Monday, January 14, 2008

The Calculus of Worthiness

Mike Cave
(December 29, 1947 – January 13, 2008)

"If you don't understand what he's saying to you, the worst thing you can do is just say 'Yes' or 'OK.'" And with those instructions, I, the new pastor at FBC Farmersville, embarked upon my relationship with Mike Cave in 1999. Mike was born with Down Syndrome. The doctors told his father and mother that Mike wouldn't live to celebrate his tenth birthday. He outlived them both (and the doctor, to boot).

Upon my arrival in Farmersville, I found that Mike loved to come to church (although he wasn't nearly as fond of the getting-up-in-the-morning that coming to church required). He loved to sing. Mike sang with gusto. The notes weren't quite right. The words weren't quite right. Mike only knew fortissimo. But the spirit of his worship was spot on.

During the Sunday School hour, Mike stayed in the office with the pastoral staff and the Sunday School records staff. Mike loved to receive a present. It didn't have to be much, but Mike did have his favorite categories: hats, books, and wrestling. Mike couldn't read, so the book could be anything, really. I would save junk mail and catalogs throughout the week to give to Mike on Sundays. If I really scored with a particular gift, Mike would reward me with a handwritten thank you note—a Post-It adorned with lines of Arabicesque scrawl.

Mike had his own langauge—his own names for people, his own system of verbs and nouns and adjectives. By the time we encountered one another, Mike's parents were gone. He lived with his brother David ("Galla") and his sister-in-law Billie ("Burl"). Every week he would come into the office and look for the key (a key ring to open the deposit bag for the offering). As the time drew near for the second service (Mike didn't favor the first service, but Billie did, so that's when Mike attended), Mike would stroll into my office with his finger tapping his raised watch-wrist. Mike didn't want me to be late.

Even if he had his own system of gestures and syllables, Mike perfectly understood everything that I said. That's the reason for the injunction against issuing agnostic yes-es to Mike. David had been burning brush once when Mike issued some unknown utterance. David gave a simple, "Sounds good to me," and then went back to get some more brush. When he returned, he found Mike holding a burning brand by the cool end, setting a large swath of grass on fire. David had approved it, so it must have been OK!

This was our weekly routine. Mike did the same thing, whether it was just me in the office or I was hosting the Sultan of Brunei. A closed office door communicated absolutely nothing to Mike. After all, he knew how to operate a doorknob.

Mike gave big hugs and big smiles. After a recent foot surgery, I went to see Mike in the Rehab Hospital. In my hand, I carried a magazine and a big white fishing hat. The magazine didn't go over so well, but the hat was a hit. I got a vigorous, whiskery hug for that one. The next time I returned to visit him, I saw that hat tooling down the hall just above the back of a wheelchair. It was a good hat for Mike, who loved to fish anyway.

I'm glad that Mike was born in 1947, back when people like Mike still had a chance to be born. Today, Mike's chances of ever seeing the light of day would be less than one in ten (see research here and commentary on the phenomenon in general here). In 1973 we handed over the law to people who have concluded with great certitude that they have mastered the complex calculus of worthiness—that they know which lives are worth living and which are not. Lives like Mike's, it seems, just don't make the cut, and so they get the scalpel.

Last night I stood by his bedside in ICU. "Mike, God loves you, your church loves you…I love you," was about all I could choke out, and then I wept a little. Later, we had prayer. At around 7:00 last night, Mike went home. David said, "I'm surely a much better person because of him." There's a variable they don't consider when figuring out who's life is worth living.

Thursday afternoon, our sanctuary will be full for Mike's funeral—I promise you. I wonder if there is a single rationalization or slogan from the pro-death crowd that would sound anything less than obscene at that gathering. I doubt it. If the number of people touched, inspired, humanized, or befriended by Mike Cave is any good measure, then his sixty years have turned out to be quite valuable. I'm glad he lived. I'm glad I knew him. I'm glad he's home. I'll be glad to see him someday soon.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bart. This is a great reminder as we approach Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

J. Guy Muse said...

This post won't get as many comments as some of your others, but it is certainly worth reading and a pause to reflect upon the importance of people above all the issues we get so wound up about. Thanks for a good post.

