Rockin' the Paradise
The thing about blogs, is that they are incredibly, or at least can be incredibly, self-indulgant. That's the idea really... a writer's undistilled thoughts on display for all the world (or at least the 35 people with nothing better else to do) to do.
Well, we're going to take this "self-indulgent" thing to new heights, or depths, by sharing with you a bit of project I'm engaged in for my "dissertation class" scheduled for next week. For those of you who don't know what a "dissertation class" is, it's a class that gives you the basics for what you need to do in order to write a doctoral dissertation that actually adds to the academic world's body of knowledge. Thus, you spend a little time learning how to properly research (which kinda blows my plans, because I figured I'd just make all my stats up and lead people to some ficticious web site like www.ministrystatistics.edu... apparently I'll have to do real work instead), organize data, and make sure that what you want to write on is something that the world needs.
Well, as a part of the prep for the class, I have to list my "LifeGates" which are moments in time where something happens and my life turns in a new direction. The direction can be toward, or away from God, but it must cause a "turn", thus something significant (Xavier or Elijah's Birth) might not be a LifeGate because another event (Max's Birth) already called me to make changes in priorities, right or wrong, in my life. Thus, a gaze into some LifeGates...
- My Birth: Pretty important if you really think about it. I was there, but don't remember much about it.
- Family Moves from Columbus to West Virginia: I was three at the time, so I didn't have much say in the process. Of course, it would only be out of necessity that a person would move from Football Mecca to anywhere else, and that was the case as this was Dad's first real job out of college. The great part of the move though was in the people, and quality of life we found in West Virginia. It wasn't nirvana, but the people there definitely have a different world-view than most folks in the Midwest, which has impacted my life.
- Family Attends Trinity UMC in Charleston WV: This is significant on a number of levels. First and foremost, since Mom and Dad didn't know anyone in WV when they did this, it provided our family with a social life. In very short time, my parents were deeply involved in the church in a number of capacities: Sunday School, church league sports, choir, worship, volunteer youth directors... you name it. With no family close by, that church became the center of our lives.
On a more personal level, this was the place where, really, I was introduced to Jesus, Christianity, and the Church. We were at Trinity so much, that it's impossible for me to separate the three (which is probably why, too, I'm generally biased against para-church organizations and independent ministries). That it was such a central focus for me at such a young age could not have been any more influential in the life-choices I made. As a comparison, by the time my brother was born, we were living in Lima, and while we were active there at our second Trinity, it was by far not nearly as central in our lives. We were only at church or a related-event, for the most part, one day week, as opposed to two, or three, or more. Thus, Andy and I (there are 12 years between us, and no siblings in-between) have far different memories growing up when it comes to the church, and as a result, I think I feel more comfortable there than he does (not that he doesn't like church, but he couldn't practically live at one like I do).
- We Move From Charleston to Lima (age 10): I know that my parents have made much over how this move effected me, particularly my self-confidence. While now I consider Lima home, and have no desire to live anywhere else, at the time, the loss of friends and home were personally very difficult. That it was possible for all of that to just disappear the way it did probably made me more wary of others, and less sure of myself. Now, I wouldn't trade the move for the world, but then, it was hard.
- Talking to My Uncle Jack About the Reality of Drugs (age 12): Pretty much, my hero when I was little was my Uncle Jack. Until age 10, I only ever saw him at major holidays and on family vacations, and he pretty much bent over backwards to make my visit with him as fun as possible while we were together. What was not to like? By the time I was 12, however, Jack knew that my view of him was incomplete, and thus, at his expense, he flew me out to Wichita, Kansas, where he was living at the time, and on New Years Eve, on our way to the arcade, told me about the life he had been living. I won't go into great detail, but the gist of the conversation had to do with how devistating drugs had been to him, and his friends, and his earnest desire that I leave them alone as I approached adolescence. Strangely enough, the talk seemed to hit a chord, and as a result, while pot and coke became real problems for many of my friends in Junior and Senior High (ultimately killing a few of them, actually), I left that stuff alone. Truly one of the most grace-filled and inspiring moments in my life.... my uncle sacrificing what he had so that I could hopefully avoid his pain.
