I’ve said in earlier posts that I do not like goodbyes. But on this rainy Friday we said one at a funeral home, and then the final goodbye at the cemetery in the middle of wheat field country in western Oklahoma. I have come to expect, and often welcome rain when it accompanies a funeral because it seems that nature is agreeing with the human sorrow of loss. We cry, and the sky concurs with our grief by pouring out its own tears.
I met Calvin Miller through my father. Calvin’s friendship with Dad centered around the pastoral role, but in those early years, my relationship with him was simply a novice writer looking up to an accomplished and published author. I was young and hungry to have my name on the cover of a book, so I sent him pieces of a manuscript and bothered him with questions about agents, publishers, technique, book proposals and odds. By this time he had a least a dozen books published, several of them bestsellers. He should have brushed me off, but he never did. He read my writing and would mail back comments, ideas, and honest evaluations. If I was able to get published, he agreed to write a foreword. What grace he showed to a writer who had mostly selfish ambitions.
I never got that book published. The manuscript is still hanging around in my heart and on my hard drive. It was about faith, old hymns, and working out what it means to be on a spiritual journey. Back when I wrote it, I thought I had quite a few answers to life’s questions and that those answers were fairly simple. But Calvin taught me that if we talk about the spiritual journey, we should never be content to scratch the surface. “Don’t be afraid to go deep,” he said. But I was. It was easier to churn out trite phrases, spiritual cliches, and feel-good stories. So I took his suggestions and reworked it – but I only went so far. Honestly, I hadn’t lived long enough to discover God in the dark, frightening places. I hadn’t plunged into depths that caused me to ask hard questions or shake my fist at God for a really long time. But Calvin wasn’t afraid of these things. He had been walking this journey a long time and he had long since gotten over the idea that in the end, God wraps things up for us with a tidy bow.
Calvin’s memoir is titled Life is Mostly Edges. I love this book for so many reasons. Calvin exuded joy, cherished humor, and wasn’t afraid to rock the boat when it came to the stilted world of church life. He loved the edges because he believed that we are not people who should ever be content to live in the middle. Calvin says this in his memoir:
“We all like the middle. The middle is safe. You can’t fall off the middle. Only the edges are dangerous. The great lessons, the deep tragedies, the storms of unbearable heart-quakes happen along the edges. We don’t cry much in the middle, but then we don’t laugh much there either – at least with any belly-deep laughter. Still, every day, nine to five, we suit up for the only contest that can be played along the unsafe edges of our years. Brinkmanship is the name of the game.”
I am learning that living on the brink – the edges- is the only place to live. We lost a friend this week who taught us just how beautiful the edges can be. I’m going to do my best to live along those unsafe edges without fear, and with much joy. I will do this in honor of my friend. Goodbye for now Calvin.