Divinity School?

God did not direct His call to Isaiah – Isaiah overheard God saying, “. . . who will go for Us?” The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude.
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for his Highest

I think the term “divinity school” may be a little misleading to some people. Contrary to what you may think, it really isn’t a place where you go to learn to be divine. For instance, I’m pretty sure Bette Midler did not go to divinity school in order to become The Divine Miss M back in the seventies. I can also tell you with a high degree of certainty that Divine, star of such movies as Pink Flamingos, Lust In the Dust and Hairspray, never set a high-heeled foot on the campus of a divinity school. And while it may appear that some high-profile divinity school alum see themselves as divine, I’m still going to have to place a high degree of certainty they didn’t learn that in school, but, rather, came to that conclusion on their own.

Okay, so much for what a divinity school is not. I just wanted us all to be clear about our topic. Some of you may think I’m a little flip about a lot of subjects – and you would probably be correct. There are two things I believe are important in this life – not to take ourselves too seriously and making sure we take ourselves seriously enough. I’ve been guilty of the opposite of these things many times over the years. Perhaps because of a wounded soul, I developed an extreme sense of self-righteousness. It mattered very little what I myself did, it was what you did wrong that occupied a great deal of my time and energy. For the second half, I tried desperately not to take myself too seriously, at least on the surface, because there were too many bad things going on in my head just below the surface. I didn’t want to take a good look at who I thought I was.

A friend mentioned to me a couple of years ago that she had gotten her “em div” from Truett. Have any idea how difficult it is to look up something when you’re not very sure what they said and, therefore, have to idea how to begin to spell it? Perhaps it had something to do with the New Math? Why, yes, I could have simply asked but then it would look like I didn’t know what she was talking about. Men are taught only about two things in this society. One of them is that you don’t ask for help – apparently it makes you look weak and stupid. You’re just supposed to know stuff. I already knew I was weak. I certainly didn’t want to look stupid in addition.

But I’m a persistent fellow and I finally figured it out — all by myself. M.Div – Master of Divinity. Oh, and I looked up Truett since I also had no idea what that was, either. George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Mystery solved — and I didn’t even have to ask a question. My manhood was intact!

There was a time, long, long ago, when I expected that I would probably become a minister or a missionary. Wait, let me clarify. That would be a Baptist missionary or a Baptist minister. I wasn’t exactly certain what that would involve, but it was a career path that seemed open to me at the time. Actually, by the time I was thinking along those lines, my life was already crumbling at the edges. I knew that to be true, but was actively developing my ability to compartmentalize my life. Since I was able, at times, to wall off bad things going on in my life, being a minister still seemed to be a viable option. It was with a great deal of disappointment and, consequently, anger that I let go of that idea by age seventeen. Over the intervening years, it seemed to me that a lot of Baptists had become a bit rancid – preaching an agenda of hate, thinly disguised as love. Perhaps, though, that’s a story for another time.

But the idea has persisted for all these years. For most of those years, that was a matter of great annoyance to me. But, I have an eight-year-old living inside me who, it turns out, is my moral compass. Admittedly, I held some powerful magnets close to the dial of that compass for many years in an attempt to throw it off course, but it stayed true anyway. That kid knew who he was and still does, even when I’d all but forgotten. He’s the one part of me who refused to give up. He’s the one part of me who valued me. The other parts were trying to kill him — were trying to kill me. I have some very disagreeable parts.

Even so, it came as a surprise to me to realize the thought of a ministry was still with me. I mean, how much was I really supposed to deal with here? I’d already stumbled back to church, gradually decided to try out their Wednesday night suppers (I might actually meet people there), finally decided I could at least try on a Sunday School class for size, and actually joined a church. That’s a lot to soak up over a matter of months after so many years away and my nervous system was already close to its breaking point. But, if I thought all that had been pretty frightening, it was nothing when compared to the thought that a call I’d heard so many years before had followed me through a lot of awful places and still survived unscathed.

