Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.
Send GK Your Question »
June 27, 2007 |
Post to the Host:
Sunday we had our annual baptism ceremony at Beaver Lake. It was a beautiful day. The trees overhead have grown together more since my own baptism there seven years ago. The plastic benches facing out on the water weren't enough to seat everyone, they never are. The little kids ran around and played in the water and got warned away from the poison ivy, just as they always do. But it was an especially nice ceremony. For one thing, we had three of our young men
among those who chose to become baptized. One of them, our pastor's eldest son, has been the subject of intensive prayer for years.
A couple of years ago our pastor and his wife stood in front of us at the membership meeting with tears streaming down their faces. They told us they didn't think they could go on being the spiritual heads of our church. Somewhere in one of Paul's Epistles it says that a pastor should be a paragon of virtue, and have charge of his family, and lead a godly life. They felt they had failed in this because of this one son, Sergei. Our church doesn't have anyone else who would volunteer for the kind of time it takes to be pastor. So we decided that an imperfect pastor is better than no pastor at all. Besides that, nearly every family among us has at least one Sergei in it, one young man who has left the fold. So we all felt sympathy for each other and had a good prayer, and that was that. Then last spring Sergei went to a youth revival with his brothers. One of the ministers said something that touched Sergei so much that he decided to repent. As you can imagine, our whole church was really excited about Sergei's baptism. A lot of other parents see it as a sign that maybe someday their Anatoli or Aleksandr or Venjamin will see the light.
We stood there in the cool shade, singing our hymns, listening to sermons and prayers from parents who were proud of their young people. Suddenly I could hear you saying "Roger Hedlund got up and told the whole church what he really thought of them." and I felt so ashamed. I looked around at these women in their brightly colored head scarves and long skirts, and the men with no tie and their shirts open one button at the neck, (so no one would confuse them with Communists) and I realized how much I love every one of them. I wished I could share it with you. That was something in itself, because you're the First Person among Americans that I've ever wanted to share my church with. I've always worried that Americans wouldn't understand, but possibly you would. Maybe you would look at our members and see your immigrant Norwegian relatives, some of them fixed in the Old Country ways, others integrating with America, and see the richness of their culture and their spirit.
Sometimes I envy the simple faith of these people. When I talk to our pastor it seems as if he sees a clearly defined road cut in the wilderness, something built of absolutes. He feels certain of every step that he takes on that road. It's not so simple for me. Take the parable about Jesus cursing the fig tree because it didn't give him fruit when he was hungry. From the context, it sounds like it wasn't the season for figs. Besides that, figs come in boy trees and girl trees, and if Jesus went around zapping all the boy trees, the girl trees couldn't make figs, could they? So it seems to me Jesus wasn't up on his botany. There is one story I really identify with, though. It's the one about the workers who come to the field at the eleventh hour and the boss pays them as much as those who have been there all day. I'm kind of like that myself. I grew up in the Methodist church, and didn't really get it, and went off to be a Unitarian when I was in college. But somehow the idea of knowing and being with God was always there. I was nearly 40 when I finally realized that I wasn't doing very well at ordering my life. I gave the job over to God, and He's been doing it a whole lot better ever since. When people in our church pray for their lost sons, I think to myself that it's still early yet, and these young men may come to God in their own eleventh hours, although maybe in different ways than what Ukrainian Pentecostal parents expect.
When I look at Sergei, I'm not sure that his conversion experience was that intense. Sergei might have had his "awakening" because he comes from one of the strongest families I've ever seen and it just got to him after a while, being the odd man out. That, and rumor has it that he's interested in one of the young women in our church, a young lady who was baptized 2-3 years ago. If he wants to get serious about her, he knows he has to be baptized before the congregation. He wouldn't be the First Person to get baptized for practical reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if Sergei will become a little like me as a member seemingly in the loop, but always feeling a little distance, a little doubt. And maybe, like me, he'll silently give a small cheer for Anatoli, Aleksandr and Venjamin, who at least have the courage to follow their own stars.
It seems to me that approaching God is like coming in on the spokes of a wagon wheel. Most of us come in on the spoke we grew up with, but I don't think it matters to God which way we choose. Some of us may even come in cross-country or "as the crow flies." I think God has a whole lot more tolerance for religious, denominational and doctrinal differences than most of us do. The main thing is to find Him, the how and why are just details.
Thank you, Sue, for your witness. That's what we called it back in the Sanctified Brethren, when someone out of fullness of heart stood up and spoke of something they had experienced directly. You leave us to conjecture how a Palmer landed among the baptist Russians in the Finger Lakes, which I imagine is quite a story. I guess it's in the phrase "I wasn't doing very well at ordering my life." Bless you for writing.