My mother and dad did not go to church. Although my mother considered herself a Christian, she did not attend church herself. She did her best to expose me to “the Christian Faith” by having me go to different churches with neighbors and friends. My dad was nonreligious. His mother was Mormon and his dad was Roman Catholic. When they were married both churches excommunicated them. They did not step foot in a church for the remainder of their lives, nor did my dad. Early on he was silent about my various church visitations, I guess thinking it would do no harm. He later changed his mind.
I remember standing in the play yard at school when I was in 3rd grade thinking, maybe praying, that if Jesus came any time soon, I wanted to be taken to heaven as one of the saved. I confess that this was likely due to fear of what hell might be like rather than any understanding of salvation. I think this idea must have come from a Bible school experience. Even as a 3rd grader, I remember a longing for something that was bigger than the image at Bible school of Jesus standing in a white robe with his eyes raised upward, something that was way bigger than I could understand.
In the seventh grade, I was invited to the youth group at a classmate’s Wesleyan Methodist church. I joined the youth group and eventually became a Methodist, even becoming president of the youth group. With my increased chatter about Christ, Christianity as I knew it, and thoughts of becoming a missionary, my dad finally expressed very clearly what he thought of it all. He didn’t want to hear any more of it and strongly advised me to drop it. Not only did I not drop it, but I took Bible study very seriously and searched for a fuller understanding of the Scriptures. Ultimately, I was excommunicated by the Methodist pastor for including writings from other Christian persuasions, such as Episcopalian and Roman Catholic, in my youth group Bible studies.
The Episcopalian writings that I discovered during my preparation for Bible studies struck a chord. The liturgical nature of the services, the intellectual level of the homilies, an introduction to the concept of the Holy Trinity, and an introduction to the meaning of the Eucharist appealed to me. When I went to college, the person who became my best friend was Episcopalian. We attended church together about once a month through college. I met my first wife and we were married in an Episcopalian Church. Still, I think being a Christian and leading a Christian life was still peripheral to my life at this time, more intellectual than from the heart.
There was little room or thought about the spiritual side of my life or about my soul during medical school. There was an inner sense of compassion and caring for others, which I remember always being there. This carried me along and I felt was a reflection of Gospel teaching of how Jesus indicated we should treat others. My immersion in learning medicine opened my eyes in wonder and amazement at the ineffable intricacies and miracles of life at all levels of existence. My inner sense of respect for all other beings was strengthened and fortified through knowledge and experience afforded over the next several years.
I opted to do what was called a rotating internship in Denver, Colorado. The Chief of Pediatrics, Dr. Joe Brazzie, was involved in Native American health care on the reservations in Arizona. He invited me and another intern to accompany him on a couple of trips to the reservations. Those visits were life-changing and served as an introduction to what was to happen not much later in life.
It was now 1967-1968. The war in Vietnam was significantly intensifying. I had the choice to sign up or be drafted. I signed up for both the Navy and the Peace Corps and was accepted by both when something completely unexpected happened: I was called by a bureaucrat who transferred me out of the Navy and into the US Public Health Service, Division of Indian Health. So, it was off to Navajo and Hopi lands at the end of my internship. During my time with Navajo and Hopi people, I learned that their healing and spiritual practices (and those of Native Americans in general) are intimately related. In other words, to understand Navajo concepts of healing, it was also necessary to understand Navajo spirituality. There is interconnectedness of spirit and being between and within all things. This view of the world resonated deeply with me and was another step in my journey to a fuller understanding of my relationship to God. Illness is simultaneously physical and spiritual as body and soul are inextricably bound together in this life. During this period of my life, I did not attend a church. I was a person of the world with a spiritual view that others thought “interesting.”
Linda and I met as each of our divorces were being finalized. After two years, we married. We brought together three children from our previous marriages, and were thinking of another. We agreed that the children needed to be brought up within a church, and the church we both knew was the Episcopal Church. We settled on All Saints in Berkeley, California. As it turned out, the priest knew Linda’s father and had received a signed Bible from her father on his ordination. All of our family attended there until we moved to Portland in 1990.
