Monday, July 03, 2006

Digging in for the Long Haul
When I had first arrived in Nashville, Duane and Carol, my “houseparents”, went out of town for a week and I was alone in our house. I ended up reading a lot, and one of the books I read was Perelandra, second in a science fiction trilogy by C. S. Lewis. I already loved his Chronicles of Narnia. I had discovered those books a couple of years before in Heidelberg, so I made the effort to adjust to this different style and I forged ahead with the trilogy.

What a preparation for the year ahead this book proved to be. Perelandra was an incredibly accurate description of the kind of spiritual warfare I had only begun to discover. Before that night in Heidelberg where I turned on the light and read scripture until the fear went away, I had always felt like a helpless victim. But now I discovered that I had power, authority, and even a responsibility to fight the attacks when they came. Whether it was fear, pride, criticism, self-centeredness, jealousy…whatever the temptation, I began to realize that it was coming from somewhere outside me, not springing from my own wicked center like I had been tempted to believe. If it was coming from some other source, and that source was evil, then I needed to take a stand against it, and in the authority of Jesus’ name, I could overcome it.
At Christmas of that year came the revelation of Danny’s decision to enter the “gay lifestyle.” I told the Lord that my faith had to get really practical now. It was life or death to me. I had to figure out how to handle this situation, or none of it made sense. It was a crisis of faith. I had to know where to stand, and how to walk. Then came the new idea of intercession. (The world I had been raised in was sort of typified by my uncle V.M., who, when I mentioned how long it took me to get through my growing prayer list, commented, “Why don’t you just point to your list and tell the Lord to take care of it?” Needless to say, I had received no prior training in sustained, fervent prayer.)
Then early the following summer, one of the Nashville ladies I had come to love invited me over to their house. It was Mamie Mason, who was married to Bob, a man who knew my dad because he had been Bob’s Boy Scout troupe leader. They had a beautiful, gracious home and they had a house guest staying with them she wanted me to meet. Amazingly, Patrick turned out to be someone I had already met in Malibu, with Danny Blair and Virginia Burch, about a year and half before.
Patrick quickly trusted me enough to unburden himself. He revealed that he had just returned from a time of living in Europe where he had been a male prostitute. I don’t think Mamie and Bob knew this, so once again I was bearing a burden I felt I couldn’t share with folks older and wiser than me. He had told his mother, at their home in Virginia, “I have to find out if God is real,” and she had shipped him off to the Masons to see if folks in Nashville could help him.
We stayed up all night the night we met, and drove around, and at one point he scared me pretty badly when he went into a gay harangue and wouldn’t shut up. His voice changed, his eyes changed, and it was clear I was dealing with a spirit, or several, not just Pat himself. I told him, “Let’s you and me fast together for three days and see what God does.” He agreed to it.
I spent the next three days mostly with him. We read the Bible, we talked, we listened to teaching tapes, we hung out on the Masons’ deck, we drove around, we prayed. On the third day, in the evening, Mamie came outside and told me I had a phone call. Someone had called at Naomi’s house (where by now I was unofficially living) and they had known I could be found at the Masons’. I called the number, and it was Danny Blair. He said, “I need you. Please come home.”
It was six months since I had started praying for him.
I called Momma and asked her if I could make a visit home. I don’t think I explained anything to her. I hadn’t told her about Danny’s revelation, because I felt it was too vulnerable and sensitive a place in my heart to open to her comments. She said I could come, and the next week I was in Malibu again. I drove out to Orange County to see Danny, hoping for some kind of breakthrough, but enough time had passed since the phone call that things had settled down again. He was now living with Doug, the older man I had met at dinner in January, and Doug had scared him badly by threatening suicide and/or violence if Danny left him. So in his panic he had called me. By the time I arrived, the vulnerability was gone and he had settled back into a helpless resignation. He was smoking a lot of dope to keep himself numb.
It was so hard to have prayed that long and then see him so not present. We roamed around their house, we talked, we made their bed…He said, “You’re a strong person, to be able to do this.” I said simply, “I love you.” Nothing came of the visit except that he was reminded I had not rejected him, and maybe that was the best way at the moment that God could demonstrate His love for Danny. I realized as I returned to Nashville that this battle was not going to be a short one, and that it was time for me to make a commitment for the duration. I also realized that even if Danny and I were meant to be together, it certainly wouldn’t be any time soon.

