Monday, October 24, 2005

In tenth grade, when I moved to Morningside High School, I heard that their claim to fame was Vickie Lawrence. She was a student there when she went to the Carol Burnett Show and was first “discovered”. She was chosen out of the audience to come up and show Carol how much they looked alike. My high school had some very talented people as teachers. Mr. Fontana, our choral conductor, went on to conduct the choirs and orchestra for years at Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. Mr. LaCerte, the drama teacher, knew lots of people in Hollywood, and recruited Bill Bixby one year to host our drama awards show.

Mr. Belasco was also the mayor of Hermosa Beach while he was teaching my Humanities class. Mr. Belasco was a wild-eyed radical, and he encouraged me to do some risky thinking. I had just finished reading a book I had loved, called The Strawberry Statement, by a college protest leader at Columbia named James Simon Kunen. (This was another book I found in Matt’s room.) Kunen inspired one of the projects I did for Mr. Belasco’s class, a how-to paper outlining the organization of a protest on a college campus. Mr. Belasco also had us read the book of Job from the Bible and discuss it together. I was able to insert some comments about Archibald MacLeish and his play J.B., and that was fun for me. His class is also where I first read Thoreau.

Mr. Belasco made me feel that he was interested in my thoughts and feelings, so much so that I sent a journal I had made home for him and his wife to look at. I called them “bookies” and they were not exactly journals, but rather collections of quotes and poems song lyrics and pictures that meant something to me. I think I was wishing for some adults to affirm my aesthetic sensibilities, and I had long since learned not to ask my parents for appreciation. Mrs. Belasco, God bless her, wrote me the most kindhearted note in response.

Mr. Fontana, the choral conductor, was a gifted man who loved to develop the talents of kids he discovered in his classes. In tenth grade I was in Mr. Fontana’s Girls’ Glee Club. I didn’t “make it” into the Choir until the following year. For the spring concert, we all had to have long pastel dresses, so Momma found a dressmaker and we bought some magenta fabric, kind of crinkled and stretchy. I liked the dress, with its square neckline, not too dweeby. When I went to my room that night, there was a note from my dad on the bed. It said, “You were prettier tonight than you’ve been since you were five.” I really hope he meant that as a compliment, but it hurt. It felt like he was saying, “I haven’t enjoyed looking at you since you were five.” A kindness that cut.

Momma and I went to fabric stores and dressmakers perhaps more often than the average family because we both shared a hope that if a dress was made for me, it would look better on me. It didn’t actually work that way. I think in retrospect it was more how I felt about myself that was making it hard to look nice. How could I look good when I felt so ugly? The word that seemed to sum up how I thought Momma saw me was “disgusting.”

She never wanted to spend much on my clothes. I knew that Helen did on her girls’, and at the time that made me feel “less than,” less important, less worthy of time and attention. As an adult, it’s easy to understand that the Young family was an advertisement for “the school”, as they always referred to it. They were fundraisers, and had to be ever conscious of appearance. They did their shopping at The Broadway and at May Company, and the price of $20 sticks in my head as what most of the Young girls’ dresses cost. Our family had less income, and we had no need to present a certain image. My mother was appalled at the idea of spending $20 on a dress for me. Since I didn’t see these other factors at the time, in my mind it was about me not being worthy.

One morning getting ready for school, I ran into their bedroom to ask Momma about whether I should wear a particular outfit, and in frustration she snapped, “I don’t care what you wear.” Unfortunately, I did not take this as a momentary mood or frustration at someone or something else. I took it very personally, because it fit with all the other feelings I had about the unpleasantness of shopping for me, dealing with me. From that little moment, I took away a feeling that stayed with me for years, that it didn’t really matter to anybody what I wore or how I looked. This was tough to overcome.

Another factor that made clothes shopping more difficult was Daddy’s rule, “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” He believed it was unseemly to dress in bright colors or any style that was unusual enough to stand out. Combined with my mother’s constant suggestions of clothes that I thought would make me look like an old lady, this served to make shopping even more unpleasant for both of us. Add to this that the late ‘Sixties were the heyday of blue jeans, and my parents were opposed to them, so I had none.

After Daddy died, my mom shared two quotes with me that made me sad. She told me that Daddy had said of me, “She won’t be pretty, but she’ll turn out to be a handsome woman someday.” Another backhanded compliment that cut. And when I told her she should wear shorts one hot summer day, she informed me, “Daddy and I agreed that there were parts of my body that were unattractive and should remain covered.” My first impulse was to pity her for living under that negative assessment, but then I realized I had been hurt by it as well.

We called the choral conductor, Mr. Fontana, “Giffy” because his middle name was Gifford, and he at least pretended to hate that. When I was in eleventh grade, he required everyone in the choir to do a solo (or duet or trio) as part of our grade. I asked Craig Kingsbury to play the guitar for me, and I sang “Marcy” from Joni Mitchell’s first album. Mr. Fontana gave me high praise when he told the class, “You can see every emotion on her face.” He invited me to repeat the solo in our fall program, Tuesday Night Date. I was terrified, but I did it. Thankfully there was a bathroom just offstage, but even so I almost didn’t make it into my place in the spotlight when the curtain was opening. Extreme nerves.

That night, my folks were driving me home, I was in the back seat as usual, and they said they were concerned that Sara and Marilyn were “dumping” me for boys, like Matt and Chip did each other at that age. I assured them that this would not happen, although I appreciated their concern. Actually I was surprised at it, having discovered so seldom that they were thinking about me.

Sara and Marilyn and I were still friends, even though they drove out toward Long Beach every day to go to Brethren High School. Sara was head cheerleader, and more than once I was enlisted to rub her sore legs after a practice. And I attended their choir concerts, and at least one football game, the one where she was crowned Homecoming Queen. I loved the songs their very exacting choral conductor chose for them. Miss Carleda Hutton not only demanded excellent diction and blend, she also wanted her students exposed to good music outside school as well. I attended some musical performances with the girls to fulfill their choir requirements. My favorite song from the Brethren choir, “Sing My Soul His Wondrous Love,” showed up later in my life, and has remained one of my favorites ever since.

When we were little kids together in Sunday School, I had despised a Pepperdine faculty boy, Chris Stivers, because he was such a tease and a wild child. But now that we were in high school together, he turned out to be funny and musically accomplished. His dad bought him a book of Dave Brubeck, and Chris sat right down and played it. And he was not only playing piano amazingly, he was arranging, and composing original music. He and I, with other students, would hang around Mr. Fontana’s office during lunch periods. I wrote down a little exchange that happened between us one day:
Me: “Sometimes I think all you need is a beautiful body.”
Chris: “What for?”
Me: “Happiness.”
Chris: “Well, I’m happy…anyhow.”
But Chris wasn’t always so sensitive and thoughtful. His favorite thing to say to me, in mock frustration (or maybe real) was, “Oh, Gwen…go type something!”

I wanted so much to be in the Madrigal group, or in the Triple Trio – nine girls who always sang a cappella and were ambassadors for the school, performing during school hours in many venues. But I wasn’t chosen for either. I felt it was my looks that held me back, though by this time I was also aware it might be my lack of poise or confidence. I settled for being the “music librarian” for class credit while the Madrigals rehearsed. That way I could still enjoy the music, and memorize all their songs.

Our teachers weren’t always wonderful. After lunch in Mr. Fontana’s office, Chris and I had an English class together on the edge of the campus. I always got through that class by eating, alternating, a roll of Pep-O-Mint Lifesavers and a small bag of M&Ms. I’m guessing our teacher, Gil Saint-Leon, was probably an ex-actor, though he never said so. More than once he played a part during class. I could swear that he was drunk the day he became Hamlet, because he ended up all crumpled up and emotionally wasted in the corner of the room. I figured that probably nothing but inebriation could inspire such a dramatic scene.

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The Christmas of my tenth grade year, we went to Hawaii to see Chip and Sharyn off to Malaysia. They had joined the Peace Corps. They had been in Hilo, Hawaii that fall for training, and now it was time to move on to Lahad Datu, Malaysia where they would be stationed. Momma and Grandmommie flew together to Hilo and spent a day or two there with them. Daddy and I left a bit later and flew from L.A. to Honolulu together, and we had a day there before the others joined us.

What an adventure…when we boarded the plane, they apologized for having overbooked and asked us if we would be willing to give up our seats and move to First Class. That was my only experience thus far with First Class, and it was in the days of china and crystal and excellent food. I already loved fried shrimp, but this was the first scampi I had ever tasted, and I thought it was fabulous. When we arrived in Honolulu, we had an evening to spend and Daddy found Gone with the Wind playing in a theater. We rode the bus to the theater and then went in for the magnificent, overwhelming and tedious (for a 14 year old) experiencing of watching that movie together. Daddy wished he could impart an appreciation for my Southern roots, and this was one more attempt on his part to impress some sense of his past on my California heart.

I shared a room with Grandmommie, and I recall being frustrated with her growing deafness. I believe I was frustrated with a lot of things at that age. I was still reading a lot, and one book I read in that hotel room was In His Steps by Charles Shelton. This was the original source of that now-ubiquitous question, “What would Jesus do?” This little book stirred my conviction, as well as my frustration with my inability to “be sweet” like Momma was always telling me to.

When it was time to go with Chip and Sharyn to the airport and see them off, I told everyone I wasn’t going. I was so unhappy that they were leaving, and felt so angry at being abandoned, and had no words to express it. I just couldn’t go and hug them and control my emotions and act cheerful at the plane. It was the first time I recall making a decision that went against the expectations of my parents, and they didn’t fight me on it. Here's Sharyn and Chip (2nd and 3rd from left) in Lahad Datu with the other three teachers from their school.


