Monday, September 27, 2010

Conversations with Dad

I visited my hometown of St. Louis this past weekend to celebrate my grandma's 90th birthday. The person I missed greatly at the party was my dad. He died four years ago this November while in prison. And no, he wasn't an inmate, he was leading Sunday worship there and died of a heart attack on his way out. It was quite a shock for the family. He fought cancer, renal cell carcinoma, for the last 10 years of his life, so we were certain he would ultimately succumb to it. We weren't prepared for his death to come so suddenly, particularly when his cancer was in remission. My dad was a retired elementary school principal, but he was an elder at church and preached quite a bit.

When I go home, I always like to spend time in his study. When I think of my dad, that's where I envision him. He was often there at night, either reading, writing letters to others, or preparing a sermon or Bible class lesson. Classical music was always playing on his record player. (He wasn't one to keep up with technology). I would often go in there and talk with him about any number of things. Often, it was religion and the questions I had about it. He was one of the few people who could handle discussing various viewpoints without becoming agitated or defensive. As an adolescent I was fairly obnoxious in my criticisms of church life, but he patiently listened to it all, while my mom and sister were understandably exasperated by me. I would sometimes dominate the entire mealtime conversation after Sunday morning church. I remember my mom giving looks to my sister which said, "I wish she would just stop talking!"

Over the weekend, I read through an old sermon of my dad's, written in 1978, just
before his 30th birthday. It was entitled "Doubt and the Christian." He addresses the passage in Hebrews which states "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." He didn't view this passage as a condemnation of all doubt. He thought it pertained to only "hostile, antagonistic skepticism." He believed that doubt was a natural, valued part of our human experience and faith walk, which has been unfairly criticized. (Of course, reading Biblical passages like the one in Hebrews might very well lead one to criticize doubt.) He believed questioning our faith could lead to clarifying our beliefs, improving communication of our beliefs, and producing a deeper set of convictions. He condemned evasiveness toward a challenge to our faith as well as "shallow defensiveness of smug dogmatism." I'm not sure whether my current doubts will lead in the direction my dad would have hoped for or not, but it's encouraging to think that he might value the faith crisis I am experiencing and, were he still here, willingly sit in his study and have another talk with me about it.


  1. It is great that your dad was so supportive. You should post his sermon some time!

  2. I would love to read his sermon, too.

    It sounds as if your dad and my dad would have gotten along well. I am so thankful for my dad's calm spirit and open-mindedness, which I know have a lot to do with my having been able, and continuing to be able, to ask questions and face doubt without fear.

    And I believe his example is also part of why I never felt the need to question just for the sake of questioning, or to "buck the system" in some way, and so it has been possible to return to places I might otherwise have stayed away from had I felt those urges. And that would have been very sad, to give up precious gifts for the sake of making a point, or extricating myself from a family system I couldn't handle.

    Anyway, I'm glad to read this about your dad. May his spirit continue to bless you.

  3. I just may post dad's sermon, but it will take a little effort on my part. It's handwritten, so I'd need to type it up first.

    Sheila, I agree, I think our dad's would have gotten along well. They do seem similar in many ways. In first grade, I had to write a sentence about my dad, and so I wrote, "My dad is calm."