My father Stan Vander Klay passed away March 4, 2013.
We held a Memorial Service for him at the Pleasant Street CRC on March 8. This is the text of the eulogy I gave for him.
I don’t believe I need to introduce many of you this afternoon to Stan Vander Klay, some of you have known him longer than I have.
Many of you knew him to be a very intelligent man. He loved words, he loved education, he loved to read, he loved to talk about ideas and explore paradoxes that we can’t resolve. At home you could almost always count on him to be in a comfy chair with a book or a journal or more lately his Kindle.
He also loved to be involved. He was involved in all kinds of things and with all kinds of people. The breadth of the people he could relate to could be breathtaking. Old and young, rich and poor, the wise and the troubled. He shook hands with mayors and governors while always being on a first name basis with children, widows, homeless and fools.
The key I think to understanding Dad was to appreciate the fact that he was, at heart, a very simple man.
For some of us in the family the simplicity was self-evident.
My phrase for him in many circumstances was “a babe in the woods”.
He seldom had much cash on him because if he had it he would give it to anyone he thought would need it more.
As a boy I remember some boys once coming to the house and asking for rope. This was a rope we had used as a toy for jump rope or something. I asked him why he gave away our rope and he said “they said they would return it.” I remember thinking “how could you be so dim!” It was never returned, of course.
This simplicity would sometimes frustrate his own mother who loved him dearly. He had a special way of bringing her pot to boil with frustration. One day he did so to the point of her going outside in their small town and shouting “Stanley is a hopeless case!”
He didn’t take offense.
Psalm 32 begins with beatitude,
1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.a
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against themb
and in whose spirit is no guilec
Guile is an old word, but also an evocative word. Other translations render it duplicity or deceit. Sometimes it’s called “integrity” and it means that he is the same through and through, day in and day out. What you got from him was what he was.
As children we could never count on Dad to tell even a small, innocent lie, to get us out of school or some uncomfortable situation. It was simply beyond him.
His lack of guile was his simplicity.
Part of the reason he was a babe in the woods was because there were no hidden agendas, not illicit motives, no duplicity. He simply assumed others had none either. He was unfortunately too often wrong on that score.
This characteristic combined with his missional zeal to serve “the least of these” would often make him a victim. He would attract swindlers, moochers, con artists and takers.
It was a fortunate thing that God gave him a wife who was a bit less trusting and a bit more practical so his generosity of spirit wouldn’t bankrupt our family or the church.
This characteristic, in a Christ-like, cruciform sort of way had the effect of sometimes inspiring others around him to do likewise. If he could be God’s own fool to the degree he was, then others could dip their toe in and follow him in God’s upside down mission to the powerless, the poor, the marginalized and the discriminated against.
He not only drew perpetrators to him, but victims and heroes who believed that the world would be a far better place with a little less guile.
Guile comes up in Revelation chapter 14.
1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.
Now you might wonder what is the deal with 144,000 virgins, and as I’m standing before you I can attest that Stan Vander Klay was no virgin. The book of revelation is a vision told through Biblical imagery and this virginal group is supposed to image an army eternally dedicated to serve their LORD.
When I look at his Northside pictures, read his book and reflect on his life, he was recruiter for this army. He drew and supported many of you in this mission.
This is not an army of destruction, hatred or avarice, it is an army of love, of mercy, of generosity and forgiveness. It is an army unlike any other because it is without guile.
Dad has now gone to his reward, and before the throne he now stands, but the battle and the army continues. At the hands of this army only Satan finds loss.
In recent years Dad was declining even though he doggedly tried to beat the age of decay by exercising and eating right. His death was a shock to us, and I’m sure many of us are still in shock.
I too was shocked. After his fainting spell at the gym he proudly passed all of this health tests with flying colors. He wore a heart monitor for 30 days without incident and the nuclear stress test showed no vascular issues. He happily told the administering technicians he could easily go longer on the treadmill. When I spoke with him on the phone the day before he died and asked him how he felt he said “Great!, I feel great!”
When I heard he died meeting Bob Banning for lunch part of me was happy. He loved to eat, and he loved to talk about the LORD.
While we would have loved to have more time with him the prospect of ever increasing limitation and confusion was not something I wanted him to face. It would have been a very difficult thing for such a simple man to endure. He just wanted to pour his life out for others, and the practicalities of being responsible for an aging body simply made no sense to him.
Much of the flood of well wishing we have received has focused on what a good and Christian man he was, and it is all true. His record is clear. He poured himself out for Paterson, Baldwinsville and Whitinsville and anyone else who happened to cross his path.
Part of the problem with the myth of great people is that we naturally exclude ourselves. I can’t be Stan Vander Klay. I’m not him. I wasn’t given what he was given. I’ve got to live with what I’ve been given, both in terms of my person and my situation. Each of us is called to be ourselves and called to do what God has chosen for us.
CS Lewis makes the point in Mere Christianity that often some of what we admire in others doesn’t really come from them. Dad wasn’t entirely responsible for his simplicity. Dad’s stubborn and determined nature to be without guile was God’s gift to Stan, not Stan’s gift to God, so there isn’t much point in beating yourself up for not being like him in this way. You can’t give what you haven’t been given.
Before Pastor Derek came to Pleasant Street he asked me to describe my father. I told him that my father could write a favorable character reference for Adolph Hitler. It isn’t of course that Hitler was any good, but that my father was simply incapable of holding the evil against us.
What was Stan’s gift to God was what he did with this gift. He used this gift to bless a cruel and suspicious world.
I tell the people of my church that there are two basic ways to live in this world. You can either live naturally and practically as “my wellbeing at your expense”, or you can live the relational life of the Trinity as seen in the cross of Christ as “your wellbeing at my expense”.
Jesus invites us to live in the second way. He illustrates it with cheek turning and cloak giving.
Any practical person will notice that cheek turning leads to getting hit twice, and cloak giving often leaves you cold and naked in this world. These are just the facts.
Dad preached Psalm 16 at his mother’s funeral. I find the Psalm at least as apt for him. The mystery of Psalm 16 is that it can only be lived in this kind of monocular simplicity.
Psalm 16:9–11 (NIV)
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
The Apostle Paul quotes this in Acts 13 where he applies it to Jesus saying “God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay.”
“everyone who tries to save his life will lose it, but those who lose it for my sake will find it.”
The Christian Gospel says that the only responsible way to live “your wellbeing at my expense” is to do so in the light of the resurrection.
Dad was a babe in the woods because he believed the dangerous wood would be here only for a little while and in the end the age of decay could only take his body for just a brief rest.
This world demands guile to survive, but God’s kingdom invites us to live exposed to others.
This world will miss my Dad, and we will too, but he was never an army of one. This guileless army always welcomes new recruits. In the end it always wins, because the death of its soldiers fuels the resurrection. It undoes the darkness and points us to a dawn of hope and glory. Amen.