When we moved to Portland, we continued to attend the Episcopal Church. At the time, I believed I had a full understanding of Christianity and lived a Christian life with our family, short of being a monastic. I have since come to realize my ignorance. In 1995, Linda and I were appointed to a task force on AIDS and sexuality by the Archbishop with the task of leading education forums on AIDS and sexuality in parishes throughout the state. The judgmentalism, prejudice, ignorance, and lack of compassion that we encountered led us to question our relationship with the church. At the same time, we were experiencing some very serious family issues. We sought pastoral counseling and guidance from the church. We were disappointed by the lack of response; we were left on our own. That, along with our experience on the AIDS Task Force, led us to decide to leave the Episcopal Church. We felt large holes in our hearts.
We continued to struggle with the family problems facing us. We felt spiritually adrift. The positive experiential remains were, for me, my experiences from the reservation and my experiences at the Zen Monastery, in Tassajara, California where Linda and I went one or two times a year. I spent the next 10 years with the Zen community. The priest was very helpful in providing the guidance and support we needed at the time. Spiritually, I felt comfortable, particularly compared to the lingering fundamentalist Protestant bits still with me and with the huge disappointment I had with the church that I had belonged to for 30 years. My Native American experience and deepening submersion in Zen were like very close siblings and seemed to fulfill a newly kindled quest.
After a few years, Linda expressed a sense of missing Christ in her life. If I was missing anything, I was unaware of it at the time. I also felt jaded by the experiences I had over the recent years of Christianity in general, as I knew it: preaching hellfire and brimstone or preaching love and compassion but doing something quite the opposite.
Eleni Goldman had entered our lives when we moved to Oregon. She was the first person we met after moving here. It was through Eleni that Linda first became acquainted with Orthodoxy. When the west side mission was started, Eleni became a part of it. Linda was invited to one of the Liturgies at Barry and Agape’s home. She told me about her experience, but she didn’t think it was for her. However, as she has said, and I agree, it was like planting a computer virus, which eventually takes over. Her association really began when the church was in the strip mall in Cedar Hills. This is where my first personal contact began, strictly at the feasts, mind you. I was still a part of the Zen Community. Meanwhile, Linda was catechized and received into the Orthodox Church.
After the parish moved to Walker Road, I attended more regularly. Our young granddaughter, Lola, had been accompanying Linda since the strip mall days. When she was three-years-old, she told us that St John’s was her church and she wanted to be a full member and participant. I believe she may be the youngest person to be chrismated into the Church by her own choice. Linda and Lola becoming Orthodox created a lot of tension within the family and between Linda and me. I was still with the Zen Community but was struggling with Linda’s “new Faith.” We had many tension-filled conversations. I had a lot of questions, which she could not answer.
Over time and attending St. John’s with Lola and Linda, I realized that I, too, had become “infected.” I saw that my search for relationship with God was ready for another step. As my heart opened, I began to get answers to many of the questions I had about Orthodoxy. It was Linda’s acceptance of Orthodoxy that created my exposure and Lola’s conversion that softened my heart sufficiently to begin to see Traditional Apostolic Orthodox Christianity was what I had been trying to find since my first awareness of spiritual life and salvation way back in the third grade. I became a catechumen. The classes and reading made me aware of how little I knew about the faith I had professed for 30+ years, then left. The period from soon after the Resurrection to the high Middle Ages was completely missing in my previous education. I had no knowledge of the teachings and writings of the Patristic Fathers, of the lives and examples of the Saints, and how divergent the Western Churches had become from their origins. As I read and prayed, my understanding of the faith that had been a part of most of my life deepened. I felt as if I were returning home, but to a house and family with the camouflage and false fronts removed. Communion with God was growing.
In August 2008, I was received into the Orthodox Church and Linda and I had our marriage blessed. This life continues and a life to come in the presence of God comes closer. The path still to be walked is known only to God.