(On the occasion of what would have been Fred Craddock’s 91st birthday, I’m sharing a tribute offered at a Vanderbilt Divinity School-Disciples Divinity House luncheon on July 11, 2011, in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was honored as “VDS-DDH Alumnus of the Year.”*)
Other than being the premier homiletician who led the reclamation and renewal of the discipline and practice of preaching for the church in North America at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century and ….
Other than being the most acclaimed Disciple preacher of the last 50 years, and ….
Other than being one of the most faithful of Disciples – faithful to the witness of scripture, faithful to his calling, faithful to ecclesia, faithful to the academy, faithful to Nettie and to family and to Cherry Log and to friends and to God….
Other than all that, how does one introduce a man who is known far and wide by the sheer, gentle, yet persuasive force of his first name, “Fred”?
Well, let us consider, in a truly inductive manner….
1 – PLACE
Maybe it is because of what we have learned from Fred about place that we gather to honor him. Fred has taught us the value of place, the specifics of place and the nuances of place. In his own life, he has given evidence of the importance of place, in that he was dedicated, baptized, ordained, and married in one particular place, Central Avenue Christian Church in Humboldt, Tennessee. Even if you’ve never crossed the city limits in a vehicle, Fred has taken you there. Because of what Fred has taught us, we know that that place and all of the places we all of us value are so very essentially, crucially important.
2 – PLACEMENT
Maybe we gather in this honoring moment because of how Fred has reminded us of the significance of placement, how we place ourselves at the disposal of others for service and fellowship, how we place our words, as best we can, in the service of the gospel and its love-endearing, hate-shattering powers.
It could be that. But maybe not.
3 – PEOPLE
Perhaps we’re gathered here because of the people Fred has reminded us of, some we knew about and some we never would have known without his illumination of their lives.
Frederick W. Robertson
Because of how Fred illumined their lives for us, we have been emboldened to pay better attention to the people with whom we share life and love and faith.
One thing I am almost 100% sure of is this:
4 – THE POWER OF A REMEMBERED PHRASE
I believe we are gathered here to pay tribute to Fred, because of the inherent capacity of language and Fred’s exquisite use of that capacity, especially the power of a remembered phrase or a story or an admonishment or a challenge or an encouragement. You remember them, don’t you, those phrases, those beautiful, arresting flourishes? We’ve heard them when Fred was giving a seminary presentation, or fulfilling a lectureship, or offering his wise advice, or he when he was preaching in our churches or at a General Assembly. You remember those daring theological declarations, like….
…. “Anticipation is the key. Phone ahead before you make a pastoral visit. Anticipation of a visit is half of the pleasure for those who receive the pastor into their homes.”
…. “Did you bring ‘Doxology’ with you?”
…. “When your faith fades and grows dim, let your congregation believe for you until your faith returns.”
…. “Gracious God, we are grateful for a way of life and work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.”
…. “If you’re tired, go to bed, and, later, make an appointment with God.”
…. The cavernous distance between “the sky of our intentions and the earth of our performance.”
…. “Nine pound sparrow.”
….“The final work of grace in the human heart is to make us grateful.”
Because of these memorable phrases – and so many others too numerous to count – Fred has inspired us all to know just how powerful preaching and teaching and faith can be, and to never take those tasks glibly or without appropriate prayer and preparation.
CONCLUSION – “SHE WANTS SOME NAMES.”
In a story set in a church in Oklahoma – a story which, for lack of a title, goes by the legendary designation “She Wants Some Names” ** – Fred tells how he once encountered a woman who shocked him by saying she was quitting the choir (and ostensibly the congregation). When Fred pressed her about why, she said no one cared. When he asked her what it would take for the church to show her they cared, she said “Take me seriously.” She wanted some names of folks who took her seriously and cared for her.
If that woman, or someone like her, were here today, I would say, on behalf of us all, “You want some names? I know someone who will take you seriously, some who will care for you deeply, as he has for countless students, colleagues, pastors, church members, denominational leaders, and friends. I know someone. You want his name? His name is ‘Fred Craddock.’ I know he cares.”
Fred, on behalf of the Disciples Divinity House of Vanderbilt Divinity School, we offer you our profoundest “Thanks.”
– Bob Hill
* This took place during the time of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As strongly as I tried to proffer these sentiments, they still fall far short of adequately expressing the debt so many of us owe to such a great teacher, friend, encourager, and faithful witness. This is included in my book LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015), pp. 134-137.
** See Fred. B. Craddock, CRADDOCK STORIES, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001), pp. 58-60.