My college classmate, J J Baskin, died this past week, after a year long battle with cancer. A beautiful tribute to his remarkable 48 years can be found here. When he was first diagnosed, I wrote about it here. In life, in sickness, in death, J J was always showing us how to care for each other and working to bring people together.
As his lovely-in-every-way wife Joy wrote after his death:
Our wishes were not fulfilled, but every prayer was answered. Thank you for all the love you’re sending our way.
I love that sentiment. I’m sending all of the love and prayers I know how to send right now to Joy, Ben, and Judge.
J J and I did overlap for one year at Trinity as students, but it was our Presbyterianism that drew us together. While I know he was a fan of baseball, (who else was going to update me on the Astros?) it was Presbyterian ministers that J J seemed to collect like baseball cards.
I’m not sure I know anyone who was friends with more Presbyterian ministers than J J. I’ve wondered about that–what it was that drew him to church professionals? I think there is a similarity to the work he did and the work of the Gospel. Every professional endeavor to which he signed his name was instrumental to building a better world for all of us. He took the Gospel he learned in church and then, with his work and his life, made visible signs of God’s kingdom wherever he went.
There’s a saying attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words“. J J was one of those gifted ones who preached the Gospel at all times. He just didn’t need a pulpit.
He built community wherever he went. Here’s a comment he made, shortly after his diagnosis, about why he was going so public with his cancer battle, creating J J’s Fight Club. :
“One of the things I’ve been reminded of is the power of individual gifts in community. It is too easy to fall into a default that someone has the gift of hospitality or empathy, so community falls to them. Those thoughtful people who know how to call, hug, deliver the meal, etc are the ones in charge of crisis in community. We aren’t whole if we do it that way. Community falls to cultivating each person’s gifts into ways that they can contribute to that community. In J Js Fight Club, it is (in part) harvesting the creatives of artist and singers with the hope and optimism of folks that believe there is something we can do to support others even if we we live far, far away. In our faith, I think this means not deferring to the notion that the Holy Spirit does not work well over the Internet, and giving it a different way to shine in spite of the ‘nets impersonable shortcomings.”
J J got it. He understood what this life was all about.
I have a John Calvin Bobbblehead doll on my desk in my study. It was a “prize” from J J.
He challenged his clergy friends one Saturday afternoon on Facebook when he shared a story from ESPN.com and told us there was a prize for the first of us to use it in a sermon. Conveniently, I desperately needed that illustration for the next day’s sermon, and so I won the John Calvin doll. It is a prized possession.
The ESPN story was about a Texas Christian High School that was playing a football game against some kids from a correctional facility. It’s a great story. And Rick Reilly ends it with this: “Anyway, with the economy six feet under and Christmas running on about three and a half reindeer, it’s nice to know that one of the best presents you can give is still absolutely free.
Hope. What one word could describe J J better than hope? Hope was something J J gave to everyone he met. He gave it abundantly. It made the world a better place. It’s up to us now. Let’s be the Hope-bearers J J showed us how to be.