I have a vivid memory from my teenage years: my father flat on the living room couch, face up, reading a book, and chuckling every thirty seconds or so. It was perhaps the most genuine laughter I have ever heard–small, quiet, irresistible chuckles of joy, rolling off the couch one after another. I finally asked my dad what was so funny. I'll never forget the substance and style of his response. Pointing to his book, and not turning his head toward me even an inch, lest his eyes stray from the page for a moment: "This guy is great." The book? Robert Farrar Capons's Parables of Grace.
Years later, well after graduating from college, I saw the book on the shelf, and asked my dad if I could borrow the tome. Like father, like son: I laughed and laughed as I devoured Capon's treatment of the parables of Jesus. This was commentary unlike any other I had ever encountered. Here was a man, this Capon, who knew Jesus unlike anyone else I knew. Not a fabricated Jesus of Capon's own making, but a Jesus found in the text. One that had lay hidden to me for too many years as I too superficially and un-playfully read the Gospel accounts, and as I heard the parables too often too soberly preached from the pulpit.
Robert Farrar Capon. Died September 5, 2013. Age 88.
Died. Capon would want it described this way. Not "passed away." Not "departed." Not "went to be with the Lord." He died. Dead. Dead. Dead.
Many who will write tributes to the pastor, chef, and author, will undoubtedly call attention first and foremost to Capon's delightful book, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Christianity Today has already commented that Capon was "most notably" known for this work, a theological thought-tickler presented as a lamb recipe for eight, served four times. This focus is understandable, as the book is a truly unique treasure. I love the chapter in which Capon skewers the cocktail party; I think it the book's climatic moment. To Capon, the cocktail party provides the host with an excuse to not be a host, flitting about here and there, never taking responsibility for the conversation among his guests. (Hmm … in this sense, I suppose all of today's so-called "social media" is really just one big cocktail party!) Capon used the cocktail party as a foil to advance his case for the dinner party as the ideal social form of entertaining–for amusing ourselves delightfully to death. I've put his advice into practice. First, I helped stage a sizeable two-day business event in which every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) was held at rectangular tables-of-eight for conversations-of-eight. (Hotel "banquet rounds" for ten inherently kill whole-table conversation.) And at home, my wife and I now sit as hosts in the middle of the long side of the dining room table when having three other couples over for dinner–that is, we're not seated at either end, as had previously been our custom.
While Supper is Capon's best known work, I would like, to call attention to two of his others. First, his Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. It's the book that combines Capon's three volumes, The Parables of the Kingdom, The Parables of Grace, and The Parables of Judgment in one binding. It's the most marked-up book in my entire library–highlighted in yellow, blue, and then pink; lined with black, blue and red ink–representing at least six readings through the masterpiece.