I met a girl in one of my classes named Sheila Narens. I don’t recall how we began to be friends, but we slowly discovered how much we enjoyed talking to each other. She was the “woman of the house,” living with her dad and an older brother. Her mother had died some years before. They were Jewish, though not observant. It turned out their home was not very far from our house, so this was the first time I had a friend within walking distance since I had moved away from the Youngs. The first time I visited her room, I was a bit freaked out by the posters on the walls – The Doors “Light My Fire” is one that struck me, and a black and white publicity shot from Casa Blanca. (She introduced me to that classic film.) She had psychedelic black lights, and there was an apartment feel to her upstairs suite. She was by no means a hippie, but she was already participating in the sexual revolution of the ‘Sixties. She must have sensed my innocence because we never talked about her sexual experiences, but I knew she was dating an older guy.

A great thing about my friendship with Sheila is that God used it to provide perspective. Every time I wanted to complain about my situation, I would listen to Sheila’s troubles and think (and sometimes say), “My problems are like nothing compared to yours.” It helped me appreciate that everyone suffers, not just me, and that my pain was not as bad as some other people’s pain. I knew that I did not want to trade circumstances with Sheila. I so appreciated her friendship and support. She was a compassionate heart at a time when I needed one.

Our junior year, we were required to take our physical education class at 7:15 am, so Daddy drove the two of us to school on his way to work. This gave him a chance to observe Sheila and our interaction, and he came to the conclusion that she was “too old” for me. Due to her early loss of a mother, her different culture, and her relative independence, Sheila acted and talked older than I did. He didn’t forbid me to be friends with her, but long phone calls were discouraged. It seemed I was always been told to get off the phone at a tender point in the conversation. So unfeeling of them!

Getting up an hour earlier wasn’t fun for any of us, but I was discovering that I was not a morning person, and the noises I would make when Daddy woke me up in the morning were not cheerful and pleasant. I hadn’t learned to edit myself for the sake of someone else. Still, one morning Daddy shocked me by saying, “You don’t really love me. If you loved me, you would be nicer to me when I wake you up in the morning.” This seemed strange to me, even at that age. He sounded more insecure than I did.

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My best friend at Morningside High School was named Barbara Rueckert. She too was missing a parent. Her father had died when she was younger, and her mother and she lived together in a small apartment. She had an older brother and an older sister who had both married and left home. Barbara and I met in choir, at the beginning of our junior year. She noticed something Christian about me, a Bible or other book, and she had been praying for a Christian girlfriend. She and I were both focused on romance and constantly talked about our hopes, dreams and romantic fantasies. We both loved music, and would create collages of song lyrics and phrases that meant something to us.

Barbara attended the Crenshaw Christian Church, a denomination that was historically related to the Churches of Christ, but not close enough to be kosher, so we didn’t visit each other’s churches. I did visit their apartment from time to time, but I never felt comfortable there. It smelled of their cats, and coffee grounds, and felt depressing. Though my mom’s many rules made our home feel somewhat inhospitable to me, I was accustomed to the cleanliness and beauty and order, so it was tough to feel at home in an environment that was not like that. I determined to overcome, with God’s help, my aversion to the difference, so I would not be separated by that cultural barrier from people He wanted me to love. It was a long struggle, but I did improve with practice.

When I thought I was leaving California at the end of my junior year, I wrote a letter of goodbye to Barbara, of which for some reason I have a partial copy.
“Dear Barbara, June 13, 1969
I don’t know. There’s nothing I can say to finish the year right, to say a partial goodbye. You have meant a lot to me. I’ve kind of taken advantage of you, disregarded you, taken our friendship for granted. And friendship has to be protected, developed, cared for. So I’m sorry. I don’t understand closeness between people as much as I’d like to. (Except for the strange kind Sara and Marilyn and I have. Everything is usually understood; but we’re not at all afraid of hugging each other, crying, telling each other we love them. Very unusual.) It’s because of this 12-year-old relationship that other relationships are strange (new) to me.

“With Ed, I really do want him, rather than love him (want the best for him). It’s horrible. I tell God I want what’s best, but I think it’s a lie. The problem is, essentially I think I’m a pretty physical person, and (Stephen will agree) I’ve had too many platonic relationships. But these desires are desires (what I want) and so…? I believe academically that it’s possible to depend on God for security, for love – everything a relationship with a guy potentially has – but I don’t know emotionally how to do it. Also I don’t know yet how to submit completely to God’s will in the problem. And it’s not that I don’t believe God will give me the very best. He will if I let him. It’s a problem of not trusting. Please pray for me to learn to trust and submit to God in this and everything else. I’ll pray for you in the same thing.”

Neither Barbara nor I ever achieved any amount of satisfaction with a boyfriend in our high school days. We only shared the yearning, and our unrequited adoration for our various crushes. She surprised me by staying in touch with me for fifteen years following our graduation. The last time we saw each other, I was disturbed by what seemed to be the lack of growth in her – it felt like she was the same person I had known in high school, though much had occurred in her life, including marriage, that had not happened in mine. At that point I decided to end the relationship. I simply had nothing left to offer.

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I had an amazing musical opportunity during high school which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I made a friend named Estrella. She was so full of passion, talent and creativity. She was probably the first artist of my own age that I had known. She and I had several heart to heart talks about her love for her best friend, Krystal, whose mother had thwarted Krystal’s and Estrella's friendship because of E.’s black heritage (though her skin was a very light brown). Her mom was trying to reject Krystal’s own half-black origins. Estrella decided later that she was gay. Though I did my best to explain to her that her deep love for her friend did not necessarily mean she was a lesbian, she believed that it did.

Anyhow, Estrella and another wild hippie chick, Janie Zarchin, and I used to sing in the shower after gym. The acoustics were terrific in there, and E. even brought in her guitar a couple of times. She was left-handed, and no one had ever shown her how to restring her guitar to accommodate that, so she played all her chords upside down. It gave her a unique sound. Janie Zarchin and I also enjoyed playing badminton sitting down on the gym floor. When it would rain and we would have to take gym class indoors, sometimes we were allowed to play whatever we wanted, and she and I preferred sitting to running around, so we would bat the birdie back and forth from a seated position. We thought it was funny.

Estrella was beginning to get some public notice, playing in clubs, and one day she came to me and said, “I need an anti-war song for my album.” Some guy had actually backed her with money and she was making a record. So in a half hour after school, with my carpool waiting for me, she and I wrote an anti-war song. Then she needed one more song for the album and we wrote that. Since this was a genuine business venture, I had to get my mom to drive me to BMI’s huge offices in downtown L.A. so I could join up as a writer. Seven or eight years later, when I decided to join ASCAP in Nashville as a “real” songwriter, I had totally forgotten I was already a member of BMI, and my membership had to be officially transferred.

Estrella was staying with some friends in Palos Verdes when the Renaissance Fair came to Topanga Canyon in the spring of our senior year. She had been to it before, but I never had. We both wanted desperately to make that scene, and here she was stuck on the other side of the Los Angeles basin. My dad had died the year before, my mom was feeling the stress of being my only parent, and we had a big fight about how I was wasting her gas money going all the way to pick up Estrella, and that I was only being used.

She had no idea that I was hoping Estrella’s extreme cool would make me feel more acceptable in the hippie, flower child, far out environment of the Renaissance Fair. At any rate, I did do the deed (perhaps without Mom’s knowledge?) and did have a wonderful time feeling like a hippie for a day. I picked up a little stray kitten at the Fair, and wandered around in my long flowered skirt and hippie blouse and bought love beads and felt spacey. It was great. I wonder if it was that day or another day in high school when I fell in love with the scent of patchouli.

Fast forward twelve years, and I’m the office manager for a jingle company, Hummingbird Productions. We had clients all over the country, and regularly sent out demo reels (yes, brown tape on clear plastic reels in little white boxes…this was before CDs) to more than 3,000 people. One of the agencies in New York that we called on regularly was Young & Rubicam, and one day I got a phonecall from there. It was Estrella! She was the assistant to an advertising executive whose name I knew from all the mailings and my upkeep of the database (on a Lanier “No Problem” Word Processor that cost $10,000 – this was before PCs!). I don’t know how she found me, but she did. She sent me her album (years before I had made one of my own) and I was so excited to hear what she might have done with her musical gifts by now.

Well, I was severely disappointed. It was the ‘Eighties, I was in the midst of the jingle industry, which was all about hype, excitement, attention grabbing, and I was still in my heart a mellow hippie-dippie singer/songwriter type along the lines of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor. I did not like hype, noise and metal. So what I was hoping, longing to hear when I played Estrella’s album was her heart. And I didn’t. Instead, I heard a production demo. I heard her showing us that she could do all these different musical styles, and do them well, and her voice was great, and the quality was great, but I couldn’t find her self in it. It made me sad. Of course, looking back, I understand that we were all trying to make a place in the world and that meant making a living, and this was a career for her. But I’ve always been looking for people hearts.

One of Estrella’s best friends in high school was Herbie, a tall, light-skinned black man with a highly flamboyant personality. It was amazing to get to see both of them at our thirtieth high school class reunion, the only reunion I’ve ever attended. Herbie gave me my very most favorite compliment in my high school years: “You’d make a great freak.” Estrella’s comment was, “She doesn’t like it [the drugs], but she doesn’t put you down.”