When I finally got up the courage to ask what she thought of some old dude considering a run at divinity school, my pastor said, “I think that would be a FABULOUS idea. And Brite is just right there in Fort Worth.” Gee, I think she may have been more excited that I was. You know what? That may have been all I needed. The odds of my making it to divinity school are pretty slim. The fact that someone I respect highly not only thinks the idea is a good one but that I could actually do it is more than I could have imagined. It allows me to believe that there’s still a ministry out there for me even if it ends up looking a little different than I originally envisioned it. Actually, it probably looks a lot different than what I originally envisioned. But, then, my life today also looks a lot different from what I had imagined. We do with what we’ve got.

Of course, any divinity school worth its salt would probably want to know why they should let me in since I don’t have a college degree. You know, institutions can just be so picky sometimes. Still, they may have a point. After all, a Master’s generally assumes a Bachelor’s degree.

The list of reasons why I didn’t go to college is long and, frankly, the sound of violins playing in the background as I told the story would get very annoying. Suffice it to say that by seventeen, I knew it was going to do me no good to attempt college. It’s not that I’m not bright enough – I’m told I am. There was a part of me that knew to the core my life was crumbling fast and picking up speed. You don’t plan for college when you don’t expect to live past eighteen. Even after making it past eighteen, I knew I’d never have made it to the end. Perhaps someday, I told myself, knowing full well that was not going to happen. Fatalism, as it turns out, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I even remember the exact moment I realized that call was still with me. Not the date, mind you, but the moment. We were singing a hymn called, “Here I Am, Lord.” You can probably tell from the title this hymn was going to be a slippery-slope for me. The song was composed in 1981, which means I’d never heard it before. After all, I’d walked away from church approximately twelve years before Dan Schutte wrote the hymn. Even so, my little mind was racing as we started the first verse.

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.

I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send? 1

Well, even I could see I was in real trouble by this point. “Whom shall I send?” Surely, the answer must be “someone – anyone – else.” With fear and trembling, we got to the refrain and the words, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” And I realized at that moment that, as Oswald Chambers put it, I had overheard God fifty years earlier asking just that question: “Whom shall I send?” And my question back had been, “Is it I, Lord?” And then my reply, “It is I, Lord.”

Now, before you run out and start a “Let’s Send That Boy to Divinity School” fund, allow me to mention that I’ve come to realize we all have a calling – with or without divinity school. For some, that calling is as simple as “love thy neighbor.” In every instance, I believe, the call is to be the best person you can be – every day. Obviously, we all fail at that task on a regular, well, daily basis. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t try. Fail again? Try again. After all, the redemption is in the trying, not necessarily in the accomplishing.

So, divinity school seems like a long shot. That’s okay. Instead, I began to read – voraciously. The few brain cells I have left like to soak up all sorts of ideas. C.S. Lewis said, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” I’d have to add that an old-ish man can’t be too careful of his reading, either. What I proudly thought of as my open, progressive, welcoming mind had actually become my closed, backward, unwelcoming mind. Don’t agree with me? Step away if you know what’s good for you. In the end, that’s a very lonely place to live.

One of the things I’m trying to do these days is keep my options open. I have no idea where all this will lead me. But I’ve learned that the way I did things for a very long time lead very quickly to nowhere — then kept me there. Still, there’s a difference between being blindly lead and having faith that a path will appear when you are ready to see it.

The Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s that last part that seems so difficult for most of us. When I allow myself to get very quiet, I already know what I truly cannot change. I also know some of the things I can change. Mostly, I’ve ignored the wisdom to know the difference and plowed ahead, instead, with Plans For the World as Ben Sees It. That created a tremendous amount of static in my life, effectively drowning out the call that’s followed me all my life. The shortcut I took ended up taking me far off the path, lost in a place where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees – in a place where I couldn’t see me for all the other “me’s” I’d thrown in my way.

