In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
People remember my dad primarily from church. They remember his spiritual training, the ways he explained things. His favorite phrase, “stay straight with the Lord.” His parting comment from the pulpit after every church service, “Leave rejoicing in the Lord.” I remember those too, I heard them each 12 million times. But they aren’t the phrases that stick in my head.
“Don’t run over my pine trees.” Is one statement I remember from my dad. Dads have a way of repeating themselves. Kids have a way of saying “I know.” Kids then have a way of doing exactly what their dad told them not to do when they said “I know.” When I became “of age” to run my dad’s lawnmower, he certainly let me. Every Saturday I was to mow the lawn and I did and usually enjoyed it. My dad had a fixation with turning his yard into a forest preserve. He would always add more trees. One year he planted three little tiny pine trees in the yard. I was not to run them over with the lawn mower. I don’t know what it was, but no matter how careful I was around those trees, I always ended up lopping off a branch or two. OK, I lopped off the top a few times too. “Don’t run over the pine trees” was said to me every Saturday for about five years. For some reason, those trees never did grow up, they remained the perfect size to run over with a lawn mower.
“Don’t be afraid to learn something” was another phrase I remember. Every day when I left for school my dad would say good-bye and then “don’t be afraid to learn something.” I never fully understood this phrase until I started sending my kids to school. He always used to comment on how many movies we watched at school. He would critique my Christian school like so, “I pay $3,000 a year for you to watch movies?” There were times in my academic career it did appear as though I was afraid to learn something.
“Don’t eat with your mouth fool,” is another example of my father’s humor. He would say this with a particular tone of voice and emphasize the “fool.” Yes, I know it should be “full” but that was my father’s humor, he meant it as fool. “Don’t eat with your mouth, fool.” It makes no sense really, but anytime I got carried away eating he would say it.
“Stop shaking the table.” How many times did my father say this to me? I have something wrong with my legs. They are required to move 24 hours a day. They bounce, shake and twitch all day long. Even as I type this, my legs are swinging back and forth. My uncle does this too. In fact, my uncle even found an article on leg shaking that said it was actually a good way to burn calories. See? Anyway, I used to sit across from my dad at the kitchen table. The table we used had two legs, one on each end of the table that spread out on each side. It was perfect for resting my left foot on the table leg while eating. As I ate, my leg would be bouncing and since it was on the table leg, it shook the whole table. Used to irritate my dad something fierce.
Now, these statements from my father are probably not as uplifting and edifying as the ones the church people remember. But they mean more to me than any of those phrases. They were phrases that were common to him and I. They explained a bond, an irritating bond at times, but a bond nonetheless. As I look at those phrases, they are all prohibitive statements! When I see my dad in heaven, I probably won’t spew out “Hey Dad, I stayed straight with the Lord.” I’ll probably say something like, “Hey, did your pine trees make it here?”
My dad was most known as a pastor and that only makes sense. People liked my dad as a pastor. Let me rephrase that, there were people who liked my dad as a pastor. There were others too. I hate those others. People come into church very rarely for edification, the stated purpose for the church. Instead, people come into churches to see what they can get. They take their greatest need in life and try to get it fulfilled at church. Those who seek power will seek it in church. Those who seek ego will seek it in church. My dad was a nice guy, too nice at times. I could go down the list of all the people who came in and tried to run my dad’s church for him People who took him for granted, who used him, they played his niceness to gain advantage and cause trouble. My dad knew it was coming, he was no idiot, but he gave people chances, and then he’d clean up after they left.
By the time I was in high school, I pretty much hated church. As a kid I hated it because it took my dad away. It also took me away. How many football games did I miss because of church? Sunday evening used to come way too soon. We left for church at 5:15-5:30 for the 6:00 service. The three o’clock games also got over at 6. Never saw the end of a 3 o’clock game. Never saw a complete Super Bowl until I was in college. I even missed my Chicago Bear’s Super Bowl in 1985. Missed the Fridge’s touchdown for stupid church. I was making sacrifices for church and when I sacrificed for church and then the people we all were sacrificing for stabbed my dad in the back, I got bitter.
I remember the guy who came in and wanted to pray. Fine, you can pray. So he did. Well, why not let me do the announcements too. Fine, my dad let him pray and do the announcements. You know, I can sing pretty good, why not let me lead the singing. Fine, you can pray, do the announcements, and sing, you can even sit on the platform with me. Well, since I’m on the platform with you, I might as well lead the choir too. Fine, I don’t much like leading choir anyway, go for it. Well, since I’m praying, doing announcements, leading singing, you might as well let me do the scripture reading too. Fine. My dad had to know what was happening, he was not a dumb man. These were all things he preferred not doing anyway and every pastor is taught to take advantage of volunteers. Well, since I’m on the platform with you, praying, doing announcement, leading singing, directing the choir, and since I’m doing the scripture reading, you might as well let me preach too.