That reunion…what a scary feeling, anticipating seeing people I hadn’t seen in thirty years. None of the people I had been closest to during high school showed up that night, but Estrella was there, along with other friends of friends, so there were folks to sit with and talk to. The biggest treat of the evening was when the music started and people were getting up to dance. A black guy I had not really known before was sitting at my table. He reached out his hand and said, “Let’s go,” and we had a few of the most fun dances of my life. It had always been my dream to dance with a black guy, since having grown up in Los Angeles I felt that they were the only men who could really dance. Thank you, Mr. Washington, for that tremendous gift.

Monday, October 17, 2005

When Sara and I got to be thirteen and Marilyn fourteen, a movement called Campus Evangelism Seminars changed our lives. The Youngs and my parents allowed us to take part in these seminars even though they were intended for college kids. I guess our folks hoped that whatever could influence us for good would help them in our upbringing and our spiritual development. We girls had college-age friends, so we felt like we sort of belonged, like we were “honorary” college students. It was fun to feel like little prodigies, older than our years. Not something to get used to, since your age eventually catches up with you and you’re no longer special in that way.

We went to seminars in Los Angeles and in Santa Barbara, California. One Christmas my parents even let me fly to a Campus Evangelism seminar in Dallas, Texas with Norvel, while the girls drove there with a couple of Texas college girls. The five of us stayed in a hotel room together. Who would have dreamed that Karen Davis and Thelma Harper (Kidd) would grow up to own a chain of bookstores in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis called Davis-Kidd Booksellers? That was the first time I ever ate baloney sandwiches on white bread. It was all Thelma and Karen could afford, and they shared them with us. (My mom insisted on brown bread, and she never bought baloney – as I’ve mentioned, she was a Prevention subscriber. Momma dabbled in being a health nut before it was cool to be one – just weird.)

At these seminars we first heard the incredible news that Jesus is really alive, not just an historical figure. The teachers at the Dallas seminar asked us whether we had accepted Jesus as our Lord. This went beyond just asking for forgiveness of sins when we were baptized. This meant asking Jesus to take over and be our boss, to be in charge of everything in our lives. They said, “When Christ is too small, not Lord of our whole life, idolatries begin. We are either enslaved to Christ, or to everything else.” I’m not sure what happened at that point in Sara’s or Marilyn’s heart – we didn’t talk about it – but I know that was the day when I asked Jesus to be my Lord. I asked Him to come in and affect everything about my life. And He has.

One night back in L.A., in the apartment of Ann King, the girls’ dorm supervisor, there was a prayer meeting. A Campus Evangelism leader named Jim Bevis was talking to the gathered students. It was dark in the room, to give people a sense of spiritual privacy, and the moonlight was coming through the window blinds. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and I heard Jim say, straight to my heart, “Jesus loves you.” It was as if I had never heard anyone say those words before. Jim said that we can talk to Jesus, that He’s a person, a real live person seated at the right hand of God, that He loves us individually, and He wants to have a relationship with us. He’s not just a man who lived a long time ago.

There were several powerful men in the Campus Evangelism movement that made an impression on me. John Allen Chalk was a rising star in the Churches of Christ, a very sharp lawyer, who gave all that up to risk being a ringleader in this controversial movement. I had no idea how controversial it was until I passed some young people in the hotel hallway in Dallas. They were irritated, complaining, “All this talk about Jesus is fine, but when are we going to talk about The Church?” I was shocked at how much we had already changed from the orthodox, church-centric C-of-C point of view.

So John Allen Chalk brought his intelligence and drive; Prentice Meador brought his passion and gentle sensitivity; and Jennings Davis added a cautious gravity to the leadership. Roy Osborne taught me to never judge a book by its cover, with his Lincolnesque scarecrow frame, his unattractive, craggy face, and his beautiful and challenging heart.

Roy Osborne had a powerful message about racism that stuck with me. “I am almost more concerned about the prejudiced person than the person against whom the prejudice is directed, because the act of prejudice is temporal, but the effect of hate on the hater is eternal.” Jennings Davis said, “You are free when you don’t have to do what you want to do. You are free when you can choose what you don’t want to do, what is best.” Jim Bevis said, “Some equate ‘sober’ with ‘moderate’ and ‘temperate’ with ‘without passion’. God never called a man to moderation and passionless Christianity. Jesus spewed lukewarmness out of his mouth. Holiness is not pale and lifeless…it is abundant life.” These guys were powerful, and they made me want to rise to the challenge, to have a more intentional, more risk-taking, more serious life with God.

This was one of the toughest challenges offered: “It could be that the ‘educated’ Christian’s culture, ‘good taste’ and fastidiousness need to be sacrificed for Christ’s sake in the committed life.” This was probably the time when I began to intentionally spend time with people who were unlike me, to teach myself to be at home in environments that were not comfortable or familiar. I recognized that I had grown up in a very controlled and perfectionistic environment, and that I would have to make a concerted effort to become comfortable in other circumstances. So I did…and God helped me by presenting many unexpected opportunities to learn this particular lesson.

At that seminar in Dallas, I made a musical connection that I pursued for years afterward. One evening a band performed for the seminar attendees, and this was an entirely novel experience for all of us. Churches of Christ had traditionally accepted only one form of music, and that was congregational, a cappella singing. Certainly we were aware that other forms existed, choirs, soloists, even orchestras, but we just didn’t think that God could possibly be pleased with any of those. We felt they were all so “worldly” and tended toward ego and performance. After all, the first century church didn’t have or need these things. The idea of musicians ministering to an audience had never crossed my mind.

So this band was made up of four young guys, long-haired hippies, and they called themselves Lazarus. Their music reminded me of Simon & Garfunkle, Peter Paul and Mary, and other acoustic guitar groups of the day, and they sang covers in addition to their own original material. That night, they sang Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” (Matt had already introduced me to that song as recorded by The Band on the album Music from Big Pink) and the BeeGees’ “Got to Get a Message to You”. I heard a spiritual message, I heard a prophetic voice, and it was incredibly moving and urgent. I’ll tell more about Lazarus when I get more into the music.

Some time in 1967 or ’68, the college students at Pepperdine started meeting for a separate “worship service” which had much in common with a Quaker style of meeting. It was held at the back of the church building in the Fellowship Hall, and it went from 8:00 until 11:00 on Sunday morning. My parents felt I still must punch the time clock at the regular service until 12:00 noon, so I was now putting in four hours of sitting on Sunday mornings, the first three of them very willingly, the last one less so.

Ron Perry, an older guy in our lives, had shared long talks alone with Sara when he was a camp counselor. (I was always dying to follow them and spy on what they were saying to each other, because I couldn’t imagine how she held his attention. No, I never did it.) Now Ron was married to beautiful Nikko Scheifele, a girl with long straight black hair and a gentle way, and they had me and Sara over for Bible studies at their house. We washed each others’ feet one night, after Ron read us the scripture where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then said, “Blessed are you if you do likewise.” It was scary to actually practice some of the things that the Bible talked about. We had been taught were that they were figurative, metaphorical, so we had never done them before.

Ron and Nikko would pick me up in their VW bug early on Sunday mornings to take me with them to the long back room meeting. Waiting for them to show up was one of the first experiences I had of listening for the voice of God. I practiced being very still and waiting until He said it was time to go outside to meet them, so they wouldn’t have to honk and disturb Momma and Daddy. I got better at it as time went along.

It was a novel and a revolutionary concept, this idea that God actually wanted to speak to us. Kind of scary that He wanted to invade our lives, and not just give us a set of instructions and go away, like I think I had believed before. I had two other very practical experiences that taught me that He wanted me to depend on Him. I had a combination lock on my gym locker, and it would never open unless I first prayed and asked Him to help me. I was responsible for cutting our big yard on a rider mower, which almost never started until I finally remembered to ask for His help. It took me quite awhile to figure out that it was better to start out with praying, instead of waiting until it was my last resort.

Around this time, I had another life changing reading experience in Matt Young’s study. He had a copy of a book I had been hearing the students talk about, They Speak with Other Tongues by John and Elizabeth Sherrill. Not only was “the Jesus Movement” sweeping the nation, but also something called the “Charismatic Movement.” The two often went hand in hand. Across the denominations, including Catholics, high-church Protestants, low-church Baptists and everyone in between, people were leaving their lethargy and inherited religion behind, and having their own personal experiences with God. Jesus was becoming real, like He had to me, and the Holy Spirit was being “poured out,” in the language of the Bible’s book of Joel.

“In the last days, says the Lord, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your young men shall dream dreams, and your old men shall see visions. On my handmaidens too I will pour out of My Spirit…” That “all flesh” promise was being literally fulfilled. It wasn’t just the Assemblies of God and the Church of God of Prophecy and the tangential denominations any more. It was people from Wall Street and academia and doctors and lawyers that were speaking in tongues and getting “slain in the Spirit” (falling down as the power of God moved over their bodies), jumping around and generally acting undignified in their excitement about God.

Later on, I would learn that this phenomenon coincided with the reclaiming of East Jerusalem by the Jewish people, following the 1967 War. That meant the return of the Western Wall of the Temple (the Kotel) to Jewish hands for the first time since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But at that time, I really wasn’t aware of this incredible milestone, or how it might relate to my life.

So I read this paperback book of Matt’s and it shook my world. I was fourteen years old, and living in the home of two people who were convinced of the rightness of their beliefs, their ways, and their church. It was not a friendly environment in which to explore or experiment in any way. So I told the Lord, “Look, I’m just a kid and I can’t do anything with this information. But I do believe it’s real. So, when it’s my turn to act, would You just tap me on the shoulder and let me know?” I continued going to those radical Bible studies in people’s homes, attending the “alternative” worship services for three hours on Sunday mornings (and then obediently sitting with my parents for a further hour), reading, listening to the college students and Campus Evangelism leaders, and internally questioning and changing.

