On July 10, 2023, the first shipment of my memoir Leaving Linda: A Moonie from the Boonies arrived. Needless to say, I was overjoyed. It’s been a long hard slog.
It was over ten years ago when I signed up for an online memoir-writing course. Since then, I joined my wife, Maree, at an in-person memoir writers’ class at Amicus Books in Marysville, then after that we both joined a local writers’ group in Marysville that met once a week. I also started this blog with the idea that some of my stories would be added to Leaving Linda.
As someone who when he first heard the word semicolon thought it was a birth defect, I needed a lot of help. Most of that assistance is recognized in the “Acknowledgements” section of my book. You can read that section, along with chapters one and two, in the “Look inside” or “Read Sample” feature on Amazon.
“It’s like we’re in a foreign country”, my wife commented as we stood inside the dining hall of the Sikh temple in Yuba City, California on Sunday afternoon, April 17, 2016.
As far as I could tell, we were the only white people, or as Dr. Shumate from the Sutter County Library might say, “Caucazoids”, in that room of well over two hundred people.
We were visiting the temple because the Sikh Community Outreach of Yuba City had invited the public to join them in celebrating Family Day, and to learn about the meaning of Vaisakhi, or the birth of Khalsa.
This was not our first visit. On one earlier occasion an official of the temple had asked us how they could get more people like us to come.
“You mean white people?” I commented.
“Not just white people, but people that aren’t Sikhs”, he replied.
I didn’t have much to say at the time, but since then I’ve visited a multitude of places of worship while researching material for my blog, LeavingLinda.com. In doing so I have observed how other groups handle their new guests. Hopefully I can offer some insights into how the Sikh temple can get more visitors, and also enable those visitors to gain more from their experience.
On our recent visit, after parking our car, we walked over to where several canopies were set up, and looked around. We were treated to some servings of “golgappa” at one booth, where the mostly young volunteers were friendly and informative. We then passed the “Pagh Project” where a turban-tying demonstration was taking place. After visiting a few more booths and wondering what to do next, I happened to recognize a temple member, whom I know from my Toastmasters Club, walking by.
“Inder!” I called out.
“Bob! what brings you here?” she replied.
“I heard there’s free food.” I chuckled.
“Did you go to the dining hall?”
“No I didn’t. I’m really not here just for the food, I like to visit places of worship and write about them for my blog. I would like to visit the dining hall though. How do I get there?”
After getting directions my wife and I began walking towards the dining hall and knew we were close when we could smell the pleasant aromas of Indian food cooking. We walked inside, stood in a short line and, after having our Styrofoam plates piled generously with naan bread and other items, we looked for a place to sit. The right side of the room was lined with mats where mostly women and children were sitting. I opted to sit at the cafeteria style table and bench at the left side of the hall, and my wife followed. As we started to sit down, my wife noticed that only men were seated at those tables and, anxious to comply with temple etiquette, she asked if it was alright for her to join them. Several men nodded their heads yes, assuring her it was fine.
Even without knowing the name of anything we were eating, we agreed that the food experience was outstanding. (This colorful vegetarian feast, combined with delicious memories of Punjabi Pizza at Dhillon’s, also in Yuba City, inspired an Indian food cooking phase in the Gauper family kitchen, which is still in progress. More about that in future posts.)
After eating, we weren’t able to linger much longer because of another commitment. While our overall temple experience was pleasant and memorable, I believe it would have been even more valuable if just a few features were in place to aid newcomers, e.g.,
Visitors Parking Area
Information Booth with maps and brochures about the temple and Sikhism
Docents to answer questions and guide guests around the temple
Recipe cards with details about the food being served
During my brief visit to the temple, I didn’t get a chance to discover the meaning of Vaisakhi and what the birth of Khalsa was about. However, subsequent research revealed that Khalsa is essentially the tenets of what’s required to be a true Sikh. http://www.sikhs.org/khalsa.htm
A true Sikh is required to worship one god, give to the poor, abstain from drug and alcohol use, never commit adultery and live by many other noble virtues. The Christian Bible tells us you can know people “by their fruits”. Personally, I never doubted that the Sikh religion was inspired by God; my visits to the temple and interactions with local Sikhs have only confirmed that.
Rain? I really hadn’t expected that. Probably should have checked the weather forecast before driving over the Sierra Nevada Mountains; but it had been so long since we’d experienced rain during California’s extended drought, I just didn’t think about it. My windshield wipers groaned to life after months of non-use, their steady beat contrasting with the tempo of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony playing on the CD. (Yes, I had to look that up.)
It was nice to have the rain, but after such a long dry spell the roads can be slick and quite treacherous, so I made a mental note to drive extra carefully, as I passed Nevada City and continued east into the mountains on Highway 20.