I remember the guy’s name. I know where he lives. I still hold a grudge. The people with the kid who my dad left Montana to be with during surgery who left. The family that got my dad to start a new service at church so they didn’t have to get up so early, left because my dad didn’t do enough for them. He started a whole stinking new service for you! The family that came in and took over the children’s church and then tried to take over the church. The woman who critiques everything in the church showing how it was all tainted with communism. The woman who was never happy no matter what my dad did for her. On and on. I saw it all. I saw what it did to my dad. I hated church. I hated Christians.
Every Sunday and Wednesday on the way to church we would pass about 7 bars. As we passed each one my dad would note how many people were at the bars. He would then compare it to how many people came to church. On nights when there was bad weather, getting an inch of snow qualifies as bad weather for people going to church, my dad would always comment, “It’s not keeping them from the bars is it?” I heard the pain in my dad, I saw it. I hated it. I hated church.
The last thing in the world I wanted to be was a pastor. I saw how it racked my dad with pain. All the people who considered my dad as their friend frustrated him to no end. Pastors know things about people, they love people. Love hurts. All the dumb things the people do, all the teaching my dad prepared for them. Then they wouldn’t show up. How can you help them if they don’t come for the help? You can’t force someone to be edified. Frustrating. There was no way on earth I was going to be a pastor.
In college I started as a broadcasting major but got quickly sick of all the liberal whackos who infested the communications wing of the college. I switched over to a social science degree. I did this for two reasons, it was easy and it was recommended for people who wanted to attend seminary. Yup, in college I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I should be a pastor. I came home from college on a break and my dad and I went out for breakfast. I remember telling him that I had made the decision to become a pastor. I wasn’t sure how my dad would respond but he was generally encouraging on every decision I made, I expected the same here. I expected “Good,” at the least. Here are his exact words to me after revealing my pastoral decision, “Oh Jeff, don’t do it. It’ll rip your heart out.”
I always knew my dad got frustrated and I knew who was frustrating him and why. I knew that being a pastor was tough on him. But that took me back. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t think he would tell me not to do it. But he also knew, when you had to, you had to. After my dad died I asked my mom how often dad talked about finding a new job. She laughed and said, “Oh, every Sunday.” People don’t realize this about their pastors, at least not about the pastors who care for their people. It stinks. It’s hard. It aint easy. It rips your heart and sucks the life out of you. You cook up a good sermon, you work on it all week. You’re excited to present it. A few people say it was good then one person will drop a comment that makes the whole past week worthless. They don’t even realize what they said, but they said something that made it all pointless. Every Sunday he felt like getting a new job. I wonder if all the friends he had at church knew that.
You wouldn’t understand unless you were in that position. He still chose to do it. It was his life. No one held a gun to his head every Sunday to make him go. It’s the nature of the job. I don’t say it to get sympathy for pastors, or, if you knew my dad, to feel bad for him. I just want you to see the reality of the situation. I don’t remember Ken Weddle as a pastor, I remember him as my dad. He was the best pastor I ever had. I appreciate all he did for me through his pastoral role. But that’s not the most significant thing he did for me.
Showing me what it was like to be a man following Christ was the most important thing he did for me. He showed me what suffering for the Gospel was all about. He showed me a picture of Christ. I know I understand Christ more today from having watched my dad. I knew the hardships of the life of faith by seeing him go through it. I saw the pain and frustration, but I also saw that he knew it was worth it. It’s not even based on the victories he had with people. There were many familiar faces at his memorial service from the three churches he pastored. Many lives he touched. It was great to see that. But he never held out the few “successes” as his reason for doing it. How much can you truly succeed with any fallen human being? He did it because he knew it’s what he had to do. That didn’t make it any easier certainly, but it had to be done. Christ came to die. It wasn’t easy but it had to be done. He did it for the joy set before Him. I look forward to heaven so much today because of my dad. Now that he’s there, I look forward to it even more.
Life is short, the easy road is not always the right one. My dad showed me that the church is annoying and filled with morons. But he also showed me that he was a moron too and all of us morons are destined for heaven through Jesus Christ. It’s about Christ. My dad’s memorial service pointed to Christ throughout. I made sure my message pointed to Christ, presented the Gospel, and encouraged the believers to live out their faith. He would have loved to have been there.