Today, I received the sad news of Dr. Joe Aldrich’s passing. The news came in an email to all Multnomah University Alumni and I’m pretty sure that it hit most the same way it hit me. As much as I celebrate the fact that Dr. Joe is in the presence of the Lord, I’m nothing short of very sad. This is a huge loss.
Dr. Joe was one of a kind, the sweetest of men who seemed to have a very clear understanding of how much God really loves us and what it means to love him in return—not with religious response, but affection. He preached ad nauseum from The Velveteen Rabbit as he would sew in memorized Psalms, Proverbs and messages from the Prophets. He lobbed up pithy grabbers two and three at a time and would communicate in such a tender way that you just wanted to know what he knew, have what he had, and live like he lived.
My favorite personal memory of Dr. Joe is one that I’ll never forget and a story that I have attempted to tell on many occasions but I seem to get into trouble on his behalf whenever I do. It was absolute Joe Aldrich: I was finishing up some work in the Administration Building at Multnomah one day. I don’t recall what I was doing but I remember being in the hallway and observing a conversation going on between two of the administrative assistants that worked in the building, both women. One was holding up a blouse on a hanger, something that she had recently bought. She asked friend, “What do you think.” Just as she asked, the suits came around the corner, four or five of them with Dr. Joe in the lead. In stride without changing his gaze, direction or pace, he said out loud, “It looks great, lose another 20 pounds or so and you’ll fit right into it.”
I should say for qualification that if it is okay to kid someone on their strengths, Dr. Joe was kidding in such a way. The look on the faces of both women as the posse made its way around the corner was something I’d pay money to see again. Only Dr. Aldrich…
Lifestyle Evangelism was one of the first Christian books I read. It is now regarded widely as a Christian classic. It was an early contributor to some of the core values that I hold personally that we should live our lives for the sake of others and that God has a full expectation that we would be fully normal and human. But most of all, that God loves us relentlessly. It is a pillar in my theology and Dr. Aldrich helped to drive it into the bedrock of my person.
I think more than anything, it was that he was real. I’m realizing now, even as I’ve been squatting on the ChristianReal domain for a couple of years wondering why the term took such root in my heart, that Dr. Aldrich helped to define the term for me. He was Christian Real. He was real about God, real about life, real about sexuality, real about ministry, real about the church, real about everything. He made intimacy with God look absolutely normal and not so out of reach as so many of our Evangelical leaders unwittingly do.
More than anything, I love Dr. Aldrich for loving marriage. He would say so often, “It’s a great deal; there’s nothing like it.” I saw it in him before I was able to define it for myself, that a loved man can do anything, that a healthy marriage lends to health that spills into the lives of others, that love begets love and that you can afford to be generous in all of your relationships. God will give you more.
Shortly after I graduated in 1995 I received a letter from Dr. Aldrich as did all Multnomah alums. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and would be resigning as President of the school. We had observed it for a little while a slight shuffle in his step, a bit of a detached gaze and most noticeable, he would grab his temple when recalling, with effort, extended passages of Scripture that used to roll out of him so easily. I cried when I got that letter and I cried today.
Dr. Aldrich, we will miss you. Thank you for pouring your life into ours. See you on the other side, friend.