Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The fall in Nashville passed. I watched the squirrels play on the Peabody campus. I heard them play in the attic over my bedroom. They seemed to have a favorite game of rolling nuts across the floor – my ceiling – as if they were bowling. I watched the leaves turn so beautifully all over town, and the air turn crisp. I made good friends with a lady named Jessie in my library school classes, and I spent a lot of time at Naomi’s house, getting to know all these single people my age who went to Belmont to church.

Naomi got a job as a secretary in the Office of University Ministry at Vanderbilt, and she was amazed at the lack of faith she found there. But there was a lady whose husband taught in the Divinity School who was attracted to Naomi’s vibrant relationship with God. Shirley Forstman would often talk with Naomi, and finally decided that her daughter Val would do well to meet the likes of us. Val came over to the Lone Oak house for musical evenings, bringing her flute along with a troubled heart. It turned out she had gone to Oberlin to college and was pretty disturbed by the extreme demands for a high level of performance she felt she was under there. You could tell she was attracted to the difference in us, but it was so very different, she didn’t know how to appropriate it.

We all went to Belmont to church. Belmont was a very lively congregation. They had experienced a genuine revival in the past couple of years, and they were bursting at the seams, with people sitting in folding chairs in the aisles, sitting in the wide window sills, sitting on the stage behind the pulpit. I especially loved the “Amen Corner”, the pews that were set sideways facing the pulpit. The singing was full of power and deep devotion. Brown Bannister, one of the Texas guys I had met at Janice Hahn’s wedding to Gary Baucum, led worship sometimes and his heart was so tender it would make yours ache.

I started going to Bible studies and prayer meetings at night. At one point I was attending some meeting every night of the week but one. Someone commented, “You’re in graduate school? I didn’t know you were in school…when do you ever study?” because I rarely did. I was able to make it through the Master’s program as a “B” student without much work. I was majoring in Bible and minoring in Library Science.

And it wasn’t just Bible classes. There was a new thing happening in Christian music in Nashville as well as California. Groups were forming, original music was being written, recordings were happening. Those of us involved in Belmont Church and other fellowships as well were gathering every Saturday night to hear people play and sing. Some of them played so often that everybody learned the words to every song, and we all sang them together! Our favorite group was called Dogwood. It started out with six guys and their guitars, and finally was pared down to three. Then, when they got a record deal, one of the guys dropped out in revolt against the commercialism, and the songwriter’s wife joined them.

One might wonder why on earth a group would call themselves Dogwood. It could only happen in the South. The dogwood tree has white blossoms in the springtime, and there is a legend that the wood of the cross Jesus died on was the wood of the dogwood tree. The blossoms could represent the nails that were used in the crucifixion, because there are holes tinged with pink on the ends of the four petals.

In the music, the worship services, the Bible studies, the get-togethers at each others’ houses, there was a sense of togetherness, of adventure, of all being headed in the same direction on a journey. No matter how confused or inept we all might feel from time to time, we had each other to lean on. I was feeling myself absorb this new spirit of faith. There was an unquestioning humble acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways that I had never really witnessed before.

Having come from an academic environment where such humility would be considered mindless, this was the first time I had lived in the kind of atmosphere my heart had been longing for since I was a child. I used to read scriptures where Jesus would enter a town and heal somebody, and the “whole town rejoiced” or somewhere else, the “whole village praised God” and I would wonder what on earth would that be like? Now I had a taste of it, with these earnest and passionate believers.

At the same time, I was making more of a social break with my Church of Christ upbringing. (I had made the spiritual break long before.) My attending Belmont Church was not okay with my Nashville relatives. The minister, Don Finto, had been fired from teaching at Lipscomb because of his beliefs, and the congregation as a whole was suspect if not anathema. My uncle V.M., my mother’s brother, knew I was going to church at Belmont, and considered it his responsibility to “straighten me out.”

His first effort was to hook me into attending his congregation, Vultee, by asking me to pick up Grandmommie, bring her to his house, have dinner with all of them and then go to Wednesday night services together and deliver Grandmommie back home. It made sense because it was a way to get to know Grandmommie better by spending regular time with her. And it was great to have a nice meal at a table with a family. But the going to church part proved painful. I was in a class with Pam, my cousin and a couple of years younger than me, and I recall saying a few things that proved controversial.

