Monday, October 15, 2012


There were three reasons I cleaned up to attend church.  First, I live next door to this Baptist church, so being neighborly sort of suggests it.  When I first moved here I attended every church in town once each except the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who already attended ME a little too often until they registered I had been an ordained minister myself.  

Second, the new pastor’s name is Brubaker and he lives in Choteau where there is another Brubaker family that is at the other end of the spectrum in terms of proper behavior.  One of them is the notorious book thief, James.  but this one is named John, no relation at all.  (His wife is Fran.)  James was an artifact wheeler/dealer in the Sixties, so naturally he buzzed around Scriver Studio.  It is a relief to know this man has nothing to do with him.  I feared for the church.

Third, both Pastor Bru, as he is styled, and myself are University of Chicago Divinity School graduates with MA’s on account of unfinished theses, which would have meant D.Min or Ph.D.  His field was Old Testament Bible and mine was Anthropology, which translates in that context to History of Religions -- sorta.  The anthro deficit in the Div School means that Pastor Bru likewise has old-fashioned ideas about Plains Indians.  But he has a far more powerful version of the Div School experience, since I was actually at Meadville/Lombard, the Unitarian-Universalist seminary which required a U of C Div School Masters inside its own program.  

The sermon, in fact, had a lot to do with Hyde Park.  Fran taught in the toughest of the south Chicago housing projects, a class of 42 kids scattered across the achievement levels and so needy that the Brubakers ended up adopting three of them.  They are black, of course, and grown up now.  They have a genetic son who also lives in Choteau.

The first surprise in the service was the pastor’s wonderfully rich and resonant voice, so it was good that there were so many hymns.  The second was that his message was “Bibfeltian.”  U of C Div School students had been listening to the Kierkegardian message, which was that one can choose a life of hedonism and wandering or one can be conscientious and disciplined.  They decided to invent a new theologian, “Bibfeldt” (all the big theologians have names that start with B) who preached the Both/And.  He’s a very useful guy.  There are spoof conferences, festschrifts, and so on, and they sometimes are in danger of becoming serious contributions to thought.  I value Bibfeldt both when I’m being a hedonist and when I’m being a conscientious Puritan.

Pastor Bru’s sermon was on “government and religion” taken together.  His theme was that government is necessary to keep order.  But there are some things in life that are so otherwise ungovernable that the draconian government solutions are pretty demonic from a religious point of view.  He had three examples.  The first was casinos, since at least then gambling is out in the open and regulated.  The second was alcohol, since it’s clear that prohibition just simply didn’t work and actually gave the entry point for mobs.  The third was unwanted pregnancies.  (He didn’t say sex or marriage.)  The government solution has been abortion and he considers this the most horrible of all.  The bottom line was urging us all to continue the search for better solutions.

The congregation is smaller than any of the UU fellowships I served while circuit-riding.  Since I last attended (could it have been 1999 -- THAT long??) almost everyone has gone to their Heavenly Reward.  Blanche, sheriff’s widow, and her daughter, Miss Vicky, who does the cat ministry in this town, and Wanda, a dynamo now on oxygen, are the last ones from the original group I remember.  It’s my understanding that the carillon bells and the recent overhaul of the exterior were funded by estates left to the church.

Churches are institutions and, as such, as vulnerable to tin pot tyrants and fakirs as any other institution.  But I don’t think this pastoral team is going to lead the people astray.  In fact, they could be an important source of renewal and growth.  Their work has been whole-hearted in the past, I think, and will continue unless they are rejected.

I “speak” Christian but am not one.  Religions really are quite like languages, coming from nations and carrying dialects and accents.  Pastor Bru’s style of Baptist is one that reaches out into the world instead of barricading against it.  In a small town that gets terrifying news from elsewhere, the tendency is to dig a moat and fill it with alligators.  They don’t need Crocodile Dundee, though some of the local characters would like to advertise that he is they.  We don’t even need Noah since we’re in a declared drought emergency.  But we might could use a Peter: the enthusiasm, the willingness to try walking on water, the faithful friend in spite of falling asleep, the defender who only manages to cut off an ear of the attacker.

My family religious connections are through my mother’s side: her contentious Presbyterian father and her warm-hearted Baptist mother.  On my father’s side were prairie humanists and secular Christians -- that is, not church attenders.  But I discover that among my great-grandmother’s sisters on that side were some pretty rock-ribbed religionists, even Plymouth Brethren.  I do not speak Plymouth Brethren.  I speak a little Blackfeet.

But there is a kind of universal sign-language among religious people and maybe that’s the vocabulary I try to expand.  Tolerance, forgiveness, thoughtfulness, care of consequences, harmony with all of existence -- not just humans and not just on this planet.

So I went over to be a good neighbor, and to check out whether the Brubaker was the one who was NOT careful of consequences and therefore sits in jail repenting, and also to find a person who speaks University of Chicago Div School, a specialized language no matter what one’s major subject was.  There are other subjects to explore and revelations to share.  I wonder whether we ought to register ourselves as an official U of Chicago Div School Alumni Association.   

Now to get in the gutter -- though mine are quite elevated.  The Baptists have brand new ones to go with their new metal roof.  God is smiling on them.

NOTE:  Pastor Bru advises me that my account of his and Fran's children is not quite accurate.  These are his words:  

Fran’s teaching was not in Hyde Park, but in the Robert Taylor Homes
over along the Dan Ryan Expressway. All her school children were Black,
and she was the only White in the school. Her experience there was pivotal
in our decision to adopt. We went through Chicago Child Care Society, an
agency in Hyde Park that specialized in placement of “hard to place”
children. Due to many dynamics of the time, we opted for mixed race.
However it turned out that our first adopted child, Amy, was full-blood
Northern Cheyenne Native American. Our second was half Puerto Rican and
half Wisconsin Indian. Our third adoption was after we had assumed the
pastorate of Calvary Baptist Church in Sheridan, WY. Mark came to us at
age 2, diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It was feared that he would
be special needs mentally (and he was, but now functions normally due to
enriched environment and interventions).  We have two birth sons, one in 
Choteau and one in North Carolina.

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