Thursday, July 20, 2006
I went to Nashville for winter break, spending some of it with my mom amidst the relatives, and later having some time for myself and my friends. My cousin Pamela had gone to Geneva, Switzerland to engage in some mission work, and my mom commented, “She’s sounding real missionary-like, all those clichés; it’s real sweet. I guess she’ll get over it.” Below is one of the festive groups that got together in Nashville that Christmas: Momma, Helen Buchi, me, Clara Fentress, and Chip.
I went out to the Grant’s Bethany Farm (belonging to entertainer Amy Grant’s family) which some of my girlfriends were renting, and spent a couple of days alone while they were at work. It was a serious adventure. There was no heat in the house except for a wall heater in the kitchen, so I ventured out into the cold winter air to gather wood for the fireplace several times each day. I wrote this there.
“This is really ‘almost too perfect.’ When I look up from where I’m sitting, I see a steady burning fire in a big stone fireplace and out the window beside it there’s a couple of horses in the field. Gray Saturday afternoon, pot of chili on the stove, sittin’ on a couch next to a gangly young Irish setter named Shannon, CSN&Y on the stereo (same album we used to listen to downstairs in Heidelberg).
‘I fed the two baby goats their bottles this morning – they’re nannies named Deuter and Ronomy. And we went to pick up a couple of gallons of milk (mostly cream) from John Ford’s farm down the road.
“I’ve been with folks that prayed with me, and for me, every day this week. People who talk about the Lord with every other thought at least. Folks that call you ‘sweetheart’ and say ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Bless your heart’ at the drop of a hat.
“I’ve had a talk about my Yale experience where the language was judged ‘hi-falutin’ and a serious question was asked: ‘Is any of what you’re learning going to do you any good?’ And another talk where my descriptions of teachers and classes were pretty enjoyable and I was encouraged that indeed God had a place where exactly what I’m turning out to be/become will be specifically used, and that the questions and discussions and reading would be really useful to some folks right here and now.
“I feel somewhat torn.
“I feel mighty blessed.
“I think I’d best buckle down and get some Bonhöffer and Küng and Dulles read and digested, or I might just flunk out this very first thrilling semester.”
I wasn’t kidding. I really labored under the false impression that I might flunk out at Yale if I didn’t study every waking minute. I truly looked forward to Sunday afternoon and evening as an uninterrupted stretch of studying alone in my room. I didn’t realize that it was more difficult to fail at Yale than it was to get Honors. Only one hour by train from New York City, I tried to pretend it wasn’t there except for one visit to Betty Hance. I had known her at Pepperdine and she was studying at Union Theological Seminary. We spent a day together, and then it was back to my highly structured life on Prospect Street.
That same winter break, I was lying on Brenda Tuck’s couch in Nashville and watching TV. I was visiting Beckie King, who had moved out of the Lone Oak house, and she and Brenda were roommates at the time. We were watching West Side Story, which I knew word for word and note for note, but this night a new element was introduced. As I lay there, I realized that God was showing me a universal longing for heaven which I had never recognized before. Tony and Maria were singing,
“There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us -
Time together with time to spare,
Time to love, time to care
We’ll find a new way of living
We’ll find a way of forgiving – somewhere.
There’s a time for us, somewhere a time for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there!
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,
Somehow, someday, somewhere…”
I realized that there is a knowing, a yearning, planted in every human heart that this world is not what it should be, not what we need it to be. There is a hope that rises up from time to time, that we will find it, a world where everything is right and we feel truly at home. And we’re right. That world does exist. “The kingdom of God is within you,” Jesus said. And within us is also the place where the other, the wicked king rules and thereby makes this world so miserable.
Since I was very young, I loved the movie the Wizard of Oz. And I, like so many others, felt the yearning of Judy Garland when she sang, “Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…Birds fly over the rainbow; why, oh why can’t I?” That longing for a better world, it’s the same desire, burning in so many hearts. And the atmosphere in many churches is so unlike this yearning, so disconnected from this hope, that it’s hard for anyone to imagine how a life with God could acknowledge or begin to quench this desire. And yet, somehow we know that at the same time, we want to keep the yearning alive and growing for as long as we are in this life, until it is finally, explosively fulfilled in the world to come.