V.M. then took the next step in my reformation. He invited me to have Bible studies with him. We had ten sessions, quite an investment of time and energy on both our parts, and I considered it an opportunity to really hear from “his side.” I wanted to ask him one main question, and I did. I said, “I realize that you and many other folks, when you read the Bible, have a certain filter you put over it. You believe certain passages apply to us today, and certain other passages only apply to people ‘back then,’ in the days of Jesus or the early church. So tell me, how do you determine which passages apply to us and which don’t? Is there some kind of rule or guideline you go by?” He really didn’t have a satisfying answer.

I felt it was an opportunity to share some stories he’d probably never heard the like of before, things that I knew of personally and things that others had told me. It was distressing to him to feel that he had done his best to persuade me of my errors, and hadn’t really budged me an inch. And I could sense he was stunned, shocked by a few of the tales of miraculous, supernatural interventions of God that I had witnessed or heard of. I talked about physical healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy. He had to be freaking out inside. He finally gave up. He called a truce, which resulted in his having nothing to say to me for the next several years.

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0
I wrote to Mike every once in awhile. Here’s a letter from November 20, 1974.

Dear Mike,

I’m sitting in a graduate (still amazes me) carrel in the Vanderbilt library – not at all aesthetic, like UCLA if you ever went there to study. I feel more like writing you than thinking about the quarrel between Hemingway and Max Eastman. That’s one of the piddly little things I get to play with this week in Bibliography and Literary Research. Oh, for a paper to do on some intriguing religious topic! I’ve been attempting a more realistic attitude this week though. Probably in the middle of some semester in Divinity School I’d feel equally as itchy to be getting on with Real things. Even more realistic than that – I’d be equally embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and progress.

I’m wondering what this semester’s work has taught you, whether you did that Puritan paper, etc.

I also wonder why it is that my character gets worked on so much. Maybe I’m more aware of my faults than most people. The past few weeks we have had crash courses in the areas of: Giving Up, Patience, Criticism and Responsibility. Without giving away any particulars, I want to praise God that He’s helped me do and not hear only, a little lately. It feels like progress. In terms of being critical (of other people) I must be a real mess because I’ve had to have so many different lessons in it. It’s a blessing that I don’t understand – I don’t react that way to you at all. I must respect you too much or something.

Naomi passed on a possibly apocryphal tale that delighted me. Sam Jackson and your friend and mine J. Gaston, as you know, attended Wenatchee High School at approximately the same time, and it is said that they made one another’s acquaintance under a table.
“Under a table. I think it was noisy in the cafeteria, or they were throwing food or something, so Sam went under a table and there was old Jerry.”
“Them Wenatchee people.”
“Yep, I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s funny, right?”

We’ve had sort of a workshop in New Testament conversion around here the past few weeks. A girl named Pam came to Nashville in August after having been thrown out of the house, and having to sell everything she owned. Didn’t know why she felt compelled to come here. She met one of the girls Naom lives with, started coming to Belmont and over to Naomi’s and asking all sorts of questions. (She’s from a Church of Christ missionary ultra-conservative family and hasn’t ever heard anything else.) Her life since she was 14 has been drugs and drunks and performing in rock groups and two years with an Edgar Cayce ~ demonic ~ seances type group. In the past two months she’s given all that up, and tried to seek the Lord. Because of that she’s had her car repossessed (her dad stopped the insurance payment), lost her job (her drinking buddies turned her in as a junkie), and at least three or four other traumatic experiences. She got herself baptized this morning at 2:00 am. If you feel like praying for her you should. It’s gonna be a real spiritual battle. Poorly told story but it’s meant a lot to me to be in on it. I’m always surprised at how surprised I am when what I talk about in theory really works.

I think I’ll be in Malibu at Christmas. Are you going to play the hermit again?

In our Hope,
“Hats off!” cried the midget. “Hats off to the human condition!” — Merton
Lone Oak
After awhile of living at Duane and Carol Doidge’s, I started visiting at Naomi’s house more and more. It was fun being around four single women my age, it was fun getting to know the three who were new to me, and it was fun being out from under anyone’s control.

Elaine Davidson and Naomi had a tradition that Saturday was Fun Day. They would put on their overalls, tie on their bandanas, and head out the door looking for adventure. I loved joining them. Once we drove to Shelbyville where Elaine grew up and met her mom, and all of us went to the Jack Daniels Distillery, a local tourist attraction. Once I went horseback riding with Elaine and a few others, and another Saturday we took the wheat that Elaine’s daddy had grown to a mill for it to be ground.

