All that God has

Cynthia Rigby

When I was a kid and asked my dad for money, he would reach into his pocket before I could even finish asking. He’d pull out a handful of crumpled bills, separating out a linty tube of Rolaids, a half-empty, bright orange packet of Sanka, a carefully-folded cloth handkerchief and often a paper napkin on which he had scribbled his next great idea. “Here,” he’d say, handing me whatever he had. “Is that enough?”

I remember, when I was a teenager, getting angry at my parents because I found out the other smart kids were using something called a thesaurus when they did their English homework, and I didn’t even know what a thesaurus was. My dad’s response was to put me in the car, take me to the bookstore in the South Shore mall (we lived on Long Island) and buy me the fattest thesaurus we could find. “Just tell me what you need,” he told me. “Tell me, and we’ll get it.”

And I remember, when I was working in a church as a seminary student, opening a card from Mildred. It contained a five-dollar bill and a note about how she hoped it would help support my ministry. I mocked the gift. Five dollars? What could I do with that? And my dad came down hard on me. “Never, ever, make light of the gifts people give you. They are a sacred trust, shared with you by people you are called to love.”

My dad, the Reverend Charles Sheldon Rigby, died on September 21. He was a multitalented person: a minister, an evangelist, a fundraiser, a singer, a Bible teacher, a painter, a writer. As people gathered for his memorial service in the Community Presbyterian Church in Celebration, Florida, we projected images of my dad’s life and played audio of him singing in the rich baritone voice for which he was known. Person after person recalled stories from his ministry. “Remember when Chuck converted that old abandoned home into a haunted house to raise money for Youth for Christ?” “Remember when he built that float for the parade out of flowers made of napkins?” “Remember when he sang ‘I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked’ by the River Jordan when we went to the Holy Land?” “Remember that Easter when he created a Passion play on Fifth Avenue — there was even a live donkey!” And: “Did you see the sign outside, advertising the church pumpkin sale? Chuck made it, right before he went into the hospital.”

My brother, Mark, a filmmaker, prepared the gathering images as well as a video that was played after the service, as worshippers lingered in the sanctuary before heading out to the reception. There was my father, up on the screen, completely absorbed in painting a picture. Not accomplishing anything of note, really. Not caught up in the work of saving souls (which was his passion). Simply enjoying the gift of this world and finding ways to participate more deeply in it. And everyone stopped for a moment and looked at that screen, eyes full of tears, mutterings things like, “Yep, that was Chuck.”

It is a rare enough thing when generosity springs from a person’s conviction that everything we have is God’s. Even rarer is the perspective modeled by my dad. He walked around in this world really believing that everything God has is ours (see Luke 15:31). And so he was generous without ever thinking of it that way: the dollars from his pocket spilling into my hands; his ideas spilling onto napkins; his appreciation of even the smallest acts of kindness buoying others; his busy hands, mind, voice and heart doing whatever he could do to love this world that God so loves.

I miss you already, Dad. And I will try to keep loving.

Cynthia Rigby

Cynthia Rigby is professor of theology at Austin Theological Seminary in Texas.