When my Dad died I didn’t trust anyone else to be the Preacher presiding over the service. It had to be me. Dad was a flawed man. Just like me. Just like all men. Dad’s friends had to know of the Grace of the Cross and the security found in being a Child of the King. But it wasn’t just Dad’s friends, it was important that my family be reminded too.
Joel Howard Parry
Many of you know my Dad. Most of you though came to know him only after the alcohol he consumed began its consumption of him. In addition to saying good-bye to Dad today I wanted to share with you some of the memories I have and other memories shared with me by some of you.
1965 was a different time. Socially accepted mores were much more tightly defined then than now. An individual’s certainty of what was and what was not permitted was much clearer than the atmosphere of situational ethics which pervades our society today.
In Richmond, Virginia, in 1965, Joel met Becky. I have no idea how they met but that meeting would forever change many lives. In 1965, we lived in a society which adamantly condemned divorce and especially a divorced woman. Lower still on list of folks to shun were the women who had born children out of wedlock. Those children were labeled as illegitimate. Juanita DeRemer and her daughter Becky though would never dream of labeling life as illegitimate. As it turns out, neither would Joel. Joel, the butcher at Koslows grocery, took Becky, the unmarried mother of three, as his wife and her three children as his own.
We spent several years in the Richmond area. Each summer we’d spend a full week and several weekends at a favorite riverside campground. It was during these camping trips that I learned to fish, had my first summer crush, and sang along with “Alice Cooper” about school being out for the summer. I learned a little about the sad plight of Native Americans through the pop hit by Paul Revere and the Raiders called Cherokee People.
We camped at another place regularly too. A place called “Herring Creek”. Here people lined a creek and using nets fished for herring. I cannot tell you how herring tastes and wouldn’t know a herring from a bass today but I do remember staying up very late with the lanterns glowing checking the nets frequently. Although I’m sure he must have said it more than once, I have no memory of Dad chastising us kids about scaring away the fish.
The summer before I entered the fifth grade, our family moved to extremely rural Pennsylvania. We moved into the biggest house I had ever been in, onto property that stretched as far as the eye could see. Looking at the house from the road there was a large field to the right, a spruce tree farm to the left, and fields upon fields behind the house.
Pennsylvania would be cruel to the family though. Dad’s work was a long way from home. Keeping our cars running proved nearly impossible and the winters were severe.
Dad would chop wood after work and on weekends preparing for winter. He could chop wood! Trees would tremble when Dad walked by with his double-bedded ax in his hands. Ok, maybe I embellish a little but, well, he was my dad and I’m allowed.
If Dad wasn’t chopping wood, he was usually found under the hood of a car. At one point he had built a tripod from small trees in order to lift the bad engines out of the car and hoist the good ones in.
When the snows came they came hard. It was common for us to have a six to eight foot snowdrift outside the kitchen windows. Ambulance and police service were provided by snowmobile. If your house caught fire, it burned to the ground. In fact this did happen to the local VFD. It burned to the ground with all of the equipment inside.
Amid all of this treacherous snow, Dad still made it to work. He fully understood our dependence on him to provide for us. Providing for his wife and now four children was an undertaking he took seriously and succeeded at.
Once, shortly after our arrival in Pennsylvania Dad performed a rescue operation that was worthy of the television show 911. Our collie dog “Bow” had fallen into a well. I have no idea how he got Bow out of there but I do remember his concern for the dog and for his children that so loved that dog. It seems like everyone had an idea how to get Bow out of that well but Dad just sort of made it happen. One second Bow was deep underground struggling to keep her head above water and the next she was on solid ground spraying everyone as she shook the water from her coat.
When the family moved to Charleston the summer before my seventh grade year we kids were excited. Granny and MawMaw would be frequent visitors at the house. While this was good for us kids, there are times I wonder about the effect it had on Dad.
He continued to drive many miles to and from work and he worked very hard while he was there. Dad burned metal in the junkyard. I still don’t quite understand the nature of the work but I do remember that it put him in the hospital more than once.
I’m not sure when it was that the alcohol turned the tables on him. But I do know that the giving nature he possessed was a part of him well before his evil disease possessed him.
Dad had a talent for carpentry. He would take plain wooden pallets or fruit crates and turn them into coveted shelves. He would sand them, cut them, assemble them, preserve them and give them away. They were beautiful.
Mom told me about the time someone here in Rand was stuck in a ditch on a cold rainy night. The man had asked someone in the community to help him out of the situation. That person referred them to our house saying “Go see the fellow that lives there. He’ll help you out.” People unknown to me, knew my Dad would help strangers in trouble.
I remember that while Charlie and I were members of the fire department here, that dad too would volunteer. He didn’t fight fires or run ambulance but he did work on the vehicles that allowed the firemen and ambulance personnel to complete their missions.
That giving nature of his attracted many people. Many more than willing to share in dad’s bottle and in turn to share theirs with him.