Today, I welcome others to follow along with me as I travel on a new path, staying open to discovering what it is I need to find. Today, I ask for the wisdom not to know all the answers, but to be allowed to stay open to discovering, instead, the questions. Today, I’m trying to ask what, for me, is once again a familiar question.

Is it I, Lord?

And you. Is it, perhaps, also you?

1 Here I Am, Lord, © 1981, 1983, 1989 Daniel L. Schutte and NALR.

Baptists In Captivity

I even went so far as to become a Southern Baptist for a while, until I realized that they didn’t hold ’em under long enough. — Kinky Friedman

Anyone remember The Muppet Show back in the late seventies, early eighties, and the segment Pigs In Space? For this to be funny, you need to remember or picture the announcer saying, “Pigs (pause, pause, pause) In (pause, pause, pause) Space – with the echo effect turned on. Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the cast wore some great, shiny uniforms as they whizzed through space. Sorry, my mind attacks me on occasion and one thing leads to another, then another . . . and finally gets to something that may seem completely unrelated – to you. Makes perfect sense, however, to me. While I realize it may seem like a huge leap, thinking about Baptists in general made me think of the Muppets. It’s probably part of the healing process. Of course, it could also just mean I’ve finally completely lost my mind.

So, who knew Baptists could live in captivity for so long? No, really. I know Baptists who have been in church since before they were born! In fact, I have to count myself in that group. My mother was an avid, regular-as-clockwork churchgoer, so that meant my church attendance would have started back in the spring of 1952. I’m not sure I was singing the hymns yet, but I assure you I was there – a lot.

It’s this side of birth, however, where some of my problems with Baptists came in. It took a little while, but they came.

My father used to say, “Ben, once a Baptist, always a Baptist.” By the time he first said that to me, I thought it was a horrible thing to say to anyone, especially one who was raised Baptist and had been left hurt and disillusioned. And that wasn’t the worst of it – he said it many times over the years. What did that say about free will? Was he trying to say there’s no breaking free of the Baptist grip once they’ve gotten their hooks in you? I do believe, in fact, that’s exactly what he was saying. I never quite figured out whether he considered that a positive thing or a negative.

I don’t remember precisely now, but I’m thinking that, after my parents split, Dad went from being Baptist to perhaps becoming Presbyterian, on to becoming Episcopalian. At the very least, my father and step-mother were married by a friend who was a Presbyterian minister. My step-mother was originally Methodist and I guess they decided the Episcopalians were an acceptable compromise between the two. Episcopalians drink in church, you know, and I remember showing up drunk one Christmas Eve for a midnight service. I don’t remember, but my father probably unsuspectingly invited me to that midnight service. And, hey, they were serving wine! I tried not to breathe on anyone until after communion. I don’t believe I ever returned to church there.

My father and step-mother finally ended up back in the Baptist church. And my father, predictably, said, “Ben, once a Baptist, always a Baptist.” I’m not sure what that said about Methodists, but it still sounded very much like a death sentence to me.

For many years, I made it a goal to steer clear of Baptists as often as was possible. Frankly, it was my goal to avoid churches of any flavor, but I avoided Baptists in particular. Sure, I might show up at Easter or Christmas or Mother’s Day to sit with my mother in church, but it was always under protest. It always felt very much like visiting the inmates at the asylum.

I don’t believe God said there’s only one way to do this and that the Christians are the only ones who have it right. Lots of Baptists I knew, however, seemed to think they held the patent on the loving God, going to heaven thing. Problem is, the Church of Christ folks felt pretty much the same way. The Presbyterians let you smoke in Sunday School when I was a teenager, so what could they know? I don’t think I knew any Lutherans, but they were probably pretty certain they also had the corner on God. The Catholics, I figure, just shook their heads in dismay. The disputes have lasted a long, long time, effectively ruling out a licensing agreement among the litigants. I think we all lose out in this scenario.

My main concern, however, was the Baptists. So, I made it my mission for many years to perform a sort of a trap-and-release program. You know how endangered animals are trapped, tagged for tracking, then released back into the wild? Something like that, only I was trying to release those deluded, frightened, oil-soaked Baptists back into a world where they were safe from, well, Baptists. It simply seemed like the humane thing to do.

