When a friend dies we inevitably begin to reminisce. Sometimes with others, sometimes to ourselves. That's what I have been doing over the last 24 hours.
There were many things that I loved about Mike. Our shared passion for rugby. The race to see which of us could cross the line of acceptable Christian humour the quickest. His ability to finish in full my botched beginnings of Monty Python quotes. His verbatim rendition of the dialogue between King Arthur and the annoying peasant in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was a joy to behold. Though it did leave some younger Oak Hill Students somewhat bewildered!
Intellectually the relational flow was all one way. The only thing I ever contributed to his lectures was a quote from that modern cinematographic classic, "Nuns On The Run"! (Don't watch it).
I, with many others, benefitted from Mike's skill as a teacher. He had the gift of true brilliance; the ability to make the complicated simple. Profound truths about the Trinity, the nature of the incarnation or the application of the gospel to our culture, all seemed blindingly obvious when Mike taught them. There was always humour but truth was never trivialised. My wife will never forget him acting out the heresy of Modalism, hiding behind a lectern like a puppeteer.
However, what made Mike such a good friend was his willingness to wound me.
A few years ago I was moping around in self-pity, not much fun to be around and generally a destructive rather than constructive presence at home. This had been going on for a while when Mike rang me. This was odd. We had the classic male relationship. Communication was based entirely on the principle of "I'll ring you when I need something." When he asked me how I was I knew that Boo had rung him. She has done this to me from time to time. When I'm struggling and too proud and stubborn to ask for help, she grasses me up to a mate behind my back. This obviously offends my pride even more! But at least it gets me talking to someone who can help. So Mike booked me up to come and see him in London.
When I got there he had made room in his diary. He was clearly busy. He was always busy. Not just with the pressing matter of his passionate desire to make Oak Hill as good as it could be. But also with his pastoral heart that cared for each individual student. Dan Strange, Vice Principal at Oak Hill and close friend of Mike, was only reflecting yesterday that whenever he wanted to see Mike to talk college strategy he couldn't find him. He'd be tucked away somewhere on campus in deep discussion with a student who needed his counsel.
The meeting started with food out. Something with chips. And I caught up on life at college. The latest pressures that were being brought to bear by the establishment. It has been strange and encouraging to see the kind tweets posted over the last couple of days about Mike by members of the Anglican establishment, who from time to time, appeared to want to destroy what he was trying to build at Oak Hill. I never understood why the punch bag that he used to relieve stress wasn't coloured purple. I felt that would have made the experience even more cathartic! (A knowledge of Anglican dress sense is needed here.)
Then over coffee Mike gently pried into how I was doing. I rabbited on about all my woes, sure that I was going to receive a sympathetic ear and the affirmation that none of it was my fault. But as the questions probed away I began to admit things about myself that I wasn't sure I liked. After a while I saw how my prideful desire to be in control of my world was at the heart of my anger and misery. Very graciously, with an expert hand, Mike had guided the spiritual scalpel of the word of God to my heart, and the Spirit had opened my eyes to see the source of my misery. Me.
I was thrown on God's mercy and grace in Christ once again.
Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
I thank God that Mike was that sort of friend to me.
If you want to read a brilliant piece about Mike you could do no better than Duncan Forbes' blog >