Anyone who has read much of the material on this site will have encountered the phrase “radical discipleship“. Some people will be more familiar with it than others and if you fall in the second category, the best way I can description I can come up with is following Jesus no matter what. It is embracing non-violence, love of neighbor and service to others even at the cost of your own life. People speak about it, sell books about it, even claim to practice it. But, damn few of us really do it on a daily basis, myself included. I’ve known a few people who are true radical disciples of Christ and one of them died last Tuesday. His name was Thomas Dwight Rieves and he was my father.
My father was not a religious man, but he was deeply spiritual. He once told me he considered most preachers on a par with politicians and used car salesmen and I’m not sure he ever needed the formal trappings of high church worship. The only sanctuary he required was his beloved home in the Virginia mountains and, while he loved sharing it with his friends and family, the only person he needed with him was my mother. That said, I never heard refer to himself as “spiritual, but not religious”, a very popular description these days. All too often, it is invoked by people attempting to distance themselves from a Christianity that is characterized as judgmental, narrow-minded and mean-spirited. Unfortunately, the only spirit some of these folks seem to be concerned with is their own. Not my father; even though he never put it this way, he did his best to be as Christlike as possible. If you needed something and he had it, it was yours without condition; he never put material things before people. If someone was struggling, he put aside whatever he was doing and helped them. Once, as we were coming home from the hardware store, we saw a woman stranded on the roadside with a flat tire. He said, “We need to help” and pulled over. He, myself and my brother all got out and changed it for her. When she tried to say she’d handle it, my dad replied “Ma’am, this is the south. We don’t let ladies change tires”. After we were done, she offered money for our trouble, but he wouldn’t take it. He simply said, “If my wife was stuck, I hope someone would do the same for her.” That was classic Daddy and it was just one instance. I fill a book with stories of the lives he touched.
In first century Palestine, when a Jewish boy learned to read (about age 5-6) he would begin to memorize the Torah. This was called Beth-Safar and it lasted until the young man was about 10. Then came Beth-Talmud, where the young man memorized the rest of the Hebrew scriptures. After this, around the age of 14, if he was really good came Beth-Midrash. Here, the student would apply for what amounted to an apprenticeship with a rabbi he respected. Then, if the rabbi accepted him, he would leave his home, his family, his trade, everything, to follow the rabbi and learn what the rabbi knew. He literally followed his rabbi everywhere he went, listening to everything his rabbi said, watching everything his rabbi did in an effort to learn everything his rabbi knew to become just like him. The best students followed so closely they became covered in the dust stirred up the passage of their rabbi. He might not have said it this way, but my father was covered in the dust of his rabbi. He was a true disciple.