In the Spring of 2000. Jen and I had been church shopping, having attended a handful of other worship services over the previous months. This Sunday brought us to Bryn Mawr Church, and it was nice, but like the others, had not really grabbed us. Something still seemed missing, and when the service ended, we began eyeing the door, intending to make a discreet exit. It was at that exact moment that we met Bob and Mary Boehlke.
The Boehlkes were two of the nicest people we’d ever encountered. They introduced themselves, asked about us and our story, and made sure we knew where the coffee and treats were, and that there were other young families just like ours that we should meet. In retrospect, Bob and Mary did something very important for us on that day. They created a connection. We made a connection with them, and then a connection with the church community. I think that is all it took – a small gesture of kindness to strangers, outsiders who were hungry for more, even if they did not know what more was. Perhaps that is what had missing from the other churches we had visited, and here it was, and we bit hard. We came, and we stayed.
Over the years I was able to get to know Bob better. As I became more involved in the life of the church, whether worship leading, or preaching, or with music, Bob was consistent in his praise, his feedback, and his support. I always knew Bob had listened closely, as afterwards he would always tell me what he thought of what I had said, relate it to a personal experience, and made me feel like what I said was important. When I occasionally took a hard or edgy view on a topic, I sometimes felt I should be apologetic to Bob, this brilliant man, that I had somehow I had said something I shouldn’t have, that I went too far. Bob, always gracious, reassured me. He helped me frame my thoughts better than I’d been able to do for myself, and made clear one thing: When it comes to faith and spiritual exploration, there are no right answers.
Bob taught me that faith is about asking questions, not about knowing the answers, and that if you think you have all the answers, you are a fool. There is simply too much for any of us to know to have confidence that we know the truth. He was the best example of a fully integrated man that I’ve ever seen. He integrated superior intelligence and critical thinking with love, kindness, acceptance, and a sense of humor. He was easily able to reconcile the obvious contradictions of faith, science, spiritual life, and practicality, with an inquisitive mind and an open heart.
I have occasionally struggled in my own life to reconcile these things. I reject the the outer fringes of faith – both extreme belief as well as extreme non-belief. I have long been drawn to people who have created a successful balance in their life, those who acknowledge both the tangible and the fantastic, and who understand that there is more to believe in than what we can see and touch. Bob was a role model for me in helping me define the path I would take on my own journey, that to know is not enough; we must also believe.
I experience God through acts of love, kindness, and beauty, performed by individuals, and even more strongly, through communities. Through meaningful shared experiences, I encounter a spirit that makes me feel that something larger is at work. People with honest convictions can debate what ‘something larger’ really is, whether is it is God, or humanity, or nothing at all. The debate is a vital and important part of who we are. People will choose sides, but I don’t really care about what others think. I know what Something Larger is for me, and as Bob taught me, that is really the whole point of any of this.
When Jen told me yesterday morning that Bob had died, I felt a little numb, and then later it hit me – a sense of sadness and sorrow. Later after that, I began to reflect on Bob meant to me, and decided I needed to write this down while it was still fresh and raw. Bob came into my life at a time when I most needed him, even if I did not understand that until later. He lived a long and meaningful life, and left an unmistakable impact on those who knew him. We should all be as fortunate, to live so well, and to leave behind so much.
Thank you Bob.