Monday, April 10, 2017

WITH - 8

For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding.  It has been my sojourn to try and unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now.  More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today.  And so, I have been writing a book.

The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them".  Over the next 14 weeks, I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book.  I want to invite you into the conversation.  I want to get your help in writing this book.  If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know.  If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together.  What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true".  And so now, if you are still WITH is installment #8:

Why “Going With” Is Personal For Me

            In short, I am the person that I am because of those who have gone with me in my life.  I owe any success in my life to my “Go With Team” – as I have sometimes called them.  And my “Go With” team have simply done that – they have gone with me.  They have not preached to me, they didn’t advise me, they didn’t lecture me, and they didn’t criticize me, though they did sometimes critique me when I deserved it.  They just went with me.  Though it is hard to count exactly how many might be on my “Go With Team”, there are probably around 25 key figures who have gone with me in this way in my 44 years.  And I am sure that there will be around another 25 key figures who will be a part of my life for the next 44 years (should I make it that longJ).  These people are absolutely vital to me, and a seminal part of the person that I am today.

            Some of the people who have gone with me are what might be called “professional go-withers” (pastors, teachers, professors, coaches, therapists, psychologists, religious and denominational leaders).  Others are just friends, or family members.  What is significant about them is that they didn’t always agree with me, or approve of what I was doing, or have the same ideas as I did.  But they always went with me - no matter what!  One of my favorite examples of someone coming with me, occurred in college.  During my university years, like many young people, I went through a sort confusing time.  In fact, I was more than confused, I was downright lost!

During my Junior year of college, I had the opportunity to do an exchange year at the University of Glasgow.  Scotland is where my mother is from, so, for me the exchange year was a kind of “homecoming”.  From the moment I set my feet upon that, “green and pleasant land”[i], as the poet William Blake would say, I had the time of my life.   I had fun.  Too much fun!  My official study focus was to be about Scottish Politics and Scottish Literature, but what I really became an expert in was Scottish Pub Culture.  In the Scottish pubs, I met all these incredible friends.  In the process, I got a gig playing piano bar in a pub.  All my friends who were Glaswegians would come because they loved to hear an American playing piano bar.   I wasn’t necessarily that good at playing or singing, but I was good enough to play four basic songs in rotating order: Hey Jude, American Pie, Piano Man, and Great Balls of Fire.  As long as I played these songs repeatedly and regularly, I was good to go.

The only thing I really needed to take my act to the “next level” was a guitar.  Where
would I find a guitar?  I certainly didn’t have the money to buy one.  It just so happened that
we had this family friend named Rev Dr. Kenneth Freud who was a Presbyterian pastor in Kirkcaldy.  He and his kind wife invited me to come and visit.  While I was there, I noticed that their family had a guitar in the corner.  I asked to “borrow” it.  I will never forget what he told me, in a thick Scottish accent; “Graham, I will loan it to you, but you must promise to bring it back when you are finished with it.”  I told him that I would return the guitar as soon as I finished my gig.  Looking back on it, Ken must have somehow known that that guitar was never going to be seen again.  Also, as I think about it, Ken wanted to see me again, because he wanted to check in WITH me.  You see, he was WITH me, he was a part of my “Go With” team, even though I wasn’t necessarily WITH him. 

            So, I went to Glasgow and played my songs in more pubs than I could count.  And I am ashamed to say that that guitar somehow did not make it back.  I did not exactly steal the instrument.  It just never got back to its proper place.  And I am ashamed to say that I never reconnected with Ken before I left Scotland, or apologized for the “misplacement” of his instrument.   A couple of years later, I graduated from college and then went to seminary, and long last, lo and behold, I got ordained as a Presbyterian minister. 

            As I reached the point of my ordination, I knew that I needed to come to terms with some of the bad things that I had done in my youth.  And so, as a way of trying to reconcile, or at least apologize, I wrote Ken Freud a Mia Culpa letter of contrition; “Dear Dr. Freud, you might be surprised to know that I finished college and then went to seminary and then got ordained as a Presbyterian minister.  I am also writing to tell you that I am profoundly sorry for not getting your guitar back to you, and I would love to pay you back for it.  It was a wrong thing to do.”

            To my great surprise, Ken wrote me back; “Dear Graham, I am so happy to hear that you will be a Presbyterian minister.  You will be a good one!  Also, I do remember a guitar that I loaned you.  Consider the debt paid!?!?  Consider the guitar your ordination present.  I will be praying For you, and I will be With you.  In Christ, Ken Freud.”  There is no other way of saying it, without Ken Freud’s going with me, and staying with me through these many years, it is hard to say where I would have ended up, or what I would have been doing with my life.  He went with me even though I didn’t go with him.  But I’m so glad he did!  

All For Now,


[i] Blake, Willian, Preface of “Jerusalem: the emancipation of giant Albion”, 1804

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