This was my year to discover Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Naomi sat me down at their house one Saturday and played it for me, and I couldn’t believe all the feelings it inspired in me. It was like discovering the Impressionists all over again. It was refreshingly simple, modern yet classic, delightful, spare…sort of like the Shaker furniture that I envisioned when the Shaker theme Simple Gifts appeared in the Copland suite. I learned the words to Simple Gifts from Judy Collins, and thus began a fascination with the Shakers. I’ve visited their Pleasant Hill settlement in Kentucky twice, read several books and listened to their music. At one time, I shared their desire to create a Utopia on earth, and that impulse got me into a lot of trouble later in life.

Naomi and Elaine, Beckie and Martha lived in a little house on Lone Oak, and one block over on Oriole was a house with four single men who also went to Belmont. Clark Collins, Billy Mitchell, Fred Walker and Jack Milam were there at first. Later, the same house held four more precious men, three of whom who came to play huge roles in my life: Bob Farnsworth, Brown Bannister, Earl Carlisle, and Marty McCall. What a house! What a neighborhood.

One day that spring, I was riding a bike around the neighborhood when a blonde lady I had seen at church stepped out of the Oriole house and said, “Hey! Why don’t you stop awhile and visit?” It was Carol Ann Jackson Thomas, someone who would become one of my dearest friends. That spring afternoon in 1975 was the beginning of a very significant bond.

And there was another house full of boys that played a powerful role that first year in Nashville. A widower named Maddox had married a widow named Forrester, and together they created quite a remarkable household. Tim and Rob Maddox and Kim and Brad Forrester became step-brothers, and precious Vali Forrester was more outnumbered than ever as the only little girl. (No wonder she grew up to direct The Vagina Monologues at Vanderbilt.)

One night I was at the Lone Oak house and I got a hankering to go over to the Maddox/Forresters’ to see if anybody was home to talk to. As I got into the Camaro in the driveway, I clearly heard inside my heart, “Don’t go.” “But Lord,” I argued, “what could it possibly hurt? I’m not serious about any of them. I can’t mess up anything by visiting over there.” “Don’t go,” came even more insistently. I decided to pretend that it wasn’t really the Lord speaking, and I went.

Well, after I had driven around for ten or fifteen minutes unable to find their house, which I’d been to more than once, I gave up and turned back toward Lone Oak. I was at a corner on Caldwell where there used to be a stop sign. Not long after this evening, the city installed a traffic light. It was a blind hill, and after I had looked to the right, then the left, then the right again, I headed out, and SLAMMM! My car was hit by an oncoming car from the left, pushed into a ditch, and I found myself somehow getting out of the passenger door (with the engine still racing but the car stopped dead).

It was a teenager driving the family car. He had hit my door with the whole front end of this car which has just recently been repaired from another accident he had been in. It really was equally our faults…I hadn’t realized that the left side of the road was such a blind hill, since it was dark, and therefore my last glance had not been to the left. And I pulled out in front of him and took him so by surprise, he didn’t have much time to stop.

His parents came to pick him up and they graciously gave me a ride home to the Doidges’ house on Cherokee. I was starting to hurt, to shake from being in shock, so when I got in and called my mom, I started to cry. Duane reassured her that I was okay, and I went to bed. I lay there in the dark, feeling very remorseful, realizing that the Lord had warned me not to go, and the accident would never have happened if I had been obedient. I started apologizing to Him, begging His forgiveness, and I heard, as clearly as before, Him speak to my heart, “I love you. I love you.”

I cried all the more. I really expected a stern, disciplinarian, angry father, and what I got was His mercy and acceptance. It was the first time I had really known all the way through that God loved me, even at this worst part of me, my lifelong struggle with my will and disobedience. All these years later, I still have broken blood vessels in both my legs that remind me of this lesson in love. He saved my life that night.
Christmas with Danny
Christmas approached and I planned to go home to Mom’s house for awhile. Of course I would see Danny. We had written a little bit, but not enough to give me a sense of what to expect when I saw him again. Certainly no assurance that he knew what he wanted. And my time with Mike Johnston had not strengthened my desire for Danny’s much less verbal, less intellectually engaging companionship.