Meanwhile, my relationship with Mike Johnston was continuing through letters, and he really shocked me by suggesting I come to school in New Haven. With my library degree and a Master’s in Divinity, I thought, I could become a theological librarian. I had always had a fantasy of a relationship like the Youngs’, a partnership. Mike could teach church history, I could work in the university library. How perfect. I just knew there was no way Yale was going to accept me, and even if they did, there was no way we could afford it. So why not try?
I applied, they accepted, they offered grant money, I had a talk with Momma and Chip about the finances, they agreed it was a good idea, and in no time I was attending goodbye picnics in Nashville. After only one year in this slower-paced, simpler way of life, I had gotten used to the service station guys and the checkout lady at the grocery store smiling and asking, “How’re ya’ll doin’?”
I had already been spoiled, but I didn’t know it until I faced the shopkeepers in New Haven. I felt like crying when they barked at me, “Whaddya want?” as if I were an intruder in their space instead of their livelihood. Just an hour from New York by train, New Haven exhibited some of the City’s harshness. What a rude awakening, and a chilly welcome. I had become a softie after just a year of Nashville’s “down home folks” treatment. Later on, I would come to enjoy the quintessentially New York “in your face” style of interaction, but it took some getting used to.
Fred Walker was planning to make a trip up to Boston to see Sue Mead’s family (they were engaged) and he agreed to take some boxes by New Haven for me on his way. When he returned to Nashville, he said, “They’re in something called the RSV Room. What do you suppose that means, Revised Standard Version?” He was just kidding – but that was the truth! Yes, indeed…my boxes were waiting for me in the very room where the majority of the work had been done on the Revised Standard translation of the Bible. This was a mere foretaste of the richness of history and tradition that lay ahead.
I moved my stuff into a dorm room in Seabury, one of the buildings halfway down the left side of the Quad, past the dorm where I had found Mike the previous Christmas. I was upstairs in the girls’ floor, and the downstairs was guys. The room was wonderful, all built ins except for the bed and desk. The bed, on the left, was a piece of wood on legs, with a thin mattress on it, very monastic, and the desk straight ahead in front of the window was heavy brown wood that had seen many generations of students. On the right side of the room there were built-in bookshelves, a built-in closet, cupboards above for storage, a built-in chest of drawers with a mirror and dressing table top, and a sink. One touch that spoke of the quality of the place was the thick, shiny brass plates over the electric plugs and light switches.
We ate together in the Refectory, a large room with long tables over on the left side of the Chapel, with the Common Room just outside it. The library where I would work and spend so much free time was to the right side of the Chapel. I enjoyed fitting the Chapel services into my morning schedule each day, and experienced a taste of many different Christian traditions in that way, as the services were led by various students and faculty.
I called Mike to tell him I had arrived. We made plans to go to church together, but I wouldn’t get to see him until the Sunday two weeks after I had arrived. I was disappointed that he didn’t want to come over right away, but having a date to look forward to helped with that some. On our way to the Hamden Church of Christ, where he said he had attended occasionally, he said, “I’ll bet you know more people at this church than I do, even though you’ve never been here before.”
“That’s impossible,” says I, and we walk into the Sunday School classroom and sit down in the circle of chairs.
A young blonde says, “You’re Gwen Moore, aren’t you?”
Shocked, I reply, “Yes – how did you know?”
“Oh, your grandmother and my grandmother are good friends, and she told me to look out for you.”
“See, what did I tell you?” smiles Mike.
It was pretty odd to sit in this Sunday School classroom and watch nearly every guy there whip out his Greek New Testament. What a strange environment, more than a bit daunting for me. Oddly, I don’t recall any weird theology or even much speculation arising from this group, though they were translating from the text as they went. I would have expected at least an occasional revelation that would differ from our Church of Christ roots.
Mike and I went for pizza after church, and I poured out my responses to two weeks in New Haven. He was floored. He said, as we walked down Whitney together, “This is, to use your word, amazing. You’re asking all the questions I figured it would take you two years to ask.”
Shortly after I had moved into my dorm, I wandered down to the basement to try out the laundry room. Over in the shadowy corner in a heap was what looked to be a pile of rags. Instead I discovered it was a patchwork quilt. I had fallen in love with quilts the year before in Nashville, and I’d asked Grandmommie, “What ever happened to our family quilts?” She said, “I gave them to some poor families.” Of course, knowing this was a precious heritage too, but still I longed for a patchwork quilt of my own. And here one lay! I determined that if it remained in that corner in a heap for at least a month, unclaimed, it could be mine. And so it was. It survived a good washing, and I cherish that hand-me-down gift from a stranger still today.
I had a great Nashville moment concerning the sale of my car. After I had been in the wreck with the Camaro, my uncle Winston had taken me to buy a used car with the insurance money. I drove it to New Haven and then started the process of trying to sell it there, when I realized that the title said the car was a Tempest when it was really a LeMans. I wrote the Department of Motor Vehicles in Nashville to ask them to correct the title, because I didn’t think the Connecticut people would go for an inaccurate title in a car deal. In the mail I received back the title and the letter I had sent, and on the bottom of my letter, in someone’s handwriting, were the words, “Honey, you just change it on the title and tell them it was wrong.”
I promise, I am not making this up. I still have the letter, if you’d like to see.
I had made a friend in Nashville whose family still lived in Connecticut, and since she knew I was moving up there she invited me to visit her at their cottage. It turned out to be the extremely nice kind of cottage owned by the genteel poor, the children of wealth who haven’t turned out to do so well for themselves but still have expensive tastes. My friend’s name was Hope, and we shared a pleasant afternoon chatting away about Connecticut, her unsaved family, the Lord’s goodness, etc. I love the family joke she shared with me, “Yeah, I have a sister and a brother too. Faith is the oldest. Faith, Hope and Bradley…and the greatest of these is not Bradley!”

