California Dreamin' II
Bill Long 12/06/04
Three 25s and One 3
In this essay I will describe each of the contexts in which I spoke. The Saturday morning Men's Bible Study (MBS--7:30-8:30 a.m.) set the tone for the weekend. Attended by about 120 men from the "greater Menlo Park" area, the MBS is chaired by the energetic John Jenks, one of my Sunday School teachers from more than 35 years ago. The MBS is a combination support group, networking opportunity, and bible study and prayer occasion. Wisdom, influence, insight, camaraderie, interesting life experiences, hearty words of support--all of these flowed from this gracious and inviting group of middle-aged and older men.
I was given the "mike" at 8:00 and needed to quit by 8:30. How to start with a group of men whose lives and experiences were different from mine? I talked about coming home. I talked about my journey from CA to OR to KS and back to OR. A face or two lit up when I mentioned names of places or people from my past. A word about John Jenks and his influence in my life was appreciated. And then I turned to Job. I knew I was with men, many of them influential men in their fields. And one of the first sentences I then spoke was, "The Book of Job is about what it is like when a 'big guy' loses everything." "The Book of Job explores the depths of the emotions attendant upon the loss of money, respect, family and health." I looked around and saw that we had made a connection.
We then looked at the first five verses of Job (which I had provided for them), and I asked one simple question, "Who is Job, according to the first five verses of the book?" One of the attorneys in the group said that Job "must have had lots of accounts." Another focused on Job's love for his family. Another said, "It seems like Job wanted to control the world." I responded, "Does anyone know any man who has ever felt like that?" Smiles, chuckles. We were opening the Scripture and opening our lives to each other.
The 30 minutes passed so very very quickly, and rousing applause and a concluding prayer ended our time. I left with 68 fewer books.
Frank also set me up for the "education" time for the renowned chancel choir between the 8 and 9:30 worship services. The way it works is that the choir "finishes" its singing for the first service around 8:30, then retreats to the choir room underneath the sanctuary for refreshments, and then has an education "hour" from about 8:35 until 9:00 a.m. At first I thought that I would have to yell in between sopranos trying to hit high C or the baritones working on a Handel chorus in preparation for the 9:30 service. I couldn't have been more wrong. 50 alert, stimulated, energetic adults were waiting for me when I opened my mouth.
And Frank VanderZwan gave me a great "opening." He introduced me to the choir and said that I was from Willamette University in Oregon. He put the accent on the last syllable, sort of like Will-a-METT, though the proper pronunciation puts the accent on the second syllable, Will-A-mitt. After pronouncing it incorrectly once or twice, Frank corrected himself and then turned the mike over to me. Knowing that Frank was from Canada, and had only moved to the US in 1987 to take the job at MPPC, I thanked Frank for the gracious introduction and then said how fortunate America was to have a minister of his quality from Ca-NAH-da. It took the choir about 1/2 second to "get it," and the place erupted in gales of laughter at Frank's expense. I knew we were going to get along just fine.
I mentioned my early experiences with leading a choir tour (1974), my connection with a few members of the choir and then made a few other personal comments before passing out my book on Job and introducing the themes of the book to the choir. I realized as I spoke that I was among ARTISTS (duh!), and they immediately picked up on the artwork in the book and the emotions expressed in the face of our "model" (who is actually Glandion) in A Hard-Fought Hope. I went with their "flow" and spoke of the artwork and then turned to the "calibration of the emotions" in the Book of Job: from denial, to the flood of emotions, to rage, to bitterness, to grief, to shame and humiliation. Then I turned to Job's ability to "hear" things differently and to "see God" at the end of the work. I was deeply touched by the Choir's friendly and warm reception.
At 9:30 I taught Frank's "senior adult" class. This consists of about 130 or so people, ranging in age from 55 to 90 (or more). Frank calls it his "church," and he is the pastor to this remarkably alert, supportive and insightful group of seniors. The first half hour was taken up with singing, sharing, praying, "catching up" with each other. Then, I was "on." Since I knew some of the members from the "old days" in the church, I spoke of those days and the way that I felt the church had shaped me in those days.
But a funny thing happened to me as I was speaking. It finally dawned on me exactly how the ministry of Dr. Weisiger and Rev. Smith and MPPC in the late 1960s-early 1970s had "shaped" me. I was able to say it in one short sentence. "This church taught me to study deeply and to speak clearly." That is it. I learned from the ministry of the 1960s and 1970s that study of the Bible was ever so important for faith, and that the best thing I could do would be to immerse myself in the text. I did this, of course, and tell the story of this in my autobiographies. But it also came to me that they were just not interested in theoretical or irrelevant biblical knowledge, but in biblical knowledge well-digested and attactively presented. I felt that this was exactly what I was doing with them that half hour and what I had been doing all weekend.*
[*I also spoke briefly to over 50 singles group about the book. I had no more than about 3 minutes, but I thank the Rev. Karl Miller for allowing me to introduce myself. I had a few good conversations with people after class]
That, then, was the key of a happy and successful weekend. I finally put together in one sentence what MPPC had meant to me and how it utterly and ultimately has shaped my entire intellectual style. I study deeply. I speak (and write clearly). And people seemed (and seem) to appreciate that very much. That, then, is the plan for the present and the future.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long