I attempted to make my class work fit my deepest personal issue. I wanted to find out what the theologians and scholars had to say about homosexuality. I wanted some help, some support in my spiritual struggle in prayer for Danny Blair. I wanted to force the swirling thoughts and emotions raised by Danny’s “lifestyle choice” into an orderly, logical pattern, to control them somehow, so I wouldn’t feel so much like their victim. I wrote papers for several classes. I still have a copy of the one I wrote in December, 1975 for Paul Meyer, “Biblical Foundations for an Understanding of Homosexuality and a History of Their Interpretation.” In it I distilled my gleanings from 28 books and articles down to 13 pages of type, with 41 footnotes. Good grief! Glancing at it today, it reads pretty respectably. What did I learn from all that reading? Not much. Basically, I discovered that the church had not really begun to address what was happening all around me. I saw an issue of TIME magazine, my old buddy, a publication I’d been reading since I was about twelve. I felt betrayed because featured on the cover was the “Gay Revolution”. The enemy of my soul was screaming at me that the cause I had championed, declaring the possibility of God’s sexual restoration, was hopeless, that the spirit of homosexuality was taking over.
It freaked me out to hear that approximately 1/3 of the student body at the Divinity School was gay. (Of course, one can’t trust such statistics. I was soon to learn that all kinds of respected historical figures were being “outed” in the current climate, including King David and Jesus himself.) There had been a gay activist student on campus a couple of years prior to my arrival who had “raised the consciousness” on campus and encouraged many students to come out of the closet. I was so grateful that I had missed that particular period of the school’s history, but I felt the aftershocks.
In Henri Nouwen’s class I wrote another paper about my emotional and spiritual concerns regarding the gay life style, the tendency to promiscuity and the hedonistic philosophy associated with it. I proposed that God was able to restore, to heal, to transform, the sexuality of a person who was bent in that direction. Henri, in his childlike way, wrote a note on paper, “Why do you feel so sure God would want to change a person who is homosexual?” I didn’t discover until many years later that Fr. Nouwen struggled with these questions on a personal level.
Though I was sometimes threatened by all the newness and strangeness, still I loved so many things about being at Yale Divinity School. I loved the workout my mind was getting. I loved living in an atmosphere where serious intellectual work was being done all around me. I loved taking voluminous notes from the lectures of these amazing professors. I would write my favorite comments in the margins of my notebooks, the better to locate them for future reference. Here follows a brief selection of such marginalia.
My Comp Dog (Comparitive Dogmatics, aka Creeds Class) professor, George Lindbeck, had represented the entire Protestant world at Vatican II. In that role, he suffered the criticism of a Roman Catholic, “All you Protestants have said is, if the Pope becomes a Protestant you could find a place for him – if he promises not to boss you around.” “There’s nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than celebrating communion in a comfortable suburban setting with a bunch of well-meaning liberal Democrats like myself with leanings toward sympathy with what is vaguely known as the counter-culture. No blacks, no hard-hats, no Republicans – it’s a strange body of Christ.” “To put it more vividly, this model legitimizes our being bound to the Church in all its concrete messiness. The Church and I badly need that kind of loyalty these days.”
Lindbeck reported, “Peter Berger put the ideas together with such rhetorical force that it gave him quite a metaphysical shock…but that’s one of those excursive things I really didn’t intend.” He allowed, “The Holy Spirit always gets neglected in these discussions. There are historical reasons for this which you’re more or less aware of.” “Like all analogies, I’m sure this one breaks down if it is required to walk on all fours.” “If you’re going to sum up, I think that’s a relatively fair characterization.” “These abstractions of course don’t get at the living reality – but let’s go on with being abstract.” “Is this the Eucharist – or a spiritual snack?” “…the Anglicans, as they recovered from an initial bout with Calvinist fever…” “I trust that the lecture I’m embarking on will be stimulus, rather than directive.” Prof. Lindbeck almost never looked directly at us. Instead, he would stand by the window, pushing his hair back from his forehead as if trying to press out a perpetual, nagging headache.
Paul Holmer lectured us on Luther: “Martin Luther ended up issuing a few bulls himself.” “Luther wasn’t any kind of professor at all, he wasn’t very organized, he always spoke polemically – for those reasons he’s very agreeable to me.” He said something about worship that changed my thinking. “If the service steals the luster from the week, it’s missed the point…The best worship extends the furthest into the week, into life.” “Now if I accept Luther…” and someone in the class quipped, “…as a personal savior…” A phrase from a lecture reminded me of Caren, Naomi and me, The Humble Order of Preaching Sisters: “…the goal being education for all, the stance dogmatico-religious, and the method, dogmatico-admonitory.”