I saw his apartment in Orange County, met a guy who was apparently his roommate, and Danny and I spent some time together. Then on Sunday, he drove out to Malibu. We were on campus for awhile, and he played the piano in the auditorium where we had the campus church services. He seemed so affectionate, much more at ease being with me than he had been before. I had made plans to spend the night at Caren Hauser’s apartment so Momma wouldn’t be disturbed by my coming in late (and wouldn’t need to know when that was), although Danny had never given me cause before to anticipate a very late night. It turned out that plan to stay at Caren’s was more strategic than I would have dreamed.

We sat on a couch in her living room, everyone else had gone to bed, and it was getting past midnight, and Danny was still wide awake and talking. This was so bizarre, I was pretty sure he was going to tell me that he wanted to get married. Why else the affectionate touch, the easiness, the late night energy? Finally he said, “You know that guy you met in my apartment? I’m gay, and he’s my lover.”


I was stunned. I was speechless. I felt like I’d received a major blow to my gut. After that, I have no recollection of what I said or did, or how we said goodnight or goodbye. I was sufficiently numb and sufficiently present to be there with him. We spent the four hours after midnight really speaking to each other. I just remember crawling into Caren’s bed and telling her what had happened. She and I were up the rest of the night praying in English and praying in the Spirit. It was absolutely amazing that God had given me this resource on the hardest night of my life, that Caren was willing to labor with me in prayer. She must have sensed the serious crisis this was to me, and how deeply I was shaken.

The next day was a nightmare. I was obligated to go with my mother to Disneyland, to entertain some people – I don’t know who they were or even how many, I was so distracted by my internal distress. It appeared to be unofficial Gay Pride Day at Disneyland that day. Half the people I passed in the crowds at the park seemed to be screaming homosexuals. Maybe it was just my newfound sensitivity, maybe it was Satan playing with my head, but it was extremely hard to walk through that day with any kind of grace toward my mother and her guests. I felt assaulted. I was torn up inside.

I was still in California about a week later and Danny invited me to have dinner with him and a gay friend of his, an older man named Doug. Danny explained that they weren’t lovers, that Doug was just a friend, but when we sat over dinner and talked, it was evident to me that Doug was in a mentoring relationship with this newly “out of the closet” young man, and was influencing him powerfully.

We sat in a restaurant and conversed about other things, but eventually the point of the evening was reached where we shared our philosophies about sexuality. God gave me such poise and such confidence and such clarity, I was amazed. I said, “Look, I believe that every person on this planet needs sexual healing. There are few examples, if any, of the way God meant sexuality to be expressed and experienced when He created us.

“It says in the Bible that marriage between a man and a woman is supposed to represent God’s love for His people Israel, and Christ’s commitment to the Church. He loved the Church so much that He laid down His Godness, His very life, for her. And that’s the kind of love a husband is supposed to show his wife. And a wife is supposed to respond to that love with trust, respect, faithfulness and complete intimacy. You know as well as I do that sexuality has been twisted in every kind of way to destroy that picture.

“See, we are supposed to present a picture, an embodied representation, of this spiritual reality in marriage. That’s the only reason I can see for celibacy before marriage, for faithfulness in marriage, for restraint of our natural passions. If we didn’t have this standard to go by, why not do whatever we please? Whatever “comes naturally”? But the Bible indicates that all other forms of sexual expression or union are less than what God intended.”

I was shaky when it was over, but I knew God had been with me and I knew I had done what I came to do. Danny and Doug both knew that I cared about them, that I was not a raving Bible-banging rejecter of gays, and yet that I was holding my ground on the issue of the right and wrong of homosexuality.

I sat in the car in the dark, and the Lord ministered His comfort to my spirit as I sang my favorite hymn to Him, and cried.

Green pastures are before me which yet I have not seen
Bright skies will soon be o’er me where the dark clouds have been
My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free
My Savior has my treasure, and He will walk with me

When I got back to Nashville, I read a book called Rees Howell, Intercessor. It freaked me out, because this Welsh guy, Rees Howell, had such an intense, private and demanding relationship with God. It caused him to do weird things, things people didn’t understand, and it cost him a lot in terms of having a normal life. But I felt strongly, and I couldn’t avoid it, that God was calling me to pray for Danny as an intercessor. Sure, I had prayed all my life, but I had never attempted long-term sustained prayer for anything in particular, and I had never made a disciplined practice of daily prayer. It was always just natural responses to whatever was going on in my life, but there was never any regularity or discipline to it. Now it felt like God was enlisting me as a soldier in a war.

