The following is a transcript of Brian’s eulogy from the Service of Remembrance for Tom VanKeulen held at the seminary chapel on September 13, 2017. A special thanks to Brian and the IT Department for their contribution.
Three simple words: “How are you?” But maybe they’re not as simple as we think. When somebody asks the question, what answer are they looking for? Do they want a “Fine, thanks. And you?” Or do they want a, “You know, I’m having a really bad day today.” I find for myself I’ve developed a fairly complex answer to this simple question. This summer, after hearing about Tom’s passing, I had the opportunity to test out this question. And the week before, in the middle of my internship in Brantford, Ontario, I had the opportunity to travel to Duluth, Minnesota for a family wedding. Twenty-six hundred miles. Then we came back, and I had three days to write two sermons and to plan two worship services. And in the middle of that is when I got first, the text message of: “Tom’s missing,” and then the second message of: “Our worst fears have been confirmed. Tom’s passed away.” What was already a busy and full week; what already seemed to be nearly impossible just became that much harder. How would I be able to write two sermons? How would I be able to get through my week when I couldn’t even focus on writing one sermon; planning one worship service? Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it through the week.
And Sunday morning, ten minutes before I was to walk up to the pulpit to preach and to lead worship, one of the elders at the church I was serving asked those three words: “How are you?” So my complex answer to this question started with a, “Do you really wanna know? It’s pretty good.” If I’m doing good, I’ll say, “You know what? I’m doing good.” If I’m not doing as well, I’ll say, “Mmmmmm, pretty good.” On this morning, the elder picked up on my “pretty good.” He repeated. He said, “Pretty good?” Okay, he’s digging a little bit. “Well, it’s been a rough week.” Again, I’ll put it out there a little bit—if you wanna take it, take it. If you’re not prepared ten minutes before a service, then this is your out. So I said, “It’s been a pretty rough week.” He leans in, as if to expect more. And I spent the next eight-and-a-half minutes giving him all the emotion that I had been carrying that week before. And it’s exactly what I needed to get through that service and to get through that day.
Walking into the IT office I would hear those words: “How are you?” James mentioned them; Jonathan mentioned them. Tom was good at “How are you?” When Tom asked, you gave the real answer. You didn’t test the waters. You didn’t step in slowly. You said, “Here’s how I’m really doing.” That was true for us in the IT office, but many of you at many times came into the IT office and Tom would ask. And I would get to be part of that question; get to hear some of the real stuff. You might pass him in the hallway and he would ask, “How are you?” and you would spend the next twenty minutes, half-an-hour, talking with him. Tom actually had a secret office in this building where he would get some work done; a work station set-up that most people didn’t know about because if he walked into the office and he asked how you are, you would spend the next twenty minutes telling him how you really are, and he would never get work done! So when he really needed to get work done, he had to lock himself up somewhere where people didn’t know he was. Tom was really good at “How are you?”
There’s one verse that I wanted to read for you this morning, and it comes from Acts 2:42. “They (that is, the believers, the early church) devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” Now there’s two words that stand out in this passage for me: devoted and fellowship. These five verses, Acts 2:42-47, describe a number of things of what it meant to be devoted to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship; to each other. People sold their possessions. They lived in community. They broke bread together. They did some of these big things, but they also did the little things too: they asked, “How are you?” They broke bread. They had fellowship together. These are two things that Tom was really good at. Breaking bread—there’s always something going on—he always knew where the food was in the seminary, and he made sure that we knew where the food was too! If, in the staff breakroom, they had cake or cupcakes or something, Tom or Daryl were sure to walk in the door with something for one of the IT guys who was sitting at the desk in the office. There was Chili Dog Wednesdays, there was Fiji Fridays; there was—I forget what we called it on Mondays—but there was always time to break bread together. But it was a time where Tom really connected with the people that were around him.
It’s not just Tom who is called to be a “How are you?” person—we all are. We need to be this community that’s described in Acts 2 that can talk about what’s really going on; free to say the first time somebody asks, “How are you?” that “It’s been a really rough week,” and to expect that the person you’re answering that question to will be able to take that time to say, “Tell me about your rough week.” For me, this is the example that Tom left. Tom was sincere. Tom wanted to know how each of us were doing, and I give thanks for the life and the example that he led. And I encourage us together, as a community of believers, to really take the time to ask, “How are you?” and to really take the time to answer that question in a real and sincere and honest way. ∞
Brian Schouten is a 4th-year M.Div. student (Leadership/Pastoral Care) from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. He will graduate in May 2018 and will candidate for the CRC in June 2018.