- Kissing Some Girl At Some Dance at West JHS (age 13): Until that point, I was more concerned with basketball and football than anything else. Now, I actually called a girl on a phone... worried how I looked at school (had to buy an Izod shirt and a pair of Calvins to look good)... and generally wondered how I was perceived by members of the opposite sex. Funny thing is that it took a couple of days to remember this, but once I did, all those feelings of a clumsy, fearful teenage boy came rushing back.
- Accepting Jesus at Church Camp (age 14... I think): I can still remember the alter call, given by a UM-evangelist (do we still have any of those?) named Rick Bonfim, a Brazillian emigre' who wooed us with the love of God. In other words, he didn't scare us into making a commitment by convincing us we were going to hell unless we "signed on the bottom line". Instead, his call came out of a desire for us to be at peace with God. I still remember the high of that event, and the promises I made to God that day... a couple of them, I even kept. The important thing about this, however, was that my love for Christ was not born out of fear of things like the devil and hell, and thus, in my walk I have never given much creedence to that kind of "turn or burn" theology. My spiritual life has really been distinguished more by what I was looking for, as opposed to what I was trying to avoid.
- Ed Fox's Death (age 18): Ed, a kid in our class, died in a car accident our Senior year. That summer, Ed had not been allowed to drive because of his grades, and actually, the day he died was the first day he had gotten his car keys back, per his parents being pleased with his first quarter grades. That summer, because Ed couldn't drive, I spent more time with him than I ever had before. We hit the drive-in movies a few times, spent a fair amount of time swimming in his family's pool, and generally hung out. So his death hit me like a ton of bricks.
Now, I'd had experienced death before. My great-grandfather, who was absolutely my favorite person in the world, died when I was seven. But the memory of that really, at this point, is just kind of hazy. Ed's death was real. My friend Darren helped carry his coffin. His mom bawled in the front row of the funeral service. One day he was sitting next to me in choir (he had one of the most beautiful, and versitile voices I've ever sung with) or in our LSHS Barbershop Quartet one day, and the next he was just gone.
This was really the first negative turning point in this whole journey. For the first time, my buddies and I, who all knew and loved Ed, started drinking on the weekends. My worldview became more hedonistic (eat, drink for tomorrow we die), and darker toward God (who I blaimed, as opposed to that deathtrap of a VW Beetle, for Ed's death).
- Religion 101: Intro to Christianity and Judiasm @ Miami University (age 19): I took this class as a freshman, thinking it would be an easy "A". Instead I listened to an Athiest professor tear apart religion in pretty much all forms, and watched a GA lay to waste the weak arguments of some Campus Crusade Jesusfreak in one of our breakout session by asking him the question: "If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock so large that even He can't lift it?". Couple this with an intense interest in going out on Saturday night, and sleeping in Sunday morning, and you could say I was doing some serious backsliding.
- The Passing of My Grandfather (age 20): This is signficant for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, because I was traveling home pretty much every weekend the first semester of my sophomore year to help with his care, during my free-time in Lima, I reconnected with Aimee. We had dated briefly my Senior year of high school, but given that she was two years younger, and me not really wanting a long-distance relationship, I broke up with her shortly after graduation. Aimee always worked to stay in my orbit (she, as an example, watched my brother during the day at the pool the summer after my freshman year, largely to see me every day... that looks kind of conceited on paper doesn't it), and thus, she was willing to spend the time when I was making those treks back home. That is where I fell in love with her.
The other significant part of this was that my grandfather, who was not a particularly religious man, began to grow afraid about what would happen to him when he died. One of the reasons I came home so often was to take him to church with me so that he could meet our pastor, who was about the same age and, like grandpa, loved to fish. It was in that environment that I saw him reach a measure of peace about his life. I really do think, to this day, that he agreed to be baptized more because it made his twin sister and brother feel better, but in that experience, I watched what a good pastor (Robert Quick) could do to help a person meet the end with dignity and grace.
OK.... that's enough for now. I'll do "part two" later.