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Spirit Alive: Remembering the Saints in Our Lives

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
October  25, 2016

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Remembering the Saints in Our Lives

Mentor: A wise and trusted counselor or teacher. An experienced and trusted advisor.
In life, it is often through the inspiration of others that we end up committing ourselves to serve higher purposes. We see others contribute in meaning ways and want to contribute as well. The people who touch our lives most deeply, always leave a lasting impact on who we become as human beings.
Last week, one of the significant mentors in my life died. His name was Jim Barlow, and he was one of my high school teachers. Jim was a truly remarkable person, and he touched the lives of countless students over the years. So I wasn't at all surprised to hear from some of his former students and friends this past week. And I am grateful that I got to see Jim one last time the day before he passed.
Over the years, whenever I met former students of Jim's, they would say that they had kept in touch
with him and would have coffee or lunch with Jim from time-to-time...over the 20, 30, 40 or 50 years since they had been in his classroom. As one former student put it upon hearing of Jim's passing: "He was my teacher, mentor, and friend for more than 50 years, and always in my heart." This is how mentors affect our lives.
So what was it about Jim that made him a mentor to so many? Among other things, every four years beginning in 1964, Jim engaged high school students throughout Oregon and beyond in a model political convention process-- sometimes the convention was Democratic and sometimes it was Republican. It depended on which party was out of power at the time. But this quadrennial process, which involved two years of preparation by his students, was remarkably real, engaging, and life-changing. In fact, our current political parties could learn a great deal from what Jim taught us all in high school about the convention process, political campaigns, civility, and the meaning of democracy.
In 1968, when I was in the 8th Grade, I had the good fortune of participating in both a Republican and Democratic Convention that Jim ambitiously pulled together during that pivotal year. At the Democratic Convention, held at Sunset High School, I will never forget Robert F. Kennedy coming to speak just a few weeks before he was assassinated.  And in 1972, I had the privilege of working with Jim very closely as one of the convention chairs preparing to hold that year's Democratic Convention at Memorial Coliseum in Portland...and host George McGovern as a keynote speaker. These were high level, engaging opportunities for high school students to experience, and the events often received national attention.
But this is not what made Jim Barlow a mentor to so many. Without a doubt his classrooms were magical, and you learned a tremendous amount about our political process. But it was in being with Jim that your world inevitably changed. This is what mentors do-- they are the ones who impact your life in profoundly meaningful ways.
Jim had the capacity to not only help you see the reality and the goodness of the world, but he also helped you discover your own gifts and place within the world. Jim was awarded a number of professional awards over his distinguished career as a high school social studies teacher: The Governor's Award for Excellence in Education, the National Council for the Social Studies Spirit of America Award, and the Rotary International Teacher of the Year. But former students didn't come to see Jim because of these awards, we came to see him because of who he was as a human being.
It has been said of Nelson Mandela that "every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we'd like to be him on our best day." The saints in our lives are like this. In fact, it is because of these special saints that we not only want to stand up and feel a little bigger, but they are the ones that help us become better, more whole human beings through our encounters with them. This was true of those who encountered Nelson Mandela. This is what I experienced when I had coffee with Jim Barlow. And this is why mentors and guides are so crucial in our spiritual journeys.
Recently I've been reading Sarah Bakewell's National Best Seller, How to Live or A Life of Montaigne. It is a remarkable, helpful book about living life. In it Bakewell says: "Moral dilemmas interested Montaigne, but he was less interested in what people ought to do than in what they actually did. He wanted to know how to live a good life-- meaning a correct or honorable life, but also a fully human, satisfying, flourishing one." This is the world that the saints, mentors, and spiritual guides explore...and then share with the rest of us.
So what happens when one of your mentors dies? Well, it is then that you are called anew to live your own life fully and wholly...and remember the gifts and lessons you received from those who influenced your life in specials ways.
Saint: A very holy person. A charitable, unselfish, or patient person.
On the Sunday after November 1st, we will celebrate All Saints Day in our churches. All Saints Day is an ancient Christian festival, dating back to the 4th century, with various expressions of it being practiced over the centuries. It is a time to honor every saint, known and unknown, in the life of the church. It is a time to remember the importance of "holy individuals" in our lives.
As we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day in the coming days, take a moment to consider the saints in your life. Who helped you become a better human being? Who served as a spiritual guide for your journey? My guess is that these special individuals are a part of your family of saints. They are the mentors and guides, who touched your life in lasting ways...and who deserve to be remembered this All Saints Day with fondness and love.
 As the hymn reminds us:
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Blessings on your journey,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It seeks out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities.

Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org