I don’t remember whose idea it was to go bowling after an evening Leadership Council meeting, but it sounded like a good idea to me. Not that I am an even remotely adequate bowler. Actually, I am about as good a bowler as I am a golfer, with my average score bordering on pathetic at around 100 in both sports.
Surprisingly, I was out of my mind the first game, making strikes and spares like I had been born with a ball in my hand. It was as if my bowling ball had a mind of its own. My partner, bishop Ken Letner, and I won the first game handily. There was a lot of good-natured trash-talking going on, with a perfect marriage of godly laughter and manly competition.
Bishops Rob Patterson and Brian Bell came back to take the second game, but not by much. More taunting and laughter followed us into a final tie-breaker of the World Bishops Bowling Championship. The final game was nip and tuck, and I was sure my arm was about to fall off. In the end, it was Brian and Rob who triumphed as Brian won the tournament in the final frame.
I had no way of knowing that this would be my last get-together with Ken before he would be diagnosed with the brain cancer that would eventually take his life. I smile now at the photo of that evening and am more convinced than ever of the importance of embracing life while at the same time working tirelessly for the kingdom of God.
What I appreciated most about Ken was the balance he struck between working passionately for the Church and Christ and bringing joy and laughter to every task and relationship. Ken was equally at ease discussing difficult issues around a table of Church leaders as he was enjoying the fullness of life in an activity as seemingly trivial as a night of bowling with a bunch of bishops.
Ken personified what I would call a stewardship of life—the wonderful balance of taking the work of Christ seriously, while fully enjoying the simple blessings of life given by God. One of my favorite Old Testament books, Ecclesiastes, affirms this positive approach to life, declaring that “it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him….He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart” (5:18, 20).
A stewardship of life marked by gladness of heart is part of the legacy that Ken Letner has left behind. It’s a call to be diligent, faithful, and joyful in life, and then to embrace the transition to Eternity with grace and dignity when God calls us home. It’s a call to live life well, all the way through the final frame.