I took a class in Christian Communication from William Muehl, who had taught homiletics to generations of preachers. In a talk I made to the class, I presented a quote from one of my formative books, My People is the Enemy by William Stringfellow. Bill Muehl commented quietly that he had taught the very student Stringfellow referred to in the quote, and remembered him well , along with his tragic death. I was awestruck that I had stumbled upon such a moment. And I could hardly believe my blessing when William Stringfellow came himself to lecture in the Common Room. He spoke of his recent experience with cancer and a yet more radical deepening in his understanding of the Christian’s freedom from the tyranny of death, which freedom he had already proclaimed in this little volume years before.
I acquired some great quotes from the Rev. Muehl. In response to a student’s offhanded comment, “You can’t talk about faith…” Muehl remarked, “That just about shoots our job to hell.” Commenting on Fletcher’s Situational Ethics, Muehl said, “It’s a pretty sad situation when you see the church functioning only in giving comfort to people who do evil things in unholy settings.” “It’s a sort of reverse snobbery,” he mused. “Now when they get together, all the Yale faculty talk about is football. I don’t know what they’re trying to prove.” With a mischievous twinkle in his eye: “I’m still carrying the numinous vestiges of a papal blessing.” He noted, “I don’t end up with Barth’s position…if indeed you can identify it.” And I really loved this one: “You have to be very bright to be taken in by that kind of reasoning.”
The beloved Brevard Childs offered us an incredibly rich survey of the Old Testament. He had already begun his life’s work, the rebuilding of a Biblical theology from the “piles of scraps on the work tables” left by German Higher Criticism, as he described it. The marginalia collected from those class notes are too extensive to reprint here, but I’ll share a smattering. You’ll quickly realize why Brevard Childs was my favorite professor:
• Childs’ method: “a limited apology for a specific audience, to provide ground for dialogue by using sophisticated methods to create a usable canon upon which to again base discussion.” (My interpretation? He’s trying to give the Bible back to the people, and he recognizes that he has to be sophisticated enough in his use of scholarly language and method to give some credence to his pursuit among his fellow academicians…to sort of sneak it past them.)
• “If you learned to use the Bible properly, that’s what we’re here for. It’s not often you hear a secret let out around here, but here it is…If you don’t, let’s hope you manage.”
• “‘Yes, but what was God doing before the creation?’ and Martin Luther answered, ‘That’s easy –He was out in the woods gathering sticks to beat people who ask that question.’”
• “That interpretation [‘generosity’ as the dynamic in Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand] has been around only 150 years, yet it’s always in the air. We’ll always have Bultmanns hanging over our shoulder. I was reading the Noah story the other evening and my five-year-old said, ‘I don’t believe that!’ There are no areas in which one is protected.”
• “The serpent is pious. ‘Perhaps there’s more information, or perhaps you misunderstood God; this religious stuff is very complex.’ His role is one of tempter: he asks questions.”
• “Jews and Christians alike have heard and studied these words in their present form for centuries. And that form was not settled in some German professor’s office, snipping here and there. It was not decided in a vacuum. Unlike Near Eastern texts buried in dust heaps of Mesopotamia, these texts have been cherished through the centuries.”
• “You can drive Bill Muehl up a wall – just throw in Heilsgeschichte[i] or so in a sermon…”
• “The question of whether God speaks and how to know if it’s God, is a question not asked or answered in the Old Testament. The question there is how to respond to God when He does speak or when He doesn’t.”
• On the making of the golden calf: “The Midrash argues that Aaron is under great pressure, and never expected that those wives would give up their gold earrings.”
• “Then there Ai which means ‘ruin’ – who would call his town, even East Haven, ‘Ruin’?”
• “No theologian is a ‘James man’ – obviously he was brought in to avoid abuses of Paul.”
• “When Adam Welch used to comment on the loyalty David inspired, you could almost hear the bagpipes in the background.”
• “Some would say, ‘Since Wisdom isn’t historical, it can’t be theological.’ They think Wisdom was sort of the Unitarian branch of Israel.”
• “This is an amazing freedom, to allow disharmony and paradox to express the order of things.”
• “They aren’t focused on quite the same issue, but that’s what makes for good discussion.”
What a blessing was the third in a series of Common Room lecturers, and this one brought the comfort of an earnest faith similar to that offered me by Brevard Childs. Here, in this “hotbed of New England liberalism”, someone had the nerve to invite the next best thing to C.S. Lewis: his assistant in his last years, Fr. Walter Hooper. Oh, what a gift to my soul! He was so gentle, funny, deeply admiring of his mentor, and full of intimate anecdotes that I just loved being privy to.
I was able to take a seminar focusing on my hero, Dietrich Bonhöffer. And finally, Henri Nouwen seemed to enjoy disturbing some of us every time we walked into his classroom. He insisted on yanking us out of the objective and into the subjective. He would read us stories. He asked us to meet regularly in small groups to discuss the material we were reading for him. He wanted us to relate to each other. He wanted us to feel. This was such a different goal from all our other classes, Lanny Vincent and I discussed how we could hardly switch gears to accommodate it. I couldn’t have guessed at the time that Henri would become a prolific author, a favorite of many people I come to know in Nashville.
Intellectually, I was thriving. But emotionally, I was barely hanging in there, coping with all my might. Nobody seemed to be spiritually similar to me. Everyone I talked to, it seemed, either didn’t believe in prayer, or was a gay activist, or was sleeping with his girlfriend right there in my dorm, or scoffed at the idea of supernatural healing or couldn’t imagine practicing the discipline of fasting, or had an ambition to become the first woman ordained by their denomination, one thing or another along those lines.
I was hanging on for dear life to the simple faith I had tasted in Nashville, and I posted the following scriptures by my door to keep them always in my consciousness: “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust…of the flesh, of the eye, and the pride of life.” (II Peter 1:4; I John 2:16) Part of me was enjoying the rich array of opportunities and experiences, and part of me felt embattled and defended. It was sometimes hard to remember that my enemies were not flesh and blood but the principalities and powers. (Ephesians 6:12)
I also posted on my wall some quotes from Karl Barth, the German theologian I had come to claim as my personal favorite. I really enjoyed and appreciated the “well-muscled” (to use a Naomi phrase) and convicted mind of this man. I felt he had been apprehended by God, for all his intellectual prowess.
• “That we are good for nothing is true, but it is not so relevant that the confession of this truth has independent significance.” (IV.1.628).
• “Blumhardt never even dreamed he could control Jesus. He did something which is very different, and which is the only thing possible in relation to this person. He called upon Him for two years. He did so with absolute confidence, but still he called upon Him. It is this a matter of confidence in this Person…Is doubt so attractive that it must always be regarded as something justifiable?” (IV.3a.169-170)
• “At a pinch, Christian knowledge can be described and understood as the moral, sentimental, aesthetic, sacramental, or existential happening par excellence…For its theme, basis and content is the reconciliation between God and man effected in Jesus Christ and also revealing itself in Jesus Christ. As a human action it takes place in participation in His action…it can only receive it.” (IV.3a.220)
I was a bit disheartened that my faculty advisor, Abe Malherbe, world-renowned New Testament scholar, actually thought I really shouldn’t be at Yale, and said so…though I did not let him chase me away. I got the sneaky feeling he secretly believed women weren’t capable of becoming serious scholars. And my lack of interest in Greek made me truly a misfit in his world. I was occasionally put off by other people’s comments, like “Why aren’t you at Princeton where they believe things like you do?” I had lunches and dinners with different people almost every day for months, seeking out a spiritual companion, but I didn’t really ever find one. Instead, slowly, I learned to accept with gratitude the bits and pieces of fellowship where I could find them and as they were offered.
One issue that kept coming up for me was the role of women in ministry. My best friend that year turned out to be a Lutheran woman who was planning on becoming the first woman to be ordained in the New England Synod. Bev Nitschke and I would discuss the incredible differences between her world and mine. I think we were both amazed at our mutual respect and growing trust, at how much we shared in common and yet how much we did not.
My religious tradition (as div school people referred to their church backgrounds) had put great emphasis on their “men only” rule for church leadership. Women were limited to teaching only other women or younger people. Women were instructed that their primary role was to exert an “influence for good” on their men. It was thus they would make a mark, leave a legacy. On the other hand, I had experienced a wildly different world in the Charismatic movement, which featured such internationally known women ministers as Kathryn Kuhlman and Corrie ten Boom. And I had years of experience in the egalitarian style of house churches and prayer meetings where everyone contributes and there is no “minister” – the priesthood of the believer in action.
So I struggled with the concept of women in ministry, and tried to answer honestly and thoughtfully when people asked me if I planned to be ordained. I made some notes on the subject, notes which open a window on the intellectual climate I was swimming in. “Two insights from this week — no, three:
“1) It becomes more evident why the ordination of women seems so natural to many. In the liturgical tradition, the celebrant, the liturgist, is an actor, who serves as an instrument for the tradition, a portrayer of the drama, a ‘leader’ in the ‘act of worship,’ the holy re-presentation of the cultic event. The female can actually add to the drama, if not merely serve as an asexual channel for the ritual. This entire movement is something qualitatively different from the kind of pastoral leadership experienced in charismatic fellowships. This is a role — only — ?
“2) In Von Rad’s terms, Christian art may be justified in dressing and portraying the apostles and other biblical characters in the mode of their time – this helps to ‘actualize’ revelation for the faithful. Restoration of ‘historical accuracy’ helps to avoid perhaps a provincialization, a bastardization, a betrayal of the meaning it had. But the hermeneutical principle of actualization interprets the revelation pro nobis.[ii]
“3) Barth was trying to do only certain things well – he centered on transcendence and eternal election, and let disobedience go fish.”[iii]
From time to time I would surreptitiously peruse copies of MS magazine in the divinity library, trying to discover what the women’s libbers might be up to – sort of an attempt to scope out the “enemy territory”. I didn’t consider myself a feminist. I did believe in equal pay for equal work. Helen and Norvel Young’s relationship had taught me about the mutual respect and partnership a marriage could exhibit. But I had been steeped in the “submission teaching” the previous year, and it had claimed my emotional allegiance. I invented a title for a proposed study for Feminist Theology: Prolegomena to An Inquiry into the Success of Egyptian Matriarchal Rule, or, ‘Isis, Honey, were you really happy?’
Since I was telling people I was studying to be a theological librarian, I took a class in theological bibliography, and I worked part time in the Divinity School library, shelving books, working the circulation desk. I sometimes studied there as well, in the reading room between classes, or in a carrel in the stacks in the basement. I was working so hard, plowing through so many textbooks, trying to think original thoughts for my papers, attempting to keep an open mind and glean something edifying from what I was studying, all the while hearing the voices of conservative fear and distrust in my head, “You better watch out or you’ll lose your faith!” “What’s the use of all that head knowledge[iv] anyway?”
Cognitive dissonance was running rampant inside my brain. One evening as I entered the stacks to re-shelve yet another cartload of books, I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of all the years of study, the mountains of paper, the oceans of ink, the strivings, the enormous effort represented all around me. Words seemed to fly off the pages and whirl around my head, and I silently screamed inside myself, “Enough!! No one should ever, EVER write another book! Surely it’s all been said by now!” I couldn’t have agreed more with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Eccle. 12:12) But clearly, this mood did not last. Witness my well-packed bookcases…and the document I am typing right now.
One thing I did to relieve the constant pressure of thought was to return to singing. A course in worship was offered which I joined in the spring semester. Jeffrey Rowthorn provided us quite a remarkable opportunity to delve into some worship experiences most of us would likely never have again. (And I enjoyed his British accent.)
Together the Cappella prepared three services which we shared with the Divinity School community over that semester. The services were presented in the Divinity School Chapel. First came the Deutsche Messe, a German Mass composed by Martin Luther. Then a Wesley Covenant Service, patterned after a service of commitment which one of the Wesley brothers, Charles or John, could have performed. This was followed by an avant garde service which sounded like it sprang from the mind of a crazed science fiction fan, complete with recorded synthesizer music and sound effects. Richard Felciano, a Californian, had composed this piece called Three in One in Three.” The music was so dissonant it grated on my soul.
Another style of worship we attempted, an “Adoration of the Blessed Virgin,” was a 19th century-style Anglican service, though Catholic it certainly sounds, and for that we used a Gothic church closer to the University campus. The sanctuary was steeped in decades of incense, a rich, spicy aroma I came to enjoy, and we dressed in cassock and surplice and processed down the aisle as if we were clergy.
As part of the class, we were also required to form small teams and put together a special service, and the professor expressed high regard for my creative additions, both graphically, in the readings and congregational prayers and in the music. I suggested we use a bit of Randall Thompson’s “Peaceable Kingdom” which I had the opportunity to perform at Pepperdine, senior year on choir tour. Dr. Rowthorn noted that until I demonstrated my engagement in that service, I had been very quiet. No kidding! I was still in a state of mild culture shock, though I was having fun too.
Two girls lived in a suite at the end of my hall, Gail Ransom, a soprano who was getting a degree in church music, and Florence Jowers, an organist. Florence invited me to “bulk up” the church choir she accompanied on Sunday mornings, and I did that a couple of times. One of those Sundays, I was struck with the sweet intimate knowing of the Lord when it happened that we performed “Sing My Soul His Wondrous Love.” This was a song I had fallen in love with when Sara and Marilyn performed it in Miss Carleda Hutton’s choir at Brethren High School. Here it was again.
