Alumni Link

Small World

Published Date: September 20, 2013

 by J. Ellsworth Kalas

When I can afford both the time and the money, I buy a copy of The New York Times.  I especially like its obituaries.  They are almost unfailingly interesting, even when the particular persons are unknown to me.

Several weeks ago I came upon the obituary of John Casablancas, “pioneer in modeling.”  The article explained that beginning in 1972 Mr. Casablancas “shaped the careers of models who became household names.”  I wanted to know more, so I read through the list of “household names”:  Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Carol Alt, Linda Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Andie MacDowell, Kim Alexis, Paulina Portzkova, Iman, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen.

Household names?  Not where I live.

It reminded me again that all of us live in very small worlds.  Athletes do, entertainers do, politicians do, billionaires do:  get them outside their own little coterie and they’re as unfamiliar as the person waiting for the next transit bus.

Time makes it even more so.  Now and again I refer to a theologian that “everyone was reading” in my student days, and my current well-read students have never heard of them.  There were those ground-breaking advocates of cutting-edge movements; at the time I was told,  “They’re the wave of the future.”  A decade later, I discover that they weren’t even a ripple on the shore.

We church folks live in very small worlds, too.  The preaching heroes of my youth are unknown to my students, and when they speak to me of the “famous preachers” or leaders in their denominations, I often have to confess that I don’t know them.  Indeed, many of the bishops in my own denomination are unknown to me, and I feel none the worse for it.  On the other hand, if I were as good a person as the late Harry Denman, who prayed for every bishop by name every night, I would know all of their names.

In a simpler day hospitals had a card file of their patients by church affiliation to help pastors in their calling.  One day many years ago when I was calling in the University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, I came upon the name of a man who had been a member of a country church where I had served in my student pastor days.  I remembered how he gripped my hand on my last Sunday, some fifteen years before.  “I’ll never forget you, Reverend!” he said.  “You mean so much to me.”  I hurried to his room, realizing how much it would mean to him that I had dropped in to see him.  When I introduced myself, however, he drew a blank.  Complete.  I’d like to comfort myself that it was dementia, but if so it was selective because he told me the names of three other former pastors, including one from before my time.  Me, he had forgotten.

I chuckled at my punctured self-importance all the way to the elevator and out to the parking lot.  Like many of you I love to think that someday someone in heaven will tell me that I’ve had a part in their being there.  But I’ll be content if my name is in the Lamb’s book of life.  In that grand eternal setting where the kings will cast down their crowns, that will be household name enough.

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