In Memory: David Lumsdaine, Pastoral Scholar & Friend

Timothy Sherratt, professor of political science, offered the following reflection at the memorial service of colleague and friend, David Lumsdaine, who passed away last Wednesday morning, February 27, 2013:

“Could it be fewer than six years ago that I met David Lumsdaine for the first time when we brought him to interview at Gordon College? The Wheaton political science chairman who urged me to consider him for our open position described David’s demeanor as pastoral, telling me that in one short year many students had beaten a path to his door for advice and counsel. And in the subsequent years, more than I could ever have expected to, I gained a new purchase on the meaning of loyalty in friendship, got closer to humble genius than I ever expected to, and saw teaching and scholarship practiced with passion and care from one who loved God and neighbor with unguarded enthusiasm.   

We mourn the loss of our friend. The suddenness of his departure is shocking. We will feel the full weight of it over the weeks and months ahead as we grieve. And yet I believe we will witness something else, too, something even weightier. We will witness the fruit of the good seed David cultivated in the lives of students and colleagues and church family alike.

My colleagues and I often discuss how our students are doing. We ask how a student, known to be struggling for this or that reason, is faring. And, predictably, it is David who sets out the context for us, because his innate pastoral instinct has already prompted him to seek out and befriend the student in question. And every student—every student—is a ‘good kid’ (his phrase) and the reflections offered this morning can hardly begin to tell the story, can only scratch the surface of the many, many lives he touched. You will hear much more.

Genius can be breathtaking. Genius mediated through humility can only be blessing. Why? Because humility allows genius to serve the community, and I can give our late friend no higher compliment. Extraordinarily gifted as David was, he thought others were better than he. He routinely began recollections of his own life and career with a litany of his failures—describing them more colorfully than “failures.” There was nothing false about these claims. He thought he failed a lot. He was contrite in seeking forgiveness. “I’ve really blown it, this time,” he confessed to me on more than one occasion as he came by my office to apologize.

Our mutual friendship also came to life on Wednesday mornings where he was a member of a regular breakfast circle of friends. Politics, art, theology, the college where we teach, one by one David brought his humility, his erudition and his enthusiasm to bear on them all. Little by little, the sheer scope of his learning and his delight in life emerged—his love of the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican way, his deep knowledge of Asian art—well, of everybody’s art really—or the poetry that enlivened his being, so much of it committed to memory, and then the joy he took in recitation, highbrow or lowbrow verse it didn’t matter.

I recall offering up the opening lines of that ditty about the Gunpowder Plot: “Remember, remember the Fifth of November/Gunpowder, treason and plot . . .” They were the only lines I could recall. Lumsdaine, of course, didn’t miss a beat and gleefully picked up where I had left off, reciting every one of the additional four or five stanzas of the original, and printing out a copy for me later in the day!   

I close my reflection with this thought. I, and we, have been loved. We have witnessed a life lived in unapologetic enthusiasm and unguarded service to the Body of Christ, to the Truth, to the Christian Hope, and to our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Let us grieve and give thanks together for the life of our friend. Thanks be to God.”

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