Grace – A Tribute to My Father

A memorial tribute given by Murray Owen on the death of his father, Ken Owen in June of 2005 at Southgate Alliance Church, Edmonton, Alberta. Ken was not a Christian in the way Evangelicals would define salvation, but Ken was saved by God in the way so many of us are, by Grace. The tribute speaks to Ken’s life and how the Biblical scriptures define salvation by Grace.

“It’s risky business for me to be up here knowing that this will be difficult to do in front of all of you. I know I will have a few hard moments, and I know you will bear with me. It’s why I wrote it out. Several months ago, I began having a feeling that I needed to be preparing to say something about my Dad at his funeral. I didn’t know why this was happening at the time, but today I know why. I’ve assured the rest of the family that I’m not having any premonitions about anyone else!

So where do I begin. It’s said that a tree is best measured when it is down. If you picture it for a moment, it is so true. Measuring a standing tree is difficult, especially when the tree is tall. But, when on the ground, it is easily measured. It’s true of our lives, and today, for my Dad. All this may be a bit too noble for Dad if he were here today, but here goes.

There are many measurements of my Father’s life. He was a husband, a father to me, to my sister, Patrica, and my brother, Darrell. When we married, he welcomed into the family our spouses, Valerie, Merlin, and my wife Linda too. And, he was best at being a Grandpa to our children, his grandchildren, Jacqueline, Mathew, Josh, Jordan and Angeline; Aaron, Christopher, Kara and Mathew; and Garrett and Erica. All were special and he took the time to be with each one. Also, he was a neighbor to those around in every way that it means to be a good neighbor. He was a neighbor to strangers, even to those that were against him. My Dad was never vengeful, but he was firm about doing the right thing. Those of us that knew him witness some, if not all of these traits. His heart was good.

There’s a small portion of the Lord’s Prayer that I’d like to focus on while remembering my Dad. It’s found in the gospel of Matthew chapter 6. Many of us will remember in the old English translation of “Forgive our sins (trespass) as we forgive those that sin (trespass) against us” or to put is more accurately in today’s English, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgives those that are indebted to us.” This prayer has become especially meaningful to me over the years. I attend theological school and studied philosophy, seven years worth of study. Even though my career has been in the technology business, I’ve always remained a student of the historical books we call the bible and the trends that shape our world today. While I was in theological school, Dad said to me that, “You’ll have to work there too.” I don’t know what exactly he meant, but I think it was a father’s concern that his son was looking for an easy job!

A very old writer call this part of the pray the “terrible petition” Why? Because it meant that we are judge by our ability to forgive, and especially the forgiveness of monetary debt. It was the test that God’s Kingdom had come into our lives and this world. Grace would be shown to those that practice grace. It’s how the man, Jesus Christ, taught those closest around him to pray and think. The first recorded words we have of Jesus were that He came to set the captives free and to declare the acceptable year of the Lord. His mission was that of forgiveness. It marked the entranced of God’s kingdom on earth here and now. His words “acceptable year” meant the year of Jubilee to the Jews. It was year in which all debt was forgiven and land restored to the original families. Most recently, “Jubilee” is the theme chosen by G8 nations in their efforts to forgive the fiscal debt of Africa.

So what has this to do with my Dad? My Dad LIVED this with his wife, children, and his neighbor too. No marriage is perfect. In the ups and downs of my parent’s marriage, I never saw my Dad hold anything against mom, his kids, or our spouses. Sure, he had moments of frustration, like when Darrell brought Dad’s company car home with the front end smashed in, or when Darrell and I use to break the occasion windows playing road hockey. Or even when my sister, in those stormy teenage years, uses to bring some strange characters home, he treated those fellows well in spite of what I knew he was thinking. His was committed to making a “home” work and we all know how many times one must forgive to make that happen. My wife will vouch for this. I think her forgiveness count is higher then mine!