At some point between the ages of 14 and 17, I was sitting in the Pepperdine library doing a summer job that involved catalog cards. I was working next to another person, I believe a young lady in college, and we were conversing about the Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Church, etc. I said to her, “I’ve come to the conclusion that if this new stuff I’m learning about the Holy Spirit isn’t real, then I’m not interested anymore in the church thing.”

It was a radical statement to make, because I had loved God my whole life and gone to church willingly, even addictively, never having to be forced or cajoled like some parents did their kids. But I had come to the realization that people on their own (most of all me) were incapable of living the way God wanted us to. We needed the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, motivating us, transforming us, moving us, counseling us, strengthening us, inspiring and accomplishing God’s will in our hearts. And I wasn’t willing to turn back to a humanistic religion of personal effort (and constant failure) with an overconcern about external image (other people’s opinions, setting a good example), the way I now felt I had been living all my life.

One thing that really scared my parents about the growing revival among the young people was the associated freedom of affection that flowed along with it. One evening, I was in a Bible study/prayer meeting/house church at Lucille Todd’s. She was the Dean of Students at Pepperdine, along with Jennings Davis, and she was already a little bit suspect as a woman whose husband was not a church attendee, and as a woman professional, and as someone who dabbled in psychology (also high on my parents’ “suspect” list).

When my dad came to collect me at the end of the evening, it so happened that the meeting had just broken up and everybody was hugging everybody else goodnight. I had already become somewhat accustomed to this practice at other meetings. It was a sort of like “passing the peace” and “greeting one another with a holy kiss” combined with the Southern custom of plain old hugging that needed no religious justification.

Well, to my dad’s eyes this crowd of hugging people looked like it was just one step away from an orgy. He was absolutely horrified. He said to me as we drove home, “If this is the kind of thing that goes on at these meetings, you’ll never attend another one!” It took me quite a bit of energy to talk him down. It was hard to convince him that all the hugging was asexual and harmless. I was fourteen or fifteen at the time, and I was desperately hungry for affection. This was my only resource, and I didn’t want to lose it.

During this period – as a young teenager in the late ‘Sixties – I was reading religious writers that were definitely beyond my years. I was reading Dietrich Bonhöffer, the German martyr killed just days before the Americans liberated his camp. He was a teacher in an underground seminary, and had been involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. I was reading Thomas Merton, a man who had been a member of the Beat Generation and lived as a very carnal heathen, then became a Catholic priest, not just any priest but a Trappist monk, a contemplative in a Kentucky abbey called Gethsemani.

I was reading Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest. Boyd wrote a few words that capture for me what we were all feeling, those of us who were so hungry for God and who were not content with the church of our childhood.

There’s a mystical sense of being involved together
and, just as much to the point,
wanting to be.
Whether one is speaking of fulfillment, salvation, or joy,
no one wants it on a private preserve
shut off from others.
Persons are claiming each other.
Walls are coming down.
A person is a signpost to another.
We are beginning to see that no one makes community;
he accepts community
where it’s at
and as it is.

I still attended the Vermont Avenue church during my first couple of years of college. I had always written notes to Sara and Marilyn to occupy myself during church services, and one Sunday morning I wrote an essay, a long meditation, to Sara. Though I began on a positive note, I immediately switched to the critical, somewhat cynical, and unbelievably brash judgments that only a teenager would dare to voice. I acknowledged that fact. Her parents were illustrious, noble, nationally recognized leaders of our movement. Who was I? Just a kid, and I sort of admitted that too.

“Praise the Lord for our parents and for life.
“We have at some point said that your parents haven’t understood the totality of the call of Jesus. To them, being a Christian is being a member of ‘The Church’, attending services religiously (!), opening their home, yes, but primarily to the Brotherhood, and staying in the beaten path, following the pattern with no apparent or public deviation. My parents have shared all this, but being where they have been and with whom has added several extra layers to the shell. Insight and cynicism, involvement and disillusionment, come hand in hand when you touch the inside edge of the machine. My parents’ ‘missionary effort’ had both a broadening and a narrowing effect on their attitudes.
“(Of course, we don’t know. How can we judge whole lifetimes from this perspective? We work with appearances and very shallow perceptions. My most urgent prayer now is that we may not lose the idealism of commitment with age. I know that can be done; but how very difficult.)
“We judge your parents (how frightening) possibly not to have been called to a daily, vital walk with Jesus. Called once for all by Christ himself, yes, but not by His Body, the church. Mine have felt more of that urgency (now my mother, being alone, has forgotten some of the openness and giving, the expanding and reworking of attitudes, they once had together); but both of them (and especially my father) have always been faced with the rawest side of human nature. When the other missionaries were preaching, talking, living in a semi-otherworldly trance, he was building church buildings, working day to day with money, and people at their worst. Perhaps they both demanded of themselves a more real (?), constant day-to-day commitment (and so of others), and have been so often disappointed with both that now it’s hard to watch the younger generation in their excited ignorance.”

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

Because the Youngs were always encouraging our “potential”, they provided Marilyn and Sara and me with some unusual experiences for kids our age. They edited books from time to time, and one of them was a congregational directory of Churches of Christ. It had a picture of each church building, the address and phone number, the number of members, the number of baptisms in the previous year, and other statistics regarding the work of that congregation. Helen decided to pay us girls to proofread the galleys, the first copy from the printer, so we could correct any mistakes before they printed a kazillion of them.

We were sitting on the kingsize bed in the Youngs’ bedroom. I don’t remember what we got paid per hour, but we did have fun analyzing all these congregations across America. We developed a concept of our national “brotherhood” that most kids our age probably didn’t have. As I’ve already confessed, I’m afraid that we girls were already pretty critical and cynical. We mocked the churches that only baptized children from within their own circle, judging them “dead”, and we praised the seeming few congregations that had adult baptisms from outside.

One summer, the Youngs sent us to represent the 20th Century Christian corporation at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Anaheim near Disneyland. Marilyn was 20, Sara and I were 19. Helen drove us out there the first morning, and as she drove she taught the girls the names of the freeways and exits. I realized that morning that my parents never really trained me. They had not intentionally imparted information to me like that. I loved that Helen took her daughters’ abilities and responsibilities so seriously. She needed them to be able to function on L.A.’s freeways, and she believed they were fully capable. I’m sure, on the other hand, that it was a pretty heavy burden they bore, knowing that their parents believed they could do anything they were called on to do. Not too much mercy or tolerance for weakness in that scenario.

When we weren’t manning the 20th Century booth, we wandered around the convention and I was appalled at the merchandising going on. I didn’t know the word “kitsch” at that point, but my aesthetic sense was offended that most of the stuff was cheap and ugly looking, the art was bad, and there was so much commercialism. I wished Jesus would come in there and knock over tables like he had with the money-changers in the Temple. One redeeming part of the experience was a music group performing at the convention called “Brush Arbor.” When they explained their name, I learned about the open-air “gospel meetings” that had taken place across the country during the Great Revival.

Chip started it. Being seven years older than me, Chip was of course into popular music first, and he opened my ears and imagination to the world of radio and records. One thing that delighted me was reciting and singing almost in its entirety the Stan Freberg album, The United States of America: The Early Years. He and I would sing and recite it in the back seat of the car on the way to the mountains. I can still perform pieces of it, especially “Betsy Ross and the Flag” and “Take An Indian to Lunch,” but sadly these days Chip falters and I have to do most of his part along with mine. We also loved some other comedy albums, like the “2000 Year Old Man” routine of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, and the Vaughan Meader takeoff on the Kennedy family which was removed from the market after the assassination.

There was this guy with a goatee who very casually conducted a choir of singers on TV. His name was Mitch Miller and the show was called Sing Along with Mitch. In some ways it was like Lawrence Welk’s show, a bit like a polka fest, but many folk songs were introduced into the larger culture on that show from 1961-64.

I was fascinated with another show, Hootenanny, and was recently astonished to find out that it only lasted one thirteen-week season in 1963. Also astonishing was the discovery that the show had blacklisted Pete Seeger as a Communist. The paranoia of the McCarthy era must have influenced network censors, though it officially ended with McCarthy’s downfall in the previous decade. Folk music has long been appropriately suspect as a fomenter of discontent and protest. It’s hard to imagine some of Seeger’s songs being subversive. “If I Had a Hammer,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” and “On Top of Old Smoky” were sung by his group, the Weavers. Anyhow, Hootenanny also fed many classic folk songs into the mainline American pop culture.

In Germany, Chip bought a Grundig “portable” (though heavy) suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape recorder, and for several years he taped Casey Kasem’s Top 40 New Year’s Day countdown. That was my first exposure to rock n’ roll. When I got back to L.A. from Germany, in 1964, the Beatles were just beginning to be popular, and I stayed up really late one night at Beth Ross’s house for the special treat of hearing three Beatles’ songs played on the radio back to back. For sure one of them was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Short, cute, funny Donnie Humphrey at Lockhaven sang Beatles songs with me while we were swinging on the swing set – my first experience of connecting with a guy through music. I was ten!

I started listening to the radio a lot. This became a problem for my parents, because I now began to have my own ideas about what we should listen to on the car radio. The Real Don Steele on KRLA, along with AM stations KHJ and KFWB, became my friends. (I can still sing the jingle, “K-F-W-B, Channel 98!”) Once Daddy was driving and I begged him to turn the radio from the classical station and find something I could enjoy. “Even if you don’t like opera, you have to appreciate the work these people have put into training their voices,” he argued, and I responded, “I think it’s terrible that they did that to their voices!”

