David Kuo was a man full of resounding, confounding joy. As a Christian, David’s joy was grounded not in ignorance of everything that was wrong in the world, but rather in his love of the God who is making everything right. David is now with the one he loves after a decade-long battle with brain cancer. I did not know David for long, but he was the kind of person whose faithfulness was so profound that it impacted people who knew him intimately, and those who just happened to know of him.
I had always felt something of a kinship with David. Like him, I am an evangelical Christian, and I served in the White House faith-based initiative as he did. In the spring of 2012, I asked a mutual friend to connect me with David as I was preparing to lead faith outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. I had read David’s book, “Tempting Faith,” that explored some of the challenges and disappointments he faced working in politics and government. Kuo warned Christians to be careful not to place their hope in the power of government, but instead in the power of God. Yet, in a time when politics has left so many jaded, Kuo’s experiences at the very heart of our nation’s politics did not leave him bitter and cynical. As Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel, Kuo’s treasure was stored not with earthly powers, but in heaven.
David’s passing does not seem sensible in so many ways—he was too young (he was 44), too loving, too generous of spirit. We need more David Kuo’s in this world and yet we lost the one that we had. But if anything makes sense about his passing, it is that he left us in the wake of Easter Sunday, when the hope that defined his life was made possible.
I had the opportunity to email back-and-forth with David over the last year, and he accepted my request for the two of us to meet in-person. I wanted to discuss with him how he dealt with the tension of working in politics and living out his faith. I wanted to just sit and listen and ask questions of this man whose wisdom and faith was so admired. He admitted in his book that he had “learned in my own life, one of the hardest parts of serving God in politics is ensuring that God reigned over politics rather than having politics reign over God.” I wanted to get it right. I know I at least got it more right than I would have without David.
I was quite vulnerable in my initial email to him, and that was the only invitation he needed. I instantly had a friend. He would send me notes of encouragement during the campaign, just to check in. He let me know how much he enjoyed one of the prayers at the Democratic convention. He hardly knew me, and yet he wanted me to know that I wasn’t alone. We tried to make plans to get together, but as the campaign heated up, and his health worsened, it didn’t happen.
In January of this year, after a few miraculous episodes and before another surgery to try to prolong his life, David asked something of his friends on Facebook. He wrote: “Favor? Do something outrageous today—give way more than reasonable to a homeless person, take the family out for an ice cream dinner…And serve only ice cream, call someone you hurt and ask forgiveness, call someone who hurt you and give forgiveness..And send me a pic.”
David’s bold request was spread through his friends on facebook, and later by The Washington Post and Politico’s Playbook among other outlets. Hundreds took David up on his challenge. Graphic artists designed elaborate cards to encourage others; kids across the country were inexplicably taken out for ice cream dinners; a waitress received a $100 tip on waffle and chocolate pie dinners at a Waffle House.
After decades in politics, David’s greatest legacy will be his infectious faithfulness. He shared an appreciation of life’s moments that invited all of us to be more aware of the blessings in our lives. He served others in his weakness, so that many would be inspired to serve others out of their abundance. He served the president of the United States, but he never discounted the power of small acts of kindness and personal expressions of love.
I still hope to sit down and learn from David some day, and I plan on holding him to it. Our faith tells us that death is not the end. The tomb is empty, as we were reminded last week. One day, I will join David where he is today, and we will take part in a great feast. And it would be no surprise to me, or to any of those who loved David, to find him laughing with friends, sitting at that grand banquet table, and smiling as he notices something outrageous—they’re only serving ice cream.
Michael Wear is the Senior Vice President for Strategy and Communications at Values Partnerships. He was a leader in The White House faith initiative during President Obama’s first term. You can follow Michael on twitter @MichaelRWear.