This is how I think of Ed Dobson most often: laughing. I loved it when Ed cracked up. He had a delightful, goofy laugh, a hysterical intake of breath, in contrast to the serious attitude he adopted when it came to matters biblical. Ed made sure to laugh that laugh often by watching The Three Stooges, in the last years of his life.
Ed would have turned 66 today, Dec. 30, 2015, just four days after he passed from this world. His death the day after Christmas leaves me terribly saddened, yet grateful he has finally been released from the suffering of ALS. Ed lived with that wicked disease for 15 years, far outdistancing the usual prognosis of three to five. He cherished every moment of it, becoming greedier for life, as he once put it, the longer he lived. He wanted to spend as long as he could with his wife, Lorna, their children, Kent, Heather and Daniel, and their six grandchildren.
Ed lived and loved this life fully, even while ever keeping an eye on the next one. His faith in Jesus and belief in the Bible were rock solid. The first time we met, in his office at Calvary Church, he told me his congregation took the Bible literally. They believed Jonah really did spend three days and nights in the belly of a great fish. He said this as matter-of-factly as if they believed two times five equals 10. This struck me as pretty fundamentalist, but something in his quiet conviction made me respect his view.
Years later, I watched him break down the Hebrew meaning of a biblical text with Christian college students to whom he and Lorna had opened their Heritage Hill home. The expertise with which he dissected that passage made me realize just how deep his biblical foundation went, and I respected his views even more.
But then, when a guy spends a year letting his beard grow long, eating kosher and befriending strangers just to live as closely like Jesus as possible, you’ve gotta respect his commitment. Especially when he winds up on “Good Morning America” defending his decision to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 – and this from a former Jerry Falwell wingman. Talk about walking the walk.
But Ed did not so much walk as run through life. He was a talented soccer player growing up in Belfast, might have even gone pro had not God tugged stronger. He continued his soccer-playing, and regular long-distance running, while pastor of Calvary, one of Grand Rapids’ first megachurches. When he first told me of his ALS diagnosis, he said he wanted to keep running as long as possible. Clearly it was one of his life’s great joys.
I grew to know Ed and Lorna pretty well over the years, both through interviews for The Grand Rapids Press and informal meetings. I spent wonderful afternoons with Ed at The Sparrows coffeehouse, listening to him recount his childhood in Northern Ireland while clutching a cup of espresso. I treasured his brief hugs when our conversations ended, especially as his body became frailer. Still, his spirit was like an iron rod running up his backbone. His conviction never wavered: I will follow Jesus wherever he leads me. And his laugh was ever a delight.
Whenever someone would knock Christians for being narrow-minded and judgmental, I would point to Ed and say, “Not this guy.”
Yesterday I took a run at the YMCA. As I broke into my easy pace I thought, “This one’s for you, Ed.” I won’t speculate where that thought came from. I’ll just say it was real, and that I was blessed to dedicate that run to Ed. His race was long and strong, outdistancing expectations on every side. And always following Jesus setting the pace, which Ed maintained with every bit of his heart and his soul and his mind.