Joey Jeter – Requiem Aeternam

Posted: August 19, 2019 in Uncategorized

Once during my seminary career I attended a worship service and a guy named Joey Jeter was preaching. I didn’t really know him. Others did, but being from a different part of the country, I was generally clueless. Here was a young man fresh from the Peace Corps heading off to do his doctoral work. What I did notice, in addition to the fact that at that time he wore bangs down his forehead cut straight across? Even today I remember that he preached from Psalm 25: “In you, O Lord, we put our trust. Do not let us be put to shame.” Where Joey took us was precisely to the places in our national life where we would indeed feel the shame most. And he kept asking, again and again, “Do not let us be put to shame?” It was a powerful moment for hope to rise up out of those particular ashes. It still is. Before we knew it he was heading to Brite Divinity school to become the professor of Homiletics.

There are too many stories about Joey to remember them all. We could tell of surprise appearances in General Assemblies, provocative sermon series from which everyone borrowed, students who benefited from his unusual patience, and most of us  who weren’t worthy to untie this homiletical sandals.

Then there was his compassion, his loyalty. He shared concern for his friends who passed through hard times. He bled for preachers who were routinely and often unfairly beaten up by congregations. I know Joey was of personal help to me with one aspect of my doctoral work. He once reached out to me at just the right moment when I really needed some support. You can add to all this with hundreds of other examples.

But what I really want to share is a story, one story only.

Some years ago I was attending a conference in Santa Fe and Joey was the presenter. He was addressing generational shifts and  uniqueness. And during one of our free afternoons Joey and some of his friends determined that we would make the relatively short trek down to the old town, Madrid, New Mexico.

In its heyday, Madrid was a mining town. But later, long after the mines had played out and the place turned into a ghost town, it was taken over by a band of hippie artists who transformed Madrid into a center for the arts. It thrived. What a great place to go for an outing, down to Madrid. So we piled into our cars and headed out across the high desert.

Just as we were pulling into Madrid we spied a huge banner that stretched all the way across the main street, from one side to the other:

Madrid Chile Festival

Now really, how good can it get? Imagine: We decide on the fly just to drive to Madrid for an ordinary drop in visit, and what’s happening? A Chile Festival. The Tex-Mex gods were smiling on us. The whole decorated town was ready for guests. Joey waxed eloquently about the synchronicity of the whole thing: Sometimes you just decide to go somewhere and there’s more waiting than you expected.

I was driving and as I turned into what appeared to be the first parking lot on the right, I rolled down my window and the attendant greeted me. He was fairly gruff but I smiled and asked if this was the right place to park. He asked, “Are you with the cast?” I said no, that I didn’t know anything about a cast. What cast? And he, somewhat perturbed, answered, “The cast of the movie. If you’re not in the cast you have to park on down there,” gesturing to several streets over.

The reason that he asked if we were part of the cast is because we had stumbled onto a movie set. The Chile Festival was part of the set for a movie. Everything was made to look like a real town – the storefronts, imaginary Post Office, Saloon, shops. But what movie? Madrid, New Mexico, had just been transformed into the set of the movie Wild Hogs.

Actors like John Travolta, William Macy, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, Ray Liotta, and Peter Fonda roamed the streets. We were given strict instructions not to talk to the actors. Since everything was shut down for filming there were only a few real shops open. One of those was the saloon, which actually was a real functioning bar behind the saloon facade and it was open for business. At that, Joey made an announcement that held the ring of absolute certainty and gravitas: “In times like these there is only one thing to do, one thing to make the best of a situation just like this. To the saloon!”

We were persuaded. We had never heard truer words. And so we spent much of the imaginary Chile Festival of Wild Hogs in the town saloon. And I hear Madrid has never been quite the same.

Thanks, Joey. Not just for that. But for the thousand, unmentioned, half-remembered things that were for you simply, gracefully, all in a day’s work.

  1. Mary Catherine Monrie says:

    Thanks, Tim, for your remembrances. All of us who knew Joey celebrate his life and mourn his passing.
    I was lucky to sit by Joey in my first philosophy class at TCU and share my college years with him in the Student Congregation at UCC. He was always our conscience, calling us to be and do better. He truly was “one in a million.”
    Mary Catherine.

  2. Teresa Murphy-Stowers says:

    These are great memories and personal insights I would not have known since I did not know Joey Jeter personally. I knew him from his sermons, eulogies, and lessons presented at UCC. For me, his presentations were always jaw-droppers. I’m so sad to hear of his passing. Love the story about Madrid.–Teresa Murphy-Stowers

  3. Lyn Willis says:

    Thank you so much for this gracious remembrance about Joey. I remember him from my TCU days and he was a rock star even then. I am saddened at the huge loss his death creates.

  4. Susan Mix says:

    Tim, Mary Catherine sent me this. The stories are wonderful. I knew Joey primarily as one of “our kids” when Rex was Director of Youth Work for the Texas Disciples. We were always so proud of him and all he was and accomplished. Thank you for the memories.

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