Lessons from My Father
Celebrating the life of my dad.
Wilmington NC – [CLick the LISTEN button to hear Wally's commentary.]
Officially, he was the Reverend Doctor Walter E. Bock. Thousands called him Pastor, teacher and mentor. Many called him friend. I'm honored to call him my father.
In this Postcard from the Digital Age, we're going to talk about some of the many lessons I learned from my father who died last week at 88.
My father was an incredible preacher who was passionate about the craft of preaching. He studied it his whole life long, took notes when he listened to other preachers and sometimes grumbled when his high standards were violated.
I sat next to him once as a prominent colleague droned on into his second half hour. My father passed me a note. It read: "Darn few souls saved after fifteen minutes."
Dad himself was always seeking comments and criticism that might help make his sermons better. When we gathered for dinner after the last Sunday service, he would always ask us what we thought about the sermon.
My mother always spoke first and she always said, "I think it was the finest sermon your father ever preached." Then my dad would ask us all what could have made that sermon better, and we'd spend the better part of an hour picking his "best sermon" apart.
Probably the best thing about my father the preacher was that he only preached when he was in the pulpit. Even there, most of the time, he told stories. You can pack a lot of insight, information and learning into a good story.
Once, when Dad was giving a preaching clinic, another Pastor commented that he thought stories were not really serious preaching. Dad's reply was simple. "I'm just following the Lord's example," he said, "Jesus was a pretty good storyteller, you know."
I learned a lot about storytelling and professional standards from my father, but probably the most delightful lesson was that you can have a wonderful life when you leave smiles in your wake.
Somehow dad always managed to do that. Even toward the end in the hospital, before he went home to die, even with all kinds of tubes stuck in all kinds of places, he could work his magic. A nurse who was having a hard day would enter, almost scowling and leave with a smile. The "Lift Team" whose job was lifting and turning patients, would linger a few minutes for a couple of laughs.
All around the world there are people whom my father touched for a brief moment and who remembered that moment forever. But my father was also a man of deep, abiding loyalty and long term relationships.
In college he became friends with several other young men who were considering becoming Pastors. They formed a group, which they called the "Gutwasser Society" after Johannes Gutwasser, the first Lutheran Pastor sent to America by the Bishop of Halle.
Herr Pastor Gutwasser didn't last very long. He went back to Germany after just six weeks. But the Gutwasser society went on for years and years. The young men started a round robin letter that they and then they and their wives have kept going for years.
All of these are good and important lessons, but they aren't the most important lessons my father taught me. They are that life is to be lived to the fullest and that faith matters.
My father's life and words have taught me that merely embracing life is not enough. You want to grab it in a bear hug, pick it up off its feet and swing it. Whatever he did, my father did it with a lusty joy and energy that affected everyone around him.
"That's what God wants," he told me once, "everything you've got with everything you were given. God is not pleased with half-measures."
That's how my father lived, right to the end guided by a faith enriched by a life of prayer and Bible study. That's how he died.
During our last conversation he spoke about dying and going to heaven. He did it with such perfect certainty, that I thought, "Wow, so that's what faith looks like."
It was his final lesson. And I will remember it.