“I’m in a real pickle, and I don’t relish it.” – Matthew
I’ll go ahead and remove the suspense: Matthew died this weekend.
He served as a pastor, bookshop curator, minister, chaplain, missionary, and friend.
Matthew never set out to be anyone’s mentor, but he was mine. He came along when I most needed someone who could relate to my individualistic soul, a fellow-loner who could listen to my rantings and offer me another piece of naan. He was also the most quotable person I ever knew.
“Being with you is like being alone.”
Ministry presents unique difficulties for introverts. Extroverts and those Myers-Briggs laodiceans view us as withdrawn or unloving. “Be Christlike,” they admonish, “and interact with everyone who comes along. After all, the Bible makes Jesus’ extroversion quite clear…He, at least, loved people.” Matthew taught me how to love those around me without surrounding them with a verbal deluge and without drowning under theirs. So long as it never became an excuse for not loving people, preferring small groups to large ones remained a viable ministry option.
“Had another religious experience in the shower this morning.”
Matthew always smiled unless thoughts pushed and shoved across the landscape of his face. His joy was not the “Yay, Jesus!!” that usually turns me off, reminding me as it does of a dime-store clown trying to sell helium balloons and electric clippers. He smiled when he grew sick, when he missed the last bus home, and most memorably when his water heater in northern Europe stopped working in January; a religious experience, indeed.
“Forgetting to pray or study in order to seek happiness? Holiness IS happiness.”
Matthew dragged me through the darkest period in my entire life. My sins and flaws, my ministerial failures and misfires – they all entangled and enmeshed me as I sank further than I thought possible. While I never listed the moral struggles lurking behind some of my problems, Matt brought to the surface key notions that effectively illuminated my failure to understand the crux of the matter. He illustrated how personal holiness was my duty, and the holiness of others was theirs, even if their failures hurt me more than anyone else. Of course, it took far too long for his lessons to sink in, but that’s on me, not him.
“It’s not so much that they tell you ‘As a Christian, you stink!’ as it is they lead you to a mirror and show you to yourself. You’re the one who says, ‘I stink!'”
Oh, he was brave. He did not use his sensitivity as an excuse to avoid painful moments and experiences, especially those designed for growth. He taught me to face, unafraid, the evaluations of others. Matthew’s lessons eventually helped me allow godly men and women to sift and weigh me. I grew bold, and lost my fear of moralistic mirrors.
“Do you see angels?”
We put away our fair share of Indian, Japanese, and Lebanese food together. We played word games, tested one another on movie trivia, and generally brothered one another. The third-to-last time we saw one another was at a pan-Asian buffet in Winston-Salem, NC. When I left the table for a second round at the trough, Matthew was contemplating a large bolus of wasabi lurking on the corner of his plate. I returned to find him staring blankly at nothing, a small bead of sweat working its way down his temple. He remained silent for at least 30 seconds before asking, “Do you see angels?”
No, Matthew, I don’t, but I suppose you do.
The lesson of Matthew’s relationship with me is not friendship or care: it’s mentorship.
Missiologists make an issue out of the Great Commission and how the verbs in the original Greek communicate something along the lines of “As you are going, do..” as opposed to “Go and do…” The command to make disciples depended more on incarnation than occupation. While mentoring someone can be an overt act, it most naturally pours out of character. It continues to be a measure of being, not doing.
Matthew’s position as a guide and mentor was existential; by existing as he was – he mentored. He couldn’t help it.
And in realizing this, I receive yet another lesson from my accidental mentor.