Category Archives: God

Seminary Girl

Author note: I’m starting a new book about being “called” to ministry and have been mulling it over for about three years. Here’s the very rough beginning two pages. Tell me what you think. 

Church has been important in my life for as long as I can remember. Faded family photographs show three little girls, a tall, slender one with a straight brown bob; a medium-sized one with poufy skirts and a blonde head of curls and me. I was the sturdy one. No waistline. Instead, a solid round body wearing unflattering ruffles, a heart-shaped face, black, black hair and serious eyes. The third girl-child in an Italian family in post-WWII America. Didn’t have a pitching arm. Couldn’t make a basket, spike a volley or ride a bicycle. I cried at Dodge ball.  I liked dress up and Barbie dolls and baking. And I liked to read. One of my first books was a Bible.

Grandpa was a minister.  I heard all the family lore about Grandpa and Grandma coming to America for religious freedom from Palermo, Sicily, where the priests dispensed civil punishment along with religious discipline. God was fearful, watching carefully to catch you in sin. And the wages of sin were determined by the church fathers or ruler-wielding sisters.

Frank Salvatore Bua, my grandfather, left all of that and traveled to New York City, carefully noted in the Ellis Island records and later joined by his teen-aged bride, Anna India. Not long after, brothers, aunts, cousins and more cousins followed in the wake of immigrant steamers and settled in Jersey. A few years later, Grandpa was lured to the land of promise, Los Angeles, the City of Angels.

Frank bought a corner store, with an attached abode in back.  Down the street he purchased a falling down brick building and there, in the middle of Little Italy, the family cleaned the bricks on the weekends and built a rectangular edifice with a sweeping façade that proudly bore the name, The Italian Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Plucked down in the middle of a sea of Catholics, Grandpa preached a gospel of no sainthood, no priests, no nuns and few miracles. It was a hard and simple faith. All have sinned, all are called to be saved by the death of Jesus on the cross. Only believe.

The job of men was to work, preach and save soul. My two great uncles, Tony and Charlie, did this weekly in Pershing Square downtown, where homeless drug addicts, alcoholics and thieves huddled, covered in newspapers, in the freezing shadows of tall business buildings.  The uncles worked as barbers and remained bachelors until they met Jesus at the gates of heaven. Their message was direct. Repent.

Women saved the souls of children through songs and Bible stories. Their message was reassuring. God will rescue you.

Christian women fed those in need, always making a little extra for the neighbors, held Bible clubs after school, and prayed for those more unfortunate from work injuries or still-births. They crocheted bonnets, knitted blankets, and eked out gardens of tomatoes and onions, garlic, oregano, eggplants and figs.

Grandma made meatballs out of sausage and bread crumbs and pasta “sugu” out of the jars of tomato preserves that lined the cement foundation wall in her cool, dug-out cellar. After church every Sunday, we cousins ran in our white Sunday shoes down to the corner to Grandma and Grandpa’s house where we could put one hand into a large crock and pull out a “patty” before dinner made from leftover meat, grease, breadcrumbs and garlic while the table was being set and the deep pot of handmade pasta boiled to perfection. We understood rescue.

Cousin Paul was the oldest and the first to have a religious “calling.”  He was a big guy, a football hero in high school. He went to UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and was interested in acting, with a strong sense of the dramatic and a booming voice. Somewhere along the way, he found that those skills were also requisite for preaching. He went to Princeton Theological Seminary, interned at a Presbyterian Church, married the pastor’s daughter and became a successful preacher of high intellect – no doubt he would have confounded Grandpa and his uncles in his long black robes with his sermons on eschatology and church hierarchy. His doctoral thesis was on the disciple Andrew. Thousands flocked to hear his sermons and loved his tell-it-like-it-is style.

Next to attend seminary was cousin Leighton, who had gone to Biola College and its associated school, Talbot Seminary to prepare for a ministry in counseling. Leighton is a loving and gentle man with a sweet wife and two sons. He knows the Bible like the back of his hand. His mode of preaching is service and I’m sure that he has provided spiritual sanity to thousands of lost souls.

After Leighton, cousin Wesley entered into “fulltime Christian ministry” through a para-church organization called, Campus Crusade for Christ in the late ‘60s. Campus Crusade held Bible studies and evangelistic crusades on college campuses and was a massive movement right before the Jesus Freaks countered with a more “feeling” spiritual way. Campus Crusade celebrated the football stars and homecoming queens, the clear-skinned youth “leaders” who had straight teeth, shiny hair and moral certainty.

My view of femininity was transitioning by then

to Indian printed ankle skirts, long frizzy hair, no bra and sweet worship songs.

