Better Is Perfect

April 27th, 2017

He’s an Auburn fan. His wife is an Alabama fan. They’re wonderful together.

That said, if you’re trying to figure out how to love your neighbor in this divided world, wouldn’t you miss having this guy around for advice?

As published in The Memphis Daily News, April 28, 2017, and in The Memphis News, April 29-May 5, 2017

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The Rev. Richard Lawson baptized our grandchildren a couple of weeks ago. When three-year-old Gaines looked like he was going to climb the font, Richard scooped him up, turned him upside down, and into the font he went, headfirst with his hands over his eyes. He returned to the pew, baptized in wet, wide-eyed wonder.

After the service, Richard declared the whole thing, “Perfect.”

He does that a lot – calling a ten-year-old’s handling of the offering plates or a 70-year-old’s handling of the chalice, a kid’s ride on a zip line or a cook’s style flipping pancakes, a parishioner’s question or answer, or just the day itself – all perfect.

I’m no good at goodbyes.

Just like letting people in, really in, makes you vulnerable, letting those same people go hurts, really hurts, so I just tend to move on. Past the gut wrench to whatever’s next. Past the loss into the virtual reality of denial.

Then they all come back, visiting unannounced from wherever they’ve gone, appearing in a moment that stirs a memory and then a flood of them, showing up in someone else’s smile, or some random occasion, or in a child’s eyes. 

Then you remember you may not have told them how much they mattered to you when they were here.

This week I’m telling someone, and encouraging you to do the same to someone. 

Richard Lawson was called to Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Midtown as rector seven years ago, and we are better because of it. Better because of his optimism and energy, and his sense of this place, and his sense of humor. Better because of his faith, and his faith in us to make ourselves better.

Afflicted with the writer’s curse of being two things at once, both participant and observer, and uneasy about committing to be one or the other, I’ve watched Richard transform a troubled church with what I perceived to be my objective eye. Now I see a transformation in me, troubled and losing confidence when he arrived, finding a renewed creative energy in his example and support, and a commitment to my church and city that I thought was fading.

Next month, Richard will become dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Denver, called to a larger challenge in a larger place, and the man loves a challenge. But he loves us as well, and he and his family have embraced Memphis, and the Memphis of Memphis, in ways that would warm the coldest city cynic. Even though he will be with us a bit longer, the pain of goodbye is in his eyes and ours.

He leaves us with stories, and laughter, and lessons. He leaves us with a remodeled and rededicated church, with a reenergized parish, with new faces and families and children up and down the aisles. He leaves us better off than we were before with a better understanding of each other and our faith.


I’m a Memphian, and, Richard; I’ll be seeing you again.


Sandy Crook: Perfect, Dan. As tears fall, thank you Richard. Perfect.

Maura Black Sullivan: The Lawson family has quietly and prayerfully made Memphis a much better place in their seven years. Thank you, Dan, for these words and sharing with others the passion, wisdom and humor that the Lawsons shared with all of us.

Katherine: Dan, there are no words. Thank you for this. I am sure this move will be one of the hardest we ever make. I will forever consider myself a Memphian. We will be forever grateful for the role the people of Memphis and most especially GSL have played in our lives. We have all learned and experienced so much together. Thank you!

Amanda: Perfect. Thank you, Father Lawson!

Robbie Johnson Weinberg: Thank you, Dan. Couldn't agree with you more.

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