Oh, the places you’ll go! Oh, the places you’ve been! Oh, the places you are now! That about sums up my life – promises, memories and present reality. We are playing this month with the work of that great children’s writer and illustrator, Theodore Seuss Geisel. This brilliant and original man, had dreams of a PhD and a professorship in comparative literature. He studied at Dartmouth, Oxford and the Sorbonne, but he never achieved this original goal. He was “Dr. Seuss” by public acclamation, not the board of trustees of any institution of higher education. Apparently he was just a little too quirky to fit into the academic regimen.
He made strange proposals like publishing Milton’s “Paradise Lost” with new illustrations by him. It didn’t seem serious enough for Oxford University Press. I imagine, he was serious, though seeing something in the project that others didn’t or wouldn’t. Well, in the end, academia’s loss was the world’s gain. A broad, multicultural audience was the beneficiary of his wild and wacky imagination, his ability to grab language from thin air, his gift for creating characters who spoke to us with a wise wink and a knowing chuckle. Sometimes we sing the hymn “Earth Is Full of Wit and Wisdom,” a claim that Dr. Seuss personified and willingly proclaimed.
As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I am aware that I’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things. For most of it, I am grateful. Like most people, there are moments I’d just as soon forget, but, of course, those are the very moments you can’t forget because they taught you something invaluable. Anyway, this June holds a couple of significant anniversaries for me, both of which represent promises fulfilled, an accumulation of rich memories and the blessings of my ongoing life.
It was 10 years ago in June that this congregation called me as its pastor. The official anniversary is July 1 but June is good enough for celebrating. As many of you know, I left the Bay Area 13 years ago to become interim pastor of the First Baptist Church, Granville, Ohio. While that was a significant step in my calling to ministry, I assumed that, at my age (mid 50s,) I would be doing interim pastorates along the eastern seaboard for the rest of my working years. So it was surprising gift to receive the call from this congregation to be its settled pastor. God works in mysterious ways.
We have certainly had our ups and downs over the years, but I thank God for bringing us together and for the profound blessing that is this community of faith. I am grateful to you all for giving me the chance. With this anniversary, I become the third longest serving pastor (after Dr. Offenheiser and Harold Bjornson.) Even though I’m passing Chuck Syverson in longevity, I am glad he is still around to share his wisdom and cheer me on.
Secondly, June 30 marks the 20th anniversary of my ordination to Christian Ministry. On a hot Gay Pride Sunday in 1996, I was ordained in a meaningful service at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. Lakeshore chose to ordain me after a 23-year struggle with larger Baptist bodies to get assent to proceed with its desire to ordain me. Though my ordination was by local congregation, some 25 other congregations from around the country sent letters of affirmation and support. I treasure the presence of the Granholms and Hunwicks at that service, representing this congregation and the time I served as Minister-in-Training here in 1973. Again, God moves in mysterious ways.
Of all the places I might have gone, might have wanted to go, did, in fact, go, here I am now. Dr. Seuss says,
You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act.
A Great Balancing Act, indeed. Strange birds, for certain – and some of them quite wonderful! Careful, tactful steps – sometimes, other times, plunging stubbornly ahead. What a glorious journey it is. Thank you all for being my journey partners – in the past, in the present and, I hope, for some time to come. Of course, we don’t know for certain where the road will lead, or what lies ahead, except that we journey with the knowledge that the future, the journey, we, ourselves, are in God’s hands. Thanks be to God for the great gift of life, whatever it brings, wherever it leads. And while we’re at it, thanks to Dr. Seuss for a little wit and wisdom and joy along the way.
“I meant what I said and said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” Well said, Horton. May it be said of us as well.