Friday, June 5, 2015

Phil Lineberger's wonderful life

It has been less than a week since we lost Phil Lineberger, but it already seems an eternity.

Much has been said and written about Phil this week. Some have spoken of the depression that took his life, some have shared personal reflections of Phil. I expressed my own high regard for my friend Phil in remarks published by Ken Camp in his Baptist Standard article, Former BGCT President Lineberger dead at 69. There were others who were much closer to Phil than I was who will be sharing their own reflections in coming days.

So here I want to offer just one thing I've observed as I've witnessed the outpouring of love and affection for Phil this week.

Every Christmas season, I find myself compelled to pull out my DVD of the 1946 Frank Capra movie, It's a Wonderful Life. Most of you are probably well familiar with the story. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, finds himself in trouble and wrongly accused of embezzlement; when the miserly Mr. Potter threatens to turn him in to the authorities and says that George's "miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy" means that George is "worth more dead than alive," George agrees with him and tries to kill himself but is saved when a bumbling angel named Clarence shows him the remarkable impact George had made on so many lives, as he takes him to see how different - and emptier - their lives would have been if George had never been born. Then Clarence says, "see, George, you really had a wonderful life."

Well, of course, that's fiction. No Hollywood guardian angel was going to save Phil Lineberger from the depression that robbed him of any joy in life and made it impossible for him to think rationally any longer, the insidious illness that kills so many people every year.

But those of us who loved Phil Lineberger can learn something from the gathering that we have done this week - whether at the memorial service yesterday or over Facebook or over the phone, etc. Phil Lineberger lived a wonderful life. Phil Lineberger touched more lives than we will ever know. I have been amazed to hear from people I hadn't seen in years, who either sent "comments" to me on Facebook or approached me at the reception following Phil's service to tell me where they knew Phil and how Phil had touched their lives (one said Phil had performed his wedding ceremony; another told me that he and Phil knew each other as kids in Texarkana). I had had no idea that these friends of mine also knew Phil.

There's a powerful reminder in this outpouring of gratitude by folks who speak of Phil's lasting influence on their lives - that our investment in people is NEVER a bad investment, never turns up a "dry hole," as the oil people say. Giving ourselves to others is the key to a "wonderful life." There are some "returns" on those investments that we will never see, but they will pay dividends over and over as those people invest in others, and so on. What a wonderful testimony to the life that Phil lived, to hear from so many people whose lives he touched.

May we all go forth to live such a "wonderful life."

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