Monday, April 1, 2013

Eulogy for Marty Pickup

Some of us here today knew Marty Pickup because he was our teacher. Others, because he was our preacher. Many, because he was our colleague. Those are the ways that I knew him, and as best as I can, I hope to represent all of you who learned from him, worshiped with him, and worked with him.

Marty’s first year as a teacher at Florida College was my final year as a student. Melvin Curry had told me that the school was getting a new professor in the Bible Department, and I was excited to meet him. After the opening ceremonies everyone gathered for a reception in the cafeteria, and I still vividly remember the moment I met Marty. I instantly loved him, and could not wait to take a class with him. As it turned out, he only taught one class that I could take that year, but it was clear from the very start that Marty Pickup was going to be a phenomenal teacher.

Some of us have known teachers who were brilliant in own field, but had no idea how to communicate that knowledge to others. Marty was a truly brilliant scholar, whose expertise in rabbinic Judaism and the use of the Old Testament in the New was acknowledged by the world’s foremost expert in Judaism, Jacob Neusner. But part of Marty’s brilliance was knowing how to connect with students to help them understand the Bible at a much deeper level. His philosophy was not to dumb things down, but to smarten us up. And never in an arrogant or condescending way.

A former student from 2005, Matt Harber, recalled one class in particular:

I only had Mr. Pickup for one class--Hebrews -- but that class continues to have a profound impact on my study of Scripture today. His analysis of the NT's use of the OT challenged me deeply and forced me to reckon with the complexity of …the canon of Scripture. He exposed the class to this complexity not to bewilder or confuse us, but to show us the beauty that existed on the far side of that complexity. Even though he was a great scholar, Mr. Pickup always stood under the Bible, not above it. He studied and taught Scripture on its own terms because he loved it, and his love of Scripture was infectious.

Marty clearly loved to teach, and loved what he taught. But the serious nature of the Scriptures meant that this sometimes had to be done in a pointed and challenging way. Any of you who took Marty for Christian Evidences will undoubtedly remember the way he introduced that class. He began with a barrage of difficult questions about God, Jesus and the Bible, exposing the students to serious issues that many of them had probably never even thought of. Another former student, Drew Ellis, reflected on it as follows:

That opening class period, a class of 75 students was completely silenced when Marty's subsequent destruction of everyone's defense of faith resulted in a sheepish tension in the students. But like a father who lovingly disciplines his children, Marty followed that painful illustration with a systematic education over the semester that rooted and helped me establish a solid obedient faith, and exposed me to the real world in the process.

Yes, Marty could challenge and prod, but true to his warm and incredibly humorous personality, he also knew how to have fun in the classroom while never losing the respect of his students. Well, almost never. Several students shared a story from a 3:00 Freshmen Bible class in which Marty came to class wearing a dress shirt that, unknown to him, had a hole in it (which was very unusual for a typically well-dressed Mr. Pickup). As the period wore on, more and more students began to notice it, and began giggling. When he finally had enough, Marty yelled, “Would someone please tell me what is so funny?” One sheepish young lady responded, “Mr. Pickup, you have a hole in your shirt.” He looked down, laughed, and said, “Class dismissed.”

Marty loved teaching because he loved kids. He captured the perfect balance of taking God and the Bible seriously but never taking himself too seriously. Marty is probably the only Bible professor at Florida College who will be remembered as both a great rapper and a great dancer, but many of you saw him rap “Our Dear FC” in chapel, and others of you saw him dance as one of the Flava Boys at the 2000 Fall Banquet.

And many of you have played football with Marty, or against him, either as members with him at Valrico, or back in the days when the Upper Division and Faculty fielded a team in society sports known as UDFAC.  Terry Francis told me this story:

Marty loved the UDFAC football team and the fact that they were undefeated. He would come out in chapel before the UDFAC vs. All-Stars football game and tell the school that they couldn't be beat. That was partly because UDFAC football was more like the Alumni All-Stars. Most of the team wasn't Upper-D or Faculty. They were Marty's ringers he'd bring in for the game. He was so confident, he would promise that the UDFAC team would kiss our cleats if they loss. My sophomore year we set up me coming and carrying him off stage over my shoulder... And later that week, we march down the aisle after chapel in our cleats, lined them up across the stage, and watched UDFAC kiss our cleats.

Years later Marty was still angry [about the] the interception on the last play of the game that was returned for the winning TD. He was so competitive!

All of these funny stories make a serious point. Marty was not a teacher who secluded himself in an ivory tower, or who thought of his work as merely a job. It was a vocation to him, and he deeply cared about his students. So many people sent me stories about the extra time Marty devoted to helping them I couldn’t possibly read them all. But I think Matt Johnson’s is representative:

When I began attending Florida College, I was in the midst of a crisis of faith. Among the classes I took with Marty was his Evidences course. Many others remember his grueling questions on the opening day of that course. For me, they were all questions I was actively asking. I was at the time exploring other religious writings, the Quran, the Upanishads, the book of Mormon, various philosophy texts, and denominational writings. Near the end of that semester I shared this with brother Pickup. He took hours of extra time to reason with me through those texts and philosophies, deftly defending the faith, and I left his course with a strength of faith that has never left me.
When I transferred to USF and had several courses (both undergraduate and graduate) in the religious studies program, he continued to check in on me, inviting me to his office to help answer the barrage of challenges that were continually thrown my way. During those long conversations, I opened up to him about the spiritual struggles that had led to my earlier "existential crisis." He was deft enough in his defense of the faith to pave a way of trust, so that he could counsel me in the areas of my life that needed his, and my, genuine attention.

