He took a sip, looked at me, said, “You know you can’t out give God.” He’d just finished his usual toast, “A martini is like a woman, one is not enough and two is two dang many.”
That’s where conversation started, one that began actually months before with a storm, a fence, a chainsaw, a pushy business partner “volun-telling” me to remove a fallen tree from the Gethsemane Lutheran playground fence. Not my congregation then. I went because Hugh “voluntold” me, got to work after sunrise, tried to finish before church people showed up hounding me with, “who are you, who called you, how much is this no-cost tree work costing us?” 1/4th of the way through the tree-cutting business I caught sight of a man leaning on the fence. I braced for nosey church person questions coming from one who didn’t know me, one who’d bug me, one who’d slow me.
I stopped the saw, shouted “howdy,” walked over, reached out a hand in greeting. Before I could say another word, he started, “Hi, I’m Buck Brooks, and you sure know how to handle a chainsaw.” Stunned by praise, I gave him my name, told him that Uncle Hugh’d asked me to clean-up the mess, explained how my granddaddy was a hard-core WWII vet, had me using saws before I was 8 years old, taught me to do things well, do things quickly, do ‘em right the first time.” Buck walked into the playground as I talked, then said, “Cut the pieces in this size, and I’ll handle ‘em.” I told him not to worry with it. He told me that GLC was his church, that some church person ought to be helping me, told me it might as well be him!” When Buck’s mind is set, no use trying to tell Buck Brooks anything. So, I cranked the saw, and cut 2000-ish lbs of wet oak this size!”
Buck was in his 70s, out-working most people who I knew. Once we finished, he said, “Your granddaddy, where’d he serve?” I said, “Granddaddy shot an 8” howitzer all over Europe.” Buck replied, “I shot an 8” howitzer all over the Pacific at the same time.” And that’s how I met Buck Brooks.
A month later I stepped into his congregation to check on Uncle Hugh who’d missed two weeks of work, wasn’t returning phone calls. Buck was first to greet me, turning to Ann, he pointed to me saying, “Love, this is Hugh Rhea’s nephew, the one I told you about, the one who cut up that tree.” By this time Ann, had pulled me into a hug, saying, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m Ann Brooks, and I am a hugger.”
And that was how it all started—the Brooks adventure. One that has carried me through a Cheerwine sea, past martini mountains, deep into the Ocala National Forest, through reams upon reams of crazy-tail jokes, and back to making popcorn on the stove “’cause it’s better that way”—so says Buck Brooks. And he is, right!
Some weeks after meeting Buck and Ann—a phone call from Ann recruited me into their ministry of hospitality and generosity; one that included taking food to people who had little food, taking money to people who truly needed it, saving every stamp on every envelope that entered my home and office, keeping aluminum tabs from pop cans, grilling thousands of pounds of meat for church and charity events, answering 100s maybe 1000s of phone calls hearing Buck say, “Come over here, let’s have a martini, then let’s get to work. I know how to fix this thing but I need your hands, so you be the hands and I’ll tell you what to do!”
People have no idea how brilliant and generous is Buck Brooks. I say “is” because his level of selfless, even insane, generosity is alive now in so many of us. We’ve seen Buck set us the example, seen him set a generous goal so high that only Jesus Christ himself could attain it! Sometimes it’d be me, often it was Ann, maybe some of you, who’d fuss at him, grumble how he should tame his idea, his goal.
When this would happen, back when I was Buck’s church member he’d say, “Aren’t you a Christian? Don’t you know you can’t out give God?” When this would happen, back when I was on Buck’s church council he’d say, “Aren’t you a council member? Don’t you know yet, you can’t out give God?” When this would happen, back when I was Buck’s church council president he’d say, “Aren’t you our church council president? Don’t you know by now that you can’t out give God?” When this would happen, back when I was in seminary Buck’d say, “Aren’t they teaching you anything up there in Columbia? Haven’t you figured out by now that you can’t out give God? What’re they teaching y’all?” After his remark, Buck’d turn his favorite phrase of mine back on me, “You’re the one who says, ‘common sense ain’t common,’ but I thought you had some.” Guess one is short on common sense if they truly think they can out give God.
“You can’t out give God.” That’s what Buck Brooks says. That’s what Buck Brooks embodies. That’s how Buck Brooks lives. And that is because Jesus the Christ causes Buck to live, causes Buck to know that you truly can’t out give God.
When people told Buck that they didn’t believe him, he’d say “Tell it to God and then see for yourself—you just try to out give God.” And just as they’d keep missing the point, sometimes Buck would give ‘em one of these (holding up a Jesus Block) and say, “Take your eyes off your obstacles and you’ll see Jesus.” After all, isn’t it obvious? What more can God give than Jesus? And therein lies our obstacle and our hope, to see in the death of Buck, the promised resurrection of Buck, to see beginning rather than end, to see God whose giving love knows no boundary, knows no end— moves past age, moves around a fence, moves oak wood cut this size, spans time and space, won’t be stopped by death, for even death can’t out give God. And for that we ought to be able to raise our glass, right?