I spent a few hours this morning, abed with coffee, looking at my life over some 10 year intervals. Here it is:
Almost 4 years old and two of earliest memories I can date. First, a late summer day with my parents and brother meeting my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin next to the Golden Bears at the California State Fair on the 100th anniversary of the Gold Rush. Then preparations for the New Years Eve party that year at the Sutter Lawn Tennis Club. My parents were on the committee, and some people were dressing up a mannequin from Rich’s store dressed as the old year with white robe and flowing beard), when Heiney Catrow emerged from the men’s locker room dressed as the new year, 1950, with a large white diaper over his racing trunks.
Just into my terrible teens. I was not attending school, had dropped out of seventh grade the year before. My parents marriage was breaking up, we were living in a rented house on 41st street, after my parents had sold their house and his partnership in a printing business to pay back taxes, and my father was working for the State of California. My mother and I both saw therapists for a short while and then we were going to my uncles ranch some Saturdays and wondering about moving. This was the same year my 20 year old brother had an accident when an iron chip from a hammer went into his eyeball. I remember waiting with Woody Adams, my parent’s friend, in a car parked outside a market on 43rd and H streets while my father went in to buy some liquor, and looking at a hair growing on the my left big toe, knowing that puberty was coming and I wasn’t sure what that would mean. The next year my brother married his high school sweetheart and my mother and I moved to a house on my uncle's ranch, with my father coming down occasionally to visit.
I was 23 and had dropped out of the University of Oregon the previous year after a total immersion in sex, drugs and rock and roll. I spent the winter and spring working with my uncle on the ranch followed by summer school at Stanford, That autumn I took 2 classes at the local junior college and started making plans to get into the University of California at Davis. I helped my parents move from the ranch to a house in Fairfield where my grandmother would join us. In the next few years I would take some classes at Davis, then drop out again, after my grandmothers death, to join my parents in starting our own printing business.
I had been accepted for an MA in History and Phenomenology of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley; but couldn’t graduate from UCD because of what felt like a phobia in learning a required foreign language. I was still working part-time in the dysfunctional family business and finally got into therapy with a wonderful Jungian who did some very good and deep work with dreams (Thank you Beth Kennedy!). This might have been the start of seeing the possibility of making some substantial changes in my life and taking on the responsibility of working for further changes.
I had left an unfinished MA degree in 1985 and, after a mixed year as a youth minister and intern in a northern California parish (as well as finally leaving the family business), had finally graduated with an M.Div degree from CDSP (Church Divinity School of the Pacific). I had been turned down by the Diocese of California for ordination, where the Bishop said, “I am not going to ordain you, but I am going to use you.” I was smoking too much grass (and starting to see how that was toxic for me), working in customer service in a retail headquarters in San Francisco, and doing some teaching and preaching at Grace Cathedral where the Canon Pastor, Lauren Artress, advised me to look into University Chaplaincy as a vocation. I told her that it would be too easy. After a fairly bleak year, I made a serious commitment to therapy with a psychologist-priest, finally stopped smoking marijuana and, in 1991, started work at Campus Ministry at the University of San Francisco.
I was teaching part-time (Thomas Merton, Enneagram and Social Ethics) at USF, College of Professional Studies, had moved off campus and left campus ministry the year before to move around the corner from All Saints’ Parish in the Haight Ashbury, San Francisco. In the previous two years my father, mother and brother had all died after what seemed an endless series of crises taken from a bad soap opera. I was also mentoring one or two Spiritual Formation Groups for the Episcopal School for Deacons, and working at Henry Ohloff House, a drug and alcohol treatment centre run by the Diocese. In April that year I moved into a 4 month residency at the San Francisco zen Center and, in August returned to CDSP as the Visiting Chaplain for the student body. Within my first month there I met John Davis, a priest from Melbourne, who was to be (to put it very simply) the best friend I have ever known and (an Aussie term here) a mate for life. I starting thinking about a long visit to Australia.
I came for a Christmas visit to Melbourne 9 years ago (minus 2 weeks) and (with John’s good help) moved over the following year. I did some online teaching for USF and started the Merton Centre @ St. Peter’s Eastern Hill as a platform for teaching, preaching and spiritual direction around Melbourne; then went back to tertiary chaplaincy with encouragement and a ministry grant from a good and friendly Bishop (thank you + Philip Huggins!). After a few years I returned to teaching online and in-person at a local Anglican seminary. And then in the last year, with a hiatus in mental heath chaplaincy, have been moved (in vivid dreams, with helpful friends, and by a benevolent bishop who put my gifts to use in the Diocese of Wangaratta) to a new town, new ministry, new horizon.
So, 60 years in 7 paragraphs. I’ve left significant things off, either by choice or oversight, but that’s a fair summary of my life so far. Perhaps it wasn’t as busy as it sounds, there are a lot of hours spent when I sat in cafes with my journal and “measured out my life with coffee spoons.” There was far too much equivocation over the years. I should have stopped smoking grass, taken my studies more seriously and started therapy much sooner; and I haven’t talked much about sex, drugs and musical comedy as much as I might, but this is not that kind of blog.
What I really wish I could do is have a parade of pictures alongside these words; pictures of friends, mentors, benevolent pilgrims on their own journeys who shared and changed my life. The summary makes it sound like a solitary exploration and, by God’s grace, it wasn’t. Friends and from Davis, CDSP, and USF, Grace, S4D, All Saints’, St. Peter’s, Trinity Theological School, all were a part of it, Friends who all helped me accept who I was and what I could and couldn’t change, helped me to make changes where I could, helped me to move on. I mention a few folk, but there are so many more.
Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Facebook, because so many of them are occasionally online there, and I get the snaps and snippets of their comings and going, people and places that mattered in the past and that matter to them now. I’ve always liked the fact that the early Christians were called the "People of The Way.” Probably most of the people on my way are not “professional” Christians, but that doesn’t matter much. I have learned hope and acceptance and ministry and love from them over the years, and they (even you, my reader) have helped me find my way along with them.
Let’s bring it up to the present. In 5 days and 2 hours I will be made a Deacon. Eliot writes this in Little Gidding:
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
Quite honestly I don’t know what to expect at the time of my ordaining, or the one to priesthood now set for 13 February. It is both the end (meaning both termination and goal) of something and a beginning as well. I am trying to be open to both these facts, as well as to a grace I cannot get my cantankerous head around, a likely and blessed surprise.
But I know that I am not alone: again Eliot,
History may be servitude,
History may be freedom.
See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
You will all be with me this coming Friday, both in prayer and presence, with all your history and hope, all these communities and callings, all one at the deepest level, and for this I am very grateful.