There was a pretty major hitch in my plan, however. In order to do the catch-and-release thing, I was going to have to get close enough to catch the unsuspecting Baptist. And since I was avoiding them like the plague, my success rate was, admittedly, pretty slim. Undeterred, I drank at them for many years. That’d show ’em!

Some folks think my humor is a little, uh, you know, off the wall. I’m not trying to say they’re wrong, mind you, but my mother seemed to sort of like my humor. She’s not the only one, but she was probably the first. My understanding is that I was quite the little entertainer from a very early age. To say I can be a little irreverent would be something of an understatement. I think my mother understood, though, that most of my humor wasn’t mean-spirited. Well, at least the humor I used around her. It is my firm belief that unless we’re able to laugh at ourselves, we’ve already lost the battle to be truly useful in the world. It means we’ve come to take ourselves too seriously and there’s something distinctly unattractive about that. Now, I’m not saying my mother didn’t do a lot of eye-rolling at much of what I said, but she recognized long before I did that my humor came from a good place. Much of the time I didn’t intend it to be that way, but I was apparently unable to help myself.

Okay, back to those Baptists. As you know (if you’ve been reading along), I dropped in on a church – innocently enough – around three years ago. Surprise the step-mother, endure the service, get the heck out of Dodge. That was the plan. Mind you, I’d known that particular church was there for years. In fact, I voted there once. Showing up on a Sunday in any church, however, was simply not in the plan. I’d always counted on my mother to get me safely out the door back to freedom any time I went to a service with her. But in this instance, I was working without a net. That, I think, may have been my first mistake.

Ever have that sensation while sleeping of being in free fall? You know, the feeling in your stomach as you continue to fall, knowing you can’t stop it? It was sort of like that. There was a time in my childhood when I wanted to be a high-wire performer. I wanted to try walking across the top of the swing set as practice, but by the time I climbed up the side, it seemed an awfully long way down and I thought better of it. Yeah, like that. I walked down the center aisle that morning with a feeling much like the wobble you see when the high-wire performer is in trouble, trying to regain balance. As soon as I’d walked into the church, I’d felt like it was time to strike the tents and head on to the next town.

And yet, the inmates in this asylum seemed pretty docile. Still, I felt a little like the gates had been opened to allow them out to roam for a while – get a little exercise. I tried my best not to make any sudden, threatening moves. I was, after all, surrounded.

I might have been okay but, near the end, I realized they were going to have a supper of some kind. Well, I simply couldn’t sit still for that. It really was time to try my escape. I stepped back into the aisle and walked slowly through a stream of moving Baptists. I tried not to make eye contact – ready to drop, curl into a ball and play dead if necessary.

Long story short, I made it out alive. I’d faced the firing squad and they’d missed! Triumphantly, I drove away – never again to return.

And that could have been the end of that. But there was something, I suppose, about the gentle purring of the hymns that tugged at my insides. Horrified, I realized I might actually want to admit that my roots came from these people. There’d been a missing piece of my heart for so many years I’d almost forgotten that I knew what belonged there.

Cautiously, I returned the following week. I knew at that point that I’d surely lost my mind. Or, perhaps, I’d found it. The jury may still be out on that one.

I’ve come to learn some things in the last few years about Baptists. While these same things may also apply to Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Jews, Presbyterians, Muslims, Buddhists, et al., my main concern here is with Baptists. They seem the most endangered – or perhaps it’s just that some of them seem to think they are. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned. You may find them helpful if you find yourself needing to deal with a Baptist.