But Dad went beyond this. If you ever called Dad to get help, you knew he would come. He was the type of guy that would not only help fix what you needed, but see other needs and fix those too. Mom was telling me about when Dad was last in Parksville, one of her widowed friends needed some help with a rotor-tiller for her garden. Dad not only shows up and fixes the thing, but hears that she has other needs too, like her cloths line is too high. So he tackles that as well. And several other things too! You would know that this is a sick man waiting for surgery. He repeated this kind of routine weekly, sometimes daily. He was a friend to strangers, including the young. My sister’s kids would often bring new friends home. Some of those kids did not have the best of family lives. One of those boys will miss my Dad because Dad would spend time with him, talk to him, and make him feel wanted. This boy asked to come today as he will miss my dad too. In the big snow storm on Vancouver Island of 1997, I watch and worked with Dad as he took the initiate to shovel out not just his driveway, but 3 or 4 of the neighbors too. I have this picture in my mind of him shoveling snow into the early winters evening because these people needed his help. Such was my Dad.

When I left our house in Edmonton and moved to Victoria, Dad made the overnight trip in a moving van to deliver my stuff to an apartment. I think this was his way of making sure I didn’t move back in! But this was the continuation of many acts of giving that he would show to every one of us. I can’t think of all the things he has done for my sister and her family, for Darrell and his, and mine too. Not only was he there fixing and help around our homes so things would work better, but he was especially good to all our kids. He would take the time to be with them, play with them, and help us in anyway he could. All we had to do was ask, and, of course, we did. I think his only frustration is that he couldn’t do more for you Patricia as his limitations were financial. But in the end, he gave you much more as a grandpa to your children. Most recently, I think of how he was teaching Matt and Josh how to play pool and mending the fences around your place Patricia prior to his surgery. His heart was committed to you, and he gave you something that can’t be taken away. I have many memories of Dad’s playful moments with my children and my brother’s children. For a guy that wasn’t sure about being a grandpa when the first grandchild was born, Jacqueline, he was the best! His grandchildren knew him, who he was, his example, and will miss him too.

Another gauge of the God’s Kingdom in this prayer is the measure of love itself. “No greater lover that a man has than this that he should lay down his life for another.” These were words of Jesus Christ. What was his point? If we are willing to give up our life for another, then we are willing to also give up the lesser of our lives. So if a brother, a friend, a neighbor, a stranger, or even an enemy is in need, we come to them and meet that need. This is the measure of love. The giving of ourselves in life itself. Seeing a need, and filling a need.

On many times, I watched my Dad do this. I saw him respond to crisis situation where he would commit himself and his resources to helping out. I saw this in Brockville, Ontario, as a kid when Dad helped rescue a man in a boating accident. It was Dad that brought his wagon to the dock, laid the bloody man in the back, and raced him to the hospital. One of the things that use to amaze me the most about Dad is how easily he could talk to strangers and open them up. He did this constantly without discrimination wherever he went. He treated all with the highest sense of dignitary by talking to them and engaging them in simple conversation. He loved people.

When we were kids, he gave of himself in fun ways too. He taught the whole family to ski and I can’t begin to tell you all the great memories we have from skiing. I remember the pride I felt around him when skiing with Dad and my son several years ago. It was never expressed, but was deeply satisfying inside. I felt it again when I went recently skiing with my sister and her kids, although Dad wasn’t able to come that time, I knew our experience together was build on him. And even though he is gone for now, we will still build on what he has given to us. For Darrell and I, we shared in the many hockey and other sports memories that he supported us in. There were numerous early mornings, long trips, drives and drops offs at ski hills, and vacations that he made the effort to make it happen. He was always there. At Jordan’s first hockey game after Dad’s death, Jordan said to Patricia, his mother that he was looking for Grandpa in the audience. It’s in these tender moments that I realize how much he participated in the lives of others.

