Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All


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Reflections About My Father

Bill Bright portrait

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.


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This Is The Way Life Is

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This is a big day for Jack and me. Most Thursdays are big for us because we host a Bible study in our home on Thursday evenings. I have the privilege of actually teaching God’s Word and the exhilaration of crafting and combining the words and gestures that will help someone see what God has been teaching me. Jack, the Bible study dog, especially enjoys the fellowship time and the opportunity to play with the people and untie their shoe laces. He also has culinary interests: last week he stole my pizza. Sometimes Jack will sleep in someone’s lap while we are studying our text.

On a day like this, I am determined to spend the day in joy and praise and in preparation for tonight. Right now I’m listening to the new Jesus Culture album, “Unstoppable Love”, to help me keep going and finish this post. Jack has dragged one of his beds into my office so that he can lay down nearby me whenever he can’t tempt me to play with him. Except that right now he is barking his big, deep, deafening bark. He has other vocalizations: the howl for social misery, the whine for impatience, the normal bark for an alert. But this bark means: “There are Vikings coming up the walkway carrying spears and swords”. I just went to look out the door. Nothing, nada, zero, zippo. Maybe Jack has a screw loose and is responding to his own ‘issues’.

I pray to God every morning that I may believe, understand and obey his Word, especially as he speaks to me through the Bible, but also through the books, magazines, music and people in my life. Then I pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be a blessing to everyone that I meet. I try to speak the names of people I am likely to meet this day. I pray also that God will cause me to understand better who he is and to understand better who he is calling me to be and what he is calling me to do. Finally, I pray that he will make me winsome and attractive for the sake of his Kingdom. This last prayer means that I will not worry about how I appear to people today because I assume that God has answered this prayer. Therefore, I know that, at least today, I’m awesome and people are seeing Jesus through me. There’s no reason to be overly self-conscious. Am I ready now to start the day? Check.

Nonetheless, like Jack, I have a screw loose and have issues. Sometimes in the evening, in fact the last three evenings, some word or action by another is the occasion for me to feel hurt over something that I even know at the time is ridiculously small, unimportant. Somehow, I feel undervalued or that decisions about my life are being taken out of my hands (hey, these are my issues!). Full disclosure: sometimes I weep or almost weep. However, I try to avoid what C.S. Lewis often called “the tyranny of the sensitive” (he had many opportunities to observe this in his domestic arrangements). The tyranny of the sensitive is seen when someone has cultivated a reputation for being “sensitive” so that everyone around must ‘walk on eggshells’ for fear of causing pain. The ‘sensitive’ one can then shut down any discussion or activity that is not welcome. Now everyone knows what the ‘sensitive’ one is doing, but they have grown weary of dealing with the drama or “martyr complex”, and so the ‘sensitive’ one repeatedly, and unfairly it is felt, gets her or his own way. Hence, the tyranny. Like I said, I try to avoid doing this and I think I have succeeded mostly. But the last few nights, I got darn close to it. Did I tell you I have a screw loose?

I remember Kim Walker-Smith (Jesus Culture) talking about living with an unoffended (my spell check doesn’t like this, but it should be a word) heart toward God. She is saying one can focus on the ‘why’ questions or the “Why me?” question or one can focus on pressing in to God’s presence. And I would add that God’s presence really is the answer to the why questions (see the Book of Job). I aim, at my best, to live with an unoffended heart toward God and an unoffended heart toward people. My Dad would express this, thinking of 1 John (which, by the way, we are studying tonight), as “roof off and walls down”. In 2003, during a protracted illness I learned something like this. See my older post: “Thick Skin and Tender Hearts”. Maybe you should do it now, before you forget. I’ll still be here when you get back.

We live amidst huge spiritual realities and God’s promises to enable us to live whole and holy lives are true and effective. I know frequent joy and sometimes ecstasy and a sense that Jesus is still teaching me how to live. His “burden” is still “light” and his “yoke” is still “easy”. There is no better way to live. And the abundant life that Jesus promised is a reality that we live in. And yet, the smallest things can trip us up. I used to say to a friend something like this: “Yes, they are out to get you and they feel threatened by your vision and energy and I will continue to speak to them about their wrong attitudes. However, you know you have a screw loose! You need to lean against over-sensitivity.” And then we would laugh because everyone has a screw loose. Wait! I hear a rattle. Is that you or me?