Please don’t misunderstand me. My dad was not the best dad in the world. There were times he was far from it. He was not an affectionate man. Not a man that I would call sensitive. I don’t remember ever seeing him cry. He was also not, not the worst dad in the world. Having spent a significant amount of time with abused and neglected children, working with foster children and their parents, I can tell you with some authority that my dad was always far, far away from the worst of dads.
Sure, he was dirty a lot. His job left him covered in an oily filth. As children concerned about the external appearance of our home and parents, we kids found that embarrassing. It wasn’t cool or warm and fuzzy, or “attractive” to have as your dad the man known in the community as “dirt ball”.
That was then. Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Corinth “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man (an adult), I put childish ways behind me.”
Ones inability or choosing not to see beyond dirt, the inability or choosing not to reach beyond social stereotypes, the inability or choosing not to see the man on the other side of the disease which consumes him, is not the trademark of a mature adult.
I am not an alcoholic. I do not live in filth and squalor. I am called pastor and teacher and I proudly declare that I am the son of Joel Howard Parry.
My Dad liked to fish. Some of you may have been fishing with him. If so you might recall that although he loved fishing, would spend hours fishing, he wasn’t particularly successful at it. In fact some might characterize his fishing prowess as poor. He was such a poor fisherman that when he managed to land a fish I suspect that he must have been as surprised as the rest of us.
This picture of a person fishing hour upon unsuccessful hour is a great picture of the love God has for His creation, man. It is no coincidence that the first disciples called into service were fishermen. Jesus didn’t just happen by that day Peter and his partners the sons of Zebedee, James and John, had had such a bad day of fishing. These were people God was deliberately seeking.
Dad grew up with a Pentecostal mother. While our family lived in Pennsylvania we kids would from time to time attend services with Granny Parry.
Dad spent a fair amount of time here with Fay and the wonderful people of this mission. Fay and her coworkers in the Kingdom cared for Dad providing food, warmth, shelter and most importantly, the Word. Living here Dad assisted with the work of the food bank and other needs of the church.
Given these two very separate settings, Dad as a child in the Pentecostal church in Pennsylvania and Dad here, in this mission, there is more than ample reason to believe that at some point he was captured in a net made from the strings of God’s love. A net purchased with the blood of the King.
It is so easy for me to see Dad and Granny fishing today in the Jordan River. There are people who will no doubt shocked by that statement. Their minds are wrapped in theological or moral arguments against the possibility that a chronic alcoholic might ever make it through the pearly gates.
God’s love is a very misunderstood concept. Religious people are forever trying to limit the depth and breadth of that love coloring it with restrictions and qualifications. When I finally surrendered my life to the Lord the last thing I wanted was to be “religious person”. Today I still do not like being likened to a religious person.
Because to me they are the ones who claim to represent the God of unconditional love but their love many times is based on what you can do for them, or their church. Sometimes the love is based on rules. A little poem about Christian behavior taught to me by Pastor David Smith.. comes to mind. It says that “Christians don’t smoke, drink, cuss or chew and don’t kiss them that do!”
The place God’s love is the dearest is the place religious people are generally the scarcest. It is that place where God’s love is freely shared. Not just with those who dress like us, have jobs or careers like ours, or live in a neighborhood like ours, but with everyone. It is a love shared even with those who dislike us.
The physician/historian Luke records these words of Christ in chapter 6, ”If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?…. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?… But love your enemies,… and you will be sons (and daughters) of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
One of the single largest disagreements between Christians regards the security of the believer. That is, once a person is saved, once they accept Christ as Lord, can they lose or even refuse the salvation offered them at the moment of their conversion.
Speaking to the church at Corinth in his second letter Paul wrote 2 Cor 1:21-22 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
The Child of God is sealed with a seal of ownership. They no longer belong to the world or themselves but are children of the Most High God. The scriptures tell us that we do not (Rom 8:15) receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear, but received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ”Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. ….
My dear son Craig may someday decide that Kelly and I are no longer his parents. He may declare us dead. He may even claim another man as his dad but he cannot ever really change the fact that Kelly and I are his parents. No action of his can ever really change his family lineage.
Those receiving a “spirit of sonship”, those who may call the Most High God “Abba”, which translated to today’s word is Daddy, cannot change by an act of their will, their family lineage.
In John 10:28-30 Jesus says “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
“No one!” Not a single person. Only arrogance or pride or ignorance can lead one to believe that they are powerful enough to snatch from God’s hand that which has been placed there.
God knew how unimaginable His love and commitment for His children is would be for legalistic humans. In closing I would share with you again the words of Paul recorded in Rom 8:33-39:
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: ”For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord
It is possible that some will suggest that I am grasping at false hopes. That this is the message of a grief stricken child seeking hope. You are at least partially correct. I do grieve the death of my Dad but my hopes are in Christ Jesus. A living God who gives true hope and peace to all who will but receive it.