A Homecoming Celebration for William Ashley Keaton was held on November 3rd, 2012 in the year of our Lord at AJ Desmond & Sons in Troy, Michigan. It was a heavenly raucous affair that (in keeping with Bill’s style) seemed to take on a life of its own.
As evidenced by the picture of a young Bill posing above, he made his presence felt at the start and at the end of his time with us. The heavens shook with Sandy the very night God called his Billy home.
Now one might ask; “Why would Hurley start this blog with a song from Elton John?” Fair question. For one thing, it’s my blog and I’ll put any damn thing in here I want…Mmkay? Bill & I were all about music. That’s how we rolled. Plus, it’s a classic jam of epic proportions. Davey Johnstone is on the all-time favorite guitarists list of Shredders With Ginormous Riffage.
Musically, it rocks. Lyrically, it works.
The roses in the window box
Have tilted to one side
Everything about this house
Was born to grow and die
I was playing rock and roll and you were just a fan
But my guitar couldn’t hold you
So I split the band
Love lies bleeding in my hands
And then, this classic verse….
I wonder if those changes
Have left a scar on you
Like all the burning hoops of fire
That you and I passed through
The burning hoops of fire we passed through…or more accurately stated…the burning hoops he walked this writer through, is the stuff of legends. No, that’s not written in some kind of self-delusional, alcoholic manner of superfluous hyperbole’. Anyone remotely familiar with our relationship as brothers-in-arms know it’s “The Trufe”…as we say in Detroit.
This is literally the last picture ever taken of us together.
Even a pagan could recognize and acknowledge the hand of God in this shot…were they inclined to do so. This was my last visit with Bill on the Saturday before his passing. What a great time it was. What a memory. What a guy. He was so happy, content, safe & comfortable. Had he passed while I was out on some God Awful Safari or locked in a cage, I’d never be able to live with that and would have ended up sliding the cold metal of a .45 in my mouth to blow brain matter out the top of my head. Really. Father had another plan…a much better scenario than even Steven Spielberg could have scripted. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
So yeah…today was tough. It was appropriate to cry and laugh–sometimes simultaneously.
You know, its fashionable today for our society to bitch and moan about the sorry state of the Church of Jesus Christ. Lord knows the minority of church folk who get busted or popped (like I did…amen?) while engaged in some very ungodly stuff sure helps to reinforce that negative image. However, I think it’s a safe and accurate thing to state that needy people avoiding the benefits of belonging to a tribe in the body of Christ have more of a problem with surrendering the lordship of their life to Jesus than anything else. C’mon…work with me…I need another amen. That is the real issue–more than any problem with the church. Mmkay? Invalidating the church because of a few bad eggs is like forsaking cars because they crash or refusing to go to AC, AA or NA Meetings because of the reality and possibility of relapse. We must first suit up and show up before anything of substance can transpire. Only then can we begin to grow in the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and begin the wonderful process of developing an intimate relationship with God as our Father. That’s where the rubber meets the road and the boys are separated from the men. Our part is to simply say, “Yes Lord” and follow it up by doing a whole lot of stuff our flesh absolutely hates. As we park our asses on His Potters Wheel, lives are transformed and hearts are transplanted.That’s just the way it works. There are no short-cuts. There is no magic pill. Sanctification and recovery are life-long processes–not events that can be generated by any chemical, sexual act, guru, false prophet, presidential candidate or spirit of religiosity.
Bill just told me he liked that one and Father dug it. Praise God! Glory!
OK…that was a lil’ foray down a rabbit trail
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never been more grateful to testify and share pure gratitude for being a part of His Body in the Vineyard Tribe. I’m so proud and thankful for the service that my pastor Jim Pool officiated at today.
Jim was Bill’s pastor for the last year and a half or so of his life. He was very pleased to see Jim show up in a suit and tie today. While the casual dress code of the Vineyard was sometimes challenging to Billy…it was never a deal breaker. However, there’s no doubt Bill will continue to advocate before the throne on his pastor’s behalf for a clothing allowance.
But I digressed yet again.
Everything about today was anointed and special. My former wife and mother of Timmy & Josh was there and we sat together. Vacillating between extreme emotions and feelings of perfect peace to burnt toast, I asked Kelly; “Look, I’m not trying to get weird on you or anything, but can I lean on you today?” She smiled with tears in her eyes and said “Of course you can”. So that’s what I did…even to the point of sharing the outline of my little talk with her for feedback.
Kelly was, is and remains a great chick and love of my life.
Timmy & Josh remain the apples of thine eyes.
After an opening of Amazing Grace played on bagpipes, there probably wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Then Jim opened with a word of prayer and a word of encouragement.
Bill’s life was characterized by having been a Fisher Of Men.
Now THAT is a legacy to leave with us to emulate.
Then it was my turn to share. Speaking in public has never really been a problem, but this was an engagement I did not relish. One of the many things Bill taught me over the years was the principle; “It’s Not About Us…bahrutha”. With that in mind, the long walk to a vulnerable podium was made. Listed in the program as a “Spiritual Son” of Bill Keaton, I could see through eyes blurred with tears, a whole room full of spiritual sons & daughters of William Ashley Keaton. After acknowledging as much, a sense of God’s presence filled this heart with enough grace to make it through the 12 or so minutes of a talk…that I really don’t have much recollection of.
The primary memory is one of being in a room full of folks deeply connected on a soul level through the obedience and commitment of one man. It is great to be part of this sub-tribe of recalcitrant maniacs..
Here’s a shot of some of those AC fellas taken in the hallway;
Left to right-Tim, Barry, Ray, Jerry & Steve.
