He Loved What Was Local
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He Loved What Was Local
By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Tom’s obituary in yesterday’s paper was a wake up call, even for those of us who knew him well. For there, listed in print, were the many local organizations that benefited from his participation, his service, his leadership, over the years.
Consider this list. Mercy Hospital. Peerless Commission. Brownfield Commission. Historical Society of Michigan. Port Huron Museum. Port Huron Planning Commission. Port Huron Sports Hall of Fame. Port Huron Antique and Classic Car Show. Port Huron Yacht Club. Port Huron Power Squadron. Irish-American Club of St. Clair County. The Elks, the Masons, the Jaycees, and the Kiwanis. This is no mere list, it’s a directory! And Tom was involved, at one time or another, with each one. To engage in extreme understatement, here was a man who cared about his community, who was active in his community, who saw what was local and called it precious.
Tom was also a man who saw his family and called them precious, in particular his wife Christine, his son and daughter-in-law T.J. and Heather, his grandson and namesake Thomas William, and the newest member, his granddaughter Phoebe Marie, who came into this world earlier than expected, just in time to receive her grandfather’s touch, her grandfather’s blessing.
Tom was a man who loved what was local: his community and his family. He loved the people and places and groups and causes that had been given to him here in Port Huron. In this he was very wise, for it means nothing to love generalities, to love abstractions, if we fail to love the concrete and specific people and places and circumstances that are right before us every day. It makes no sense to love cities in general without living the city where you live. By his life, Tom demonstrated that he knew this.
Respect was something important to Tom. He wanted to have your respect. But even more characteristic than this interest in respect was his capacity for kindness. As one friend said last night, “Tom did not have a mean bone in his body.”
A concern for respect. A capacity for kindness. These are two characteristics of Tom. They are also characteristics of God as revealed in the Scriptures. There we find God shown to us as concerned for mutual respect among his children, demanding justice from us, not in the sense of crime and punishment, but rather in the sense of right relationship, a justice worthy of celebration. The Scriptures also show us the kindness of God, the inexhaustible compassion of One whose mercies are new every morning. In his capacity for kindness, in his concern for respect, Tom mirrored something of the God who made him.
Tom loved what was local. He cared for the concrete and the specific. There was something profoundly Christian about this. For Christianity makes astounding claims about what is local and concrete and specific.
The eternal Word of God assumes human nature and lives in a particular time and place. He is incarnate, embodied, enfleshed, no abstraction at all, but as specific as any other human being.
And Christianity refuses to be content with some disembodied future existence. As Jesus rose from the dead in his wounded yet glorious flesh, so the Christian community looks for, anticipates, and expects the resurrection of the dead, the countless crowd of the saints, in all their fleshy particularity, gathered round the throne of God and the Lamb, alive with glory, and each one irrepressibly specific and concrete and local.
The human drama as told in the Bible opens in a garden, but comes to its glorious consummation not in a garden, but in a city. The final chapter of the Bible provides us with a vision of that city and of its river, and of the light that fills it, and of the countless citizens who find their home in that city, that place. It is a comprehensive vision, yet one that is also specific and concrete and local.
Tom Gaffney gave us glimpses of that city in his concern for respect, his capacity for kindness, in his care for the concrete and the specific, the people and places of this community. Yes, Tom gave us glimpses of that city. For that we can thank God.
There too he will love what is local, and he will see in all that is local the glory of God reflected in full splendor.
- Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.