Bob Dahl and I have been friends for 40 years. In this remarkable essay, Bob muses on a Father who took him to church, and the coffee shop for a donut ... how those memories shape a life, and prepare someone to "shoulder" something of the faith.
Recently I read this: "It is difficult to imagine anyone shouldering the implausible complications of Christian doctrine...without some inheritance of positive prior involvement." That was from an essay by John Updike quoted in an article in the March 24th issue of The Christian Century. Earlier in the essay, Updike described one such positive prior involvement. It was attending a Wednesday evening Lenten worship service as a fourteen year old with his father. It was a good experience for him. Years later he would look back upon it as formative.
I almost cried. It is much the same for me. I have shouldered implausible complications of Christian doctrine for forty-three years, thirty-nine in ordained ministry and four in seminary. But the memories that penetrate the ponderings and reach deep into the marrow of my spiritual being are of going to church with my dad, especially the evening services because it was always and only me and my dad. My mother stayed home and by this time my sister was married and out of the house.
He professed the Christian faith as I approached adolescence. I made profession of faith when I was twelve. I had asked to join the church. I guess it was my low church, protestant version of a bar mitzvah. Our congregation didn't have confirmation classes with required attendance. The pastor and the elders believed it should be a personal decision. They thought I was a bit young to be making profession of faith, but I guess it took.
My dad became one of those elders. In time, I became the president of the youth group. He started a scholarship fund for members of the congregation who felt called to ordained ministry. By the time I had chosen to give seminary a try, I had forgotten about the scholarship. In fact, I don't think I even knew about it. The pastor told me I would be receiving monthly checks to help support me through school. I received those checks every month for the four years I was in seminary. The fund was named after my dad.
When I was in high school, he made weekly journeys to downtown Chicago to the missions on skid row to preach love to “the bums,” who sat through the service only because it was required to get the soup that followed worship. My dad had been "on the bum" hopping freight trains around the country during the Great Depression. A little of himself was always sitting on the folding chairs opposite the pulpit behind which he stood. Sometimes I went along. I sat in one of those chairs thinking about the donut I would get when we stopped at the same coffee shop we always stopped at on the way home.
When I was seventeen, my dad died. I'm 64 and I still miss him. Sometimes he sits in one of the pews while I am standing behind the pulpit getting ready to preach. I hope I preach as much grace as he did.