Eulogy for My Friend Larry Haglund
For My Friend Larry Haglund
I met Larry through Mary. That’s not unusual. I think it often goes that way. For a guy who was sometimes the front person at Mary’s Gourmet Diner, Larry’s preferred role wasn’t up front, but in the background, serving, caring, loving in his unique way.
He knew I had left Winston-Salem a long time ago, in the 80s, and had come back, a pastor with a crazy idea of starting a church in a tiki bar in the Arts District. I didn’t know much about him except that his last name was the same as Mary’s, he was her ex-husband, and that he worked in the restaurant. I had known a few couples - exes - who managed to tolerate being in each other’s presence, at least at work. And I figured he needed the work and Mary was obliging. Boy did I have that wrong. More about that in a minute.
One day at Mary’s, Larry came to clear my table where I sat alone and asked if I would be willing to have coffee one morning. “Sure,” I said. This was the beginning of journey of discovery for me, about Larry Haglund and about myself. You see, when someone asks a pastor to coffee, we go to this kneejerk, kind of arrogant place. We come by it honestly, but it’s still a crappy place for us to go in our minds, and it goes like this: “I wonder what he needs...from me.”
The next week, Larry and I met for coffee. We talked. Shared a little of our stories with each other. I realized as it was time for us to leave each other’s company that I had done most of the talking. I felt a flush of shame and said, “Geez, I did almost all the talking. I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do for you?” (pastor words). Larry smiled gently, shook his head slowly, and said, “No. I know you’re new in town and you seemed a bit lonely and I just thought it would be good to have coffee.” With those words from Larry came a second, deeper flush of shame. “Bruce, you arrogant idiot. You thought he needed something from you, but it was you who needed something from him, and he knew it before you did.” So began a very important, precious friendship with Larry Haglund. Every Monday. Camino’s.
I learned that coffee with Larry had to be on Monday or Tuesday mornings because those were his mornings off. I learned that coffee also meant two pan au chocolat croissants. I learned that Larry couldn’t not bus a table, even in someone else’s establishment.
I learned that Larry was a person of a very deep, quiet, dynamic Christian faith that was characterized by intense wrestling with God and even more so with how churches - communities of Christians - understand and behave in the name of God. I learned how meaningful to Larry was his work at Redeemer Church here in town in an earlier season of life, and I learned how hurtful that work was for him towards the end of his time there. That’s not saying something bad about Redeemer or about Larry. It’s just a recognition that churches, like everything else, are made up of people and sometimes people get goofed up with each other in ways that are hard to...well...redeem. And that is how I came to know my friend Larry Haglund as person who was a passionate redeemer - someone who sought to know what troubled those he loved, not out of some twisted interest to know another’s darkness, but out of a loving desire to know where we were hurting, where we needed and sought help and redemption in our own lives, and how he might help. Larry could hear about the hurt, the pain, the darkness, and still look at you with a gentle, knowing smile on his face and an amazing, nearly unrivaled twinkle in his eye. Larry was that way because Larry knew a thing or two about redemption himself. Over the course of our friendship, I also came to understand how much I had initially misunderstood. Larry didn’t need the work at Mary’s Restaurant. Well, most of us need work. And Larry and Mary didn’t tolerate each other. Larry loved his family - all of it. Mary, Samb, her husband, their daughters and grandchildren, and a lot of the rest of us, too. Larry and Mary didn’t tolerate each other. They loved each other, redeemed each other, and worked together out of this deep well of love, of compassion, of care for not only each other and their family, but for so many others of us. It’s remarkable, really. It’s a treasure, a rare one. Larry was a steward of that treasure. I, for one, couldn’t be more grateful.
Larry and I would read books together. Theological books. And we’d argue. Gently. As humble and gentle as Larry was, he wasn’t beyond the capacity to be disappointed, and I grew to love Larry so much that the thought of disappointing him didn’t feel good to me. So when we disagreed on theology - ideas and convictions about how and if God works - I’d choose my words carefully. That was another gift from Larry, to me. He helped me grow into a more careful thinker. One dive in the deep end we took together was a book by two guys from Duke Divinity School - Stanley Hauerwas and Wil Willimon. It’s called “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony”. Larry asked that we read it together. Not surprising, when you think about. When you’re a missionary kid - a blond, Scandinavian kid - growing up in the Philippines, you’re a resident alien. And when you move back to the states after spending most of your formative years abroad, you’re a resident alien. So now it’s confirmed for all of us: Larry Haglund was actually an alien.
You didn’t come here to hear a book summary, so I won’t bore you with one. I’ll just tell you one of the things that hit me between the eyes as we read that particular book: The book puts under critique people like me, church people, pastors, who think that our job is to make God credible to the world. When you think that’s your job, you approach people as objects, a project, someone who needs to be convinced. What’s the alternative to making God credible to the world? According to Hauerwas and Willimon in “Resident Aliens”, the alternative is to make the world credible to God. Now put aside, for a moment, the question of whether God even exists, and focus on what this alternative actually does. If you stop trying to make God credible to the world and instead start trying to make the world credible, acceptable to God, you no longer consider people as objects to be convinced, and instead you see the world as this wonderful playground where your job is to bring greater love, greater hope, greater joy, greater understanding, greater forgiveness, greater compassion. Why? Because a world of greater love, hope, joy, understanding, forgiveness, and compassion is a world that is more credible to God. And I’m pretty sure that’s how Larry came to understand and approach his life and his relationships with us. Not as projects or objects, but as treasured loved ones with whom and among whom he could be part of engineering that greater love and compassion. The “churchy” word is redemption. But it needn’t be churchy. I’m reclaiming it as a word to describe my friend Larry. Larry was a redeemer: at the restaurant with his beloved family; and in a home he devised to share with others who were in deep need of greater love and understanding and compassion, a home that burned one day. I know it bothered him, hurt him, but not enough to wipe the smile off his face, the love from his heart, nor that amazing twinkle from his eye. Too much redeeming left to do than to spend time wallowing in ashes.
So that’s the Larry Haglund I know. That’s the Larry Haglund who put his arms around me, loved me, taught me and changed me. That’s the Larry Haglund I’m going to miss - already miss - something fierce. And it’s the Larry Haglund whose friendship and memory I’ll honor by attempting to follow his lead: being a redeemer, a bringer of greater love, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, so that the world might become a little more credible to the loving, compassionate God Larry believed in. That’s the best way I know to keep loving and honoring my friend Larry.