Though I tried, I never developed a taste for opera, even though I took a college class in Vocal Literature, and did my best to appreciate the operas we attended as part of the course. I am actually jealous of the passion some people feel for opera. Take for example the moment when Tom Hanks is completely overwhelmed by an aria in the movie Philadelphia. I envy opera aficionados the depth of their enjoyment, but I can’t seem to share it.

Cultural enrichment was something my parents were very intentional about. They were both in plays in high school at Lipscomb. For years as a child, Momma had gone downtown on the streetcar to take piano lessons. Though they were both born in small Tennessee country towns, they had graduated from college, learned to appreciate the “finer things” in life, and had enjoyed the unusual experience of living in Europe for five years.

My dad was ahead of his time in his willingness to bend certain gender barriers. He told my mom, “If you’ll play the piano for me, I’ll be glad to do the dishes after supper.” So this was a deal they kept throughout their marriage. When the women’s movement came along, it was nothing new to me to see a man doing “women’s work”. Mom’s favorite was always Claire de Lune by Debussy, and two other pieces she habitually played back to back, the names of which I never learned. During college, I visited my boyfriend’s home in Stockton, and he played those two, one after another, on the piano. I got excited. “I can’t believe you played those!! My mom always played those two together, like you just did!” Turned out they were on the same page in a book of piano pieces he had. So the mystery was solved.

Both of my parents held the attitude that one should visit museums and attend performances of plays, ballet, opera, symphony orchestra concerts, etc. because that’s what educated people do. I took it a step further and sought to discover what my personal tastes were. Favorite composers, favorite playwrights, favorite dancers – it became a part of my self-expression. I felt sad that even in her seventies, my mom was still attending certain cultural events because she “should”, instead of choosing what she personally loved. Still, I’ll always be grateful for the amazing opportunities my folks made available to me, and the doors they opened to so much enjoyment and satisfaction.

For several years we visited the Old Globe Theater in San Diego one night each summer, where our folks took Chip and me to a Shakespeare play. My best memory of the Old Globe was the year Jon Voight starred as Romeo. It was perfect timing for my romantic teenage soul. He had not been in a movie yet, so when he did appear on the screen I felt as if I had discovered him. In the theater that night, I glanced at my folks to see if they were getting the bawdy humor that Chip and I were laughing at, and I couldn’t be sure they whether they were. Odd to feel more “with it” than my parents. I also saw Macbeth there, and The Taming of the Shrew.

Living in L.A. provided many opportunities that a small town never would, but of course I thought life as I knew it was “normal”. For some years, Daddy took me for my birthday to Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, since it came to town at about the right time. I loved the circus, partly because I had seen the Disney movie and read the book called Toby Tyler, where a little kid runs away to join the circus. The circus was magical to me. Then one year we met a disabled veteran begging outside the big top. That summer my eyes had changed, and I could see a more grimy behind-the-scenes reality: the strangeness of the circus performers’ migratory lives, the real danger the high wire acts were putting themselves in to thrill the crowd. Something inside me had shifted. It wasn’t as much fun anymore.

We drove out annually to visit the Huntington Library in Pasadena. We tried to go at the right season for the azalea and camellia show, when samples of every variety growing at the Library were brought together on display in a pavilion. The Huntington Library had the originals of Gainsborough’s “Pinky” and “Blue Boy” with which I was familiar because reproductions of them hung in Nannie’s Nashville bedroom. I loved the thoroughness of the Shakespeare garden, which claimed to feature every plant mentioned in his works. The Huntington Library also displayed a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and lots of other historic documents.

I was entranced with the Japanese Tea House, and the cherry trees in bloom spilling down a small canyon above it. I had seen Marlon Brando in Teahouse of the August Moon, so I appreciated the concept of the teahouse, with the paper Shoji screens, women in kimonos tiptoeing around in those white socks and wooden sandals, and the sacred tea ceremony.

I was fascinated by the tragedy of Henry Huntington’s love story. His wife had been a member of the Eastern elite, and she had refused to move to the Wild West with Henry. So he built her a mansion, filled it with antiques and art from Europe, created magnificent gardens for her, and begged her to come. She again refused. To double the appeal, he did it all again, building a second mansion. But Mrs. Huntington never came to California. All the money from the Huntington-Hartford railways couldn’t buy him happiness.

Momma and Daddy took me to see the ballet Sleeping Beauty at the Shrine Auditorium. Another time they took me there to see Anna Maria Alberghetti in a musical called Carnival. We also attended some opera at the Shrine, and since it was in Italian, I couldn’t follow it, so I dozed on and off. When I would jerk awake, I would get dizzy because the seats at the Shrine are in such a steep slope upwards. I felt like I could fall forward over the people in front of me and crash past the balcony to the orchestra seats below. In my half-doze, I would get scared that if I fell asleep, Momma and Daddy might leave me there.

Mom had given up trying to teach me piano by this time. Since we were at a college, my folks decided to (quite literally) take advantage of the music faculty. I had weekly piano lessons with Dr. Richard Satorius. He was a white-haired bachelor who would always swish mouthwash before each student arrived. (I found this courtesy endearing.) He would sit most patiently through my stumbling and fumbling piano performances. He admitted that I had an unusual problem. I never could get through a piece without at least one error, though I didn’t seem to make the same mistake twice.

I couldn’t explain it to him, but years later I realized that I was constantly on edge from Momma’s endless corrections. (As I practiced, she would holler from the next room every time I made a mistake.) I was so focused on the fear of making a mistake that it made me tense. I could never relax and let the music flow out of my body. That’s why I jerked along so in my playing.

Later I became interested in the organ, with all the stops, providing so many options for different sounds, and most of all, its power. But I simply could not coordinate my hands and feet, though I studied with Dr. Satorius for a year. It was so much easier to sing all the parts which my hands found so difficult to play, so I opted for singing.

I wasn’t the only one who had musical experiences in school and out. Chip took up the clarinet in junior high, and he continued with it in high school and college. He became part of the Los Angeles Junior Police Band, which was an official county institution. He looked so handsome in his navy blue Police Band uniform, I thought. They even wore spats! They were invited to march in the Rose Parade, which was an annual tradition on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. I’m sure we attended at least one concert of theirs because it was at Pepperdine.

That night, after the performance, Chip and our folks and I were walking across the street from the Fine Arts Building to our house and Daddy said, “I heard a blue note – was that you?” I know he thought he was making a joke. “Just kidding,” some people love to say, denying that they inflicted pain intentionally. Even as a little girl, I was supersensitive to the pain of criticism. I hurt for Chip that Daddy had nothing else to say to him after a wonderful performance. What about all the hard work, and the excellence they displayed? It was decades later when I learned that parenting by criticism had been the rule in both our parents’ homes growing up, and that’s all they had to offer us. My dad’s dad and my mother’s mother were both consistent critics who ruled with negative assessments.

When Chip got to college, he performed with the Pepperdine Community Orchestra, and through him I got to know a bit about Hansel Rayner, the conductor. He was a passionate, exuberant musician, and he demanded a lot of himself and his players, as I would learn for myself. When I was in the college choir a decade later, he conducted two performances of Mendelssohn’s St. Paul, an oratorio we performed with his orchestra.

I had sung in the choir at Lockhaven, and now I learned that Airport Junior High had a musical celebrity connection. Its school song was composed by the same guy who wrote “Happy Together,” a member of a popular band called the Turtles. In junior high I joined the Chad & Jeremy fan club because an older girl I sat next to in the Girls’ Glee Club encouraged me to join with her. Kendy Douglas was a live wire. She had me over to her house once, I think it was for her birthday, and we swam in her pool.

Kendy and I loved Chad and Jeremy together (“Yesterday’s Gone,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”) and I also loved Peter & Gordon, but didn’t talk about them with Kendy because she was too loyal to her boys, C&J. Peter & Gordon sang one of my favorites, “Please lock me away…I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay in a world without love.” Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Don’t let the sun catch you crying…” was another of my favorite songs of the era.

Unbeknownst to the public, Peter & Gordon were involved in a little marketing experiment. The Beatles were so enormously popular that Paul McCartney wanted to find out whether or not his songwriting could stand alone. So he put out a song under a pseudonym that Peter & Gordon recorded, “Woman”. It was a great song, P&G had a hit with it, and McCartney was vindicated. Peter Asher of P&G went on to produce many of James Taylor’s albums.

We had a wonderful choral conductor in junior high. Miss Waldorf was a tall, thin, dignified single lady with sensible shoes, but she had the heart of a romantic and she inspired me greatly. We gave excellent Christmas concerts, and since the school was half Jewish we featured Hanukkah songs as well:

“Oh Hanukkah, O Hanukkah, come light the menorah.
Let’s have a party; we’ll all dance the hora.
Gather ‘round the table, we’ll give you a treat.
Shiny tops to play with and latkes to eat.
And while we are playing, the candles are burning low.
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago.”

In the Christmas/Hanukkah program we performed “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas.” That was the first time I had heard that song, and I really liked it. I was starting to notice the connections between composers and music, and I realized that Meredith Wilson who wrote that song also wrote the musical The Music Man, which I loved when Pepperdine had put it on.

