Changing View of the World

Today’s reflection makes clear that my view of the world was metamorphosing during the last years with the Conference. Now I sometimes wonder if I ever really fully believed some of the doctrine I learned in seminary, but at least I know that major shifts were coming before I identified them. The result today is what I believe to be a deepened “faith” which I do not want to name, but which I find is more enabling for me as I work my way through life. So, at the time that my confidence in the institutional church was weakened, I was also becoming less sure of the faith that the institution had taught me. The new “faith” developed for me, purposely devoid of many of the forms and structures added by institutional need. That new “faith” still develops and renews.

While on Conference staff I had moved from the Associate Minister of Christian Education to being the Minister of Christian Education, assuming that position when my former “boss” had left the staff. Gradually life was heading in a new direction, and finally in the last couple of years on staff, I began to recognize that truth.

One of the better “moments” in those last years on the Conference staff was surely the two weeks of “sensitivity training”, at Bethel, Maine. My lead trainer was Goodwin Watson, prominent in the movement. I came to deeply respect Goodwin, and a couple of years later, I had the privilege of introducing him at an event in Washington, D.C., organized by the American Association For Humanistic Psychology. At a sustaining, growing level, those weeks awakened in me a part of life to which I had been dead. There was no time to regret the past, only time to seek new perspectives. New learning-teaching styles articulated practices already germinating in my ministry, were then given form as I entered into training programs initiated with Episcopalians. My mentor-colleagues included Mary Whitten and Emma Lou Benignus. Doors began to open so that I could see with a new lens those “dis-eases” which plagued my discomfort with my life as it had been, with life as it was/is around me.

Part of my discomfort included a growing disillusionment with the institutional church, which became clear to me only after I had left it. That is perhaps best remembered in a conversation with Charles Cobb, after I become involved with Community Change. Charles was a minister who had once served a black church in Springfield, Massachusetts, had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and then became creator-administrator of the national Commission on Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ. Once, in his office in New York, Charles and I were in conversation about the church and its ability to witness for change. I said to him that I thought the church was no worse and no better than any other institution. A pause in the conversation, and then Charles said, “but it ought to be better”. That “ought to be” was a part of what had driven me out of the church. I now hold out that “oughtness” for every
institution which claims an egalitarian mission.

With a growing dissatisfaction with the church, and with a deepening doubt about the beliefs it had taught me, my work no longer excited me. In December of 1967, I announced by resignation from the Conference staff, to be effective in June, 1968. It was a difficult period for me, with many questions about my resignation to which I had no full answers. It was also difficult for my staff colleagues; their awkwardness became clear at the first staff retreat after my resignation had been announced. I know they cared for me, but I was astounded that there was no expression of good will, no thanks offered for work which I knew had been well received, no questions asked about my future, only a quiet “third-person” announcement that “Seldon” had resigned.

The growing dissatisfaction and doubt of this period became clear as years later I
found this poem, signed and dated “c. 1967”, which clearly shows the extent of doubt which took me to the edge of a terrible cynicism. I shudder as I read this, but accept it as
illustrative of what was happening in my head and heart:

The world is old and tired
The world and all its people are sick.

Civilizations are dying;
Civilization’s death is the death of
Systems, institutions, ideas.
But that is not all,
For where civilization dies
There also men die.

Men are dying;
Man’s death is the death of
Faith, hope, love.

Faith dies in man:
Trust becomes suspicion;
Reason reveals its folly,
And the Word born silently
Remains silent
To deaf ears.

Hope dies in man:
Courage is afraid to face Redemption;
Will is weak to encounter Transformation,
And the promised Rebirth
Remains still
To blind eyes.

Love dies in man:
The world whirls on
In greed, lust, hate.
And with lost love, meaning
Remains unknown
To hardened hearts.

During this difficult period, there came an offer for a national church position, but of course that had no appeal. I had no idea what would happen for me after June, but a quiet confidence told me that I would be led to whatever the new beginning might be.

Two major events in the next four months propelled me into that new beginning.

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