Soon I was on Interstate 80 and briefly visited the Donner Pass Rest Area. Afterward I noticed the traffic was barely moving as I slowly merged back onto the freeway. About twenty feet further I was stuck in stationary traffic for nearly three hours. There had been an accident; a semi-truck had spun out on the rain-slick road, flipped over, and was blocking the interstate.
I must have just missed that accident, I told myself. Although the long wait was a major inconvenience, I was grateful to be safe. Sitting in my car I contemplated what it might have been like to grow up in the nearby town of Truckee, where my dad, mother and I had lived when I was a toddler. Dad helped to build the freeway I was currently stranded on. He had been a Grade Setter for Caltrans. If it hadn’t been for my mother being pregnant with my brother, or if Truckee had a hospital back then, we might have planted our California roots in that small mountain town.
I was currently heading to Las Vegas for the grand opening of the International Peace Education Center (IPEC) and to attend a 7-day Divine Principle Workshop hosted by the Unification Church (now officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, or FFWPU). Originally I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford the time or money for the workshop but I told God that if I could sell my truck and trailer, I would go. Thanks to Craigslist, they did sell, and I had to keep my promise. I chose to drive through Nevada because I had already driven many times to Vegas through California and wanted a change of scenery. Also, by traveling through Nevada, the “Sekhmet Temple of Goddess Spirituality” would be on my route and I wanted to stop by.
While most people seem to think the journey from Reno to Las Vegas is rather boring, personally I find the solitude and open spaces of the Nevada desert to my liking. The drive gave me welcome hours of quiet and peaceful meditation.
Many miles and several naps later, I approached the small community of Indian Springs, which is home not only to Sekhmet Temple, but also Creech Air Force Base. Currently, the base’s main activity is “to engage in daily Overseas Contingency Operations …of remotely piloted aircraft systems which fly missions across the globe.”Its mission has also included support for nuclear testing at the nearby Nevada Proving Grounds.
Following the map sent to me by Candace, resident priestess of Sekhmet Temple, I found it with no problem, parked my car and began to walk around the well-kept grounds.
Approaching a small building, which I assumed was the temple, I was startled by what appeared to be someone inside. However, that “person” turned out to be a stone statue of Madre De Mundo, Mother of the World. Inside the temple and around the property were various statues and depictions of what appeared to be goddesses, and an altar for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
After taking a few pictures, I walked toward a nearby house, hoping to find Candace. As I neared the residence, I could see someone watering plants.
“Are you Candace?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. You must be Bob. Welcome,” she replied.
I didn’t talk with her a long time. I could have asked a lot of questions about theology, or what they hoped to accomplish at this oasis in the desert, but their website already explained a lot. www.sekhmettemple.com
Before I left, Candace told me that before moving the training elsewhere, Creech AFB used to send their assistant-chaplains-in-training, to the Sekhmet Temple for a walk-through and to get information. With the exception of one rabbi, who refused to visit, I imagine these future chaplains might have found their visit educational and enlightening, even if only to experience a different faith tradition.
As I was leaving, I took a few more photos and realized this was the only religious site I’ve visited where a worship service wasn’t taking place at the time. It would have been nice to see people gathered at the temple, walking the labyrinth, or simply doing whatever they do.
After depositing a small donation in a box near the parking lot, I walked back to my car, leaned against a fender and looked back at the temple grounds. As I stood there enjoying the beauty of the nearby mountains (which I later realized was the Spring Mountain Range where my workshop would be held), I could understand why someone would want to come here to escape the stresses of modern life.
On the Sekhmet Temple website I had read about their passion for peace and social justice, which reminded me of the time I was threatened by “peace activists” while taking photos at a “peace rally” in Auckland, New Zealand. Those peaceful folk went ballistic when they saw The Washington Times (conservative- leaning publication based in Washington D.C.) emblem on my photography bag and ID and wanted to beat me up.
Well, Candace didn’t seem to want to beat me up, and I believe our encounter was beneficial. In fact I’d like my wife to meet her someday, they probably have a lot in common.
I’m not sure what to think about a temple dedicated to goddess spirituality, although I definitely believe in the concept of a “sacred feminine” and that for too long God has mostly been depicted as all-male. The Bible does say in Genesis that God made man in His own image, male and female He made them.
The Divine Principle of the Unification Church describes God as a harmonized being of dual characteristics, masculine and feminine, just as all creation is also made up of those characteristics.
Judging by the kind of reception The Da Vinci Code novel received in certain quarters, the promotion of God’s feminine aspect is not yet a majority view. Like my journey through Nevada, it is a “road less traveled”, in the unforgettable words of Robert Frost. And as he well knew, those less-trodden paths can end up making all the difference.
