Thursday, October 24, 2013

Remembering Scott Bauer

Death has been much on my mind lately, and every time that happens I think of Pastor Scott.  There have been other deaths in my life (not many, thankfully), and some of them have resulted in absences that I regret very much.  But a fresh death, or the prospect of a fresh death, always brings me back to Scott in a way that those other deaths do not.  I think it is because none of the others were so shocking to me, have felt so ... unfair.

I never wrote much about Scott on this blog, or about his death (I checked, and I can only find this post, this one, and this one.  That's fine.  As a record of my life, this blog quite intentionally has some very large holes in it.  But today I think I need to fill that hole in a bit.

He died ten years ago today.  He would have been 59.  When I got the news, all I could think of was Whitman's "Oh Captain! My Captain!"  I remember Chariessa asking me in the dining hall if I was okay.  I was not.  I had plans for Scott!  He was my pastor - the first person I ever felt was my pastor, who really cared about me.  He was supposed to meet my wife (he died two years before I met her).  He was supposed to watch me grow up.  Oh, how I valued his approval!

I remember him as a man full of prejudices - against videogames, against Catholicism, against Latino people.  When I had been going to Chaminade for a while, we visited his house once.  He stopped me in the foyer to ask me, in front of my parents, to do something Catholic.  He was teasing, but only sort of.  He was worried - genuinely, compassionately worried - about me becoming Catholicized.  I wanted to die.  I'm not sure I would have felt more uncomfortable if he'd called them Papists.  I wasn't really around when his son started dating a Mexican girl, but I hear it was ... uncomfortable.

But I also remember him as a man who overcame his prejudices.  He learned Spanish - painfully, but doggedly - to better connect with the woman who would become his daughter-in-law.  He built one of the largest Spanish-speaking congregations in Los Angeles.  And in 2003, when I was wrestling with the challenges posed by Reformed theology, I wrote to Scott.  I wish I still had the e-mail he wrote back to me.  It was the last thing I ever heard from him.  This was one of the men who taught me to be academic about my religion, and I can't do this final letter justice without the actual text.  But the gist of it was that he didn't hold with Reformed doctrine himself ... but if Scripture truly foreclosed either possibility, we wouldn't still be discussing it 400 years later.  I don't know if I can express how profound an impact it made on me to hear him say that.  Hopefully you can see it in me.

I remember the way he lead worship.  I remember the way he was able to make church satisfy the heart and the mind without actually being about either of those things.  I remember him being just square enough to be embarrassing (and that's coming from me, so ... you know).  I remember his focused intensity.  I remember the way everything was about Jesus to him, and how he could do that without being creepy.  A little square, maybe.  But he had the sort of faith you sometimes read about in books, the kind that you cannot engage with except by taking it seriously.

I remember the way he looked at me one Sunday evening at our youth group and I realized that the man actually cared about me, personally.  To my knowledge it was the first time a pastor had ever cared about me except in a general way.  At his memorial services one of his sons said that Scott was a great man because he cared about people.  This is true.  He cared.  He cared like Honor Harrington.  He cared so much that it transcended adverbs.  Scott simply cared.

I think that is what I admired most about him.  But what I remember most about him is the way he changed.  As I said, as I child I remember him as a man full of prejudices.  By the time he died, how he had changed in those regards!  What impurities in that irrefutable care of his had he excised!  But to say that he had excised them would be untrue.  Scott is the reason I believe that people can change.  He is also the reason I believe that people do not change people.  God changes people.  I have seen it.  I never told him how absolutely clear it was to me that those prejudices were worked out of him not through the proximity of other opinions but through his continual, fumbling, earnest, consistent pursuit of communion with Jesus.

When I was a younger man, I wanted Scott to look at my choice of bride and tell me I'd done well.  I wanted him to be the one who married me, because I wanted him to know that I wouldn't have been the sort of person a woman would want to marry without his influence.  These desires are a little embarrassing to remember - the sort of thing a young man is wont to imagine before he has quite realized that the young lady in his imagination is going to be a person, too.  I don't know if Thayet would have liked Scott.  Maybe not.  I think he was the sort of person whose faith and general goodness sort of demanded respect, but certainly not to everybody's tastes.

One thing about that is not embarrassing to remember.  I do think that much of my problems with Thayet can essentially be attributed to a certain ... smallness of heart that my lady knight found rightly repellant.  My prejudices are not the same as Scott's were, but I certainly had a lot of them, and Scott's example proved to me that authentic engagement with Jesus enlarges the heart.  You can phrase this in a lot of ways.  Some people would tell me that a person can't change unless they want to.  Others would point out the influence of other people in my life in that time, or point to the seeds they had sown years before.  Those things are all true.  But what I would say is that none of it would have mattered without the work of the Holy Spirit.  And I would say that I wouldn't have been open to that if not for the example I had seen in Scott Bauer.

I wish he had known that.

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