Probably the darkest period of my Dad’s life was the time he spent in the Navy during the Korean War. He saw battle and its horrible impact. War changes people and challenges everything we think about what is good. Although he never spoke openly to me about it, I sensed the struggle in him and the hint of pain in the comments he made over the years. I think my Dad shared something of the struggle that Job share in the Old Testament. Job was family man who lost everything in a violent series of events, and Job struggles with the question of why, why, why, why. I believe the war made my Dad wrestle with this same question. And it’s an honest question. Job lived the dark night of the soul and questioned and doubted the goodness of God. Even our Lord, in His darkest hour, asked why. I believe this is what made Dad question faith. He just was not sure. The important thing, like Job, is that he did not concede or give up on the question of why. To do so would be to accept the events of war as normal, as not even evil, and to acknowledge the horrors of the bloodiest period in all of history, the 20th century as the acceptable outcome of man without God in politics and ordinary life. It was not acceptable for Dad. Dad’s world was a moral world, right and wrong counted absolutely, and he knew that God was necessary in this world for it to be so. Like Job, over time, he found his answers. I suppose it was in these later years of my Dad’s life, especially in the last few months, his public openness to matters of faith began to take shape. He, like Job, was finding answers to his deepest questions.

But here is the interesting part. I believe salvation came to Dad even long before I recognized it or he even realized it. This hint is in the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is given to those that practice forgiveness. It’s the measure that God kingdom has entered into one’s life. Grace is show to those that practice grace. This is the gospel, God’s Kingdom on earth here and now. My Dad practice that grace, day in, and day out. He may not have been vocal about this, but the test of his commitment, of his conversion was certain, he lived it. In the word of the brother of Jesus, James, pure religion is to take care of the orphan and widow. My Dad literally did this in the many things he did every day for others. He’s the kind of person that would attract one to become a person of faith where faith is defined as one who practices grace. Dad was not a politician or theologian but any means. He was a practical man. But that is the beauty of his salvation. It is not based on wealth or education. It is for the peace makers, the meek, those that hunger for what is right, the pure in spirit. Such was my Dad’s heart.

If I were to ask the question of what a man of faith acts likes, I can honestly answer that my Dad was that kind of person. No, he wasn’t perfect, but he did practice the heart of faith. He was not much for the formality and politics of religious life, unless of course there was food involved. I don’t think he ever missed pot luck super at a church event! He did love the people. Love vibrated and resonated in him in so many ways.

I have one final comment about my Dad. Death is the ultimate evil. It is harsh and cruel, and a fate we will all share. It stares back at us in silence. This is when faith hurts. It’s a cry that comes from the commitment to faith. It’s a pain to be felt. And the pain to be felt is this: that silence is a huge insult to faith. “Where’s my Dad” is not just a request for information about why this happened, but a protest and cry for help. And the beauty and uniqueness of my faith is this, in Christianity, God shares in our suffering. God is all good and all powerful, and yet God knows pain as we know pain. We staked our lives on the conviction that there is One who knows and cares. Even when we die, God keeps faith with us in the dust. As a Christians, my faith centers on a scandal, Christ’s death as a tortured criminal. Jesus, the God-Man, lets evil do its worst to him and then overcomes it. Thus, the crucifixion has become the supreme pattern of innocent suffering in history. Symbolized by the cross, and by crosses the world over, to be Christian means we are symbolized as people of the crossed sticks. Dietrich Bonheoffer in 1945 while waiting to be hanged for resisting the Nazis and Hitler said, “Only the suffering God can help.” Christ liberates, not by removing suffering from us, but by sharing it with us. Jesus is the “God-who-suffers-with-us.”