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

I had barely arrived at Yale when my world was shaken. On September 16, 1975, Norvel Young had an accident that killed two ladies and injured another. He was reportedly under the influence of alcohol and prescribed medication. In years following, he would explain that he was depressed at the financial condition of the University and subconsciously angry at the way Bill Banowsky had behaved in his presidency. Of course, the family and the institution were badly shaken. It was so weird to see a photograph the following spring of my best friend, Marilyn, in TIME magazine, clinging to her father’s arm as they exited a court hearing. The story was on the front page of the L.A. Times. It was everywhere.
I recall at least one occasion prior when we had picked him and Helen up at the airport and he had smelled and acted “funny”. They attended so many social events and were in so many settings where everyone else was drinking, it’s really no wonder that he would be tempted. What folks don’t know is that Norvel’s brother was an alcoholic. Anyone who knows anything about alcoholism knows that it’s a disease process that has a basis in body chemistry, but when we were growing up, the recovery culture had not yet come of age and ignorance was a common enemy.
Not only did Norvel pay for the tragedy in terms of community service, contributing to a study on executive stress, making countless efforts to communicate his newly gained insights through speeches and meetings, phone calls and letters; four years of probation in which he was not allowed to drive; and a fine. He and Helen recognized their unelected but powerful position of leadership in “the Brotherhood” both nationally and around the world. They agreed that they would travel to the other colleges connected with Churches of Christ, as well as the major churches, such as Broadway in Lubbock where he had ministered for thirteen years, and Madison in Nashville where Ira North had grown such a large and vital congregation.
Norvel would publicly repent, not only for the shame of the drinking and the accident, but for the public reproach which he had brought upon the movement. And this they faithfully did, crossing the country many times, of course at their own expense. They later reported that the grace and forgiveness with which they were met were both humbling and just a bit surprising. They discovered that in the face of such personal pain, the Brotherhood exhibited more forgiveness than the legalistic rigidity which it had sometimes evidenced.
From that time on, Norvel was an even more deeply sensitive, grateful, tender-hearted man. Whenever we would visit their bedroom in the evening, he would always ask to share a prayer before we left. He went on to succeed in his role as Chancellor, and then in the ‘Eighties, Chancellor Emeritus. He led the “Wave of Excellence” fundraising campaign, raising more than $100 million, and establishing the School of Law, the School of Business and Management, and the School of Education and Psychology, which was named in Norvel and Helen’s honor on September 21, 2005.

