Football season started yesterday, and while doing some work at home and preparing to attend a meeting at the church where we are members, I enjoyed the Dallas Cowboys 28-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
But this football season in particular will have me pondering memories that are not nearly as enjoyable.
Earlier this year, I found out that John Weber, who provided leadership to Athletes in Action, died last November. John and I were friends, but most importantly we were brothers in Christ and he would declare that with an unabashed enthusiasm.
Now, you may never have heard of John but if you've been to a Cowboys football team, John was there. He roamed the sidelines like a coach, but a far different kind of coach. Weber was the executive director of the local chapter of Athletes in Action, a Christian service organization ministering to professional athletes. He was, more specifically, the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers.
John began inviting me to preach chapel services for the Cowboys and the Rangers several years ago. The last time I preached one, he asked me to do it for the Jacksonville Jaguars, in 2002. Needless to say it was an awesome experience. And John made what could have been a nerve wracking experience one in which you could focus (well almost), and relax, by his friendliness, grace and charm. He would make you feel at home while you stood in front of the likes of Eric Williams (former OT for the Cowboys), Pudge Rodriquez (former catcher for the Rangers), or Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley (former pitchers for the Oakland A's - when you preached chapel for the Rangers, you served both the home and visiting teams!).
But it was also great to have the time to spend with John before and after. We would talk about family, church, the Bible and the players. Protecting their anonymity, he would tell me of their struggles. They, for the most part, were very young men, with enormous wealth and in so many cases, little maturity. He provided guidance and accountability for them and a faith perspective which saw them through bereavement, divorces, injury and impending retirement. He did this for those who were Christian and for those who made no profession of faith.
John Weber was not just concerned about me as a guest speaker, but he even came out to the church and asked me to show him around the neighborhood where it was located. And just as he did with rich professional athletes, he looked at this poor community and with vision that belied not one ounce of judgementalism, he saw potential. He talked about what he would like to do with me in the community, for the youth of our church and the neighborhood. He was a joy to be with and you could not help but be refreshed in his presence. John was more conservative in both politics and theology than I. At least I think so. Our discussions of both, touched on our differences, but focused much more on what we had in common.
Our schedules kept us too busy to do what we had planned. But in 2004, I did get John to come and speak to our men at our quarterly men's fellowship breakfast . Some of them brought their sons and John brought his collection of Super Bowl rings, and two members of the Dallas Desperados (our Arena Football League team). I'll always remember how he encouraged our men.
I'm also remembering John Weber because the last time he invited me to preach a chapel service for the Rangers, I brought my son with me. Jason was about 29-30 years old then and he got a chance to see another side of his old man's work. After the service, John, Jason and I spent about 30 minutes or more chatting it up with John Wettland, the Ranger closer who was injured at the time and not playing that night. Jason and I stayed for the game afterward. It was a wonderful experience.
John and I lost touch, which was not unusual, for a couple of years, until earlier this year when I was trying to find his number to ask him if we could arrange for him to come visit CDM's work and Roseland Home public housing community. That's when I found out he had died in November of last year.
I felt bad about not knowing, until I remembered that for me, 2007 found me grieving the death of Jason, who was killed a year ago this week, and my diagnosis with prostate cancer the week after his funeral.
In a very odd way, I'm glad I didn't know.
Jason and John are in Heaven now. I'm grateful to the Lord for both of them. But it also shows the brevity of life. The joy of family and friendship and how we need to embrace them both.