Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Passing of Dr. Ray Anderson

I first heard about Ray Anderson in 1975, during my time in the Navy. My friend, Jeff Baker, had just graduated from Westmont College and had begun his studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Jeff kept telling me that I really needed to meet Ray Anderson. Twenty years later, I did meet Ray in a systematic theology course at Fuller.

My wife, Emily, audited one of the courses I took with Ray. It was a challenging time for us: I was twelve or thirteen years into my business career and now found myself at Fuller, attempting to sort out this sense of "calling" to ministry that had inconveniently raised its head in my life. We felt a bit stuck--how does a person consider leaving a financially successful career and move toward an uncertain vocational future? We had one daughter in college and one in high school. There seemed to be a lot at risk. We didn't know how to take our next step, if there was one.

One night in class, Ray stopped his lecture and told a story that is probably familiar to many of Ray's students. He shared his own journey of responding to the call of God. He told of leaving the farm and coming to Pasadena to start his seminary work. He spoke of "calling" as something that described the life of all Christians. He used the term "destiny" to speak of devoting one's life to something that mattered deeply--putting one's hand to the place of the heart.

When we left class that night, we no longer questioned whether or not we would make a radical life change. It would now just be a question of God's timing. Within a year we planted a church, I left the business world and we led that church for the next ten years. It was a true experience of putting our hands to the place of our hearts.

I've reminded Ray of that a number of times. I really wanted him to know how much his work could impact someone like me in some very important areas of life. It's a mixed bag when you tell someone like Ray that their words resulted in an action that reoriented the life of an entire family. The person might feel encouraged that their work made a difference. Or, the person might feel responsible and even worried. Probably a bit of both. But I think Ray had enough confidence in God to lean more toward encouragement.

A couple of years later Emily and I audited Ray's Theology and Ecology of the Family. He taught one evening about helping people work through deep issues of forgiveness. That same week a woman came to my office in need of help in forgiving people for horrible abuses that had taken place during her childhood. I walked her through what I had learned in Ray's class and the impact on the woman was dramatic and transformative.

The next evening of our class meeting, Emily and I rushed early to the International House of Pancakes where Ray would meet with students before class. We hoped that the usual crowd of fans would be small so that we could report to Ray what had happened. When we arrived, Ray was alone--no students had joined him that evening. We had him to ourselves.

We shared the story of how his teaching on forgiveness had be played out in real life with a real person. As we offered the details, tears rolled down Ray's face. It was an expression of Ray's love for God, people, and the intersection of theology and ministry.

I will always be indebted to Ray for teaching me to love theology--not for its own sake nor as an academic abstraction, but as a living, vibrant engagement with the living God who reaches deeply into human lives to bring reconciliation and transformation. Jesus was always at the center of Ray's teachings and he helped all of us to love Jesus more. Ray's mantras, "All theology is practical theology" and, "All ministry is God's ministry" continue to echo in my head. It is an honor to pass those words on to new generations of leaders--the population of people that Ray so honored and loved.

Ray will be missed by many. He will be missed not only as theological icon but also as pastor, mentor, friend and--as he liked to put it--maverick.

We entrust our friend to our heavenly Father, on whom Ray's sights were always set.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this amazing man. Your comments yesterday at the service yesterday were wonderful too. I wish I'd had the opportunity to know him better. It is hard learning to know someone only after they've passed. Thanks for sharing.