Wes rose past the ranks of campus leaders to become an organizational executive attached to a popular speaker and writer, Josh McDowell. Wes was his “advance man” who traveled from city to city to secure details of accommodations, schedule, meals, travel arrangements and music. In Campus Crusade, men were exalted and women were viewed as handmaidens to the ministerial goals of men. Campus Crusade had control over its members in deciding where they would live and how they would serve. Individuals were not allowed to decide what they wanted to do, the organization decided their “calling.”

My mother, knowing that I, too, had an interest in ministry, wanted me to join Campus Crusade because they had beauty classes and expected women to have manicured nails and curled hair. My view of femininity was transitioning by then to Indian printed ankle skirts, long wavy hair, no bra and sweet worship songs. The Jesus Movement was my leaning.

The generation gap widened. Mother loved Nancy Reagan because she wore pretty hats to Hollywood Presbyterian Church where they both attended services during the War – a far cry from the rustic, hand built protestant church in a poor Italian enclave where the hymns were sung loudly, with crude harmony and in a foreign language.  I didn’t feel at home with either expression of God’s love for a sinful world.

…to be continued

 

Advertisements
Tagged

Holidays x One: Mother of the Groom

He was a bundle of excitement and energy – a high-pitched voice that we constantly mocked, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom!!!” over and over until he got eye contact and full-faced attention. Extra smart and outspoken, Jesse always started the school year enthusiastically. About the third week of school I would invariably get a call from the teacher.

“Can we have a little talk about Jesse?”

They either loved him or he drove them crazy.

jessenick

I loved him. My sweet little bundle of baby boy was as honest as daybreak and as out there as the sunset, showing off every color, every shade, every nuance until his head hit the pillow at night with a thunk. Out.  He drove his sister crazy.  They shared a room and every night Molly would pray, “Please don’t let Jesse wake me up.”

I got divorced when he was two. So then began the round of split weekends, every other weekend with a dad that lasted until he was 18 years-old.

Junior High held some rough years and my second husband, Mike, was a God-send. They really liked each other and things smoothed over a bit. And actually it worked both ways. When Jesse was acting out and angry at the world, he committed his heart to Jesus Christ and learned self-control and surrender. Mike was completely impressed.

“Jesse showed me Jesus,” Mike said. “He showed me how to put my faith in God.”

The God in him stuck. In high school he passed out Christian pamphlets in Downtown San Diego. At UC Berkeley he joined a Christian fraternity, but worked in the summer at the local Ashram, asking his questions. He got a great high-paying job after college, but quit after six months, seeking something to satisfy his soul.

Jesse spent a year at a School of Evangelism – always questioning, not secure that he was hearing the voice of God, then following Jesus to a Mega-church conference in Atlanta for work. Just after Mike died, disillusioned with that sub-culture, he moved to the English Avenue neighborhood, with daily drug deals, boarded houses and families in need of love and light. He had 3,000 Facebook friends, girls who adored him, but he didn’t respond. He was on a mission.

So when Annabelle started showing up on his Facebook timeline when he was about 35 years-old, I didn’t think that much about it. Then he brought her to San Diego for Christmas.

The family fell immediately in love. In walked a tall, stunning, articulate, faith-filled woman who had a quirky side and great sense of humor. And beautiful, great style, with a passion for the English Avenue neighborhood. They could not have been a better fit. Before they left, I pulled him into my bedroom.

“Here, take my diamond ring.  If you’re smart, you’ll give it to her and cherish her rest of your life. She is a gift to you,” I said.

It was still a few months until the perfect proposal was worked out and the ring was hers. Both sets of parents were anxiously praying until we got the word – a wedding in October!

Being the Mother of the Groom is a different ballgame. Especially at a distance. I planned a rehearsal dinner in a city I’ve never seen, with people I’ve never met, while the kids wanted it outdoors and catered by Chipotle.   Some of the family was coming from England – would they even like Mexican food? I hurled myself into gear, sending boxes of candles, borrowing 10 serape tablecloths, shipping those white Mexican wedding banners and twinkle lights across the nation, along with lanterns, bowls and a box of colorful maracas to let the guests take home. We sat around under the lights, the children at the fire pit making s’mores, and heard the story of Jesse and Annabelle’s romance from a number of perspectives. Indeed, it seemed that heaven came down.

The wedding itsemcs_phillipswed-082lf reflected their values. A beautiful, historic venue. Guests as diverse and supportive as could possibly be. The couple washed each other’s feet, prayed over their future and danced ‘til they dropped – all sweetened by apple and peach pie.

My little boy had somehow become an entrepreneur, a leader in his community, a husband, and a Godly man. I still hear echoes of the “Mom, Mom, Mom!” and know that it won’t be too long before they have their own bundles of love piercing their ear drums on a sweet front porch overlooking the neighborhood where they are changing lives in Atlanta.