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

The first thing in my journal from the days at Yale was October 10,1975, the day that Dogwood arrived in my dorm room. Remember Dogwood? They were that group of musicians that played every Saturday night at Koinonia, the Christian coffee house and bookstore run by Belmont Church. They were going to play at the wedding of Mary Bennett (a good friend of David and Cherie Shepherd – Cherie was related to the Young family through her father, Lyle Morrow, Norvel’s cousin) and Bill Murray in Mystic, Connecticut.
Mary Bennett had made a big impression on me the previous year in Nashville. She was talking to one of the young men in our circle of friends, one whom I considered the most attractive, a “Most Likely to Succeed” type who dated only gorgeous women. Jack was someone I wouldn’t dare to initiate a conversation with, obeying a feeling left over from high school that I was inferior to the “beautiful people” (as they were called in those days). I felt unworthy to approach someone of his social status.
Jack was talking about the possibility of becoming an author, and Mary spoke right up to him. “Maybe you had better wait until you’ve learned something before you try to write a book.” Wow! I didn’t even consider the possibility that her words might be defensive, or perhaps unkind. I was just so impressed that she dared to talk to him as an equal, to confront him in that way and risk his displeasure. I wanted to grow up and be bold like her!
In order to visit with all the Nashville folks, I drove east to Mystic, Connecticut’s naval base, for a couple of days and went to the wedding. I stayed at the home of Peg Crosse, a lady I had heard about from the Shepherds and Fred Walker. On their way back to Nashville, Dogwood (Steve and Annie Chapman, Ron Elder, and his wife Ann) visited my dorm room for a pit stop. It was so weird, so touching, to have these representations of simple faith and love and affection right there in this strange Northeastern environment. I really hated to see them go.
The next entry in my journal is another list, this time a list of blessings, which I made on November 20, 1975. “Lord, it’s 2:30 a.m. and I can’t wait any longer to praise You by recording some of the blessings in Your mercy-shower upon me. Two weeks, and how full you made them! Your love, and Your Self, and Your comforting fellowship are forever worthy of praise and thanksgiving. In order of their appearance:
• William Sloane Coffin, both in class and again, speaking in the Common Room – to see him as Your man, a man of faith, a man seeking, yet a man You’ve found. Continue to minister love and light. (This guy was Yale’s Chaplain, and had been immortalized in the Doonesbury comic strip by Garry Trudeau. He was retiring and making farewell exhortations to various groups of students.)
• Roland Bainton: Praise Your faithfulness for his integrity and kindness, for “table fellowship” and questioning. (A world-renowned Luther scholar, he rode around New Haven on a bike in his eighties. He had lunch with a group of us that day.)
• The Group: a weary afternoon together where we opened (You opened) our hearts a little wide to one another. (Henri Nouwen required us to have a small group discussion in addition to his classes; what a wise requirement, since his goal was to get people out of their heads and into their hearts. Ours met in my dorm room.)
• Martha: sweet servant of Yours. To speak language of Your Spirit, to share Your truth and each other’s faith. An angel sent to minister to me. To pray together. Glory.
• Bev Nitschke: to share struggles, to see You open ways of healing. Father, I proclaim peace and guidance from You in her heart. May she be made completely Yours.
• Bible study at the Worleys’: a victory for You and a blessing for me. Protect David, Your Hebrew son, as he comes home to You. Bless Melinda and David richly with power and truth, Heatherly with health. (She was a projectile vomiter for months.)
• Gary: “We need to talk about Him. I don’t know Him.” Glory to Your Name. Bless him to open his heart’s door.
• The Hays’ and more precious prayer. Bless their home with unity and wisdom. Praise You for their love for me. (They took care of me when I got a really bad case of bronchitis, and Steve gave me a warm jacket which I didn’t own.)
• Michael Haggin and our talk. Blessed be Your Name, the light shines even in my darkness, and will not be put out. Heal his marriage, Father. May he come to know You. ( I could have gone for Mr. Haggin if he’s been a tad more believing. He was balding on top with a brush mustache, like Peter Yarrow, and we liked each other a lot.)
• Mike Johnston: two gifts of Your timing in the library; the first phone call just to talk; the Wesley Covenant Service; and a quick but blessed supper.
Your Name be praised from the rising to the setting of the sun.

