Today is Father’s Day. I had a wonderful father: Bill Bright (Oct.19, 1921 – July 19, 2003). Along with his wife and my mother, Vonette Bright, he founded and led Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru). I want to say some things about my dad. This is not a balanced memoir, just some things that I want to say. Many people, possibly most, will want to uphold other parts of my dad’s life and character.
One characteristic way that Dad and I spent time together was editing his articles, messages or book chapters. This was a ‘twofer’ for him: he could spend time with me and continue to work. Dad would hand me pages from what he was working on and tell me to write in the margins, circle or underline, or even cross words out. Mostly, I was trying to come up with the most accurate and culturally resonate way of speaking. It became an incorrigible habit for me to this day. I am almost constantly coining phrases, looking for more daring images, turning ideas on their heads and smashing disparate themes together. I especially try to find images or phrases that carry a logic within them such that they will slowly burn within people and prepare the way for acknowledging the truth of the gospel of God’s kingdom. We call this planting seeds: the seeds have life within themselves which we hope will bear fruit later.
The Dad that I love, is the Dad of his book “Revolution Now” (oops!, now the IRS will target me) and the committed band of cadres, infiltrating every part of culture for Christ. He is the one who could recite a long passage from famed Scottish preacher John Stewart and memorized passages of Scripture with his family. I recall memorizing Ephesians, 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 28:18-20, John 15, parts of John 14-17, some verses from Proverbs and other passages.
Let me tell two stories about my Dad for now. We were on a family vacation in Hawaii and he and I were floating in the water off Waikiki beach. Dad had a perforated ear drum and was not to get his head wet, so he was floating in a plastic tube. Dad was witnessing to the good news of God’s love to a man we met out in the water. This was so characteristic of him; compassion for people drove him to let few opportunities to introduce people to Jesus to pass by. However Dad’s tube sprung a leak so that he scrunched up the plastic around the leak in order to slow the loss of air. He wanted to continue to give a witness to Jesus for as long as he could. Needless to say, I watched with alarm as air continued to escape and Dad floated lower in the water.
My Dad was culturally conservative about some things. Cru’s music groups would push the envelope, so to speak, and Dad and others would pull them back to conservative earth. You know from some of my other posts that I was a rocker and still am. One day my Dad and I were talking widely about culture. I told him that many people today carry a musical sound track in their heads which makes a particular narrative or worldview plausible or implausible to them. Also, music carries a powerful emotional punch. Whoever creates the most intriguing, evocative, excellent and memorable music wins the music wars and potentially the hearts and minds of many people. Dad could have the music he liked and was comfortable with or he could “win”, I said. Dad thought only for a moment, and then said, “I would rather win”. At least at that moment, as God is my witness, that was his choice! But surely for him that would have been an insight hard to keep in view in the face of music that was disturbing to him and his generation.
The longer I live, the more I see in Dad that was so right. So many of my values, preferences and ways of living I ‘caught’ from my Dad. We still don’t agree on everything, unless of course, he has now seen the truth in heaven (ha, ha).
In January 2003, I visited my parents in Orlando, FL. for about two weeks. My Dad was very ill by then but very active and alert. Occasionally, he would get out of bed and dress for dinner. As usual, I was helping to edit a book and a couple of articles for him. I served communion to my parents every night. When people would call or visit my dad, he would always say, “I’m rejoicing!” On April 1st, I became ill and bed-ridden in California. Dad phoned me every day. Two men separated by a continent talking with so much in common until about 3 days before Dad graduated to the Church Triumphant on July 19, 2003. I think about his amazing qualities and commitments almost every day.