A life far from ordinary – but far from celebrity too
Lots of people have blogged about this book – and so in some ways it seems a bit unnecessary to add my meagre thoughts. Still, here they are. I picked this up and read through very quickly – not because it is light but because i was gripped. And it has spurred all kinds of thoughts. Don Carson has taken a break from his vast range of academic writing, to speak personally for a change. And in fact I vividly remember hearing him speak at my university CU just hours before flying back to be with his father as he died – and he spent much of the time speaking about what sort of man he had been. This book takes things further and I’m immensely grateful for that. It’s a curious title – Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. But it would have been one that completely suited Tom Carson.
What makes someone ordinary anyway? Well, by modern standards, I suppose, celebrity is the only way to prove oneself extra-ordinary – such that this has become an aspirational end in itself for countless schoolchildren, regardless of the grounds for that celebrity. Don Carson’s father, Tom, was the antithesis of a celebrity – humble almost to the point of self-effacingly insecure, unambitious but committed, sacrificial not grasping. Those of us in the English-speaking world would most likely never have heard of him (because his ministry was entirely focused in French-speaking Quebec and because he would have had no interest whatsoever in self-publicity) – were it not for his son: both because of Don’s own writing and speaking, but also because of this wonderful memoir.
Carson has talked with other family members and friends to get their reflections. But because he read through, and frequently draws from, his father’s private journals (which were never intended for publication, nor necessarily warrant it) we get a real sense of the man in his own heart. This is what makes this book so precious. Tom battled with deep insecurities and a lack of confidence – and faced various challenges and crises. Not the sort to hit the headlines necessarily, but ones which would have derailed (and did) all but the most faithful and determined. But he persevered – and lived and loved, faithful to the end. He wasn’t perfect – he wasn’t a great admin person, he in the end worked better as a No 2, he was a solid preacher who knew his bible inside out but wasn’t necessarily the greatest by all accounts. But who cares?! He loved his Lord and his people. I’ll never forget Don saying once that a congregation would forgive their pastor anything if they could be sure that he loved them. Well, having read this book, he must have had his own father in mind. For he went the 3rd and 4th mile to show his practical love for people. For example, it was particularly moving to read the chapter about Tom’s living with and caring for his wife Marg, during her 7-year decline into Alzheimer’s. Tom was of course deeply affected by it, but was able to avoid bitterness or resentment. And he seemed to see this as a way of giving back in service to her for all the years of support and love she had given him.
The challenge to me has been immense – and the testimony of this extraordinarily ordinary life is invaluable. When i grow up, i want to be like Tom Carson. Because as he grew up, he simply grew more like Jesus. And He alone is able to change the ordinary into the extraordinary. And the extraordinary thing is that he can and will do that for anyone, whether you or I have heard of them or not.