 

Holidays x One: Passover/Easter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Passover and Easter have evolved into odd civic holidays that celebrate the rites of Spring, fertility, rebirth, seeds spouting, lambs being born (and eaten), eggs being decorated (and eaten), chicks and bunnies soft and squeaking in baskets, or their chocolate equivalents smearing across tiny faces. Why odd?

Well even though at Christmas the birth of Christ and arrival of Santa Claus have no connection, there’s the giving of a gift that affords it some type of universal credence. But the Easter Bunny has no connection whatsoever to slavery, deliverance, death and resurrection.

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish slaves from captivity in Egypt. The story is rich with plagues, a secret prince (Moses), murder and miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the visit of the first-born sons by the angel of death. The key ingredient at the Seder table is unleavened bread representing their hurried departure.
Easter commemorates the betrayal of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, his trials, crucifixion, death, burial. Then his resurrection. The key ingredient is the wine and bread representing the spilt blood and pierced flesh of Christ. No chocolate bunnies in sight.

Digging deeper, both celebrations invite us to remember what is gone and to wait for deliverance.

Remembering can be hard for the person who is alone. I lived for years with a busy houseful of children, step-children, “adopted” children and friends of children. It was expansive and fun within those four walls. The phone rang constantly, events, meals, cars coming and going, birthdays, graduations, new jobs, lost jobs. I used to tell them, “If you have a crisis you have about three weeks to milk it because by then another will come along.”

Remembering and re-living that season of my life is a struggle. I look at pictures and sigh. I wonder how all those folks are doing, grown with their own homes, their own families, work and accomplishments. It’s weird to go all day without a phone call, not to be making a costume, a decoration, a huge dinner or even a dessert. I sometimes look up their Facebook pages even if I’m not a friend, just to see their smiles.

Maybe a better way is to remember with joy and be grateful for having that time of life at all. One that many would have given anything to have had. Think back to your favorite Easter memories–was it hiding eggs as a child – or finding them? Was it brand new patent leather shoes at any age? Spring break in college? Surrounding a church pulpit with dozens of lilies? Cutting off a piece of crusty, salty lamb fat and popping it in your mouth with a juicy sliver of meat?

Waiting for change is an even greater challenge, even if it’s not deliverance from bondage or rising from the dead. The change we think will never get here. The check that’s in the mail. The escrow taking forever to close. The vacation that we’ve been putting off year after year. The retirement that we keep pushing back.

Often it’s the waiting that brings about more change than the actual receiving of what you are waiting to happen. Waiting strengthens us, even when it’s hard. But sometimes what comes after is just plain miraculous.

That’s worth remembering.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Coming to Terms with the List of What I Can’t Have

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I recently had a tiny little heart attack and was in the hospital for three days. I’m grateful that I had just filled a prescription for nitroglycerin and took one; that I immediately called my friend, Lisa, who was home and could rush me to the ER, and that I prayed to a God who listens and gives grace.  There was no damage to the heart.

Another of my good friends contacted her Tibetan doctor and mailed me a list of foods, grouped into  categories such as grains, dairy, meats, etc. Next to the list are two columns: one called AVOID and the other RECOMMENDED. 

“It’s basically a list of what you can’t have,” my friend explained. “If you eat from the list you will be much healthier, weight will fall off, you’ll live longer and you’ll never have another heart attack.”

“Can’t” has never been a particularly effective word for me, I admit. I was born in 1951 and grew up in the era when women were “can’t-ed” into conformity. I’ve fought most of my life against “can’t.” But I’ve also lived long enough to recognize that aging is a process of creating The Other Bucket List – the humble recognition of things that we will never do before the bucket is kicked.  

Of course, there’s the obvious –  win American Idol,  have another child, walk a red carpet, become a senator, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Then there is the category listing things I can’t do that I used to do – flip a round-off, play tennis all day, drive across country in two days, or stay up all night. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, as Jesus so aptly pronounced to his sleepy disciples in the book of Matthew.

The scriptures have another rather famous “can’t” list found in the twentieth chapter of the book of Exodus known as the Ten Commandments, or the Dacalogue. Yes, they are written in stone, as every Sunday School child knows.  But think I might be more open to the Tibetan format. What if they were listed like this?

  • I am God. Have no other God but me.  RECOMMENDED
  • Bowing before or serve any images or idols that aren’t me, makes me jealous. AVOID
  • Misusing my name is upsetting  AVOID
  • Keep the day of rest with holy protectiveness.  RECOMMENDED
  • Honor your father and mother.  RECOMMENDED
  • Killing  AVOID
  • Committing adultery  AVOID
  • Stealing  AVOID
  • Lying about your neighbor.  AVOID
  • Coveting what your neighbor has, and that means anything. AVOID

So there are, and have always been, things in life that are recommended and things to avoid. In other words, things that bring life and things that bring death. And some of the things I used to do, well, they may have slipped into the death category. I’m just getting old enough to notice the difference. 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: