Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Kingdom Of God Is Like This

What follows isn't really a parable. It really happened.

I've been enjoying reminiscing for the past few days, as I wrote a couple days ago. Of all the memories, places, teachers, old stores, make-out spots, and other things that this has dredged up, the one that has touched me most deeply is the discussion that was sparked when someone mentioned Keith Kellogg.

If you grew up in Waverly, NY in the 1970's, 1980's, perhaps in to the 1990's (I was long gone by then, so I don't really know for sure), then you knew Keith. He would be sitting on his bike, usually around the corner of Broad Street and Fulton Street, or riding up Chemung Street, perhaps even hanging around the High School if it was a summer day. Keith had a smile and greeting for everyone. His smile lit up his face, which was usually shaded by a grungy old baseball cap.

In a less enlightened age, people would have called Keith retarded. What Keith was, really, was a simple, beautiful person who loved his town - he was at every sporting event he could get to, football games, basketball games, wrestling matches - and the people who lived there. Kids knew, without having to be told, that Keith was their friend. If you rode your bike to the business district, Keith might challenge you to a race in the parking lot behind one block of businesses. Quite often, if you had stopped at Harper's News Stand and bought some candy, you would probably share some with him. Not because he had asked. Because you knew, somewhere you couldn't really name and without being able to put words to it, that Keith was special in a way that went beyond the limitations the accidents of genetics and birth had given him.

It wasn't just the kids, though. Adults would be greeted by a smile, a wave, an offer of a high-five, even out an open car window as you drove by. No store owners chased him away from in front of their buildings. No parents complained to the police or his parents that he was a menace to their children. Everyone in town understood that Keith was more than just "that guy that hangs around downtown". He was a part of the community in a way that even the stores and streets, the homes and families were not. Heaven protect you if you were from out of town, or just stupid and insensitive, and called Keith a name, or spoke ill of him to others. Keith wasn't a marginal character. His presence helped make the town a little more human, a little more fun, a little more like home. Keith was, it seemed, eternal.

Except, alas, he wasn't. Keith died a couple years back, and I was sad when I read his obituary. Waverly, it seemed, was now a little less than it used to be. No longer would kids be challenged to a bike race, have someone with whom to share their gum and cans of soda, or high-five as they rode by on their bikes. The football team would have one less super-fan. On that corner where he sat on his bike, watching the cars, smiling and waving, those of us who remember Keith can probably still feel his presence. I, for one, hope they still smile and wave, maybe stick their hand out for a smack as they drive through that weird, three-way stop on a four-way intersection.

The woman who started this little Facebook gathering site, Tawny (Keene) Villalobos said it best and most beautifully: "God put both of them right where they needed to be, In the Valley. Where they were/are loved and supported by a GREAT community."

That, I submit, is true. I would also submit that even though most wouldn't know it, or note it if they understood, we, the folks who lived in and near Waverly, NY, in our mutual respect and love and support with Keith - and everyone should know he gave far more than he got, but he got so much - is a glimpse in to what Jesus meant by "The Kingdom of God". A place where people love, and are loved in return, and are counted as special despite how the world defines them ("retarded") and would seek to lock them away.

Virtual Tin Cup

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