So I began. I prayed each night for Danny, for Doug, for their healing, their salvation, their enlightenment, their rescue from what I saw as part of a terrible plot of the enemy to destroy God’s image in the men of my day. In my journal, I wrote, “I pray for Daniel: your angel guard, the conviction of your Holy Spirit, the awareness of your love, your truth, your righteousness.” At some point, I asked God, “But how long do you expect me to pray? I’ve never done this before. I need a time limit so I can dare to bear this burden.”

I heard “Six months.”

A couple of weeks later, I was reading Eberhard Bethge’s biography of Dietrich Bonhöffer. I found it did my heart and head good to read about someone with such a disciplined, orderly, logical and intentional life as Uncle Dietrich. He had already become my hero, but now my appreciation for him had increased greatly. He lived his faithful, world-changing life in a prison cell, writing, praying, reading, witnessing of God’s faithfulness to other prisoners, and to his guards. I needed such a hero, with the warfare I was called to undertake.

He wrote, in his Letters and Papers from Prison, something that expressed my heart so well, and challenged me at the same time: “The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves. We must take care not to wallow in our memories or hand ourselves over to them…[but keep them] simply as a hidden treasure which is ours for certain. In this way the past gives us lasting joy and strength. From the moment we wake until we fall asleep, we must commend other people wholly and unreservedly to God and leave them in His hands, and transform our anxiety for them into prayers on their behalf.”
In February I got word that Danny would be living alone. I praised God for what looked to be an encouraging sign of movement in the right direction. A few days later, I was invited to go to SingSong in Abilene. I would get to see Marilyn, and Janice and her new husband, Gary, and experience this annual tradition of SingSong that all the Abilene people living in Nashville loved so much. I prayed and asked the Lord if it was His will for me to go, and flipped open the Bible to see if He would speak something to me from scripture. I am not lying but telling the truth when I say that my finger fell upon the word “Abilene” when I opened my Bible. I didn’t even know the word was in the Bible! (I’m sorry, I can’t help it – that’s really what happened.) So I went. Here’s what I wrote in my journal.

“I rode to Abilene with my cousin Pam and her friends (from the Vultee Church of Christ where her family attended). We ran into Janice and Marilyn at the Student Center of the University. They saw some guy they knew in passing and hollered, “Eulen! You’re so ugly!” Old times to the nth. Sweet conversation, aesthetic supper together, and the second half of SingSong. Such power in tradition. The Lord Bless You and Keep You sung by thousands of voices. I slept on the floor at Janice and Gary’s apartment.

“Highland to church, icy Sunday morning, Lynn Anderson spoke on prayer, of all things. Lunch at John Allen Chalk’s, the culmination of one of those ancient desires. Rich fellowship, but of the Seminar variety. (He was a leader, you’ll recall, in Campus Evangelism Seminars.) Along with Marita Mann (a Lubbock girl I had become friends with in Nashville) comes Mary Anne Whitten to the Baucum apartment. Amazement. Amazement deepens as discovery is made that space will be available for ride home with Mary Anne, and, of all people, Fred Walker. ( I had developed a crush on Fred, a guy unlike any I had met before, very open about his walk with the Lord.) We are overwhelmed.

“At Highland that night, prayers to get with Pam group, Fred and Ed Cannon are answered, in that order. Taco Bueno with some Spanish speakers, delightful though a tad strange to be reunited with Ed (from Pepperdine days). We arrive at a devotional/Bible study where we know no one. We therefore remove ourselves to one corner and talk. Later on, heavy moving of God’s Spirit. Blessed prayer by Ed. Nolen Hughey, Tim Mason, Brian greatly appreciated. Spiritual contact made with Steve, who needs prayer. Night spent with Mary Anne, Marita, Mrs. Mann.

“Embarking at 6:30 a.m. upon an adventure in the Spirit. Eighteen hours of glory. Only moments of disharmony were inside me – forgive me, Lord, for seeking my own. Beginning in I Peter, we cross reference and study and never finish I Peter. Much deep, sweet prayer, singing after dark. Fred and Clark (Collins) talk of dying to self, marriage in the Lord, walking by faith. We shared a time in God’s pavilion, the Secret Place. Inexpressible, real, deep beauty. Praise God for His mighty acts.”

Yes, that’s a snapshot of how I talked and thought as a result of living six short months in Nashville, Tennessee. I was writing in February, 1975.

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