Another former student, Heather Whaley, shared this memory:

When I was a student at FC I got a really bad concussion and I missed 2 weeks worth of classes. It put me so behind and I was really afraid that I wouldn't get caught up. Mr. Pickup told me to come to his office and we'd work on it. When I got there he had all his lecture notes together for me and he went over everything with me in detail. He then told me if I needed more help that I could come by his house over the weekend and he'd make sure I knew the information before the test. Instead of saying, "Get notes from a fellow student" he took the time to teach me what I had missed. He truly wanted me to not just memorize the information, but to actually have an understanding of it. I never forgot that.

Others of you here today knew Marty more as your preacher, and in the last several years, as an elder. A lot of what I’ve said about Marty as a teacher also captures what he was like as a preacher, and that‘s no accident. Marty hated the idea that serious, in-depth study of the Scriptures should be for experts, and not for the people in the pew. If it was the truth, then all of the Lord’s disciples (who are called to abide in the truth), needed to hear it, regardless of how challenging or dense it might be.

But Marty also had a great heart along with a brilliant mind, and just as you could call Marty to ask him about an obscure text from the Dead Sea Scrolls and get an informed answer, you could also call him with a spiritual crisis or a broken heart, and get a compassionate, sympathetic, and biblical piece of counsel. One sister in the Lord, Connie Trubey, summed up what many of us have felt:

Through stresses in my children's lives, I called Marty several times for his insight and wisdom on how to help them cope, heal and move forward. As a mother, I felt helpless, and he not only let me unload, but counseled me in my struggle to make sense of those dark days. I drew strength from our talks then, as I hope his family will draw strength now, from their loving family and friends.

Marty took the ministry of the word very seriously, and when he became an elder, he did so knowing that it would take up far too much time for him to continue his graduate work and finish his doctorate. But in his mind, that was a sacrifice well worth making.

There is one other dimension of Marty’s work that I want to honor, and that is as a colleague. Some of us here worked with Marty at FC, and remember what fun times we had in the faculty lounge right after chapel, which was often filled with Marty’s uproarious laughter. David McClister remembered one opening week experience,

We were registering freshmen for classes and we had the old system where you had to call the course selections in by phone. Marty was on hold with the Registrar's office on his office phone, and in the mean time a student called him on his cell phone about a course. Then the Registrar answered his other call. So Phil Roberts and I came by his office to see if he could join us for lunch, and when we came to the door Marty was holding two telephones, one to each ear, and he was trying to carry on two conversations at once. When Marty saw us we all just busted out laughing at the spectacle.

But here’s the thing about Marty. Despite all his accomplishments and all of his expertise, he was, as David McClister went on to say,

A man of the Word…and it showed in everything about him-his character, his family, his preaching, his academic work, and his leadership.

And because Marty was a man of the word, if you loved the Bible and wanted to talk about it with him, he treated you as if you were colleagues, because in the common commitment to the word and to the Lord, “we are God’s fellow workers,” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:9. Several preachers sent me notes about Marty’s collegial spirit. Jeff Young wrote:

[I am] Still amazed that he would include me on an email to get my thoughts on something he had written. Being inclusive with another is perhaps one of the great signs of friendship and love, don't you think? He was great at that.

Another brother, Phil Robertson, shared:

Although Marty was so intelligent and so highly educated, he always treated me as an equal (although I certainly did not think of myself this way)… His vivacious smile and love for life was infectious... however his willingness to discuss any Biblical subject or challenge with sensibility and humility will always be my fondest memory of him. 

One of my favorite memories of the one year I had Marty as a student was winning the meal auction to go to dinner at the Pickups. Two things stick out to me about that night. First, as my date and I talked about what to wear on twin day, somehow the idea of me wearing a skirt came up. The next thing I know, Aimee was grabbing one out of her closet (let me clarify – it was one of her maternity skirts!). And the other thing I remember is that Taylor and Nathan took me into their room showed me all of their cool toys. Later, Marty told that after I left, one of the boys (I think it was Taylor) said, “When I grow up, I want to be big and fat like Shane!”

Well, Taylor, Nathan, and Nicole, I want to grow up and be like Marty Pickup. And I don't know exactly how you all feel today, but I can tell you this, there are a lot of us who are afraid, because long after we had your Dad in class or worshiped where he preached, he has continued to be our teacher and preacher, through what he has written, through his sermons and classes on the web, through lunches at Lectures, through countless phone calls and emails. And now he is gone, and in that small way, many of us feel disoriented and afraid and alone like you feel.

But everyone of us knows what Marty would say to help us get our bearings, to regain our courage, and feel loved. In fact, though none of us could have imagined it at the time, just a few days ago in chapel Marty told us what to do. In speaking about the need to live out the teachings of Jesus in our lives, Marty said this:

It's hard. It's an arduous task. It's a 24-hour a day task. It's difficult, it's painful. We complain sometimes about it. We don't like having to submit to the rigors of it sometimes, but it's worth it. It's worth it.

When Moses said goodbye to Israel, he summoned Joshua and said, “Be strong and courageous…It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have God, we have His word, and we have each other. Marty did a lot to help us know God more intimately, to understand His word more profoundly, and to love each other more richly. Marty has passed from this life, but the Lord will not leave us or forsake us. Cling to God and His word. For by faith and hope, we believe that our teacher, colleague and brother now knows firsthand that it is truly, and eternally, worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Just a perfect tribute for this man. And you, my friend, were the perfect choice to share it. May God bless us all with such courage.