Care and Feeding of Baptists

  1. Baptists love to eat. If you’re wanting to ensure a crowd, put the word “potluck” somewhere in the announcement.
  2. Most Baptists are actually pretty good people – once you get to know them. While you may want to keep an eye on your wallet in some Baptist churches, many are trying their best to share with their neighbors.
  3. Volunteer for nothing. If you stay around long enough, you’ll be volunteered anyway, so why waste the energy to raise your hand? If you’d rather not be volunteered, change churches frequently. Plead newness at each new church. It works for a while. It’s a bit of a nuisance to move frequently but, hey, there’s most likely another Baptist church about a block away.
  4. When approached before the service by a Baptist with a hand stuck out, don’t assume right off the bat that they’re after something. They probably are, but it’s just never a good thing to make assumptions.
  5. Don’t simply assume that the person across the aisle from you who looks sort of snooty is really stuck-up. They may simply be as frightened about being there as you. [See above about assumptions.]
  6. When uncertain about anything, smile and nod. This throws many of them just long enough for you to get away.
  7. Say “amen” a lot during worship. This makes you seem spiritual and affirms to others that you’re still awake.
  8. Baptists tend to pray a lot. Humor them – God does.

While I realize this isn’t a comprehensive list, it’s enough to get you started. Keep alert and try to make note of anything you don’t understand. Don’t, for God’s sake, ask any questions, though – someone may decide to explain it to you. If you find yourself wanting to show up at a service in order to see for yourself, be sure to wear clean underwear. I’m not sure why, but you may be asked about it.

Above all, try to remember that Baptists are a lot like children – children of God, I mean. Many are trying as hard as they can and are still just treading water. And, that’s okay. None of us get it right all the time. A little patience goes a long way during an encounter with a Baptist. Speak distinctly and remember the no-sudden-moves thing. If you still feel like you’ve been snarled at after a service with the Baptists, don’t fret. As I said, there’s likely another Baptist church about a block away. Try another and another until you find a place where the only time the Baptists show their teeth is when they smile and say, “welcome home.”

Why not hug a Baptist or two today. They probably really, really need it. You may also find you need it, too.

A Tale of Two Bruces

You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it.
— W. C. Fields

Men are able to trust one another, knowing the exact degree of dishonesty they are entitled to expect. — Stephen Leacock

I never trusted good-looking boys. — Frances McDormand

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. — Charles Spurgeon

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks. — Isaac Watts

Over a period of time, I’ve pretty much believed all these ideas about trust. The last one, however, turns out to have the most truth for me. When I arrived back at church, it was with a great deal of trepidation. The idea of exploring trust was something I’d only just begun. I didn’t know why I wanted to be there, though I was suddenly fascinated with the idea that church just might not be what I remembered. I found out Lake Shore had a website and I clicked my way through everything they had on the site. I came upon their labyrinth quite by accident.

What a beautiful place! The picture showed a gleaming pathway of crushed granite, neatly enclosed by a low wall. The whole thing was manicured and surrounded by a grassy field. I’d been introduced to labyrinths while living in New Mexico and found them peaceful. The caption said it was located behind the church and across the creek bed. Wow, I thought, I wonder where they’re hiding that? I’d been to the church, I’d seen behind the church, I had no idea there was a creek bed. I imagined, perhaps, you had to look a little more closely.

I decided I’d have to find this labyrinth. It looked like a peaceful place and I thought I might be able to quiet my mind a little there and try to sort out these new, strange feelings. Quieting my mind was something I’d not been able to do since somewhere in childhood.

I was living about six blocks away from the church, so it was easy to get there whenever I wanted. One afternoon, I drove past the church and on around the U the street makes. There was a large, open field, but still no labyrinth. It was February, so there wasn’t a lot of green around. As I approached the church from the other side, I found it. Well, I thought I’d found it. I saw a low wall. I saw a path leading up to an opening in the low wall. I saw nothing that looked like the picture on the website. Still, this had to be the place. I was running out of back-of-church. I stopped the car and walked up to the opening. There was a plaque there dedicating the labyrinth to Becky Henderson. Becky had been a member of Lake Shore before her death. Friends and family had built the labyrinth in her honor.