Miss Waldorf encouraged me to sing in a trio with Beth Urban and Shelley Woods, including a medley from the Sound of Music. Beth became my best Christian friend at school. Her family was from a denomination called the “Christian and Missionary Alliance,” a group I’d not heard of before. I went to a missionary dinner with her family once, and learned to cook pineapple meatballs to take as my contribution to the international-themed potluck.

Beth and I used to walk around the junior high campus singing hymns together. Our favorite was “O that will be glory for me…When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me.” Beth’s mom taught at Airport Junior High, and sometimes when I was feeling especially pitiful I would beg them for a ride home. I hated taking the bus. Once, my parents forgot they were supposed to pick me up at the downtown Music Center after we went to a required performance, and Beth’s mom picked us up and let Beth stay at my house with me until my folks showed up.

Shelley Woods was the first Jewish friend with whom I really communicated. She was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah, and in Hebrew School she was just beginning to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust. She was a passionate, intelligent girl and she was so angry and so appalled at what she was learning. She inspired me to feel the same way. She’s the first person I knew who ate matzoh (unleavened bread) during the week following the Passover seder. She actually brought matzoh with her to school and ate them at lunch in the cafeteria. She wasn’t afraid to be different.

Speaking of the cafeteria, what an unusual California space that was. It had a high ceiling, between two and three stories tall, that arched over a huge space, but there were no walls on two sides because the weather was usually good enough to be outdoors. You lined up at a series of windows to get the food.

Each morning around 10:00 AM they had a break in classes called “Nutrition” where you could buy the most incredible cinnamon rolls I’ve ever tasted. I was so weight conscious that I rarely allowed myself the pleasure, but I’ve never found another cinnamon roll as wonderful as those. The cafeteria also made the best chili beans I’ve ever tasted, pinto beans with no meat, spiced just perfectly and comforting and delicious. I learned about the Catholic custom of fasting meat once a week, because the cafeteria always served fish sticks on Friday.

Miss Waldorf gave me a special musical gift which I still cherish. She encouraged us to use our imagination while we listened to orchestral music. She played an album of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Ravel. This was the first time I realized that a melody could be written by one person and embellished by another. That helped me understand the haunting Victory at Sea, which I knew was composed by Richard Rodgers, my musical hero, but orchestrated by Robert and Russell Bennett.

Anyhow, as she played each movement of Pictures at an Exhibition, she stopped after each selection and asked us to describe what we had envisioned as we listened. She explained that Moussorgsky composed the suite as a response to an art exhibition he had visited. Each piece was his meditation on a painting he had seen. The listening experience opened my musical understanding and my creative energies in a whole new way. Not too much later, Norvel Young sent Matt and Sara and me to a performance of Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, the best violinist and cellist of their day. It was so much fun to sit next to Sara and encourage her to use her imagination as she listened to the music, and see what she might see.

Miss Waldorf also opened a window on something that disturbed my religious sensibilities. She told us that she had considered becoming a Mormon just so she could have the pleasure of singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I was shocked that someone could be so tenuously connected to their faith that they could switch theologies for the sake of a musical opportunity.

Monday, October 10, 2005

There was another vacation site in the mountains east of L.A. that everyone seemed to visit at some point. It was called Arrowhead, and in those mountains was a retreat center called Mountain Home. After Lockhaven Christian School, I transferred to Airport Junior High, an extremely traumatic transition. I made a Christian friend through the choir named Eunice Mullisen. (That’s Eu-neece, not Eu-niss.) What a character – she reminded me even in eighth grade of an old lady. I decided she had spent too much time with her (relatively) elderly mother and not enough time with her peers. She was un-hip in the extreme.

Eunice was the first person I had ever spent time around who constantly called me by name. For some reason, our family had a habit of very rarely speaking anyone’s name. We would just speak directly to them, perhaps getting their attention with a preliminary sentence. But Eunice started many, many sentences with, “Gwen, did you know…” or “Gwen, I think…” or whatever. It irritated me! And I couldn’t have told you why. Later on, I decided that it felt a combination of manipulation (ingratiating, like she wanted something from me, like a salesman using my name as a false-intimacy technique) and offense (“Does she think I’m stupid that I don’t know she’s talking to me?”) Clearly, I’ve thought way too much about this minor irritation, and my reaction to it is disproportionately strong. But there you are.

Eunice invited me to come with her church youth group to Mountain Home for a week’s camping experience, and my parents allowed it. I was a very religious young person. At that age I was loyal to my status as a member of the Churches of Christ. While I was growing up, the leaders in that movement spent a great deal of energy emphasizing the distinctives that made us different from all the other denominations (including our claim that we were not a denomination, but the closest thing to the True Church, church like it was in the New Testament).

I don’t recall hearing very much about prayer, faith, salvation, sanctification, the power of the Holy Spirit, the development of personal character. Instead, we heard a lot about believers’ baptism by immersion vs. all the less acceptable forms of baptism used by the denominations. We were taught a cappella singing (the kosher “New Testament” way) vs. instrumental music (dangerously carnal, not to mention unscriptural). We believed in congregational autonomy vs. boards of governance, conferences, presbyteries, bishops, etc.; we had ministers or preachers vs. pastors, priests, etc.; and so on. I felt the need to bone up on Baptist doctrine before going to camp. I wanted to be prepared to argue and debate, should any issues come up where “we” disagreed with “them.” Thankfully, I never felt the need for debate arise.

This retreat center, Forest Home, was supposedly the place where the famous hymn “How Great Thou Art” was composed. The lyrics were carved on a huge piece of wood and displayed in the meeting hall at the center. The hymn was supposed to have some relation to Billy Graham, like it was his favorite song, or he got saved in a meeting where it was sung…something like that. Anyhow, all I knew was that I didn’t like it all that much. Was it because I knew it belonged to “them”? I loved “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and I knew it was Lutheran. Who knows.

At camp one morning we were all encouraged to spend an hour alone. We were given a little pamphlet to read during that hour. It described how our hearts had rooms in them, and though we may have invited Jesus into some of the rooms, we might be keeping him out of others. I believe this was my first time to meditate on the concept of Jesus “living in my heart.” When I was a child, this was not exactly a Church of Christ idea. I think we didn’t talk much about the heart. Folks in the Churches of Christ at that time talked a whole lot more about “the Church” than we did about Jesus, or even God. That was about to change for me, but I didn’t know it yet.

Only three years later, how different things can be! This time, I was back at Forest Home with an altered point of view. My dad had died, and in the wake of his death my mom didn’t have much energy to worry about where I went or who I was with. I was allowed to rehearse and perform with a choir of my friends from high school. Under the direction of our high school choir conductor, Mr. Fontana, we premiered a terrific new piece of choral church music at Forest Home for a conference of choral conductors.

We rehearsed a few weeks for that event in the church where David Morales’ Firebranders rehearsed. Janice Hahn’s cousin Jackie Stalcup was dating Dave, so she was in the group. I especially remember Evelyn Ono and her friend Marcia Okawa. Evelyn actually had the chutzpah to walk out of rehearsal one day, because she was so angry at something – whether it was the horsing around and wasting time, or the choir’s lack of reverence for the music’s message, I’m not sure. I had never witnessed someone my age taking such a strong public stand.

It was the summer of 1969. After rehearsal one night, we walked over to the Hahns’ house near the church. We watched on TV while a man took his first step on the moon. It was so amazing to walk outside the house onto the lawn, look up at the moon, and try to comprehend that at that very moment a man was walking around up there. I missed my dad, who I knew would love to have witnessed that event. He was so excited a few years earlier to have me watch John Glenn broadcasting on live TV as he was orbiting the earth. I complained that the picture was too bad to know what I was seeing. I was unimpressed, and commented that Mr. Glenn looked like a monkey. I knew I disappointed my dad that I was so disinterested.

We didn’t take vacations when I was little because there wasn’t much money. But as Pepperdine prospered, we did better, and Momma and Daddy loved to travel, so we started a summer routine that lasted a few years. We drove up the coast past Santa Barbara and another hour or two to a quiet town called Paso Robles. Chip was with us on at least one of these trips, but after that it was just the three of us. There was a Spanish-style hacienda where we spent the night and had a nice supper. Not far from there, on the ocean, was San Simeon where William Randolph Hearst built his “castle”.

Hearst Castle was really an enclave, a compound where several different smaller mansions surrounded the giant one. Since I had already been to Europe and seen real castles, this one seemed a more accessible, American version. Mr. Hearst called the estate his “camp”, and he liked to keep it somewhat casual, with ketchup and mustard bottles sitting on the enormously long refectory table. He filled the mansions with paintings, sculptures, and architectural pieces from all over Europe, including ceilings, fireplaces and gargoyles. Someone commented that if such great American collectors as he had not bought up many of Europe’s treasures, they would have been lost to the public or destroyed in the World Wars. I love a quote from George Bernard Shaw, who was a guest of Mr. Hearst’s, “This is the way God would have done it – if He had the money.”

The next day, we drove on up to Carmel and Monterey. There was a hotel there, the Highlands Inn, that was my ideal for many years. I imagined having my honeymoon there. The cliffs above the ocean at Carmel are a bit like Scotland and Ireland, and the hotel was built in such a way as to provide the best of both worlds – the grand hotel’s luxury, and the cozy comfort of little bungalows. All along a hillside were paths leading to private cottages, and that’s where we stayed. The cottages had a bedroom and a sitting room with a working fireplace, so on misty cool nights you could have a fire in the fireplace. The internet reveals that there are no more little cottages, but the main hotel still sounds like a great place to stay.

