My good friend and mentor, Dr. Albert (Al) E. Greene Jr. died today. He was 93. He had lived a good long life, and was a faithful follower of Christ. He had become gradually weaker over the past few years, so it is difficult to argue that this was a surprise. But it will leave a hole for me and for many others whom he influenced. He had become my mentor and father figure after my dad had died, far too young, about 37 years ago. Al was like no one I had ever met before or since, and he changed my life.
I first met him in 1973 when he was superintendent at Bellevue Christian School. He used to give talks on Monday evenings at the school, and my wife, Nancy, and I attended them a year before our kids enrolled there. He presented a worldview that all of life was sacred. He talked about how, when we come to faith in Christ, we put on a new set of glasses. "Everything becomes new," he said over and over again.
But he didn't leave it at that. Instead he developed the subject in ways I had never heard before. For example, he suggested there were many ways of knowing. Science is wonderful and important, he would say, but it can tell us some things and not others. For example, from a scientific point of view, we may think we understand water when we know that it is H2O - two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen. But there is much more to water than this, because this scientific formula doesn't explain why a warm shower feels so good in the morning, why seeing water adds value to your home ("Unless the water is in the basement," Al would add with his wonderful sense of humor), or why water baptism brings a touch of God that we can't otherwise explain. He loved science and never downplayed its value, but always cautioned us to know its limits.
Al developed a seminar titled "A Christian Mind in a Secular Age," which I took several times, and later taught. He did an advanced course that I was able to take from him with four other people on Saturday mornings in the early1980s.
A Wide Impact
Al's teaching was well received in Canada and around the world. We were visiting in Indonesia a couple of years ago, and my wife met a woman at a church seminar there. The woman told my wife about the Christian school she had started based on a book from someone named Dr. Albert Greene. She was ecstatic when she learned that we knew him! She later came to Bellevue to meet him and get more of his insights.
He also taught me to never stop learning. He got his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1976, at age 60, when others were thinking of retirement. His topic, not surprisingly, was developing a Christian mind as a foundation for education. He did his research based on the work of the Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Whenever he was asked about this he always added his warm laugh at the thought that he could do this kind of research at a public university.
Al was a life-long resident of the Seattle area, and one of the early settlers in Bellevue. He served on the mission field in China as a young man, coming home in the 1940s when Christians were chased from the country. Trained to be a pastor, he got into Christian education as a teacher almost by accident when his brother, Joe, was starting Bellevue Christian School in 1950. The teacher Joe had hired quit at the last minute and Al got pulled in to teach classes, drive a bus, and generally do what it took, along with his brother, to get the school started.
In China, Al had survived polio, and he walked with a limp the rest of his life. That did not keep him from long hikes in the mountains into his 70s. He amazed us all.
Al continued to read and feed books to me, including the last time I saw him last fall (he had moved about 80 miles north of Seattle a few years ago to live with his daughter, and I regret I didn't see him as often recently). He also showed me the draft of a book he was writing on rethinking Christian education. We always knew what to get him for his birthday - a Barnes and Noble gift card. We did this again for his birthday in October, and he sent this note:
Thanks for your and Nancy's visit last week. I enjoyed it ever so much. And thank you even more for your gracious Birthday Card with its very generous Gift Card from Barnes & Noble. You are too good to me, and I do thank you. I will enjoy the gift card.
Recently I have been writing a book titled, The Accidental Executive: Lessons in Business, Faith, and Calling From the Life of Joseph. From the foundation I had learned from Al Greene, I had started thinking about my own career at Boeing, and realized that though I was not a missionary or pastor, I was in full-time Christian service. And I was delighted to find, in the story of Joseph, one who was also called to the marketplace, in his case to be CEO of a large food distribution company in Egypt. Here is what I wrote last fall as I started the book:
I was raised on Bible stories, hearing them at home and church from as long ago as I can remember. Before I was five years old I could have told you many stories about Jesus, David, Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Ruth.
What I have learned in adulthood, however, is that these stories can be seen through many lenses, and each lens can produce an entirely new way of seeing. My friend and mentor Dr. Albert E. Greene taught me this. What I will share with you in this book is a new look at the life of Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.
I will miss not being able to share this book with Al. I will miss not being able to talk with Al. I believe his insights into God's creation are so important, and it is vital that others carry on his legacy.
In the end, however, this is not about Al Greene. One of his other strong themes Al taught was that all of us are made to be image bearers of God. We get into trouble when we think we are originals, rather than those who reflect God into our world. He used a wonderful graphic in his teaching, drawn by his son, Peter, showing a mirror reflecting honor back to God. A broken mirror depicted our attempts to be ultimate originals rather than image bearers, and it was Christ who could restore us as image bearers. Al was definitely an image bearer, with a sharp and clear reflection, and I am thankful for him.
How does this connect to business, and in particular, business with integrity? I have come to see a collection of building blocks that help us understand what it is to do business under the reign of God. It starts with a Christian worldview. From that foundation, we can build a theology of work. And from that foundation we build a theology of business. In other words, doing business based on the principles of the Kingdom of God starts with a biblical worldview, and I gained my foundational understanding of that from Al Greene.
Thank you, Al. I will miss you.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Al Erisman is an Executive in Residence at Seattle Pacific University