BTW: Barry is my new sponsor…lucky him. As has been pointed out by a few good friends, Bill would not only want this protegé to get another sponsor but to continue to be one to others. You’re looking at five men who but for the grace of God would all be in some morgue with toe-tags. We can’t keep this new life unless we pass it on, attempt to carry the message and freely give it away.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
New King James Version (NKJV)
Comfort in Suffering
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
This was a truth that Billy continually pounded into my soul over three decades of life–together in the front line trenches of battle. I tried to weave it through the fabric of sharing at Bill’s Celebration. Note how it says “are comforted”. That means present tense boys & girls.
After wrapping things up…whew…this version of Bridge was played.
Billy had massive spiritual balls and was never reticent to jump in your canoe for some white water turbulence. He was never afraid to get wet or dirty with you. He would never avoid a craft that appeared to most as a version of the Titanic. When they sang;
Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
…the Hurls just lost it. A weeks worth of grief, sorrow and longing came to the surface and erupted like a dormant volcano. You see, Bill did not just sail right behind you…he’d jump right in that bad boy and exclaim; “Let’s go brother! Praise God! Glory Hallelujah!” His exhorting encouragement was always infectious.
He had the gift of hope, faith, love and grace, when all yours was depleted.
Then brother Jeff Sheetz, present prez of AC got up to share about Bill’s impact on his life. O’ gosh…are we ever-blessed to have Jeff at the helm of the ship right now. After an eloquent testimony, Jeff made the analogy of how it was such a blessing and privilege to literally feed Bill in his final days…as he has fed thousands of us spiritual manna over the course of his life.
Not only that, but both of us made note at how Bill had come full circle in the last couple years of his life. He had returned to his 1st love. Bill & I had a private joke between us that can now be shared. He told me more than once that God had “re-kindled the dwindled”…and Bill knew it. He was like a big kid. There’s a major difference between becoming child-like and remaining childish. He was a blast to be around…just to share that reality. Everything was “The Best!” Every glass of orange juice, every meal, every teaching, every song, every ride, every outing and every meeting was the absolute BEST! Glory!
After Jeff spoke, it was time for a little Elvis…praise God.
It was an appropriately smokin’ version of anointed classic; “How Great Thou Art”. At this point of celebrating Bill’s life, Father upped the ante’ as He walked amongst us. It was great. We all started singing along with “E” and began to get our praise on. You see, there’s an inextricable link between addicts/alcoholics and music. The very heart & soul of man yearns to connect and express itself through music. That’s a given. But when it comes to wing-nuts like us, we tend to Take It To The Limit. That’s just how we roll.
Bill would never have it any other way. One day, we went out and bought a brand new computer with powered speakers and a router so he could watch Netflix movies from his new ‘puter and all the music he could handle. After setting up his new rig, I introduced Billy to this new-fangled marvel of technology called YouTube. “What do you want to hear first Bill?”
“Bahrutha’…play some Elvis for me…praise God!”
OK my man. You want Elvis…here you go. You should have been there. Bill sat transfixed like a kid with a new toy. It WAS a new toy and he dug the hell out of it. We must have stayed up ’till 3:00AM watching Elvis clips on YouTube.
While a plethora of empirical data exists to support the genetic transference for the propensity of parents to their children, that’s certainly the case with Bill’s oldest daughter Karen. She too loves Elvis and it was her turn to share.
O’ my. Talk about a block off the ol’ chip. Karen is every bit her Dad…and then some. She fought back the tears enough to wrap everything up from the perspective of a Daddy’s Daughter. What a killer talk she gave. Eloquent, gracious, poignant, insightful, empathetic, intelligent and witty with a sardonic sense of her Dad’s humor are but a few of the adjectives to describe Karen. Though we’ve known each other since the early seventies, we’ve grown very close over the last year and a half or so…even though she wasn’t real wild about my setting up her Dad with a Facebook Account. But that’s another story for a different blog…amen?
Here’s a great shot of Billy during his brief run with Facebook and Netflix. Being technically challenged, he never quite got the hang of it. I so wish that I’d have saved all the voice-mails from Bill when he’d call at 3:00AM to ask how to work his remote or what tab to click on. One night, he called seven times between 11:00PM and 4:00AM…praise God.
New King James Version (NKJV)
‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
Indeed, the latter years were much greater than the former and I thank God for that.
After Karen shared, pastor Jim wrapped up the service with a timely, insightful and anointed word about how Bill was a Barnabas Builder with a call to return to our first love…Jesus Christ.
Then…in true Alcoholics for Christ style, a band of crazed minstrels brought things to a close with a moving rendition of “Farther Along”
Sister Betty Bridges sang this like an angel. Backed by moi’ and Jerry on acoustic guitars, Turbo Bob on bass, brother Wayne on slide and Johnny Ace on harmonica, we then segued’ into a very raucous version of “Awake O’ Israel” At this point in the celebration of Bill’s life, the service more resembled a Memphis bar than any kind of funeral.
After the service, Johnny Ace (who blew the harmonica) shared a vision.
“You know Tim, I could just see Bill with Jesus watching us and telling Him…Come here brother. You are really going to like this.”
As the bagpipes blew once last time, those fortunate enough to be in attendance quietly filed past Bill lying in state and said their goodbyes. It was a sovereign time of righteous fellowship in the truest sense of the word that one can find only in the Body of Christ.
Goodby mi hermano. I’ll see you on the other side…further on up the road in the land of hope & dreams.
It was a great ride. From the bottom of this prodigal heart, I thank you my friend…for never giving up…for never losing hope…for being the surrendered man you were…never hesitant to jump in when necessary…to do battle…fighting the good fight of faith and for loving the unlovable.
Give Joe a big fat hug from his bahrutha’…bahrutha.