Daddy was such a romantic about fireplaces. At the Gray House, where we were living by now, many nights we would turn up the air conditioner and have a fire in the fireplace in summer. When we were in the mountains at the cabin, we always had a fire, and it was one of my favorite things to set it up properly so it would burn well, and then poke at it and play with it to keep it hot. I actually became a bit of a pyromaniac, and played with fire so that a lump of burning plastic wrap once popped onto my hand. The burn left a “spoon-shaped scar,” as I described it in my little red Travel Abroad trip diary at the age of ten. (Daddy thought that description was clever and was amazed that I came up with it myself.)

In Carmel, we would stay in the cottage, but we would return to the hotel and eat our meals in their luxurious dining room. It overlooked the ocean, and the service was elegant, like the waiters in Europe, solicitous and dignified, which added to the pleasure of the food. There were shops in Carmel and Monterey that were fun to walk around, but mostly we did nothing while we were there but read in the cottage and walk. It was a nearly silent vacation, which both working parents needed, but it made me yearn for a relationship of my own.

Our church at Vermont Avenue was generally quiet. We didn’t go for rowdy melodies in our songs, and we didn’t usually have emotionally moving sermons. Everything was calm, and reverent, and reserved. So it was really unusual when a black preacher, Marshall Keeble, came to Pepperdine and lots of people gathered to hear him preach. There were so many people that we met in the Pepperdine Auditorium (which I knew well because of The King and I and the other musicals). I couldn’t have explained to you at that time what the difference was, but Bro. Keeble’s was the first emotionally stirring sermon I had ever heard.

At the end, he asked anyone who wanted God’s help to “come forward”. “Going forward” meant you stood up and walked to the front of the auditorium. Then you sat in the front pew and told the minister quietly what was on your heart. I was familiar with the practice of coming forward when a family had moved to town and wanted to “place membership” in a congregation. I was familiar with coming forward if somebody felt really, really guilty about something and wanted to “ask for the prayers of the church.”

I’m putting all these phrases in quotes because they were the standard phrases that members of the Churches of Christ would use for these things. I had never really heard what is commonly called an “altar call.” The Churches of Christ that I had attended or visited tried to downplay emotion. They always quoted the New Testament verse that everything should be done “decently and in order.” Emotional appeals and emotional responses were discouraged.

Just a moment’s “time out” to note one of the odd things about my religious upbringing. The Churches of Christ were firmly opposed to creeds, liturgy and repetitive formulations, teaching that those were things the “denominations” did and that God was not pleased with them. This could have been a response to Jesus’ statement that God’s children should not be like the Pharisees, thinking they would get God’s attention with their “vain repetitions.” (Matthew 6:7) At any rate, human nature and self-consciousness about public speaking led many men to unconsciously memorize phrases they had heard others use when they got up to pray, preside over communion, take an offering, etc. So we ended up doing the very thing we taught against. Since we traveled and visited other churches, I discovered that you could be in different congregations in different states and still here some of the same language used over and over.

One of my Nashville friends in later years cracked us up as he recalled the many pat phrases from his youth. “Heavenly Father, God of our Lord Jesus Christ, we come humbly before Thee this morning, asking that Thou wilt accept our prayers. We pray that Thou wilt bring to a ready recollection those things which our preacher has studied from Thy holy Word. May our worship be found pleasing in Thy sight. Guide, guard and direct us, and, if we have been found faithful, and in the end save us and grant us a home with Thee, is our prayer. In the name of Thy beloved Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.”

Back to the Sunday when Marshall Keeble spoke, I was only nine years old. I had been raised in a family where my faults were pointed out on a daily basis. I wanted some relief from the guilt and hopelessness. I knew God was my only source of forgiveness. (Remember, my parents had told me when I was about five that they couldn’t help me in that department.) I knew I was a mess. My folks agreed that we would have a happy family if not for me. I was the problem. So I was desperate for God’s help. Bro. Keeble’s message offered hope, and of course I went forward!

When hundreds of people (all the rest of them being adults) made their way down front, someone decided that we should get a chance to speak about why we came, what we wanted from God, etc. So they asked all those who responded to move to the top floor of the Administration Building, where there was a smaller theater. There we could talk with Bro. Keeble. Even though I was the only child in the group, my heart was yearning after more of this experience, and I went with them. And I even had the passion or nerve or desperation to stand up in the midst of them and declare, “I need God’s help because I am a bad child and I want to be a better one. I want to be more obedient to my parents.”

That night, we were driving downtown to the Shrine Auditorium. I was in my usual place in the back seat of the car, and I decided to risk opening my heart to my folks and telling them what had happened to me that morning. I did, and their response is foggy to me. I know it was disappointing. They basically agreed that I needed to change. I didn’t sense that they were touched by what I had done.

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When we were growing up, my family, the Youngs, and just about everybody else at Pepperdine were members of this movement, the Churches of Christ. When we kids were sent to Lockhaven Christian School, our parents had to explain about the existence of other churches and denominations. That school was operated by the Christian Church, an offshoot of a larger group called Disciples of Christ. We were the Southern offshoot of that movement, a division that occurred around the Civil War era, but we kids didn’t learn this at that age. There were also children in the school who were Baptists and Lutherans and various other flavors. Our parents didn’t teach us that we were the only Christians, but we were taught a lot about how our group was different from all the other groups. We didn’t think we were perfect, but we did suspect that we were more right than anybody else.

We went to church at the Vermont Avenue Church of Christ. We could walk there from home, because it was at the east end of the Pepperdine campus. College students always attended church there, and we girls liked knowing them. Helen and Norvel usually sat down front, in the second pew on the left. Norvel would often write an article for Power for Today or 20th Century Christian on a big yellow legal pad, and it was pretty obvious he wasn’t paying attention to the preacher. Sometimes my mom would scold him that he was setting a bad example by so obviously ignoring the sermon. Sometimes Helen was so tired that she would doze off, so she would have Marilyn or Sara sit next to her and rub her hands to keep her awake. Here's a picture of the Young kids around 1963.

I loved it when Norvel would be the guest preacher at Vermont. He was so enthused about what he was saying (which some of our preachers were not). One time he read a long passage from the Book of Acts, where Luke is describing a voyage at sea that he took with the apostle Paul. Norvel read it like he had been with them on the trip and was remembering it all, and he really made it come to life for me. He had such energy and imagination that he made me feel it. That had never happened to me in church before.

When I was little, I liked to sit between my mom and dad, and occupy myself by drawing. We girls also wrote notes to each other. We weren’t allowed to whisper. When we were little, we were required to be silent and sit very still. One thing I did sometimes was examine the contents of my mom’s purse. I found the items fascinating because they belonged to a grown-up lady. She had a dark brown alligator pocket book that zipped close, and a tan lizard skin bag that closed with a firm snap of a clasp. Those were my favorites because of their texture. She always had a tiny red New Testament and Psalms, and I liked to look at the fine print. And she always had Kleenex.

Little children were regularly carried out of services when they made any noise. Sometimes they knew a spanking was coming and starting freaking out in their parents’ arms as they were carried out. My parents didn’t often spank me, but once my mother whispered that she would give me a spanking after church. Knowing it was coming, I ran home, and when she came after me, I somehow had the nerve to run from her in the house as well. I think she gave up chasing me on that occasion.

I can’t imagine why she saved it, or how I found it, but I discovered in her papers a note from 1960. “J.C., Please do not let Gwen go to Helen’s or anywhere to play with children. She’s too tired to be good. I’ve just spanked her for talking back. If you can’t take care of her yourself, send her to the library to me.”

Daddy never spanked me. Momma later said that “he was afraid he would kill you children” if he spanked us. I only saw him rage once, and I can still see myself cowering down at his feet, clinging to his legs, not knowing for sure what exactly I had done wrong, but really feeling terrified. Instead of hitting us, Daddy would talk to us. Once Chip told Momma, “Please just spank me and get it over with. Don’t let Daddy talk to me.” That punishment must have seemed interminably excruciating to Chip.

I don’t know why I was such a “touchy feely” child. My parents were not affectionate or demonstrative, even with each other – I believe I only caught them once kissing in the kitchen. So where did I get the idea that I needed to hug everybody? Once when church was over and we stood up to leave, I reached out to hug Daddy. He stood there immovable as a barrel, allowing me to hug him, but not responding. I felt like something must be wrong with me that he wouldn’t hug me back.

The Young family and mine were always at church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. That was the deal, if you were a serious Christian. We figured those who showed up only on Sunday mornings, and especially those who weren’t there every Sunday, must not take God very seriously. We couldn’t be too sure about their spiritual status. It was our duty to set a good example for others by making an appearance every time the doors were open. My dad was an elder, so that made our family’s image all the more important. People were watching. It must have been weird for my parents and the Youngs to attend church with people they had to work with during the week, but I didn’t think about that at the time – it was just our world.

One fun part of church-going was that it provided an excuse to eat out on Wednesday night. My mom worked full time but she was still supposed to get supper on the table every night on time. Thankfully, Daddy acknowledged that wasn’t feasible on Wednesday nights, and we went to a restaurant on Manchester Avenue called Du-Pars. It was really a coffee shop with a bar in back, but it seemed fancy to me. That’s where I fell in love with fried shrimp, and that’s where I invented squeezing lemon juice on a roll instead of butter and jam. In all my life I’ve still not run into anyone else who likes lemon juice on rolls. Du-Pars was where Daddy met with his Kiwanis group each week, a schmoozing and service organization for local businessmen. Daddy took me with him to the meeting a couple of times.

