The Danger of Success

Today is a good day to read the paper. My name wasn’t in the obituaries, nor was Pat’s. There wasn’t even anyone I knew. That’s my standard of goodness anymore, and it often isn’t met, because that’s the age I am. That doesn’t mean funerals aren’t on our minds.

In a few minutes, our family will leave for Missoula for the memorial service of Rev. Hugh Herbert. He was one of the giants, in every sense of the word, of the United Methodists in Montana. He was the key figure in convincing our father to move from his job in Nashville as the international youth leader of United Methodism (well, it wasn’t “united” until later) to Montana. Dad spoke at a Methodist youth camp at Luccock Park, south of Livingston. The camp was such fun, and Dad and Hugh hit it off so well, that Hugh was able to convince our father to move us to Montana. Hugh had no authority to offer him the job, but that apparently didn’t stop him from offering and Dad from accepting. Then it was the little matter of working it out with the Bishop and giving notice to the church hierarchy in Nashville.

The Harpers and Herberts were close, because Dad and Hugh usually took their whole families to church camps and Pastors’ School when they were counseling or running the camps. Hugh’s wife, Helen, and our Mom were friends. Helen was one of the world’s kindest and most loving people ever, along with our mother, Dorothy. The Herberts’ second daughter, Peg, was one of my best friends in high school, despite not living in the same town. My brother Hal and David Herbert were pals.

Robbie was the youngest of the four Herbert children, and Nancy was the second youngest of the five Harpers. At a work camp for building the new dining hall at Luccock, adults and high schoolers were reaching the point of putting tar on the roof. Nancy and Robbie were young children, but wanted to do their part. They borrowed a bucket of tar and applied much of it to the inside of the little Dutton chapel, not far from the dining hall.

Their handiwork might have gone unnoticed for much longer, except that they were present when Hugh shouted, “Where is that tar bucket?” The two children were too young to know that their best answer was not “It isn’t in the chapel.” The Harpers and Herberts have been stuck together ever since.

Hugh was a tremendous preacher, powerful and spell-binding. My brother Steve says he has heard tons of graduation speeches in his career as a high school and college student, parent, and professor at Carroll College. The only one he can remember is Hugh Herbert’s address to Rocky Mountain College grads. He talked about the dangers of success.

Hugh told the story of his son David, who was a large child (and would eventually become a giant man like his father). Whenever the family would go to the camp at Luccock Park, David’s two older sisters would hike to Pine Creek Falls. The trail to the spectacular lower falls is one “Forest Service mile” (which is substantially longer than ordinary miles I can attest from experience) with the last part of the hike being a pretty fair uphill climb. David was not able to walk all the way, so he didn ‘t get to go. One time David convinced his dad to take him along. Not too far up the trail, David said he couldn’t walk any farther. Hugh picked the child up on his shoulders and managed to make it all the way up to the falls. As they climbed the last rise and saw the beautiful falls, David shouted from his father’s shoulders, “I made it!”

Hugh said the danger of success is that we think we have made it on our own, when that is never the case.

My father used to talk about the self-made man who worshipped his creator. We can all think of a leader to whom that applies perfectly. There is no use in pointing fingers, because most of us forget all the family, friends, teachers, and sometimes well-timed strangers who play a key role in who we become and what we achieve.

Today at the memorial we will sing great music of the church and the camps and tell Hugh Herbert stories and hug old friends. It will be a fine celebration of a great life, and also a time for us all to give thanks for the man and family who helped make us who we are. Thank you Hugh and all you Herberts.

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Rusty Harper is outrageously happy because he is retired and living with the love of his life, Pat Callbeck Harper in Helena, Montana. So why does he inflict these ramblings on the rest of us, you ask? Because you deserve it. If you aren't smart enough not to read this stuff, then you have to suffer through it. Maybe that builds character, though I doubt it. Think of all the positive things you could do with the time you are wasting on things that occur to me in the night and then sound strange even to me when I write them down in the morning. Bake a cake. Complain to your Senator. Run for Congress. Do something.
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