October 19, 2015
Faith Journey - The Ministry Years #8
Don served three churches in his ministry. Our first church was La Mesa Community Church in Santa Barbara, a small church of 100 members and our home for six years. Our second was the Woodland Hills Community Church in the San Fernando Valley about 75 miles south of Santa Barbara, and finally we left California when Don was called to the First Congregational Church of Bellingham, WA. Both of these churches were larger from about 400 to 600 members. Over the years, I heard hundreds of sermons that certainly had to affect what I believed. As previously mentioned, we three couples who became so close during seminary days also shared in many theological discussions which came from the learning journey the men were taking and the opportunity we women had in participating in their discussions. Perhaps this could be called a "second hand theological education." But, for me, it was the beginning of a more complex theological perspective. If the Occidental College Biblical Literature class took apart any misconceptions I had formed in early years, this experience brought me further along in forming what I actually believed myself based upon all of the former experiences I had around the subject.
I fondly remember the first time I disagreed with a theological point that Don had been making. Since I had so often followed in his footsteps in my beliefs, it was exciting to find myself argue a different stance when his theological credentials were so intimidating. His thirst for knowledge was so broad and eclectic. Don was always interested in a variety of religions. He read widely of people like Edgar Casey who had mystical experiences. He was open to the mysterious and when he was younger, he would drag me to a variety of churches. I was always worried that he would go up for an altar call or start speaking in tongues. I think he was simply fascinated with how people worship and how they experienced God.
If my faith was forming earlier, it certainly coalesced during his ministry. Over the years, I saw his preaching deepen and his beliefs evolve and grow stronger. For instance, I probably heard over 45 of his Easter sermons. I can tell you that every one was different. Some elements might have stayed the same, but each one showed either a birds eye view of one particular element of the story, an alternate way of looking at the same event, or an entirely new perspective. One of the things that I kept me always interested in what he had to say was that he believed in preaching at his own edge, instead of lecturing to those who knew less than he did. Once after an interesting sermon, I happened to mention that I was glad a particular person was in church that morning and could hear what he had to offer. "Did you write that sermon with her in mind?" I was astounded by his annoyance at my question. "You need to listen to sermons to find whatever is meaningful to you. I preach to my own questioning and my own search for meaning. I try to be true to God's Word. I am not attempting to teach or manipulate someone into thinking one way or another." His religious thinking stayed alive and growing for him, and therefore for me.
Speaking more of preaching, people often asked if he "tried out his sermons" on me. The answer was never. He often wrote sermons after having the ideas simmer in his brain for several days. Don took his topics from the lectionary, and knew approximately the themes coming up. He kept files and dropped ideas in over time. When it came to writing the sermon, he rarely did that before Saturday night. And, if he had happened to write it on Monday, chances are that he would write a completely different sermon on Saturday. It was never about him. It was always a search to find where inspiration and faith would take him at the moment of writing. The search for the poetic was also important. He had a literate mind, a poetic heart, and an amazing ability to understand how to craft a sermon that captured the essence of the scripture in a space between 15 and 20 minutes.
I'm sure that a great deal of my theological belief system came from my husband. Even though I occasionally had some differences of opinion, he was such a dynamic preacher and he was truly authentic. He didn't "act the preacher role." He was who he was whether being a father or a minister. He was not a different person in the intimacy of his home than he was at church. The only thing that differed was the necessities of the job. Perhaps that is the first thing that I attribute to him. He had no patience with those who preached one thing and lived another. It was a point on which we both agreed.
Here are some other things that I learned from my husband. I think they are self- explanatory so I will mainly list them. They have definitely nudged their way into my own belief system. And, I can see the roots of many in his family of origin.
The first tenet is simple. I don't believe there was a time, even when agnostic, that Don didn't believe that there is a God. I think that he would say that just because we can't explain everything, doesn't mean there is not meaning behind the universe. That is what faith is all about. God is called by many names in many languages, but there is something behind all that ancient wisdom. And, he chose to call that God. And, that God loves everyone - especially those that others do not love.
Don once said that he was probably Christian because he was born in the Western world. It was part of his culture. But, there are many paths to the ultimate truth in all the ancient religions. People have to choose which path to follow or they get lost (or maybe he would say they "cop out") by not following any. Which might follow that he believed that you must be of service to others as an outgrowth of your belief system.
He believed in forgiveness and practicing forgiveness. God forgives you, forgive yourself and move on. Be understanding of others in their struggles.
Share your wealth - give a tithe to the church. You don't own anything that isn't a gift from God. Be thankful for what you have and share it with those who are not as fortunate. And, part of that belief was the reason you go to church - because you are grateful for what you have already been given. Church may give you solace, but you don't go to receive, you go out of thanks for what you have already received.
And, especially for me, you shouldn't go around complaining or worrying so much. You don't want to put that negativity into the universe. Your glass is half full, not half empty. Share the good news with others.
And then, finally, after observing him to the very end, you don't have to be afraid to die.
Another Long Recess
It's been two months since I wrote on this blog. I guess I haven't had much to say. I have been struggling with my Faith Journey stuff and have actually transformed my interest in it. I will soon post the next section which is almost finished, but I've decided to take the whole Faith Journey material and think in a larger sense about a memoir. That's my writing self thinking differently -- but there are so many little funny stories that are not really part of the faith journey, but make a more interesting and less dry journey, that I thought I would try my hand at it. At the moment this is just musings, but we'll see which direction I take. Since I have already written my next section, however, I will post it as is. This is for Larry who reminds me that it has been a long time.
I've been thinking about habits lately. After a rather busy summer which ended by my usual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for almost a week of plays, I came home and was rather a couch potato. Gone was the walking, I didn't go to the gym, and I ignored my usual trek to Weight Watchers. I have put off some phone calls that I promised myself to make, and some household things that need attention. The past three weeks I have hosted house painters that transformed 1/2 of my old several-storied house -- and now they are unsticking windows and finishing touches on areas they missed. I'll have the second half done in the spring.
Fall brings lots of things that seem to click back in place. My housemate, Katie, has returned to teach voice for three days a week at the University. My calendar is a bit freer. My grandson, James, is back at college and his cousin, Nicole, is a freshman at University of Puget Sound. Nico is back in school and Lionel has started kindergarten. And, last week I either walked daily or went to the gym -- now if I can get back to Weight Watchers, I will have restored my habits -- as long as I keep them going which is not always easy in the dreary weather. However, I felt more on track last week, and that feeling is good as if more is right with the world.
Dani and Charles are busy with their academic editing business and Charles is teaching a class on Buddhism at Western. Ron and Jeni are busy working (Ron is currently in London for business). Jeni has started Craswell Consulting which engages in nonprofit organizational management. Christine and Martin are presently up to their ears in new projects. Christine continues her freelance art work. Martin has just published his first novel which he financed through a successful Kickstarter campaign and he and a friend have launched Seattle Review of Books which, at the present time, is an online journal. This is on top of his day job as a web designer for NBC Breaking News. This has definitely been his banner year.
So, this is it for now. Happy Halloween!