As I got older, I would beg Daddy to invite George Hill to supper with us. I knew if the three of us went alone, Momma or Daddy would be quiet or critical or frustrated or something unpleasant. But if George Hill, an entertaining single guy full of energy, went with us to supper, we would have fun. The adults would talk to each other and I could relax.

I can still feel all the feelings that came to me in the Vermont Avenue church building, three times a week for fourteen years. It was an old white stucco building. The wood trim was all dark brown. The pews were dark brown wood, padded with something like brown Naugahyde, or some other plasticized fabric. There was a central aisle, and an aisle on either side of the building. The side aisles were arched, like a smooth, rounded adobe house in the desert. Supporting the interior curve of the arches were round columns, with simple capitals connecting them to the main ceiling. This created a cloister effect on the side aisles. There were plain, round, brown metal chandeliers, with candle-like light bulbs, hanging down the center aisle of the building.

The church had stained glass windows, with no pattern or picture but a crazy quilt of pastel colors in all kinds of shapes. The stained glass artist or artists must have used broken pieces, fitting them together with the leading. I loved those windows. I loved how the Sunday morning light streamed through them. My dad loved stained glass so much that he had lights installed outside so we could all enjoy the colors during the evening services.

I loved the cool, calm feeling of sitting in that building during a service. It was quiet and safe, and the songs were beautiful. The congregation was mostly educated people, and the hymns tended toward a classical style. “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” “The Lord Is In His Holy Temple,” “Now The Day Is Over” (Marilyn loved to hear me sing the moving tenor part an octave up), and “Be Still My Soul” gave a sense of reverence to our worship. Dr. Earl Pullias, who had been a Pepperdine professor and now taught psychology at USC, sat on the fifth row back. I was told that he had been a big influence in our song leaders choosing the more dignified of the hymns.

I didn’t realize it growing up, but we looked down our noses at, or felt pity for, the little country churches, and the churches back in the South, the ones that sang the foot-stomping, thigh-slapping “oom-pah” songs. Those kinds of songs, we felt, lacked “reverence” but really we thought they mainly lacked class. In college, I finally discovered them for the first time, and I loved them. My boyfriend’s parents had a hymnal full of what they called “Stamps-Baxter” songs. (I believe that was the name of the publishing company.) The energy and joy in those songs fit my overflowing heart, newly baptized in the Holy Spirit. I am deeply grateful for all the hymns that shaped my childhood.

My beloved childhood preacher, Gordon Teel, told a story about a little congregation where the preaching was truly terrible. He noticed a little old lady who was faithful to attend week by week, year after year, and he, being a young whippersnapper at the time, asked her what kept her coming back. “It’s the hymns,” she said, “the theology in the hymns is so rich.” And it was for me too. The hymnal we used was a blue cloth-covered book with a blue string place marker, called Great Songs of the Church. When we were children, we didn’t realize that it was a collection of songs and hymns from many denominations. I still love that hymnal. It became my friend. I grew familiar with the names of the hymn writers and learned some of their histories.

In our tradition, the song leader would tell us the number of the “invitation hymn” before the sermon started, so we could find and mark it with the string. This was intended to make the transition from sermon to song smoother. It occurs to me that this was a technique intended to remove distraction, to produce an emotional effect, which the movement traditionally resisted doing. There was such concern that someone might have a merely “emotional” response to God, one that wouldn’t last, that we discouraged any emotional experiences at all in church.

After Gordon Teel had moved to another congregation, I didn’t like the preachers who followed him in the pulpit. Part of that was my age and my growing discomfort with our doctrine. I would occasionally read the Bible, trying to avoid criticizing the sermon in my head. How shocking it was to have my mom correct me for reading the Bible in church! She said I was supposed to be listening to the sermon. I found this bizarre, to be scolded for reading the Bible.

There were two chairs facing the audience on the platform where the pulpit stood. That’s where the song leader would sit between prayers, and where the men would sit who were making announcements or praying or whatever. As one of the elders of the church, Daddy went to regular meetings where they discussed budget, building maintenance, the preacher, the Sunday School, whatever they felt needed attention. An odd memory is that Daddy would get nervous about speaking before the congregation. Because he would cough when he got nervous, he kept a bottle of Terpinhydrate with codeine in his suit coat pocket to swig on. This habit seemed so opposite to my parents’ usual concern about what other people would think. My folks would never go in a bar or order wine in public, though my dad did keep a bottle of wine in the back of the refrigerator. He said a little shot glass of it helped him sleep. His conscience was clean because they had lived in Europe where people regularly drank with their meals, without the stigma American Christians put on drinking. Most Europeans didn’t drink to get drunk like Americans did.

In Sunday school it was a really big challenge to memorize all the books of the Bible. I think it was around fourth grade. That made it easier to find scriptures when we were looking them up in church and in school. We learned a lot of Bible stories. One Sunday School teacher was a college student, a gentle young woman named Dorcas Traylor. I knew the story of Dorcas from the Bible, what a good and generous woman she was, and this only heightened Dorcas’ stature in my eyes.

Once Dorcas asked us all to say who we wanted to grow up and be like. The other little girls went first, and each one said, “My mother.” When it was my turn, I said, “I want to grow up and be like you.” I was embarrassed to be the only one who didn’t want to be like their mother, but I also was a truth teller. I didn’t want to be unhappy or make other people so unhappy. I wanted to be nice. I had no idea that later Niceness would become an idol to me, and I would have to repent of worshiping it.

Knowing Helen Young in my growing up years moved my life closer to God. When we were little, our Wednesday night class was only Marilyn, Sara and me, and occasionally one or two other girls, so Helen decided to teach us instead of making us sit in church. We sat in little chairs around a table, and Helen talked to us. I remember feeling so special because an adult took the time to talk to me. My parents were always too tired or too busy or something. They never just sat and talked to me. Helen chose to take the time to impart things to her girls, lessons, family history, all kinds of training.

Here's a picture of Helen with her mother, Irene Maddox, and Pat Boone, taken around the time she was teaching our class. One of those Wednesday nights she talked about her mother, Irene Maddox, and she cried. I found out later she almost always cried when she talked about her mother. That night I learned a lot from watching and listening to her. I learned that it was okay to feel tender feelings and show them. I learned it was good to honor your parents and respect their example. I learned that when someone else has a close relationship with God, it makes you hungry to know Him better too. Both Mr. and Mrs. Maddox helped Helen want to know God, and she helped me to want to know God. She told us how her father was too old to play with her when she was growing up, but he helped her memorize whole chapters of the Bible. She said that this heritage meant more to her than if he had left her a fortune.

There was a “cry room” where mothers could take their babies and toddlers, up some stairs at the entrance to the church with a big plate glass window overlooking the congregation and a speaker system so the mothers could still hear the service. That’s where they put our Sunday School class for many years. One of our teachers, Ernest Shaw, had a boy and girl in our class who were shy, or at least quiet. We didn’t ever get to know them well. Mr. Shaw came to my dad once and told him I was prejudiced. I’ll bet I was, because later when I became sensitized to prejudice, I realized that my dad was really a racist. He was a product of a small east Tennessee town, even though his family had moved to Memphis, Mississippi and Nashville by the time he reached high school.

When we got older and found out that other churches had youth groups, we felt deprived. It was always hard for the elders to find teachers to teach our age group (no matter how old we were!) and I remember several adults and college students giving it a try. We were a tough audience! We were pretty critical and cynical, even more than is usual for teenagers, and very hard to “reach”.

We had one teacher who really tried hard, Jim Atkinson. I remember his seriously trying to teach us the book of Romans. When we got to the passage where it says God is like a potter and we are like the clay, and He can do with us whatever He chooses, it made me mad. I argued, “But surely God has to be fair! Surely God has to keep His promises!” I couldn’t handle it if God were like my parents, unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary in the way they acted. God just had to be different. I desperately needed Him to be dependable.

We probably hurt Mr. Atkinson’s feelings because we thought he was so uncool. His favorite word was “keen”, as in, “That’s really keen!” and we were so embarrassed for him because nobody said that word anymore. It had been popular maybe twenty years before. Once we were discussing popular singers and the name of Barbra Streisand came up. By that time, I had become aware of racism and prejudice. Mr. Atkinson told us that Jews like to spell their names differently than other people, and I got mad at him because I thought he was making an ethnic slur. I also scolded my mom for talking about “Jewing someone down,” by which she meant bargaining for a lower price.

Duane Doidge (a fraternity brother of Chip’s and Matt’s and Danny Jackson’s) taught our Sunday School one semester, but he gave up on us after not too long. Harry Skandera, another fraternity brother, tried it. No one ever really succeeded. I was so offended by one of our teachers. Bill Stivers was an elder, a professor of Spanish at Pepperdine, and led regular mission trips to San Felipe in Baja, California, and he taught our class for awhile. In a discussion on prayer, he said, “Prayer doesn’t really do anything to change God’s mind. It’s good for us psychologically, and that’s why we need to do it.” I was horrified, and thought the poor man had no faith. I believe I told him how that upset me.

Mr. Stivers caught me walking home after church one day and confided in me that his daughter Nina was not turning out as ladylike as he thought she should be. He asked me whether it was a good idea to buy her some false eyelashes and makeup. I heartily discouraged that. I didn’t like it that he was asking me for advice, and I didn’t like it that he wasn’t content with his daughter just the way she was. After my dad died, when I was sixteen, oddly enough Bill was the one I invited to take me to a father/daughter banquet. I guess he was the only man I thought could “act the part” and not be too uncomfortable escorting me…I perceived he had some compassion for me and wouldn’t mind too much. Below is a photo of Bill and me at that banquet.