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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Eulogy for Mark Lee Brown

The following is James' eulogy for his Dad

God is so interesting to me.
As someone who loves a well-told story, I can appreciate the way God interweaves lives and situations into this intricate meta-narrative that spans all space and time.
I don’t like certain parts of the story, but I am learning to trust the storyteller.

I find it very fitting that I would be back in this church, where over 20 years ago at a Vacation Bible School, I became a follower of Christ.
And this is something that has never left me.
Through every trial and every storm, I have clung to the promise that God will never leave me or forsake me.
And this is true even now, that in one of the saddest chapters thus far, He is holding onto me still.

I am here today, as you are, to remember the life and person of Mark Lee Brown, or as I will be referring to him for the remainder of this speech, My Dad.
It’s true that you don’t realize how much a person has touched your life until they are gone.
A flood of memories has just overwhelmed me since my Dad’s passing and I wanted to share a handful of those now.
Hopefully it paints a portrait of who my Dad was and what he means to me, as much as anyone can do that it 20 minutes or less.

Growing up, I thought, the way I’m sure a lot of little boys think, that my Dad was the coolest person in the world.
Whatever he did, I thought that was the right way to do it.
And he affirmed this for me many times over by always telling me that it was.

Food, for example, was always separated, never to be encroached upon by other foods.
The steak didn’t touch the potatoes, which didn’t touch the peas, and so on.
Therefore, I didn’t want my food to touch.
He ate his food, one thing at a time, and one piece at a time, whether it was french fries or a box of Nerds candy.
Size didn’t play a factor.
And I did the same.
It wasn’t until later on that I realized not everyone ate their food this way, that this was actually a little quirky.
But I just thought that they were wrong and we were right, because, like I said, he told me they were wrong.

Dad was big on rules.
He ritualized the things he loved.
He loved food, hence the rules on how best to enjoy it.
He also loved movies, and had appropriate rules for the movie theater.
We’d always arrive a half hour before, get our snacks, look at the posters, and be seated at least 15 minutes prior.
He’d never see a movie that had already started and almost never saw the same movie twice, unless he really thought I should see it.
I remember going to all the classic Disney movies with him as kid.
I would sit next to him and he would fashion me a little cone out of a napkin and fill it with popcorn, so I had something to eat it out of.
It was likely the culmination of these experiences that sent me to film school.

I think most people would describe my dad as a quiet man, reserved in his emotions, and in a lot of situations he was.
But those of us who knew him best were privileged to these extreme bouts of silliness.
I remember him and all of us kids playing with a strobe light—which was the thing to do in the late 80’s, early 90’s—and it was pulsing at it’s highest frequency so that it looked like an old film projector.
And so my Dad grabbed a couple props—a fire poker in a place of a cane and a little plastic top hat—and then, in a manner reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, proceeded to dance around the room singing “I’m in the money.”

He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
But mostly his humor was subtle, spoken softly under his breath, and if you weren’t listening, you would probably miss it.
Quick and witty little remarks, like when he would drive by a bank and, in a voice like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, he would point and say “ATM…ATM…”
Or when an ad would come on the radio, and the announcer would ask some rhetorical questions pertaining to the product they were trying to sell, Dad would always respond to these, as if he were having an actual conversation with the person.

It might go something like this:
ANNOUNCER: Are you experiencing hair loss?
DAD: Yes. How did you know?
ANNOUNCER: Do you long for the full, thick hair you had when you were younger?
DAD: Yes, I do!
ANNOUNCER: Then call Bosley and Associates for a free consultation.
DAD: No, don’t tell me what to do.

I don’t know why, it made me laugh every time though.

He was not usually demonstrative or ostentatious in his praise, so I learned to become very aware of the nuances of his interactions.
After my graduation ceremony from college, he gave me a card telling me how much he loved me and how proud he was, something short and sweet.
I looked up from the card and thanked him.
He gave me a quick tear-filled wink, and then glanced back at his food.
That said all I needed to know.

At my wedding, he gave a speech.
He began “James, I loved you from day one….”
Then he stopped, choked up with tears, but only for a moment, lest he become undone with emotion, and then he straightened his tie and finished the rest of his speech without incident.

I have these and a million other little gems that I will remember:
His love for Coke, or as he referred to it, “the nectar of the gods.”
And pickles. At any given time, he had at least five different kinds of pickles in the fridge.
Or the one’s that are just mine.
Like when he woke me up at sunset to go walking with him on a beach in Hawaii, just him and I, while the rest of the family slept.
Or him teaching me to use a score card at a baseball game.
Or on a bridge somewhere over the water, where for some reason I asked him what he would do if I fell in.
And he told me he would dive in after me, even though he didn’t know how to swim, which is true.
He never learned.
And there are too many to list here

And so I have all these wonderful memories, but if I’m honest with you, I am filled with a lot of mixed emotions.