It must be the skeptic in me. Nearly every time I read a testimony about a workshop, camp, retreat or similar event hosted by my church and nearly every word is a superlative followed by an exclamation mark, I can’t help thinking: Yeah, but what was it really like?
While I may not be one to get overly excited about stuff, I really did have a hopeful, enlightening and inspiring experience at the Divine Principle 7-day workshop held in Las Vegas in late May 2015.
While driving to Vegas from California, I received a text message from the workshop staff, asking me to be a group leader. Normally I would have declined such an offer, but I had made up my mind to be positive and supportive so I replied yes, I could do that.
I got really lost on the way, and ran into a huge rock that scraped the underside of my car, all of which made me tired and irritable. But I kept my cool and before long I reached my destination, the Mount Charleston Resort, in the mountains a little north of downtown Las Vegas. I picked up a room key at the front desk and walked upstairs.
When I saw my room and roommates I was really grateful that I had brought along a sleeping bag and pad, because there was only a queen-size bed and there were three of us; and even at two hundred pounds, I was the trim guy.
After an anxious night of trying to sleep but worrying that the combined snoring of myself and my co-tenants might trigger a major earthquake, I went downstairs to the lobby and found my way to the large room where most of the workshop was to take place.
I’ve been to quite a few church workshops and marriage enrichment seminars held in a variety of locations, from barns to first-rate hotels, but this was the first time I attended an event in what appeared to be a large cocktail lounge.
(Maybe it’s a trend, because recently I visited the Gospel Christian Center that used to be the Royal Oak Tavern in my old neighborhood of Linda, CA.) Gospel Christian Center
The room, with its multilevel seating, bark-coated logs supporting the roof and a large bar, was a welcome change from the average featureless hotel conference room.
After an introduction by the workshop organizers Naokimi Ushiroda and Terresa Ferrete, the group leaders introduced themselves to the crowd of about one hundred and fifty participants, who then had to choose whose team they wanted to be on.
What if no one picks me? I worried. But luckily, quite a few people, young and old, asked if they could join me. In fact, I had to turn some folks away because my group was too large. I was especially happy to see our ethnic makeup would be quite diverse.
Throughout the week we heard from various speakers whose styles ranged broadly, from Gerry Servito, with his heartfelt and emotion-filled talks about God’s grieving heart, to Pastor Kevin Thompson’s often humorous but deep presentations on the root of sin.
Dr Michael Balcomb, Teresa Ferrete, Reverends Andrew Compton, Miilhan Stephens and Mari Curry also gave presentations on various segments of Divine Principle (DP) such as Resurrection, Predestination, Christology and The Purpose of the Messiah.
After each twenty to thirty minute talk, we studied the DP within our small groups and discussed its contents and the gist of the lecture.
At the end of each day, the group leaders gathered to share their experiences, offer advice and reflect. Each person was asked to say two words about the day. One word I often chose was “hopeful”, because I was consistently impressed with the people I met, young and old.
During mealtimes, I made special effort to always sit near someone new. I found the young people to be articulate and engaging, which gave me hope for the future of the Unification Movement.
I also enjoyed talking with many of the older members and hearing about how and why they joined the Unification Church. When someone with a Ph.D. in history told me he was so intrigued when he first heard the “Parallels of Human History” that he eventually joined the church; or when an engineer explained how “The Principles of Creation” presentation helped him to believe in God, it affirmed my own decision to embrace the teachings of Sun Myung Moon.
The spiritual education, social interaction, morning exercise on the cliff-side deck, inspirational music, good food, time in creation and other joyous activities made for a pleasant workshop experience. However I did have a few reservations.
For one, I found it a bit too “Kumbaya” for my personal taste to embrace shoulder-to-shoulder whenever a slow song was being sung, and preferred standing in the back of the room until the music was over. Although I did join in a few times, inevitably I felt uncomfortable, which might have something to do with my Norwegian/Lutheran ancestry.
I also felt kind of judged when sprightly sixty-three-year-old Gerry Servito jumped up onto a four-foot-high wall and started dancing around. If that wasn’t enough, while he was teaching us some martial arts exercises, he stood straight up from a lotus position, without help AND without using his hands. Sheesh!
One thing that seemed a little out of place was the presentation given by the Universal Peace Academy (UPA), which is headquartered in Korea, and is a graduate program for educating future leaders of the Unification Movement and other organizations. Personally I would have preferred an option to learn about UPA in a break-out session. Just having Yuri Sato, a UPA student, on my team and seeing the enthusiasm of Takakuni Onozawa, another cadet, was plenty of advertising for the benefits of such training.
But all-in-all, the workshop definitely was good. Pardon me, great! I’m not sure what inspired me to attend but I’m certainly glad I did.