Chris Johnson said...

Thank God for the truth of His Word...for Mr. Cave and us all.

John 10:14-18 "I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, (15) even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (16) "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (17) "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. (18) "No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."

Thanks Bart for this sobering and powerful testimony of life!


Kerri said...

powerful! thanks for posting this

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you could be there with him and be his pastor. What a blessing such people are and what a lesson from God.
1 Corinthians 1:27
Thanks for the reminder.

Luke said...

What kws said. Thank you Bart.

Anonymous said...

Brother Bart,

Life is beautiful. It was an honor to read this post. Thank you for sharing.

His grace be with you,
From the Middle East

Writer said...

Magnificent! Simply magnificent.


SelahV said...

Bart, my heart is so blessed with this wonderful message of love. I have a dear friend who cares for her adult daughter with Downes. She is a wonderful blessing to me. We have crossed a threshold in humanity that exemplifies the pure selfishness of mankind.

Your description of Mike makes me want to hug his neck. Your love for him is evident in your description. How privileged we are to see the best of humanity in what some would destroy as the worst of humanity. Thank you for sharing this. I'm sure it was not easy. selahV

Anonymous said...

The best thing is that his words in song, though earthly ears might not understand them, are now part of the chorus praising the risen Christ in heaven.

volfan007 said...

all the mike cave's of this world are special, and they add spice to life. they give the rest of us "normal" people a lot to think what's really important in life.

thanks, bart.


Anonymous said...

As the Mom of two very special boys who have DS, I appreciate this message. My SBC pastor/husband might like to share this for Sanctity of Life Sunday if that is OK. When only 1 out of 10 chidren with a prenatal dx of ds make it to birth, our society has gotten their idea of the value of life all out of whack!

FBC said...

This is moving and needs to be disseminated widely. Thanks for a great post.

CB Scott said...


For posting this story your peers will call you blessed.......or at least they should.

Oh, yeah, lest I forget, as for Mike; he is now with his peers,the pure in heart.

Thank you for this good story.


Anonymous said...

Dear Bart,

This is one of the most moving things I have read in a long time. Thank you for your timely reminder to all of us that only God has the wisdom (or authority) to determine the worth of a life. In our arrogance, we have dared to attempt to usurp God's life-giving prerogative.

I serve in a place where the authorities have decided that issues of faith, freedom, and even life and death are their prerogative. Just this past weekend, I attended a memorial service in a remote village for a hero of the faith who was martyred because he refused to practice his faith in the "prescribed" manner. I stood in amazement and watched as several hundred believers listened to a choir sing through tears as they remembered this man's sacrifice for his (and their) faith. Later, I visited his graveside and saw how much his village still loves this man who gave his life rather that obey the prerogatives of others.

In this part of the world life is cheap. It is also hard due to extreme poverty, lack of medicine and adequate shelter, and constant harassment from those who either hate God or declare that He doesn't exist. Many in the West would even say it is a life not worth living. Thankfully, that is not their prerogative to decide.

This weekend I saw evidence of a life that was lived-out in poverty, hardship, and extreme religious oppression. It was a life that was ultimately ended by the trigger-finger of someone who thought it his prerogative to snuff out a "worthless life".

But in spite of the prerogatives of evil men, this martyr lived a life of supreme worth and dignity. just like your friend Mike.

Thank you for sharing Mike's story.


Bro. Matt said...


Thank you for such a wonderful post. It really reminds all of us how precious ALL of God's children are to Him. May God bless you and your church as you go through this time of mourning and yet rejoicing as Mike is now in the presence of his Savior.

Billy Edwards said...

Dr. Bart,
Great post. I wish I knew him. I also wish that this was more characteristic of me - and the SBC - than what we see. God help us remember what is important.

Ron Phillips, Sr. said...


This is a must read for every believer. What an amazing testimony and witness for Christ.

Ron P.

volfan007 said...


i read this post to my church this morning. there were some wet eyes and many sniffles heard. i believe that the message was loud and clear.

see, now you're influencing people in tn. :)


The Rev said...

Thanks for this post - I've been a reader for a while but never posted a comment but I wanted to say thanks for the powerful testimony of your love for your brother in Christ!