A beloved pastor and dear friend/father figure gently left this Earth a few weeks ago. Having just returned home from a quick trip to attend his memorial service, I felt the desire to bid my final farewell to this giant of a man whose preaching, love and acceptance transformed my life.
Adios El Viejo
Those who loved him knew him as “El Viejo” – the old one. Even his grandchildren called him that. For as long as I knew him, he had predetermined his death age to be 84. He outlived this by seven years – thankfully. Paul David Sholin was his given name. Dave, to most. I met him when I transferred my church membership to his small Presbyterian church, having grown impatient and disheartened with the church in which I grew up. I regret not having made the move sooner.
Dave was the founding pastor of this church. He was also a pillar in the greater community. He was a powerful, persuasive, challenging preacher – if you sought a service where you would come away with a warm, fuzzy feeling – this was NOT the place for you. Dave’s booming voice and prophetic words stirred you, shook you, shocked you even. But if you were open, you came away with an understanding of the gospel and Christ that was profoundly deep and life transforming. Dave challenged you to LIVE the gospel every day – in service, in praise, in devotion, in prayer. He did not attempt to make you comfortable – indeed, he seemed to revel in making you as UNcomfortable as possible when it came to how you lived your life as a Christian. But he did so not out of some perverse desire to feel superior or powerful – he did so out of the very deep convictions and beliefs he had about how we were to live our mortal lives. My understanding of my faith, my church and my personal beliefs largely stem from the years I listened to Dave preach.
They also came at his side during a brief, beautiful time when I was dating his son and was welcomed in as part of his inner circle. I desperately loved the son – but fell in love with the whole family as I came to know them. As part of this loving group, I had access to Dave on a much more personal level, and here I came to know him not just as my pastor. I learned of his witty, biting sense of humor, his deep genuine laugh, his love of all things Spanish. I came to know his weathered, wise face, warm smile, and intense love for his family. I spent hours in his home and around his table. I was embraced by love and acceptance and laughter and joy. We spoke of sports and politics and travel and guitar and movies and poetry and religion and social justice.
And thus, as I grew to know him deeply – so did my love for him grow. The relationship with his son ended – definitely for the best – but at the time, heartbreaking. Yet, I remain grateful to this day for that experience and my love for all of them never ended.
So now, my beloved friend and spiritual guide is at last celebrating his new life in Christ. I am overjoyed for him – but will deeply miss him.
Adios, Viejo – your body is now gone, and for a time we will grieve and weep – but I know I will see you and feel your presence all around me if I am open – in a call to justice, in a political rally, in a hearty laugh, in an orange sunset, in the whispering strains of classical guitar, in a glowing pipe, in a crashing wave, in a rousing sermon, in a stirring poem, in a moving hymn. You have touched a multitude of lives. You have changed mine forever.
Vaya con Dios, Viejo. I love you.