A great friend of ours died this week. When I say Fred Ulbricht was a great friend, what I mean is that he was great, and we were his friends. Fred received a new set of lungs in a transplant in 2009, after falling ill with a degenerative lung disease. He’d been doing pretty well since then, but became unwell again recently, and passed away in a hospice early this week. He leaves behind a beautiful wife and six grown children, all of whom are some of the most amazing human beings you’re ever likely to meet.
They’ve had their share of tragedy, the Ulbricht family, and a lot of it has happened this year. Earlier in the year, their son Mark and his wife Jac lost their young daughter Indigo to brain cancer. She died suddenly, tragically before anything could be done. Then just weeks ago, Fred’s brother passed away after a long illness. Too many tears, too much sadness. Yet the dignity this family has shown is inspiring.
We have a lot of wonderful memories of Fred. He was an elder, and then a pastor, in our church when Ben and I were young parents ourselves. I remember there was talk at one stage that Fred and his wife Narelle would be going to London to plant a church, and Ben and I were invited to come and help them. I’d be the worship leader. It never happened, but I reckon it would have been a complete hoot if it had.
Freds final years were spent unlearning many of the things he’d learned about church, Christianity and pastoring for the thirty or so years prior to his transplant. We lost contact for a long time, and got back in touch around the time Ben and I reconciled and had started to rethink our faith as well. Fred was a militant revolutionary for change in the church in this country, and his reach did not stop here. Fred began to be known amongst progressive and emergent church circles across the globe as not just a leading thinker, but also a true pastor – someone who loved to lead people, and lead purely in order to love people better, to show them God’s love, to reveal His true nature and help them shed the shackles of religion and churchianity. I loved Fred’s guts, and he loved mine – he told me so.
I didn’t actually write this as a tribute to Fred, because I just don’t now how to even begin to do that. I wrote it to just tell people who Fred was to me, and what I promised him I’d do. I promised Fred I would continue to do what he did, to pursue this love revolution he so passionately believed in. And also to remind people that time is short. There is no time left to mess around. This is it, people. Get to it, and get busy. Those people around you now are the people God has given you to. Don’t keep looking out there, back there, over there for your purpose. It’s here and it’s now.
Fred loved people because God loved him. He knew what he knew about God’s love and grace was what people really needed to know. And I agree. It’s time to cut through the crap. Your family? Love them. Your friends? Love them, now. The people you don’t agree with? Love, love, love them. Without holding back, without puling away. Stay in peoples faces. There is no later. There is only now.
Oh my God, Fred, you were so right. You were so right.
If I’d realised for the past thirty years what I know now, I’d have been doing and saying what I’m doing and saying now a long time ago. Stop with the stupid, trivial shit. Stop hiding, pretending and trying to make people think you’re okay. Stop holding things up between you and your neighbour and saying “God said I have to hold this up between us.” Stop telling people God hates them because they do this, that and the other thing. Stop believing God hates you because you do this, that and the other thing.Time is short. Only love matters. Although I can’t believe I just wrote it, I actually really, really mean that.
It has been said that the glory of God is man fully alive. I knew Fred Ulbricht – I have seen the glory of God.