I’d found the green, though. In what had clearly been a labyrinth, there were weeds of every sort. You know the type. They insist on thriving despite freezing temperatures. I walked in and pushed my way through the weeds along the path. Instinctively, I began to weed for a moment. This sad looking place reminded me of my life, choked by too much pain, too much anger, too little trust.

I first walked into that labyrinth on Ash Wednesday, 2009. I stopped by just before the service. I’d barely made it back to church and here I was coming to an Ash Wednesday service no more than three weeks after first arriving. I couldn’t explain why I wanted to be there for every service, but I did. Again, the service was beautiful and frightening at the same time. I went home after the service and emailed the pastor of the church. I explained that I’d been in the labyrinth, that it sort of needed some care, and asked if she would mind if I did some weeding. Her reply was priceless. In part, she wrote, “As for the labyrinth, we would LOVE for you to weed anytime you’d like. We’re working on how best to tend to it but haven’t yet figured that out so if it’s therapeutic for you all the better! No expectations from us, just gratitude and a welcome to it!” This sounded very much like permission, so I began to weed.

One particularly cold, blustery, Saturday morning, I was in the labyrinth weeding. I was trying to get some of the taller weeds up and out so it would look a little more like I’d accomplished something. I suppose I’d started trying to repair my own life in that way – big stuff first, smaller stuff next. As it turns out, some of what I considered smaller stuff was really some of the biggest stuff. Anyway, after weeding for a while I looked up and noticed a man approaching the labyrinth. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted visitors. Already, this was my quiet place – my sacred place. Besides, he might be a church member. In fact, it was. Bruce Neatherlin (Bruce I), I later found out, was a long-time Lake Shore member. He had a gregarious manner and an inviting smile. Still, he was a man and I was still pretty unsure how I felt about men – and church men in particular. What if he wanted to talk about sports? I’d long since stopped pretending I enjoyed or even understood sports. Worse yet, he might want to talk about religion.

Bruce introduced himself and we ended up talking for quite a while about, well, I’m not sure I remember exactly what we talked about. I shared with him that I wasn’t particularly certain about this returning to church business, but was trying to sort that out. I even shared with him that Baptists were a favorite target of mine when discussing how religion had ruined the world. Nothing, it seemed, ruffled Bruce’s feathers. Finally, Bruce put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Ben, we’re Baptists – barely.” I wasn’t certain I knew what he meant, but I knew I suddenly felt comfortable. Here was a man who was confident enough in his own beliefs, confident enough in his own faith, to have fun with it. I remember far too much seriousness, far too much concentration of blasphemy. Religion was serious business, after all, and not something about which you were to have fun.

Bruce walked away and left me with a few new things to think about. These people weren’t supposed to be friendly. These people were supposed to be judgmental, stern, condemning. But, I’d seen none of that in the few Sundays I’d been in church. Was this some new approach to roping in new grist to the mill? I was trying to keep up my defenses, but these people continued to make that more and more difficult.

So, I continued to weed. My vertigo was getting ever worse, but I tried to weed each Saturday morning no matter how I felt or what the weather. After all, I felt bad most days. Why should this be any different? I continued to weed through March and into April. There was a ground cleanup day the first week of April that year. Church members were asked to come that Saturday morning to pick up, spruce up the grounds for Easter. I was at my usual post in the labyrinth, not terribly excited that I’d have company around me. I suppose that’s because it was still all about me. Here I was trying to sort out my life and my return to church and I really didn’t need to be interrupted by a bunch of people. That didn’t have to make sense, it was just the way my mind worked. I was there earlier than anyone else, so watched as people began to arrive in the parking lot.

At some point, a couple of people were sent over to the labyrinth to help me. One of those people was Bruce Evans (Bruce II) – and son, Chandler. Oh, my, just what I needed – some kid making noise and interrupting my train of thought. Besides, I knew the people coming over to help weren’t going to do it right. This was a delicate operation. One of the members had already suggested nuking the place with poison. Much faster than actual weeding, for certain, but not exactly safe for those who might want to walk a labyrinth. A typical male response, I thought to myself.