So the symbol that allows us to face death, evil, and suffering is the cross. The cross outweighs the silence of why God permits evil. In the crucifixion, evil in its worst form meets love and love wins. There is hope for the victims; there is even forgiveness for the perpetrators. It is what it means to be people of the crossed sticks. In the dust that my Dad has become, I share a hope that both he and I will not be forgotten, that we will meet again. The cross gives us eternal dignity and purpose to our lives what otherwise be considered insignificant. Life, my Dad’s life, our lives are not trivial. These hopes were embellished and carry down in traditions by a very old framer of society, a man we call Moses in the historical account of Exodus, and today, popularized by Disney. Here, about 3500 years ago, Moses saw the killing or genocide of the Hebrew children and the brutral mistreatment of an enslaved people by a monster called Pharaoh. In that situation, Moses wrote all men, regardless of earthly status, shares in the eternal and partakes in the image of God. In doing so, Moses elevated all men and unleashed one of the greatest humanitarian platforms in all of history, and is the baseline of our human rights and even democracy on which we stand today. Why? Because, life is not only scared and special, but is remember by God in death. It’s why we are our brother’s keeper, which my Dad was. We are not just dust in the wind. We are remembered by God and held accountable as our brother’s keeper. This hope, my hope, is represented by those crossed sticks.

It also symbolized something about Dad. Dad, when wronged, always forgave. It’s a hallmark trait of what it means to have a living faith. We’re not only the people of the crossed sticks, but the people of the second chance. We give others a second change. We also give them third, fourth and fifth chances. One man said that we are to forgive each man 70 times 7. This is how often we forgive. It’s what brings faith down to earth. I’m sure Dad has forgiven me many times over well before I was ten years old, not to mention the other two rascals in our family! This is how he treated others too. On the cross, Jesus was a man who blessed those that cursed them, that gave his robe to those who took his cloak, who cared for those that others did care to help. This was the Kingdom on earth. It was also the Kingdom come in my Dad. Grace is given to those that show grace. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught those closest to him that sacred ground and the Kingdom come is when we forgive others.

One of the hymns Dad liked was Amazing Grace. I’m not sure why. But the hymn is about forgiveness and grace. The writer, John Newton, was ship’s captain and a slave trader during the transatlantic slave trade of the 17th century. These captains were monsters with their slave cargo often throwing the sick and dying overboard to preserve their human cargo. Newton was not a religious man. Once, in a storm that Newton was sure his ship would sink, he cried for mercy from God. Later, after the storm subsided, Newton reflected on what he had said and he began to believe that God had extended grace to him as a slave trader. For Newton, it started him on a journey of faith. It leads him to help another man, William Wilberforce, who became the leader in the abolition of slavery. Like John Newton, my Dad liked people and worked for their best interests in little ways. I think it’s why he found an affinity with this song.

There are many more memories I have of my Dad. Like his famous spaghetti sauce, the times we ran together, his personal achievements in running, triathlons, the Orca Running Club (memorial award) and the trophies he was proud of, our many family gatherings (relatives included!), watching hockey together, his love for food, and his friendly simile. For my mom, she will miss Dad’s surprise valentine poems that he placed in the local newspaper, and entertained us all by with this rare look into Dad’s romantic side and local awards for best Valentine’s Day poem. We all have memories of my Dad. These are my personal memories and places were I’ll go to visit him. What else can we do to remember my Dad? Pull a “Ken Owen.” What, you ask, is a “Ken Owen.” It’s what my Dad did so easily. Talk to a stranger, help someone you don’t know, forgive someone, help someone in debt, see a need, and fill a need. This was my Dad and this is how I will remember Him.

The tree is on the ground and can now be easily measured, and what I find in my Dad’s heart for people, I now see greatness in him that I took for granted. It was just him. My desire is to change myself in some small ways in memory of Dad. These words would be too noble for him if he were here. Like all of us, he was all too aware of his own imperfections. He started on a journey in life whose conclusion was uncertain. That journey, by the grace of God, gave him his greatest asset, his heart, and in the end, it is what failed him. I like to think that he just wore it out from too much use. In the future, I know I will see him again, and walk with him in fields of gold. I have peace knowing that death is not the last word, for either of us. Made in the image of God, we are people of the second change, and the crossed sticks.”

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