A friend of mine passed away last week and I’ve been thinking a lot about him. His name is Dave Otto. He was the senior warden at the first parish I served after seminary, the extraordinary St. Luke’s in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Dave and his wonderful wife, Marilyn, welcomed us to the church and helped my family and me get our feet on the ground. In addition to being senior warden, Dave was an active and energizing member of the men’s group and Marilyn was, and probably still is, very active in the altar guild. Both cared for me, my family, and my budding ministry in ways that I could never repay.
Do you remember when the U.S. Navy shot a missile at the moon? Frankly, I thought the moon deserved it because it’s been taunting us for years; but seriously, that project was a part of what Dave did for the Navy. He and his team developed a system to track objects in the sky and to launch stuff at those things. Another of his projects was protecting our ground forces in Kuwait from SCUD missiles. I asked him how. He replied it’s pretty simple because they didn’t have to cover the entire country of Kuwait. Instead, they created a few circles in the sky and anything that entered those circles would be immediately shot down. He also spent time on the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) while it was being finished. They took her out on a full speed run (completely empty) but for classified reasons he couldn’t tell me how fast they went.
Dave had a contagious energy about things. He evangelized for two annual events, the Men’s Chili Feed and an annual fishing expedition. The Chili Feed is a fundraiser. The men make huge pots of chili and then fill the Parish Hall with folks who pay to get in. The money raised helps to fund his other favorite project, the fishing expedition. Every year, the men partner with the local homeless shelter to give kids fishing equipment and take them to a near-by fishing hole for a day of fishing, food and fun. On those days Dave was the most alive.
I asked him why we bombed the moon. His response was in his usual dry sense of humor – because it is there, and because we can do it. Oh, and also for science to see if there are water particles on the moon. I asked how we did it and he said simple, you draw a circle in the sky, get a Navy ship as close as you can under that circle, and give it everything you’ve got.
The Chili Feed doesn’t underwrite the entire budget of St. Luke’s. The fishing expedition won’t solve the homeless problem in north Idaho. But, as Dave would say, they don’t have to. The men draw a few circles in the sky that will help the community, in this case, serving chili and helping children. They park as close as they can to those circles and then they give it everything they’ve got.
I am lucky and honored to have known this man and to be placed in one of his circles. My life and ministry are better because of him. I wonder how many other circles he made in the sky; probably a lot because I know that I am not alone in my thankfulness for his life. I am sure that Jesus made a circle in the sky for Dave who is now part of the cloud of witnesses who are preparing the Great Chili Feed in heaven for all of God’s children.