Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Dr. Charles Adams, 1946-2017

That he's buried here in the far northwest corner of Iowa is itself a story. Way back when, who would have guessed? A city kid from New Jersey, he was born and reared close enough to Gotham to catch a glimpse of all those lights. Mom and Dad Adams were pretty much ordinary East coast suburbanites too, a man and a woman with strong opinions, who quarreled, not viciously, about their differing religions, but were true-blue American enough to believe that every kid should hear some Bible stories.

So they made their boys--four of them--go off to Sunday School on every first day of the week, not because they were driven by the Savior's love, but because it was, well, the good, American way of life. Every kid should learn something about Moses and Aaron and David and Jesus, even if Mom and Dad stayed home.

Just so happened that the church down the block, the one most convenient, was tiny, just a few families united by their homage to a God closely described in the words of the Westminster Confession. No matter. Mom and Dad didn't really care about which church the boys needed to attend, as long as it had Sunday School. This one did. So they went--the boys.

And it changed them, forever, all of them. They took that faith to heart and lived it. Wasn't exactly an overnight thing, no Damascus Road experience. You might say that, after a while, "faith took." God chose them--"'tis not that I did choose thee, for Lord that could not be./This heard would still refuse thee, hadst thou not chosen me." It was, to be sure, that kind of thing. 

That little church was Orthodox Presbyterian, a Calvinist hybrid, and the Word those boys heard on Sunday came couched in a committed belief in and to God's sovereignty, his control, and his kingdom. For reasons that perhaps no one will ever know, that particular Christian doctrine stuck, it took. It took hold of Charley, the oldest, and the other boys too. And then, it even took Mom and Dad. 

With a vengeance. My own mother's last years were blessed by his mother's deep and abiding faith. That whole bunch of New Jersey-ites ended up emigrating west, where they started to hang out with people with strange names, not an Adams among 'em--Schiebout, Eernisse, Wieberdink, Elgersma. The Adams family--four boys and their spouses--found themselves yoked with other Calvinists, most of them "wooden shoes."

Charles Adams, the oldest, was the first to make the pilgrimage. Because that particular faith he learned in that little church took, Charley's vision of the world in which he lived grew wings. It became something a whole lot different from what his parents wanted for him. It grew into something bigger than Sunday School, a guiding light for life, a basis for living, something he himself would call "a world view."

Charley was an engineer, a scientist, a technician, who quit the lab because he felt a call to teach, not just anywhere either, but at a place where faith took in every class, a place where teachers didn't just sit comfortably on their faith fannies but worked hard to try to know what God wanted of them in every last area of life. 

Charley was a Christian engineer with solid, unyielding commitments to a way of life he felt God had ordained for him, for his family, and--almost as importantly--for engineering. He became an effective and powerful classroom presence at a Christian high school in New Jersey, and when a small college in the northwest corner of Iowa wanted to start an engineering program, a program that didn't just wink at the Christian faith, that college asked him to start its engines. 

So he did. And yesterday, thirty-some years later, we buried his mortal coil in a corner of a cemetery in a small, Iowa burg his parents never heard of when they sent those boys down the street for a healthy helping of Sunday School. 

Nine years ago, he and the love his life, a Irish Catholic school girl from New Jersey, had a car accident that robbed Charley of a part of his mind. His teaching days were over. He could no longer be an engineer. He required full-time care. 

For nine years that little Catholic school girl, in whom, like him, faith took, gave her life to his care. But a host of Calvinists who knew him couldn't help wondering what on earth God was thinking--why this man, Lord? And why not simply take him? 

Some people believe Calvinists are too confident they know it all. Some Calvinists may well think they do. Don't trust them. Trust those who believe in God's unfailing plan, his sovereignty, but do so on their knees, as unsure of understanding the Creator of Heaven and Earth as they are confident that he loves them, that they are not their own but belong, sometimes even bewilderingly, to their faithful Savior. 

For a thousand reasons yesterday's funeral was a wonderful time. Charley Adams was a loving father, an inspirational teacher, and a committed believer. He loved John Calvin, Soren Kierkegaard, Charles Dickens, and Bob Dylan, just for starters; but more than anyone else, he loved the little Catholic school girl from just down the street in New Jersey.

Yesterday, we buried him out here beneath crusts of snow on slippery winter ground, snowflakes so slight and infrequent they could have been feathers tipped from heaven. Undoubtedly, he's in a place he never guessed he would be.

But don't be fooled. Charley Adams is still here in a thousand ways and thousand places because once upon a time in the life of an engineer from New Jersey faith took.  


Joanne Kukol said...

In 1974 I was a junior in the New Jersey High School where Mr. Adams was my chemistry teacher. One night he gave an assignment on Isaiah 40. That night, doing my homework propped on my bed,I had an intimate encounter with the One who "sits enthroned above the circle of the earth" (Isaiah 40:22) This man pointed me directly into the arms of my Savior and King. Minutes ago I was preparing my Sunday School lesson for tomorrow on the Belgic Confession. (one of those dusty old Catechisms) It was about membership in the true church on earth and in heaven. I am so moved to know my beloved teacher has been translated from one to the other. The LORD bless and keep all who loved Mr. Adams. Joanne(Martin)Kukol

Glenn Hoogerhyde said...

I grew up knowing "Chuck" Adams. He sat across the church aisle from my family; we ate together in the same church basement for dinners. "Mr. Adams" became my chemistry teacher in high school and I had the honor of being a student in his first classes at Dordt College, even though it would be years later before I would appreciate it. His worldview gave shape to mine. Years after college I ran into him at a Dordt event in the Pacific Northwest. The smile, the greeting and the conversation brought me back to church, and the dinners. Thank you for the article. God bless Dr. Adam's family; God bless Dordt College.