The Course of My Life
I was that all too rare creature, a cradle Episcopalian. My parents joined the Episcopal Church (specifically, St. Matthew's Cathedral in Dallas, Texas) because of the teaching of the Cathedral Dean, the Very Reverend Gerald Moore. My mother joined while my father (the grandson of a circuit riding Methodist minister, but raised as a Schofield dispensationist) was still overseas during WW II. He objected strongly to my mother joining that bunch of "papists", and he at first forbade her bringing my older brother (then age four) to that church. Later, as a compromise, he agreed to talk to Dean Moore when he returned on leave, and that if after talking to the Dean, my father still wanted my mother and brother to go elsewhere, they would.
Dean Moore taught my father about God's Free and Abundant Grace in one afternoon. A few months after his return from the Aleutian Theater, both of my parents were confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and the tone was set for my understanding of the Church.
I became a Christian by the sacrament of Baptism when I was not yet three months old. It took 34 years for that Baptism to erupt in full power. It took my declaring to Jesus that I was not in control of my life and that I couldn't do it (exist) without Him. Some would say that on that day I was born again from above.
In between my literal sprinkling and my figurative coming out of the water, there was the usual drifting from the Church. I can point to poor teaching by some, harsh treatment by others, and my own personal indifference as the reasons for drifting away. The basic reason is that in a seemingly Christian society, but in reality a quite secular one, I saw myself as an Episcopalian first and a Christian as simply a matter of happenstance.
Through my college years I remained in the Church, but only nominally. I usually only attended on Major Feasts and Holy Days, or when I was visiting my parents. In college, like so many poorly formed "Christians", I began to see Christianity as simply one of many equally valid paths to "God", whoever or whatever this "God" might be. I was attracted to Taoism, and I sang hymns of praise to Krishna in the park on Sundays, but I never thought this to be incompatible with being an Episcopalian. Jesus was certainly a great man and an inspired teacher, but the claims made for him by his followers had to be taken in the context of human history...or so I thought in my intellectual vanity.
While in college, I fell in love with an Episcopalian, and we were married in the Episcopal Church. Deciding that her career held better immediate prospects than mine, I postponed my graduation and went to work full time to put her through her senior year. We moved back to Dallas for her new job, and I postponed returning to school until we were settled. We joined All Saints' Episcopal Church and became active in parish life, even leading the youth group. I finally was in a position to finish my undergraduate degree, when my wife decided to start graduate school. She went to Mexico for a summer session and took on a lover. I found this out after I had left my job and enrolled at UT Dallas.
We struggled through this for a year. I left the Church out of shame and anger (I was ashamed at myself, and angry at the Church for no reason other than I was angry at almost everything). The next summer, she left me to be with one of her professors and moved out of the country. We were divorced two years later when she returned.
I began a dual career in advertising and as an exhibiting artist. I walked a slippery slope between my God-given gifts and my anger.
In 1984 I hit bottom. I had attempted another relationship and gotten engaged (to yet another Episcopalian). We broke up when she couldn't handle my arrogance and my bitterness. I was devastated. I entered a depression that cost me my job.
One night just before Thanksgiving, I saw myself dancing in a slow circle with the Author of Death himself. I fell to my knees in my living room and reached up to the bookshelf and took down my previously seldom opened 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I opened it blindly to the martyred Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's "Prayer of Humble Access" and prayed.
"We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen."
The following Sunday, I went up to visit my parents and to go to church with them. I sat in the pew and fought back tears. Above the altar at St. Luke's, Denison, is a stained glass with the quotation from the Gospel of Luke (18:16), "Suffer the little children to come unto me..." Right then and there I asked Jesus to help me. I gave myself to Him as I told Him that I was powerless.
When I received the Chalice to my lips, I felt a powerful surge of pure energy enter my body. Time appeared to stand still. The entire Sanctuary was filled with a white light that made the dark stained wood walls appear translucent and milky. I had come out of the water and breathed my first new breath.
Two weeks later I found an old friend from St. Matthew's while standing in line at the grocery store. I hadn't seen her in 15 years. She was recently divorced and had two small daughters. She was attending St. Christopher's in Dallas, and she invited me to attend. I did, and a year and a half later Linden and I were married there. My newest and greatest career now became to be a good husband to Linden, and a good stepfather/dad to her two small, beautiful girls (who both are now all grown up, and starting families of their own), Anna and Catherine. I believe, only by God's grace, that I have been successful at both.
A sense of a calling entered my life, but I knew that I was mistaken about that because I wasn't worthy "so much as to gather up the crumbs." It was at this time that Linden and I made our Cursillo (A Short Course in Christianity). On the Cursillo weekend, I forgave the clergy who I felt had let me down in the past . . . who had not lived up to my expectations. It was now that I fully realized that I had a ministry as a layman, and that the job of the priest was not to stand in for me before God. I had always wanted them to be perfect before God for me -- to be as much without sin as I was in sin.
As I saw them as men like myself, sinners begging for forgiveness, the sense of calling to some form of ministry got stronger. Surely I was mistaken and only flattering myself. I prayed about it and dared to ask for a sign. "Show me", I prayed.
Before serving at the altar assisting the clergy one Sunday, I prayed again for guidance. At the Eucharist, following the breaking of the Communion Host, I looked down into the Chalice and saw that the small piece of bread floating in the wine had become Christ the King soaring over His universe and His Creation. I felt faint, and had to grip the edge of the Lord's Table to steady myself.
And then the choir started singing "Wondrous Love".
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of Bliss, to lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul.
To lay aside His crown for my soul.
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing. To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM, while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,While millions join the theme, I will sing.
And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on, I'll sing on, and when from death I'm free, I'll sing on.
And when from death I'm free, I'll sing and joyful be, and through eternity I'll sing on, I'll sing on.
And through eternity, I'll sing on.
I had my answer, and what some would call an anointing. Serve Him, feed His sheep, and do my best to protect them from the wolves and roaring lions prowling for someone to devour.
And sing on.