My dad died a few weeks ago, of pulmonary fibrosis and chronic heart disease. He died exactly one year later, to the day, from when I posted the eulogy for my mother here on Veracity, who died in 2015. Last week, I had family in from Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, and across Virginia and North Carolina, to celebrate his life. George Alan Morledge was a very accomplished man, a celebrated architect who specialized in 17th and 18th colonial restoration, including 20 years of service at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (check out their recent controversial SuperBowl ad), a significant project to help restore Blandfield Plantation in Essex County, Virginia, and assisting in researching the origins of the Adam Thoroughgood House, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. More about my dad’s life here.
After I dropped off the last of my cousins at the airport to go home, it was a pretty lonely ride back to my house. Some friends, including our Veracity blogger-in-chief, John Paine, suggested that I post “A Remembrance of My Dad” that I gave at his memorial service. My dad left me an important lesson and a treasure, that pretty well defines the orientation that I have towards the Christian faith, that I hope might come through here on the Veracity blog:
A Remembrance of My Dad: March 31, 2016, Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, Virginia
Today, I want to share with you a lesson that I learned from my dad, as well as something else that I will always treasure.
My dad was not simply an architect. He was scholar among architects, combining his passions for art, history, and engineering. For you see, my dad was a man of insatiable curiosity, a life long student, a man who sought after knowledge, not for its own sake, but rather for genuine understanding. Builders in the area loved my dad’s drawings because of their exquisite attention to detail.
He was a cautious and yet determined critical thinker.
Sometimes though, his curiosity would get the best of him. For example, growing up my dad would drag my mother and I along to visit just about every single colonial church in Tidewater, Virginia and lower Maryland. One time, we were up in Maryland, and my dad spotted a church he had wanted to visit on a Saturday afternoon. The church building was closed, but this did not stop my dad. He walked around the building, my dad peering in through the windows to study the handcrafted pew work. He opened up a window and climbed into the church building, just to look at the intricate 18th century design of the communion rail, from a different angle.
Ten minutes later, I was hiding in the back seat of our car, as the county sheriff had pulled up, lights a flashing, interviewing my dad as to why he broke into the church. The vicar was called in, they conversed together about colonial church history, and no charges were filed. However, my mother gave my dad quite a lecture all of the way home.
I can still hear it now.
And what about the time we went, as a family, to see a brand new Colonial Williamsburg exhibit, anticipating a distinguished visit by former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Just minutes before Humphrey was about to enter the exhibit room, my dad wanted to get a little bit closer, curious to know if there was an audio presentation explaining the exhibit. So he looked around and pressed what he thought was a button to start the audio lecture.
Security rushed in just moments after the alarm went off, apprehended my father, the alarm ringing as my dad had then the awkward opportunity to shake hands with the former Vice President as he entered the room. But neither my mom nor I met Hubert Humphrey that day, for we had both since left the building, pretty much disowning any knowledge of Alan Morledge.
If I had to summarize what I learned the most from my dad, it would be a desire both to ask questions, and to seek answers. Applying this to spiritual realities, my dad modeled for me, in his calming and inquisitive manner, a wonderful balance, a balance that led me to discover God’s love for me, my own need for a Savior, and a desire to critically evaluate the truth claims of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that were celebrated just this past Easter Sunday, and how these particular truth claims, as told in the Bible, would radically transform my life.
In our world today, there are those, on one side, who relish in the asking of questions, trusting in their own competence, but they have little patience for really pursuing the answers, particularly if those answers would require something of them, something that would demand their obedience to the truth as God has revealed it, in the evidence. They protest in their unbelief, demanding that God measure up to their expectations, often masking a hidden impiety, thus attempting to reverse the roles of the Creator and the Creature.
On the other side, are those who never bother to ask questions. Many simply go along with the flow, consuming whatever popular culture tells them, abiding by a lazy, uncritical mindset, informed by whatever they hear from their friends and Internet social media. They buy whatever is being sold, without a thought for what is really true.
Also, there are those who oddly believe in God, yet they think they have an answer to everything, answers, let us say, to be supposedly found in just one particular book of the Bible, or some other approach to the Bible that is hesitant to ask questions, staying clear away from doubt, for fear that such questioning would ultimately undermine faith.
My dad modeled for me a path away from these various extremes. Rather, it is okay and good and indeed … necessary…, to ask questions, as evidenced by his curiosity. Doubt is not a barrier to faith, but rather an opportunity to pursue the truth, deeper and deeper, challenging our assumptions, traditions, and media saturated apathy. My dad had a real desire for understanding, even if it brought embarrassment upon his wife and son. It is a balance that values both questions … and answers.
Now, I must confess something at this point.
In some ways, I was not as close to my father, at least in the way I really wanted to be. He kept a lot of things to himself.
For example, spiritually speaking, my dad loved the Episcopal Church, he countenanced the sobriety of Christian moral discourse, and he never entertained the cynicism of the skeptic. But when it came to his own, personal response to the claims of faith as found in Jesus Christ, I knew very little about my dad.
There was a certain mystery about him.
But there was also a certain treasure I found in that mystery.
You see, my dad had a real chocolate sweet tooth. He loved his food, a quality I inherited. And I would say that in the past year, since I lost my mother, I have oddly grown closer to my dad than I have ever been in my entire life. We would watch movies together, discuss politics, eat chocolate, you name it.
There were many times, that we simply just sat together, enjoying one another’s company.
A week before he died, my aunt Rosemary sent my dad a box of chocolates. With his reassuring and whimsical smile, he had a few pieces, and he let me have some. And there we sat, father and son, eating our chocolate, in silence, just being together. After a few minutes, I read him part of the Gospel of John, and we talked about what I had just read, still munching on our chocolate.
It was as though in these moments, I truly realized how wonderful a gift God had given me in my dad. We were simply there together, for it did not matter what we did.
We silently took in the bond we had, the friendship two men can share.
My dad was always there for me.
I could always count on my dad.
This is truly a gift from God, a gift that I will always treasure.