On Being “Called.”

Hi All:

The entry below was, obviously, composed prior to the election. I’ll share thoughts on the election next time. Nothing in the returns changed any of my thinking below, so here it is. Enjoy–or not:

Autumn is so gorgeous in the California coast range. Clouds forming at the foot of rain soaked canyon walls, slowly wafting upward only partially obscuring the gold, red and green of the steep hillsides in the background. Water is so wonderful, in all its forms. These are so like the mountains of my youth, only a hundred or so miles northeast of here. I never realized during all those years of teaching how large a cost I paid by having only summers in which to travel.

I’m on my way to the coast after a brief visit with my brother in Redding. His wife, Lynn, died while I was on the east coast, and this was the first time I’d seen him since. They married when I was thirteen, almost fifty years ago. Starting that young, and after that long, whether you’re the one married to her or not, she becomes your family, too. She was the first of my siblings, in this bigger sense, to pass.

Around 1972 I had a falling out with my father which lasted two years. I refused to speak to him until he apologized for something he’d said. In order to maintain that level of distance, I attended no events at which he was present during the entire time. That created an ex post facto estrangement between me and the rest of the family as well, which, to some extent, persists to this day.

As oxymoronic as it may sound, 1972 came right in the middle of “the Sixties.” During those two years of separation from the family I went through some extreme changes that none of my siblings were able to watch develop. Changes they neither share nor understand. It’s pretty safe to say that almost the only things we have in common anymore are a shared childhood, the bond of love it instilled, and genes from the same pool.

I suspect they may lie awake sometimes wondering what in the world happened to me. Of course, that probably highly overestimates my significance in their lives. Yet I’m sure they have no understanding whatsoever of my disappointment in their not having gone through similar changes during that same period. And that has significance to me, so who knows?

Largely because of the separation, but for some other reasons as well, our realities during the Sixties were very different, and I relate poorly to my former nuclear family. Similarly, but for entirely different reasons, I’m also very distanced from my son. I’m close to Barb’s family, including her mother, sisters, and the nearest nieces and nephew. Josh (my son) and Heather make a large effort to provide a real bond with the grandchildren, so not all of my family ties are strained, but those with the original Drakes certainly are.

The visit with Bud had a truly healing effect, however, and I’m currently dwelling on some of the gaps that have separated us for so long. Our differences manifest themselves in a number of ways. For example, I think none of my siblings, not even my most liberal and eldest sister, share in the slightest my deep concern over the schism that currently grips this country. I’m pretty sure Josh doesn’t either.

Admittedly, my fears are extreme, as I see the hateful rhetoric of American “talk radio” and ” it’s “Fox TV” equivalent, as preparatory for eventual conflict on the potential order of genocide, with Liberals being amongst those targeted. I found the role of radio as depicted in Hotel Rwanda chilling. But I’m not expecting that level of concern from most people, Sixties generation or not–and especially not from my siblings. Things will have to get much worse before very many Americans will recognize the possibility of such talk getting that far out of hand here.

What I do expect, though, is sensitive, intelligent, loving people with good hearts of every generation to recognize hate-mongering when it stares them in the face. I would hope they would respect the destructive power of hatred. Of all people, the post world war II generation, having first hand experience with Hitler and his version of Nazi-ism, should be able to see the awesome power that particular emotion can garner if left unchallenged. I’d think the ease with which so many Americans have accepted the practice of torture would serve as a wake up call. Perhaps hatred is a good example of an autocatalytic phenomenon (if you don’t get that reference, get my book–i.e., e-mail me for one). There are certainly plenty of instances when its bloom resembles that of algae. I fear that kind of bloom here in America.

Lynn died of cancer, and we’d known it was coming for some time. I had plenty of opportunity to decide, even before leaving, if I would abort my trip for her funeral. Coincidental to thinking on it, I was working on a project to write a modern interpretation of the Gospels. That project stalled when I realized how much less ambivalent and more convincing Christ’s own words are than those of the rest of the Bible’s authors. I’d started because of how absurd much of the historical mythology surrounding His story is. The birth stuff, for example, stretches credibility to the breaking point.

But Christ’s ministry is something quite different. I think His greatest genius may have been in teaching, virtually always, in parable. Although that practice is not usually acknowledged, I think it both true and the main reason translators, power brokers, priests, etc., going all the way back to Paul, have never completely succeeded in occluding His message. To this day it is very, very difficult to find anything Christ said to fault, and almost always easy to get his point. Yet, because it’s wrapped in metaphor, it’s peculiarly difficult to tamper with.

The pertinent lesson I began to focus on when I was pondering what to do if Lynn were to die while I was back east takes place when Peter is recruited into the Apostles. Peter is just picking up to leave when word comes that his father has died. Peter asks to delay long enough to attend to the burial. Christ responds, “let the dead bury the dead,” and Peter doesn’t hesitate any longer. He goes with Christ. The parable, I think, is that when you’ve been Called, you cannot falter, no matter how strong the pull or toward how good an end. It’s all or nothing.

Lynn may have been the most devote member of our family. She and I often disagreed, and I’m sure she would regard my Calling as somehow blasphemous. Certainly, she would have no doubt that presuming to interpret the Bible in anything other than the accepted way would be blasphemy, probably with a capital “B.” But I’m also certain she, perhaps better than anyone other than my long deceased mother, would respect the decision I made in not returning for her funeral. When you’ve been Called, you have to answer.

At least I hope she would. I hope she understood. As I hope others, who have even better claim to pull me aside, will understand if I seem to fail them. It’s not because I don’t love you. I do.

Love to you all, in fact.

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