I was wondering what my summer blog post should be about. I like to make a very humorous one in the middle of summer, because humor is essential to my life. It is a very positive way of facing life’s atrocities and darker sides. Death and pain and evilness are all impossible to live with, and therefore God gave us a deep sense of humor, a playfulness which is very different from evilness and probably not of this world at all, but from a better reality, from a better place, a place of light and beauty and peace and laughter. I deeply believe in the importance of humor and playfulness and laughter. It is not superficial, it is deep and existential and it is a God given way of approaching life’s darker and more difficult sides. And it is a God given way to build bridges from heart to heart, of building friendships and deep relationships between people who used to be strangers.
This summer did not lend itself easily to humor. It has been such a difficult summer. The war in Gaza has been absolutely devastating in the number of families, children and innocent civilians being killed. It took away any apatite I might have had to make a humorous blog post. Then the development in Syria and Iraq and the senseless killings of innocent victims again. Then came West Africa where friends are living more and more isolated from the rest of the world due to the deadly virus spreading its fatal consequences. It all made me silent.
Yesterday I lost a very dear friend, and immediately the blogpost for this summer was given to me. John Knox died abruptly yesterday, and the world stood still for a while. I was sitting at the coast of North Yorkshire, not so far away from Scotland, when I received the message from Kerry, his daughter and my very good friend and close colleague in the YMCA. The world stood still for a few seconds in the early morning, and the wind came in from the ocean and brought with it memory after memory and I just let the memories float through me as I felt life and joy surrounding the memories of John Knox. This photo above is taken just a few weeks ago at 12000 feet in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, USA.” I made it to the top,” says the text on his caps. It was the Wednesday of the week of the YMCA World Council in Estes Park this summer, and John and I met on the top of the National Park and we had another great conversation. We laughed and we joked, as we always used to do. We had a few really internal jokes from the past and they gave us a very special bond, and they always renewed the bridge between us and we reopened the bridge with smiles and laughter and we were brothers. We spoke about the YMCA, which was our common focus that week, and John shared with me his impressions and observations about the past and history of this movement and about the future perspectives and visions. He had tears in his eyes at the end of the conversation and I felt his words resonating in my head and in my heart, and as always I felt richly blessed and inspired by talking with John. He was a man making faith in Jesus Christ easier. By that I mean that John lived his own faith, he was really one of those few people who walked their talk and demonstrated the values of Christianity as I believe they should be practiced. John was a man of true integrity and of enormous generosity. Therefore the importance of his presence in this world and in our YMCA movement far exceeded his service to the Methodist Church or his service as National General Secretary of the YMCA in Scotland. He became a significant leader to so many of us in the European YMCA family, in the World YMCA family and towards the end in the fellowship of YMCA retirees from around the globe.The importance of John’s leadership continued, even grew, after his day of retirement from active service to the YMCA. Because John was a gift to us and he remained like that to his last day. We thank God for him.
The sun has set, the day is over. We believe that John has gone to his heavenly Father. There is still light coming, giving colors to the evening clouds. This is the sunset of a good man.
For me the clouds are colored by John’s smiles and laughter, I remember jokes and silly conversations that filled my heart with joy. For me the clouds are colored by John’s honesty and courage, that he was always willing to talk the truth, but in ways which did not unnecessarily hurt other people, but still it was the truth. For me the clouds are colored by John’s rich generosity, how he continued to come to all the European Youth Festivals and supporting us, inspiring us and encouraging us to do more and better for young people. For me the clouds are colored by his wisdom and deep understanding of the importance of the YMCA vision of a holistic approach to man in body, mind and spirit. For me the clouds are colored by John’s strategic thinking and visionary leadership. For me the clouds are colored by all the inspiration that John gave to me and which continues to enrichen my life.
And here a photo from the same day in the Rocky Mountains, four friends in the YMCA world wide movement, sharing a brilliant moment.
And as we are sharing memories of a rich life and enjoying all our wonderful experiences with John Knox, our thoughts and prayers today go to Patricia, his wife, and to Kerry, John’s daughter and his grandchildren Bronach and Patrick, on the photo above and to Kerry’s husband James and the rest of the family. As we are thankful to the Lord above for the gifts he gave us trough John Knox, we also say thank you to you as his family for sharing him with us all in the world wide YMCA family.
And as the globe continues to go around and this monument of the World Council in Estes Park 2014 hopefully will stay for a long time to remind us of a very important week for the YMCA movement, I bow my head in silence and will always remember that this was the last YMCA meeting for John Knox. More than any monument of stone the life of John Knox is teaching me again what Servant Leadership means and is giving inspiration to continue what John left behind.
Thank you, my friend, and peace be with you.