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Eugene Kemple, model Christian

Posted by Al Barger on June 27, 2004 04:27 AM (See all posts by Al Barger)
Filed under: Books: Spirituality, Et Cetera

While paying my respects at the funeral home last week to Bill Perkins, my old school bus driver from 30 years ago, I had occassion to see old neighbors, many of whom I hadn't seen in about that long.

One fellow recognized my brother and I, and began chatting with us. For a minute, I wasn't quite sure who it was. Then the recognition kicked in. I didn't know this guy well, but I saw his late father in his demeanor, and it dawned on me: It was Eugene Kemple's son.

This filled my heart with joy, for old Eugene was the top number one cool guy from my youthful days at the Arlington Christian Church. Eugene was an elder in the church, among other things.

Now for starters, Eugene was a kind and gentle man. I would have trouble imagining him ever rebuking someone. I would also have trouble imagining someone insisting on being bad enough in his calming presence to need rebuking. He showed a proper spirit of Christian love at least as good as any one person I ever knew.

But more uniquely, he was smart and inquisitive. Not to be unkind, but any halfwit could pat you on the head and tell you that God loves you. Eugene, though, was the guy you would want to go to with real questions.

Same day as I was visiting the funeral home, it happened that I was talking with Annie Oakley, my godson's mama, about her days as a young Catholic. She talked about how she used to sit around thinking about how God supposedly created the first rainbow for Noah, and speculating about how he would do that. Did he change the basic physical nature of water or light from then on to make rainbows possible?

If I'd had that kind of question in junior high, Eugene would certainly have been just exactly the person that I'd have taken it to. Hard telling what kind of answer he'd have come up with, but he would have taken the question seriously, and tried to come up with some kind of logical answer.

One particular project of his well known among the church community was his ongoing attempt to build a telescope from a kit. He was fiddling with that danged thing for years. His son confirmed to me that he never did in fact get it working. He eventually bought one off the shelf.

One event of his particularly sticks in my memory. As a youth group minister, one year he sponsored a Passover feast at his house. I was probably around 13. This was certainly quite a novelty for our fairly bland, MOR Protestant congregation. [Our independent congregation usually associated with Church of God congregations.] Something like this just wouldn't have occurred to anyone else in the church. Nor would they have likely been inclined to do the research, or just fool with it.

Eugene Kemple, on the other hand, was the kind of guy to figure out the menu and the recipes and the rituals. Here's what they would have been eating, and here's the kind of spices they would have put on the lamb.

I particularly remember that he made unleavened bread. That had been a big detail from the Exodus story that had stuck out to me. I was real curious what unleavened bread would be like. As I recall, it was something of a disappointment in practice. I don't know if it was because Eugene wasn't very practiced at making it, or if it just wasn't my cup of tea.

By gummy, though, we had unleavened bread, and the best approximation of Passover prayers and rituals Eugene could conjure up.

Residences and circumstances changed, and I only saw Eugene briefly maybe once or twice after 1980. By the time I was 19, I was living in New Mexico and I was no longer a believing Christian. My inquisitive nature has led me to other conclusions.

Eugene Kemple, though, has been -- often subconsciously, or only with vague awareness -- an important presence in the back of my mind. It occurs to me now that he personally and specifically has a lot to do with my generally positive view of Christians.

Some members of the old church and some Christians I've known as an adult have been more charitable and loving, and others less charitable and loving. Some have been better or lesser in different ways. In short, I've found Christians to be a mixed lot - like all people, I suppose.

Eugene Kemple, though, was my model Christian. He was good to a fault. I can't imagine what someone could ever say against this great dude.

Especially, Eugene Kemple has been the vaccine against me absorbing negative stereotypes about Christians being dumb, unthinking hicks -- the kind of ignorant, superstitious rabble that Mencken mocked in his famous coverage of the Scopes Monkey Trial, for example. It's not like I've never run into those kind of Christians.

But then there was Eugene Kemple, and all his books, and his interest in the natural sciences. His memory has been a gentle refutation over the years of every conceivable negative stereotype of Christians. I'm blessed to have known Brother Eugene Kemple.

Eugene passed several years ago. His son said that the family likes to speculate that Dad is busy exploring heaven, happy to be looking under rocks and such. I could imagine Eugene being a bit of a pest, always tugging on the saints' sleeves, wanting to know how this or that worked, or wanting more details about some old Bible story.

Maybe he's come up with a tastier recipe for unleavened bread.

How to Study Your Bible
Kay Arthur
Harvest House Publishers
01 March, 2001

$9.99 at Amazon.com

The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments: King James Version, Black Imitation Leather

National Publishing Company
01 January, 2000

$8.79 at Amazon.com

What Makes a Rainbow?: Pop-Up
Betty Ann Schwartz, Dona Turner
Piggy Toes Press
01 February, 2000

$9.56 at Amazon.com

Amateur Telescope Making (Practical Astronomy)
Stephen F. Tonkin, Springer
01 May, 1999

$33.26 at Amazon.com

Creating Lively Passover Seders: An Interactive Sourcebook of Tales, Texts & Activities
David Arnow
Jewish Lights Publishing
01 February, 2004

$16.99 at Amazon.com

The Passover Table: New and Traditional Recipes for Your Seders and the Entire Passover Week
Susan R. Friedland
28 February, 1994

$12.60 at Amazon.com


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