Our dear family friend, John Lane, passed away last Sunday, August 30th, after a courageous battle with lymphoma. We were blessed to know John for more than thirty years, and he will be sorely missed.
As noted in his obituary, John was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal from 1966-1968, serving in the most remote post of that organization, a six day walk from any transportation. This was a life-changing experience that he drew upon in sermons and writings. John was also a proud graduate of Amherst College and General Theological Seminary. Our family came to know John in 1987, when he became rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, Virginia. Known for his quick wit, sharp intellect, spiritual guidance, loving care, and thoughtful leadership, those were all qualities we had come to appreciate when we asked John to be our Andrew’s godfather. He gladly and enthusiastically accepted that role.
There was so much about John’s life and work to admire, but I want to focus on his humor and humanity. He showed me how to accept and even indulge the humor that is essential to faith. In sermons, lessons, writings, and conversation, John’s dry wit always came through as an essential part of who he was and what he believed. As someone who has more doubts than may be readily apparent, John gave me permission to look at my own set of beliefs and accept that some things are going to be skewed, off-center, and, perhaps, not understandable. And that’s okay.
John’s humor also came through to make a larger point about what’s important and what is trivial in life. He would enjoy posting articles on his Facebook page to bring that wit and wisdom right out front and in your face. Articles such as Christian: You Are Upset About the Wrong Things which begins with this quote used by sociologist Tony Campola when he spoke with Christian audiences:
“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact I just said “shit” than you are that 30,000 kids died last night.”
That sense that the moral outrage of many people of faith is misdirected and focused on the wrong things — told with a bit of humor — was right up John’s alley.
John’s humanity is another part of his life I recall with appreciation and affection. Several of his sermons that were obviously about the illness of his son, Andrew, who passed away in 2007, still remain with me. In those sermons, John was willing to say he didn’t understand and maybe didn’t want to be tested to “be a better person.” John taught me it was okay to be vulnerable, and that part of his humanity, seen again during the past year when his cancer returned, was also something I’ve been thankful to experience.
In his last decade of life, John, along with his wife Bizzy, provided a great example in “how” to retire. Over the past ten years they had fun together, with family and with other couples, in places near and far. Like every other way he lived, this was all part of John’s broad understanding of humanity. The remembrances those friends have posted on John’s Facebook page show the wideness of the impact of that life well lived.
Candice and I were fortunate to see John and Bizzy on several occasions during the pandemic, as they came first to NIH in Washington and then to Baltimore for treatments. We would get together for socially distanced meals and good conversation whenever we could, most recently last month. In those moments, John let us just be his friend and show support, while accepting that love and support unconditionally. Watching John go through this challenge has encouraged me to let go of more.
The last time we spoke with John was on Facetime, the Monday before he passed away. He was entering Hospice care. Candice asked him if he was ready and John replied with his typical sense of humor. He said, “Well, I feel like Woody Allen: ‘I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.'” That was John: helping others laugh, smile, and think until the end.
It isn’t easy getting close to parishioners when you’re the rector, but John was able to manage those types of relationships with a number of individuals. I so appreciated John’s wisdom and guidance to me, given not only as my priest but especially as my friend. Our family treasures the years we knew John, and with his passing our love goes out to Bizzy, Edward, Mary, and their families.
Rest in peace, good friend.
More to come…