See, part of our story is that my Dad was a weekend Dad for as far back as I can remember.
My parents divorced when I was just a baby.
Despite how ordered and calculated he was, this was not a mess he could prevent.
This wasn’t what he wanted.
I know that.
It’s something that happens in a broken world with broken people.
Now that I have kids, I understand what this must have been like for him.
Because if someone were to tell me that for the rest of my life I could only see my two boys on the weekend, I would about die.
I know he felt the same way.

Because this was the reality I was born into, growing up I didn’t really know any different.
But when I was going through trying times in high school and college, I longed for an intimate relationship with my father, who seemed at times at an arms length.
I wanted to be able to tell him my struggles, but didn’t know how and maybe he didn’t know how to ask.

The other night I was looking at pictures of us from when I little, and I was filled with a mix of anger, sadness, joy, and regret.
For a man I had so much more to talk about with, things I needed to say that were never said, or things I needed to hear that were never heard.
For the adventures we had yet to go on, for the grand kids he was supposed to spoil.

In the world’s idea of fairness, I think all of us would agree that he died way to young.
56 years is not a long time.
And why did he have to die the way he did, his body slowly deteriorating, and his mind along with it?
Death is anything but neat and ordered.
Death doesn’t play by our rules.
It doesn’t wait for me to catch a flight, for instance, so that I can sit by him and sing to him and at the very least tell him how much I love him, how much he has meant to me, so that I can at least tell him good-bye.

From my perspective, this looks like an absolute mess.

And it wouldn’t matter that he was good man or that he touched so many people’s lives—and I know that he was and I know that he did—but if this were all you could offer, then I would be consumed with grief.
The tension between these sad, sweet memories and the deep sorrow and permanence of this loss would be so great as to rip me in two.
And I would be inconsolable.

But that isn’t the case today.
I can tell you definitively that death does not win.

About a month ago, my family and I came out to visit my Dad.
Just prior to that, I had begun to wrestle with the idea that I could lose him, something that I never really considered until recently.
We live in a culture that very effectively distracts us from ever having to deal with the question of death, until it is upon us.
And this sent me into a very dark place.
And I wrestled with God for weeks in this dungeon of darkness, and then God gave me this verse, this marvelous light, which I shared with my Dad.

Hebrews 2:14-15—“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

I sat across from him and read this to him.
And then I asked him where he was with that.
Was he enslaved by this fear of death?
And if he was, I wanted to let him know that he didn’t need to be.

See, in the beginning—you know the story—God created the heavens and the earth and he created everything in it, including man and woman.
And he put them in a garden and they walked and talked with Him, and it was perfect…
Until they sinned against God, and the bible tells us that the wages of sin was and is death.

Death was not a part of the original equation.
It was not what God intended.
It was not what he wanted.
And so when I hear people say things like, “It isn’t right,” or “he died too young…” they are responding to the unnaturalness of death.
All of creation screams that this is wrong, that it is not as it should be, that something is indeed broken.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that “God has put eternity into man’s heart.”

The good news is we don’t need to live in fear, because our Lord sent a savior.
You only need to look at man dying rapidly of cancer to realize that we are a people incapable of saving ourselves.
Thank God that the savior has come.
His name is Jesus Christ.
He came as the perfect sacrifice, died on a cross and rose again, thus conquering sin and death and providing a way back to the Father.

That is the beauty of the gospel in the midst of our mess, that through death King Jesus, the savior of the world, rendered powerless him who had the power of death.

When I asked my Dad if he was living in fear of death, He told me that he had made his peace with Christ, that he was prepared to go and meet his maker if that’s what God wanted.

 In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul says this: “And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a believer when they die so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those who have no hope.”

It gives me great comfort to know that not my Dad is in a place where all things sad have become untrue, that all the loose ends and unfinished business, and all the regrets of this life are gone, and he stands before the throne of God clothed in the righteousness of Christ, more alive than he has ever been.

It is why I can sing with confidence, “Ain’t no grave gonna hold me down.”

One of the last things my Dad said to me was that he didn’t think God was through with him yet, that he had more for him to do.
I think he is absolutely right.
His life has just begun.
Whether we live 56 years or 96 years, this life on Earth is just a drop of water in the ocean of eternity.

Where are you with that?
Does that resonate with you?
Do you have questions?
If so, there are answers in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to wrestle with Him.
He always wins, by the way.

I look forward to the day when I can sit with my Dad as fellow saints in the kingdom of heaven, without fig leaves, without the layers of protection we build around ourselves for fear of being truly known, without all of the barriers that inhibit intimacy, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we will understand.

This is the hope I cling to.