“These are praises to You, Lord, not to me,” I wrote in my Journal, “from the Henri Nouwen discussion group, Fall, 1975.
“Maybe nobody tells you what’s wrong with you here because we can’t find anything.”
[i] – Michael Haggin
“I can talk to you because you listen – you can at least be present.”
“There’s nobody else I’d want to take to see The Hiding Place.” – Duncan Hanson
“Hi, sweetheart…(hug)…You were making a statement about who you are.” – Rachel Hanson (She encouraged me with these words when I shared my discomfort at the doctor’s shocked comment on my virginity at my first internal exam. She was still the Midwest farmer’s daughter, though she had studied psychology with one of the innovators of the day, R. D. Laing.)
“Did I tell you my good news?” I asked, and Michael Haggin replied, “What, that Jesus saves? Or that God answers prayer?”
“That’s really revealing,” says Lanny Vincent. “What is?” someone asks. “Well, that shows how I feel about Gwen.” (In the guessing game of “What kind of animal would this person be? What kind of weather? What kind of furniture?” etc., Lanny answered about me: doe, changing weather, Shaker furniture, violet, cedar chest, autumn. Very nice. Lanny was an exceedingly attractive guy, a graduate of Davidson College, and a sailor.)
“What I’m trying to suggest is that we don’t have to terminate…” – Lanny Vincent. (We decided to go on meeting into the spring semester, even though our Henri Nouwen class was ending.)
Ed Boucher looked at my Bible and commented, “It’s like a parson’s Bible out of the seventeenth century…simple, worn, well-used…”

Mr. Boucher made another memorable comment one day while we were discussing my regret at not being able to take Michael Cook’s famous class, Christianity and the Arts. ‘My dear, just listen to the B-minor Mass once a week.’ I had never heard the B-minor Mass, nor did I have a clue who had composed it. I marched right out to the record store and bought it. What a wonder was revealed by that Deutsche Grammophon recording, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s beautiful baritone singing that gorgeous Latin text. (Here was finally a trained voice I could love!)
One day we had communion together, and I sang ‘Who Am I?’ which I had learned from Annie Chapman the Christmas before in Nashville. I remarked afterward, “I wish we could sing a song we all know,” and Lanny replied, “I think we all know that one.” He brought the wine, Duncan brought the chalice, I made the communion bread, other people brought readings to share, everyone really prayed.
I loved how the Divinity School Quadrangle looked in the snow. The chapel was straight ahead, with dorm rooms in several buildings along each side. The library was connected to the chapel in the right corner, and the left corner of the Quad led to the Common Room and Refectory. I haven’t visited the campus since they did a major renovation, so I’m not sure if those are all still in the same locations.

[i] I discovered later that this was not a compliment, as I took it at the time. Michael Haggin was really complaining that I didn’t let anyone in close enough to see my vulnerabilities and broken places.

1 comment:

Naomi Brooks said...

Gwennie - I found your blog tonight and felt like bursting into sobs at least three times. My goodness. I haven't quite learned how to navigate blogs enough to know if I can find the beginning entry or the end. What do you hear of Danny Blair now? (If that's in a post I haven't found, please forgive.) Taking in all those pictures of the past - both in words and...well, pictures - I realize that, though I was barely holding onto land with my tip toes during our time at Pepperdine, I did love. I've always felt most moved to tears by the blessing of love, and seeing those dear faces and hearing your voice in the words you've written opens my heart (an awesome thing). It's interesting - I had such unhealthiness in my relationships then, but I barely remember the things I did/thought/wished that were wrong - what I remember is the love I had, and as I look at it from the perspective of the person God has made me, that is what I feel and remember - it's what remains.

I also feel terrible for the ways I hurt you in our relationship, especially in Heidelberg. I was simply so immature and self-centered. Please forgive me.

One interesting reaction: when I read, "55" in your profile, I thought, "No!" Do you know, for just a second, I thought, "Gwen is 17!"

Love, Naomi