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« The Mantle | Main | The Call »

Bishop Rodney E. Clark

“Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” 2 Samuel 3:38 (NKJV)

It still seems unbelievable.  Vibrant, animated, laughing and loving Rodney Clark loomed larger than life to us all, especially to his grandchildren.  The whirlwind has taken our breath away—and given us a feeling (though not a reality) that our foundation has crumbled—leaving us with our impressions, musings, analyses—tempted to doubt, but taught to trust—we can do nothing else but rise up slowly and walk on numbly.  Today’s mission, at the very least, is clear: remembering the past, reluctantly acquiescing to the present, and reaching for faith in a God-ordained, and God-enlightened future.  

Bishop Rodney Clark was an anomaly.  From Port Arthur, Texas, an oilfields and refineries town on the Gulf, just south of the Piney Woods region of East Texas, home of sweltering humid heat in the summer and cold, wet winters, somehow he ended up in the snowbelt of America, southwest Michigan, where you have to shovel snow on the average of three times per snowfall just to get out of your driveway.  Many Texans stick one big toe into Kalamazoo winters and head south just as fast as their bowlegs can carry them. 

But Bishop Clark was different—extremely so.  You would not expect him to be so intimately acquainted with Macbeth or Julius Caesar in the writings of Shakespeare.  It seemed strange for someone with his background to quote the Canterbury Tales—in Middle English!  He could talk for hours about the intricacies of gourmet food and how it should be prepared.  And then, he could switch on a dime and talk about cutting, milling and shaping steel, or obscure word usage, or planting trees, or describing vintage automobiles, or Elvis Presley songs, or deep theological conundrums, or the antics of his grandchildren, or paving parking lots, or the amazing victories or agonizing defeats of the Michigan Wolverines, or how to correct a slice.  He had an expansive repertoire of myriad subjects, and a voracious appetite for news and politics—which he didn’t mind sharing if you would just ask him. 

Rodney Clark, the man, was tall, strong, smart, athletic and handsome.  He could regale you with story after story of his teenage capers, brawls in the neighborhood and schoolyards, fast cars and fishing trips in the Gulf with his father.  He was ornery, as his father-in-law, my uncle Bill Oakleaf could tell you—like the times he would grab the steering wheel while riding with Bill, making it impossible to steer the car and almost running it off the road, laughing the whole time.  He often hid his talent behind shyness.  I mentioned Elvis, because it was uncanny how Rodney could sing like him, yet he hated to sing just to show off.  He retained some of his Texas drawl, and often complained mightily about the weather—I wish you could have seen his grin when he called home from the Caribbean and found out about a huge snow storm hammering Michigan—but his call and his heart was solidly planted here in the frozen north.  You cannot fully understand Bishop Clark without sensing the depth of his call.  I’ve thought about this: 

“God’s call is more than a common burning to succeed or the driving power of pure ambition.  Although romantic, these factors never enter into a genuine call to the ministry.   The true calling of God comes from something outside of you, not from within your own mind.  You may have been responsive to it, but you didn’t concoct it.  You are drawn, not driven.  It is as though God has tied an invisible leash to your heart (as gauche as that may sound) and pulls you along.  At the same time, you do not feel helpless, or powerless to resist.  You go willingly. The call takes you to places where you would not have chosen to go, but, having been taken there, you sense that it is precisely where you ought to be.” 

This place, this field, this harvest ground is precisely where Bishop Clark was supposed to be.  Here, he put down his roots, raised his family, worked his jobs, sowed the seeds of the Gospel—here is where he fully embraced his ministry.  You who knew him as pastor, knew his boundless passion, his unalterable convictions, his unwavering loyalty to his own heritage, his insistence on scriptural aplomb. 

To all those who prayed for healing and recovery, do not despair.  Your God did not let you down.  If you think He did, it’s understandable.  But we all speak, tethered to a finite, mortal mooring.  Know this: God’s omnipotence operates as a function of His omniscience.  He knows; therefore, He acts! When He acts, it is because He knows that’s the best action to take. When He doesn’t act, it is because He knows that the action is wrong or ineffective.  We don’t have access to that kind or that level of knowledge.  In fact, the more I understand God, the less I understand God.  Our problem is that we fail to come to grips with our limited and/or faulty understanding.  We lament, as did the sisters of Lazarus, why Jesus didn’t show up earlier, why He allowed someone to die, why He seemed to disregard the feelings and welfare of others, or why He didn’t follow our line of reasoning instead of His own.   

We often question God’s actions.  Instead, we must learn to accept and rejoice in what He does because He acts out of his omniscience.  We can’t take offense that God didn’t tell us why He acted a certain way.  We wouldn’t have understood anyway.  Take comfort in the idea that He knows what is best.  Remember, His omniscience and omnipotence, as well as all His attributes, exist in perfection.  If my life is in the hands of a perfect God who loves me, then my only recourse is trust!   

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His Word;

Just to rest upon His promise; 

Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Now, I must say that not only is this Southwest Michigan the place he was called to be, I’m convinced that the place he occupies today is precisely the place where he is supposed to be.  He was a thoughtful, brilliant and perceptive man.  When he realized that his body would no longer work the way it was supposed to work, when he thought that his daily life would be a burden to others, he must have turned his eyes heavenward and said okay, it’s time. 

To re-phrase a Scripture: “And all the days of Bishop Clark were seventy and one years: And Bishop Clark walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Genesis 5:23-24. 

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