Callings have many beginnings, and if you’ll allow some rambling as I near my 10th anniversary of writing this column, I’d like to share mine.
My most solid memories begin in May 1962 when my pastor-dad graduated from an Arkansas college. In the days after his graduation, he crammed all our worldly goods inside a plywood box he built atop a rusted boat trailer. He transplanted our Texas-born family to the opulent, and likely opiate, hills of Marin County, Calif. There, he enrolled as a ministerial student in Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
It was on this campus that I first conscripted my friends to play army with toy rifles and dirt grenades. We transformed the campus into a basic-training confidence course, spending hours fashioning forts in the overgrown summer grass, tumbling down ice-plant-covered embankments and storming the persistently under construction student housing area. Among my playmates was Rick Warren, not yet the famed author and pastor of the largest Christian congregation in America.
Then, in our unkempt thrift store coats, we concealed an armament of squirt guns, cap guns, stick guns and, if all else failed, a clicking thumb atop a shuddering index finger.
Demilitarization came twice on Sundays and again on Wednesdays when, dressed in suits and dresses, my family of five heaped into our blue, 1963 Rambler station wagon and joined the hymn-singing congregation my father pastored in a storefront church.
Once in the hardened pew, I laid my head in my mother’s lap as her diaphragm emptied the operatic notes of “Amazing Grace.” I heard her refrains as lullabies and preludes of peace before my father’s sermon, a tandem that nearly always favored a 45-minute nap.
I found myself lost in the musical rhythm and hypnotic oratory of the church; some cynics even may say I was indoctrinated.
In fact, many a time I’d assemble a congregation of family members to play church, casting myself as the preacher, and my siblings as the church choir. Perhaps these early times would explain why, by the time I was in junior high, I was convinced my future role would be something behind a lectern: perhaps a lawyer, possibly a professor, probably a preacher.
It was no surprise to my friends that I enrolled at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in 1975 and, at the same school where my parents met, I told my advisor that like my father and his grandfather, I was called to preach.
My advisor told me my calling was commendable, but it would be good if I had something practical to fall back on. So, three years later, and 17 years before Baylor approved on-campus dancing, I earned a bachelor of arts in religion along with a fallback degree in journalism.
Baylor provided no special-colored tassel for a 3.01 GPA, but four years later I would add a master of divinity degree from GGBTS, the same seminary where I premiered the characters of preacher and soldier. Fifteen months after that, I blended those roles into the real life of a pastor commissioned as a citizen soldier in the Air Force Reserves.
Next month marks my 25th year in military service, and this year added my 30th year to ordained ministry. The imagined childhood roles of soldier/preacher have come to pass. God truly is good and I remain beyond grateful to be called into his service.