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Faith Turns Fifty

June 26th, 2022 by dk

Fifty years ago this Saturday, I made a momentous decision. It has shaped my life since, directly for the first quarter century, and indirectly since. It was a decision that is more private than what’s usually shared on this page, but a half-century merits departure, if only because I don’t expect to see another.

When my parents chose the Northwest suburbs of Chicago to raise a family, they bought a house and got busy. In about ten years, they had seven children. I was first among them. Because they were doing things by the book, they needed a church.

My parents liked to smoke and drink and play cards. The Methodists didn’t frown on them. Sunday School gave them a welcome break from childrearing. Children’s choir got kids out of the house for a few hours more. And church-league basketball taught me early that I’d better develop my mind.

As the oldest, puberty hit me with literally no warning whatsoever. My father had given up on family life by then. The church became a still point in my rapidly turning world. Cheryl Noah’s mother took the thankless task of teaching Sunday school to high schoolers. Rebranding it as “youth group” didn’t help much.

Mrs. Noah played the soundtrack for “Godspell” one week and we loved its energy and irreverence. Singing allowed us to express our exuberance without control, as if we had any. Sensing a strategy, she invited Andy Grimes and his guitar to guide our energy. We sang at the top of our lungs. He showed us a film about Young Life summer camps.

I attended Windy Gap summer camp in North Carolina in 1972. I knew it was religious, but it seemed like a good place to meet girls. I’m inserting more logic than my 15-year-old brain could hold at the time. There was almost none. I didn’t own a Bible, though  Jesus was a fascinating character to me.

On June 25, 1972, I asked Jesus to fill my heart and shape my life. He kept his end of the bargain. I came home from camp and locked myself in my mother’s bedroom, reading the Bible non-stop, exiting only for meals. Christianity shaped every large decision I made after that — my college, my career, my marriage, my family, my daily habits.

About halfway through this half-century, I endured a divorce and found myself raising two teenage boys of my own. They brought me to the limits of my ideological devotion. I tried and tried to stay true to my beliefs, but I couldn’t bend my circumstances to fit what I wanted from life.

Was that surrender a move of weakness or strength? Both, I’m sure — but it’s a bad question. Every surrender looks overdue from one perspective and unnecessary from another. Reconciling those perspectives is not a coward’s task, no matter how necessary it has become.

These last few decades have been similarly shaped by faith and belief, but of a more lateral variety. You could argue — and I wouldn’t disagree — that horizontal commitment to community cannot form without first establishing vertical devotion to order and its source. Leaving the latter unnamed does not loosen its imperative.

I still maintain many of the disciplines that were forged in me before I could drive. I still reserve mornings for quiet reflection. I read and take notes. I ponder the day ahead, looking for patterns and meaning. I think about those I will see or work with, caring about them in abstentia.

I’m still inspired by the stories of Jesus, even if I’m rarely explicit about it. I’m grateful for community. I’m trying to hold up my end of the bargain.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

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