Barton Tumlinson (2015)
Some friends of my friend Bart Tumlinson have asked me to post the words I spoke at his funeral. I’m afraid they are hopelessly inadequate to honor Bart. But if they might provide some encouragement to those who were unable to be at the memorial, then I am happy to share them. I could have written 30 pages or 300 but 3 was all I could choke out in one emotional afternoon. If you are reading this and a friend of Bart and Melissa and their family, then God’s peace be with you.
I met Bart when I was 4 years old. I know many of you know him as Barton but I met him as a slightly less sophisticated 5 year old. When my family moved to the very rural area outside Salmon Arm, my options for playmates were not plentiful. Down the way and across the road was Bart and the Tumlinsons. Across the fence were the Rolf’s giant terrifying dogs. Twin Doberman Pincers that I remember being roughly the size of Clydesdales with the temperament of deranged sharks. So, Bart it was.
So Bart and I had each other. For this reason, I have often thought of Bart as the friend God chose for me. God brought our parents together first and then put Bart in my life because I think He knew I would need a friend like Bart.
But honestly the phrase “a friend like Bart” is a bit misleading. You know how when you meet someone and you are trying to describe them to someone else you might say, “well, he’s a lot like this guy or that you know.” But you couldn’t do that with Bart. He defied all the categories and was truly like no one else I’ve known.
In childhood I got my first real glimpse of Bart’s uniqueness. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said spy or cowboy or maybe “the Six Million Dollar Man.” I remember asking Bart once what he wanted to do and he contemplated the question for a moment before answering, “I think I’m going to move to Tuktoyaktuk with just a 30/30 and case of shells and live off the land.”
Even before learning that Tuktoyaktuk was near the Arctic circle and offered precious little land off of which to live, I could sense that this was not a normal response. But it spoke volumes about Bart. Bart felt connected to the wilderness like a mother for her child. Or perhaps like the people of my hometown of Portland, Oregon feel connected to their Starbucks. It was more than an interest or a hobby. The wilderness was Bart’s sanctuary, it was his comforter, it was a part of him.
And Bart’s life ambition also spoke to his fearlessness, his determination and his unwillingness to be just like everyone else simply because that was what was expected of him.
Many of you know Bart now as the man who dedicated much of his adult life to being an educator. What you may not know is that he has been an educator all his life. Indeed it was Bart who taught me so many of life’s most important lessons. For example, it was Bart who taught me:
• That just about any common office or school supply, when combined with a rubber-band could be turned into a near deadly weapon;
• That going into the forest covered in deer urine could actually be to your advantage;
• That you should never touch off both barrels of a double barreled shotgun at the same time if you want to remain upright.
• He taught me how to tie a fly fishing fly, though I never mastered it…or even came close;
• He taught me those disgusting old false teeth we found might just have gold in them (and they did)
• He taught me that the bird we just shot was a protected species and that we should never tell anyone about that…..oh. Sorry Bart!
But even more, Bart was one of my first teachers and fellow student in the all important lesson of how to be a friend. He taught me about loyalty and trust. He taught me that being a friend means letting someone else use the good sled, that my enemies were his enemies and my friends were his friends. He showed me whatever I did, there should be laughter involved. He taught me about courage and about being strong in your faith no matter what was happening around you. I can honestly say that every time in the last 40 years that I have been a friend to anyone, Bart is, at least in part, to thank.
Bart is the friend God chose for me and whether you realize it or not, he is the friend God chose for you too. Or the brother or the husband or the father. He was put in our lives as a gift. A gift I often took for granted. A gift I wanted to have for more years and a gift for which I am eternally thankful.
As with any gift, what we do with it is a choice we have to make. We can choose to be bitter and angry at the loss of our friend and there will be times when I will undoubtedly make that choice. But my prayer for myself and for you who loved Bart is that you will choose to keep learning from Bart. That we will remember a life and a friendship filled with love and laughter and courage and loyalty and determination and that we will honor Bart by being like him.
We mourn today because Bart is not here. But please let me be perfectly clear about one all-important point. Bart is not dead. His body is gone and he is not with us anymore. For this I am heartbroken and will be angry and disappointed and hurt and sad over the loss of my friend until my body is gone as well.
But I also know this. Bart is alive. He is exploring the forests of Heaven with my Dad who shared his love for the wilderness. He is telling stories with his grandparents and waiting our arrival. Bart believed like me in the words of Paul that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
And the Spirit will help us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us. I know I could certainly use the Spirit now.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are separated from Bart now, but will not be forever. I do not yet know Bart’s sons well, but Luke and Ben and Melissa, I want you to know. Nothing, not even your father’s death, can separate you from the love of God in this room. While this may be cold comfort today, I hope that as time passes all of us and our love can be a comfort to you.
When we were growing up and playing in the woods or exploring the big Church building where we spent so much of our time, Bart and I had a secret signal that no one else knew. It was a two part whistle with a call and an answer. When one would call the other would answer and it was our way of saying to the other “I am here for you friend.”
Today I know that if I whistle to Bart, he will not answer. And that is why I cry and wear black and seek comfort in the friends and family who are here. But I look forward to the day, when we are together again. When I get to Heaven I will whistle and my friend will answer and we will laugh and play again.
Until that time, do not let your grief make you forget the lessons we learned from Bart or abandon the God that brought him to us in the first place.
I miss you Bart. I will see you soon.