I met Brother Blair on a cold, snowy mid-January day in 1978 at a mutual friend’s house in upstate New York. Although the story with all the details is too long to tell now, it was a visit that changed my life for the good, forever. Seemingly, it happened by chance, but in reality, it happened because God’s love directed Brother Blair’s entire life. In that first visit, I remember doing most of the talking as Brother Blair graciously listened. He was easy to talk to, and we didn’t speak about insignificant stuff. He invited me to come and visit them during that short encounter, so I’ve been here ever since!
My mom, who was somewhat distraught over my belief that Jesus was the Messiah, mainly because I am Jewish, described that meeting in a poem she later wrote for my 50th birthday:
“Then miracle of miracles, you met Blair,
Wonderful people and love everywhere.”
My mom came to love Brother Blair deeply, as did he, my mom.
Over the years, there have been so many small and unseen ways that Brother Blair showed his love and care. He made you feel special, not in the sense that you were better or superior to others but in the fact that you were uniquely made by God, and therefore what you had to give for the well-being of others was of great worth if given with kindness and in humility. He always stressed that “love is its own reward.” From his kind smile to his wonderful sense of humor, he inspired you to be all that God created you to be, to live a life of love. His acts of kindness and words of grace met needs in your life that many times you didn’t even know you had.
My name is Gary, but Brother Blair called me Gabi. He had different names for many of us. Gabi is short for Gabriel, my Hebrew name. When he greeted me by saying, “Gabi,” he spoke it with a deep feeling of endearment. You may think it insignificant, but to me, it expressed his love and care. He made you feel like your life mattered. That was Brother Blair. That’s who he was. There was no fanfare or pretense. If you knew him, you would know this is no exaggeration.
Over the last months, as Brother Blair’s health declined, I started looking at the word Chesed that he so often ministered to us about and wrote a book about, because he realized it was the building block upon which marriage, families and communities were formed. As I read these definitions of Chesed, they described to me the life that Brother Blair lived. Chesed, which occurs 248 times in the Old Testament, is translated most often as mercy and kindness. Chesed is defined as a sustained, consistent act of charity done in advance or in anticipation of a situation occurring. It is performed no matter our mood, no matter how much else is going on. It is proactive. Chesed never gives us a day off. It is a sustained, consistent reaching, giving to those in need, not an act but a way of life. Chesed realizes what the overarching need is and finds the means and actions to meet that demand.
Walther Eichrodt defines Chesed as “the brotherly comradeship and loyalty which one party to a covenant must render to another.” “It is therefore marked by mutuality, friendship, fraternity, loyalty and love.” Chesed is “more appropriately understood as a trust that is characterized by overflowing and lack of boundaries. One significant outgrowth of this kindness is that Chesed causes a person to want to unabashedly share with others, breaking his own limits of selfishness.”
Chesed is what inspired and empowered Brother Blair’s life. He broke all boundaries of selfishness and laid down his life for us. He taught us through his life what it truly means to be a Christian, giving no thought for himself but rather always considering the needs of others. I believe that’s why he made the Chesed banner the most prominent banner in our sanctuary, to be a constant reminder of the centrality of Chesed in a Christian’s life. That love will never fail.
One last definition that I found for Chesed is “genuine friendship.” The definition of “genuine” is: free from hypocrisy or pretense; sincere, authentic. That was Brother Blair! He was a genuine friend, a friend who stuck closer than a brother; we will miss him.