Monday, August 28, 2017

Bound to the Past: A Matter of Faith

There was a time that I came out of the dark of the loss of a father, not just doubting, but absolutely not believing in the existence of a god.

It seems in that department of loss, a person can go one of two ways: one can dig deep in your faith for strength, or completely abandon religion altogether for its lack of support.

I was somewhere in the middle.

My Mom remarried a couple of years after that Cancer asshole took my old man, and I was wandering the lakeside of uncertainty, really not feeling comfortable with the idea of any sort of supreme being.  It wasn't Dad's death that locked that down, though that factor had me despising the God I grew up fearing and loving during those moments that I did believe he was there.
It was science really.  I kept looking at the facts and the physics, history, and geology, and was having a hard time grasping the whole God thing.

The aftermath of Dad's death wasn't really helping either, to be honest.

But I wanted to.  I did.  I grew up in a loosely Lutheran household with plenty of church, if not prayer.  So the ground was laid, and when Dad got sick, there was a lot of prayer books, services, and counseling of the clerical involved that added to the atmosphere of Godliness.

So as I entered adolescence, all that was becoming argumentative. It was turning into a kind of mist that I was thinking I might be able to wave away.  Still, I was a tad afraid of what life would be like without it.

So I did what I always do.  As a music fan, a sports nut, a comic book reader, a cinephile, and a writer.

I went looking.

There was a church not far from where I lived and I took a walk over there.  I stopped short of going in on multiple occasions, but on one brisk fall afternoon, I pushed on that heavy door and walked in.  At first I thought the place empty, and was about to turn around and walk back out when I heard a voice.

A deep voice, with a touch of friendly rasp.  "Hello there?"

"Hi." I said, unsure of anything, let alone that voice.

And out of an office to my right at the end of a hall came one of the tallest people I have ever met, with the deepest voice, and the warmest damn grin.

Pastor Ted.

He shook my 11 year old hand in his immense one, and asked me what he could do for me.  I was shocked by how easily enough it came out.  I had questions.  I wanted answers.

That giant hand came out again and motioned me down the hall he had come from to his office.  I sat down in his mid-sized domain in a chair opposite his side of an immense desk.  He was surrounded by books. On the desk, on the enormous shelving unit that made up the wall behind him, and on end tables and other shelves around the office.

 I was surprised as he lit a cigarette, smiled, and began asking me about myself.

I went through my history, brief and jagged as it was....a happy childhood, Dad's death, mom's remarriage, the moving, and finally, almost as if angry, my loss of faith.  There was no shock on his face at all, just a knowing nod and smile.

I wanted this man to bring it back.  Make me feel as if God was watching my back again, and return the security that came along with all of that.

He found a place to begin.

That afternoon we spoke for a couple of hours.  Comfortable and conversational, and Pastor Gundlach begin to chip away at that mountain of doubt that had been ascending for the last few years.  I spoke of science.  I brought up the word evolution.  He smiled again, and spoke of a very learned man he knew, regimented in the field of science as a researcher whose faith in his God was as strong as anyone he knew.  He also stood, reached behind him to his left and pulled a small paperback book and set it front of me on his desk.

"I think You'll like this." he said softly as I looked down at a copy of "The Handy-Dandy Evolution Refuter".

"A lot of your heavy questions will be answered in here, I'm not a scientist." He said as I leafed through it, "but I think You and I have a lot to talk about."

And so we did.  I became a member of that church, just myself, though my Mom would attend there often enough, was confirmed, took my first communion,  and became an acolyte.

Many of us have several heroes in different chapters of our lives.  It's part of the process.  I may be a bit overdramatic or hyper-warm in labelling them in this way, but that's how I am.

Pastor Theodore G. was a hero.

He passed away about 4 years ago, retired legend of the Wisconsin Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and I doubt he remembered me much.  However, at the time I was there, he would tell people when I wasn't around (My mom verified this) of a young man, struggling hard with his faith, that one October afternoon had grown tired of the struggle and asked him to ease his pain.  And how proud he was to do so.

Adolescence is important.

It's a bridge to adulthood.  I feel as though if I had navigated it without a belief in the loving god that I had spend most of my youth having, I'd have grown to be a different person. I would have been harder, less quick to understand, less willing to forgive.  With that somewhat shaky but never failing belief in God, I grew to be a person with a strong ability to feel and express empathy.  With an even more powerful ability to love.

It wan't easy, mind you.  Unlike the other student's in Pastor G's confirmation classes I was quick to question. I asked with frequency and asked hard.  Pastor G always had reasonable answers to my queries, and always laid a path.  I came in as a black sheep to the Catechism classes, and I think Pastor Ted liked that and saw it as a challenge.  No one else in my group carried any doubt, and though mine was lessening, I was the only one that needed reinforcement.

Without that faith, I may have given in to the doubt and anger that was constantly at my shoulders. Perhaps not controlled the temptations I resisted as I grew up. I don't think I would be who I am today.  Right now, I may not have the same faith and belief I had then.  I may not be a strong Christian, a Stryper Soldier Under God's command, but I know I'm a good person.

I think, in large part, I have Pastor Ted to thank for that.

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