Thursday, January 8, 2009
Something Lutheran Happened on the Way to Rome - Conversion II
My parents held a prejudice against catholics and pronounced on more than one occasion as it pertained to dating, not ever to bring one home. (I married two!) I always believed that this had something to do with my mom having attended a bday party as a little girl and scored the ultimate prize of a lovely Shirley Temple doll. As mom was walking home with said doll with my Grandma (a spirited woman from Great Britain with a strong middle-england brogue)a little catholic girl from the party approached her and demanded that she trade the doll for an ugly parasol. Somehow compliance was achieved, and thusly, all catholics were evil. I believed that to be the case for quite some time until I actually learned that it was the bad example of a few in-law (or might as well have been outlaw!) Catholics that laid the early groundwork for the bad feeling in the Phillips family.
In fits and starts, my parents would make honest attempts at church shopping. For a little while, we attended a little protestant church of an obscure denomination which eventually turned into a dentist office. I did go to Vacation Bible School and I remember watching Max Von Sydow play Jesus in "The Greatest Story Ever Told" during Holy Week as a kid. I loved that movie (still do) and I was drawn into the drama of the last scene..."and I will be with you until the end of time". Sniff! I wanted to know more and more about this Jesus and questioned my folks more exactly on when I would be baptized like Brian and Jeff. Once they concluded that maybe they would see about getting Rev. Deschant out to the house to do this. That was as close as we got. . Sometime around the age of 15 a few things converged which set things in motion for some spiritual renovations in my life. Paul Menard was my AP History teacher at Riverview Community High School for the 3 years I spent there. I cannot be certain, but I would almost bet that Mr. Menard spent some time, if not a lot of time, in seminary. He was challenging, extremely dry-witted, affable and made the study of History fun and exciting. His most glaring character defect was that he was a UofM alum, but I loved him anyways. We studied World History, US History, Western Civilization, Philosophy, and it all culminated with an Independent Study Seminar in World Religions my Senior Year. Throwing away all of the notes from those three years has remained one of the biggest regrets of my life! I remain indebted to Mr. Menard and the subtle example of faith that he infused into my learning.
At the same time, one of my girlfriends, Wendy, invited me to her church - St. Paul Lutheran. I took her up on it one fateful Sunday and was immediately taken with the whole church concept and started attending on a regular basis. It was as though someone turned on the God faucet and my mind was opened to the constant stream of His love and mercy. Pastor Mike told me to read a little book on the Gospels called "The Way" and I attended Pastors Class faithfully every Sunday. I was on the fast track. By April of that next year, I was to be baptized (yea!) and confirmed in the Lutheran Church.
St. Paul was a large Lutheran Church in Trenton Michigan. It belongs to the Missouri Synod which leans more conservative than the other branches. The church was traditional, baroque with a communion rail and a large glorified Jesus behind the high altar. It had one of those suspended ambos that was elevated from the rest of the sanctuary by stairs. Pastor Pohl (head hancho), had a beautiful sermon delivery and would always conclude his sermons with "And so far". I really don't know if that makes grammatical sense, but it sure sounded cool and everybody respected him. The music at St. Paul was a big deal. Every Easter we'd hire a local orchestra, mix in our own musicians and vocalists with them (I played first chair trumpet at that time) and go crazy on Handel etc. It was a blast. (no pun). The performance would always engender tears and ovations. I lasted at St. Paul until I went away to college. Pastor Pohl stayed on until retirement, Pastor Mike (the younger assoc who ran the Pastor's class) defected to the charismatics and was basically shunned.
Something curious was happening in my soul. Something really glorious. Of the things I managed not to discard, I saved my senior year scrapbook which includes a page entitled "One Important Person". The page is not devoted to any one person, but to our Lord. Some of the clippings and writings are from scripture: Isaiah 53 (Suffering Servant) and 1 Cor 13 (The greatest is Love). I've also got the St. Francis Prayer and quotes that I'm glad I found:
"Dearest Jesus, holy Child
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled
Within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for thee."(author unk)
A Carmelite in the making?
But there is darkness before the dawn.