The composer, Ned Rorem, had set an old text to new harmonies which my soul craved. I looked him up in the library and discovered that he had published his memoirs, a journal of his escapades in Paris between the World Wars. He was gay, and his decadent lifestyle seemed so incredibly opposed to the sensitive, gorgeous music he created. This served as one more reminder for me of an earlier lesson, that a gifted person’s character and his gifts have little if any relationship.
Another student in the School of Sacred Music at the Divinity School was Tom Lloyd, who presented a spring recital as part of his studies. After wowing us with a wide range of accompanied vocal literature, Tom did a couple of encores a cappella. He opened his Bible to Psalm 42 and sang it to us, inventing the melody as he went along. Gail Ransom told me this kind of thing was part of his Lutheran tradition. The other was “Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, and the melody still stirs my Broadway-loving, charismatically inclined heart. It opened with a recitative-style rolling chord and a declarative, exhortative “Sing!!”
Sing God a simple song…Lauda laude…
Make it up as you go along…Lauda, laude…
Sing like you like to sing! God loves all simple things
for God is the simplest of all.
I will sing the Lord a new song
to praise Him, to bless Him, to bless the Lord
I will sing His praises while I live
All of my days
Blessed is the man who loves the Lord
Blessed is the man who praises Him
Lauda, lauda, laude…
And walks in His way
Remember how Ed Boucher had encouraged me to listen to Bach’s B-minor Mass once a week? That introduction came just in time, because a few months later after I had come to know and love the Deutsche Grammophon recording of selections from the work, the Yale University Choir and Orchestra presented it at Woolsey Hall. Amazing! I was so thrilled to get to hear it performed live, although I learned that the producers of the album had been most wise in their selection of highlights. I could understand why the unfamiliar sections performed that evening were not on the record…they were a bit dull in comparison.
The final musical adventure I knew I would probably not experience anywhere else was the Easter Vigil. I’m so glad I troubled myself to take part. A big bunch of us met late Saturday evening in the Chapel on the Yale Green, where William Sloane Coffin had been Chaplain when I first visited Yale. We sat on pews and on the cold stone floor for hours and passed the Vigil in centuries-old chant and song. Finally, after midnight, all the lights in the building were doused except for a candle held by each one of us. We processed out of the building and stood in the dark. Suddenly, lights flew on inside and the organ boomed out a glorious “Alleluia! He is Risen!” and we re-entered the sanctuary through the giant doors and rejoiced in the resurrection.
I had one more experience in that sanctuary that didn’t involve music but certainly was a liturgical and cultural experience. As I explained early in my story, my religious upbringing had placed a great deal of emphasis on believer’s baptism. (Code: Babies can be dedicated by their parents, but such a personal decision can’t be made by ones’ parents for one.) It had to be by immersion (everything goes under the water) because it represents my identification with the death and burial of Jesus. Drops of water just don’t get it. I really got this, but tried not to make it an issue in discussions with those of other persuasions.
Well. Michael Haggin decided he wanted to be baptized, and invited me to attend the ceremony. We met at the Chapel on the Green, where he was clothed in a white garment. He stepped into a nickel wash pan, the kind you would find on a farm. The priest took a seashell and poured water three times over Michael’s head. He led Michael in a confession of faith that blew me away. It was powerful. Much more extensive than the simple, short phrases I had grown up with.
This liturgy had Michael not only proclaiming his allegiance to Jesus and the Faith, but also renouncing the world, the flesh and the devil. The priest made a clever remark about how we would face the doors and let the campus outside represent all that Michael was renouncing, quipping, “It actually serves quite well to represent these things.” I was grateful to have witnessed this transaction. Even if it didn’t fit my baptismal theology, I knew Michael had taken a conscious step from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
[i] Heilsgeschichte = “salvation history”
[ii] pro nobis = for us. Gerhard Von Rad was a German theologian I was reading.
[iii] Karl Barth was my favorite theologian because he was actually struggling with the Bible as his text, which I discovered not all theologians felt compelled to do. My dad told of hearing him speak somewhere in the late ‘Forties, and this made Barth more interesting to me as well.
[iv] Head knowledge, as opposed to heart knowledge, is despised in certain Christian circles as practically useless, as it is considered “human wisdom” as over against “divine revelation”.
Monday, July 03, 2006
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!”
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.
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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.