Arthur Schultz.

There have been many great men like Arthur. I’ve been privileged to know several. They don’t often get acclaim, but in my book they’ve done a lot more good in this world than the few who do receive such recognition.

Yesterday morning, my grandpa Art passed away. Now we grieve that loss but not without hope. For the resurrection means that those treasured joyful moments are not passing away. They’re becoming more real every minute as the Kingdom of God advances. Soon the kind of greatness I saw in Art will fill the new Creation because it is the Kingdom kind of greatness.

Thanks for reading. I’d like to ask you to honor the great men and women in your life.

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One comment

  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    Jon,
    A great man indeed! Allow me to introduce myself. I am your mother’s mother’s brother’s daughter. Uncle Art and Aunt Norma were my Godparents. (A very wise choice on my parents part, I always thought). I have wonderful memories that go back over 60 years of Uncle Art’s gentle hand, strong singing voice, and beautifully comforting words. And also some very hilarious ones about two families, each with five children, who lived and vacationed and supported one another sometimes in Texas, sometimes in Iowa, and sometimes in Illinois. (And oh do I have stories about your mother and me.)
    Your words capture not just the greatness of this man, this faithful servant; but also of your commitment to love and serve in his footsteps. I hope you soon find that “next step” in your journey. May I suggest you consider something that allows you to write. For like Uncle Art, you seem to have a gift for penning deep feelings. It’s probably just one of the many gifts God has bestowed on you.
    Sharing a mutual love and respect,
    Kathy Rothgangel

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