Bruce introduced himself and we talked a little as we weeded. We ended up talking about William P. Young’s The Shack. Seems I talked to just about everyone about The Shack. The book had so much to do with my showing up at church and, besides, I didn’t know what else to talk about with “churchies.” The book was, after all, sort of about religion. We had a pleasant conversation and Bruce indicated that he thought he needed to read The Shack. After a while, he and Chandler left me to continue my task. Once alone again, I went back over the parts I’d been “helped” with to clean it up better. They seemed like lovely people, but I just didn’t think they really knew how to take care of a labyrinth. Obviously, I had a few more things to work out.

Early on, I’d had a conversation with Dorisanne in her office, expressing my confusion over wanting to be in church. She suggested that perhaps we could get me to come to Wednesday night supper, maybe even Sunday School. Whoa! Good grief, I’d just gotten there. Now she wanted me to come more often? Wasn’t Sunday morning worship enough? However, I ended up coming to a Wednesday night supper, after all. I found it was a good way to get to know some of the other members. It was a start. I also found out that one of the Sunday School classes was going to be reading and discussing The Shack. I knew I wanted to be there.

I was an oddity in that classroom. I sat in the midst of people who’d been in Sunday School and church all their lives. While that had been true of my mother, I still couldn’t fathom that these people could have wanted to be there for all those years. Really, they didn’t seem to feel they had to be there, just that they wanted to be there. On the flip side, the class seemed as fascinated with me as I was with them. I had never been in a Sunday School class in my adult life. I didn’t know how to act and was quite nervous. Introductions all around, not one name did I remember by the end, with the exception of Bruce Evans.

The discussion of the book started. It was interesting to hear the various takes on the plot and characters. The book had naturally taken on a very different meaning for me than for the others. After all, they’d been in church all those years I wasn’t. I’m pretty sure they hadn’t tensed each time Jesus entered the plot. I was pretty okay with the representation of God and the Holy Spirit. It was Jesus who gave me the problem. I suppose the others in the class hadn’t been bashed over the head with Jesus by “concerned” Christians quite as thoroughly as I. Even so, the discussion was absolutely fascinating. Then, one of the women in the class read some biographical information about the author she’d found on the internet. I wasn’t aware the author had also been sexually abused as a child. Things started to fall into place. I began to see why I’d connected with the book and the author. I nervously shared a little of my own story with the class. They didn’t throw me out.

After the worship service that day, I was talking to Bruce (I). I told him I wasn’t sure I should have shared what I did in Sunday School. After all, I didn’t really know these people. Bruce put a hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay, Ben. You’re in a safe place.” That just didn’t sound quite right to me. I was in church, after all. On the other hand, a part of me knew he was right, even though I wasn’t entirely certain how that could be.

Two Bruces. Two men who were to show me in very simple ways how to continue the road back to trust. I don’t think they knew it, but their quiet actions helped wake me up. I’d spent too much of my life blaming men, too much time frightened of men. Bruce (I) was older than me, Bruce (II) was younger. Two entirely different generations. And yet, they both obviously knew something I didn’t. They both allowed themselves to reach out and touch another in a completely honest, caring way without fear of seeming soft. By their actions, they both said “follow me” in a way that reassured me it was okay to stay, to look around me to see other men in whom I could trust, to begin to question a belief system that had kept me hiding in the dark for most of my life.

Trust is a process. I’d lost most of it somewhere along the way. I’d become too rigid to see any way to examine my own beliefs about, well, everything. And yet, here were two men who knew there really can be trust in the world. They would help open up the way to being able to see beyond my “truths”. My hope is that you’ve found your own two Bruces. Without trust, it seems, life is just a series of desperate lies we tell ourselves about how to remain safe from pain. With trust, I see that avoiding pain isn’t the issue. The real issue is finding a place where it can all be shared – the pain, yes, but also the joy.

Thanks be to God for my two Bruces.