09 January 2007

A Quaker Transition to the Talkies

On New Year's Day, my father turned 82. His Japanese driver's license says he was born in the 14th year of Taisho. All during my childhood in Japan, his age advanced in parallel with the Showa reign year. Here's a short, preliminary tribute to one of his best-honed skills:

Perhaps there’s an element of truth to my teasing claim that Dad left the Quakers to become a Baptist because he just couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough. But that cheap hypothesis fails to explain why the rest of his siblings also abandoned their Quaker roots.

Of course, Dad didn’t leave all his Quaker values behind. Not even the value of silence. During Wednesday night prayer meetings at the First Baptist Church in Winchester, Virginia (my mother's home church), where he served as associate pastor one furlough, he made some of the Baptists uneasy enough to speak up when he allowed periods of silent prayer to go on a little longer than they were used to.

But Dad does believe in the value of talk—for preaching, for teaching, for learning, for sharing, to be sure, but most of all for healing. That must be why he chose to concentrate on pastoral counseling at seminary and to serve as an institutional chaplain, rather than a church-planting evangelist, during his first two terms as a missionary in Japan. And later to teach pastoral care at Seinan ('Southwestern') Seminary in Fukuoka.

He does preach a good sermon, though. He doesn’t shout, thump the Bible, or silently wait for the Spirit to move him. Nor does he read a dry lecture on comparative theology or religious history. Instead, he keeps his sermons fairly short, fairly conversational, and almost always tells a story to get his message across. He knows that great truths are best conveyed by great stories. His homilies have surely come a long way since he practiced his first sermons while plowing, preaching temperance to the back end of a mule.

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