Unfortunately, I had to leave a couple of days early because of my dad’s ill health. As I drove north on Hwy 98 in the early morning darkness and looked in my rear-view-mirror at the bright lights of Las Vegas, I thought back to nearly forty years ago when I was preparing to move to Vegas. I was sitting in another cocktail lounge, in South Lake Tahoe, while friends threw me a going-away party. A band was playing the song, Las Vegas ain’t no place for a poor boy like me, which was appropriate because back then, Vegas was no place for me.
However this time, even though it was short, I felt I was meant to be there. I hope everyone else at that workshop felt the same.
Since I’m heading to Las Vegas for the grand opening celebration of the International Peace Education Center and I’ll also be receiving some spiritual education at a retreat, I won’t have much time to write. So I’d simply like to post a letter I recently wrote to the Appeal-Democrat newspaper in Marysville, California. Thankfully the Appeal-Democrat always prints my letters, no matter how controversial, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Letter to the Editor. Appeal-Democrat, May 18, 2015:
Well over twenty years ago, while living in St. Louis, I tuned in to a Christian radio station and I still remember the amazing testimony I heard that day, of faith, perseverance and ultimate triumph from Vietnam Veteran David Roever. In fact, I was so inspired I would often share his story with others. Years later, after moving back to the Yuba/Sutter area, I read in The Appeal-Democrat that Roever would be speaking at the Calvary Christian Center in Yuba City, and I convinced both of my then teen-aged daughters to join me to hear him speak.
Although I had already heard most of his stories, I still found them humorous and deeply inspirational, as did my daughters. However as Roever’s presentation was coming to a close, he started spewing out anti-Muslim rhetoric and proclaimed, “Our God is better than their God!” Not wanting to hear more of his vitriolic speech, my daughters and I walked out of the sanctuary.
Fortunately, as I visit and write about places of worship throughout the Yuba/Sutter area, I rarely find such backward-thinking attitudes in our diverse community. Hopefully, we are, as Father George Foxworth stated in a recent sermon at Grace Episcopal Church in Wheatland, “…looking to find what we have in common instead of focusing upon things that divide.”
Thank you for visiting my blog and please continue to do so. I’ll have a lot of material to write about once I get back from Vegas. Heck, I even plan to visit a Temple of Goddess Spirituality at Indian Springs, Nevada on my way there. (A certain extreme faction of the Unification movement has been calling my wife and others “post-modern secular goddess-worshiping feminists on a power trip to hell”, so I thought I should do some research. ) Wish me luck.
“Bullshit,” shouted Fred’s widow in her Oklahoma accent, as she sat next to my dad in a church pew.
She was responding to a statement made by the pastor at Fred’s memorial service, “Fred was such a great guy, always serving others and helping out at the church. He was also a loving husband.”
Many of us know people like Fred, who appear to be deeply religious, go to church on a regular basis, study their bible and whenever they get a chance, ask us if we know Jesus.
One time when I was a young boy walking home after Little League practice, Fred offered me a ride after I ran into him at the old Linda Market (where you can still see the steel pillars erected after my mother tried to turn the store into a drive-through). It wasn’t anything Fred said that got me thinking about Jesus, it was his driving.
I should have known better. My dad had warned me not to ride with him ever since that time he was with Fred when Fred drove through a stop sign.
“Why didn’t you stop?!” my dad yelled.
“It’s the law. The fourth car doesn’t have to stop,” Fred countered.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” my dad responded sarcastically as he worried about making it home safely.
Luckily, on my ride home from the Linda Market there was only one stop sign, we weren’t the fourth car, and we made it safely to the driveway of Fred’s ramshackle homestead. However, just as I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked Jesus for my life, Fred jumped out of his pickup as it was rolling down the driveway! As I sat there in the passenger seat in mild terror, and later amusement, the truck smashed into Fred’s barn and stopped. I could tell by the barn’s losing battle against gravity, he had done this many times before.
Although Fred was a great source of amusement and future blog posts, because of a series of moral indiscretions and an anger problem, he was not a very good advertisement for Christianity.
Sadly, religion does not guarantee that someone will be a good person.
Respected columnist and radio talk show host, Dennis Prager writes about a kind and non-judgmental young man who joined a Jewish Institute that Prager once directed. After a month of studying and living Judaism the man decided to become a fully practicing Jew. When he met the young man about a year later Prager says he was judgmental and very critical of his fellow Jews. Unfortunately it appeared that he was using religion as a tool to measure other people by, instead of a vehicle for his own self-improvement.
Prager has often stated that one of man’s greatest sins is to make God look bad. How sad it must make God feel if the people that believe in Him and proclaim His love aren’t very loving.
While shopping at the Grocery Outlet in Yuba City, I often chat with Miranda, one of the cashiers, about visiting local churches and writing about them in my blog. She invited me to The Bride Church several times. Before I had managed to go there my wife and I were driving on Highway 99 and passed a yellow food truck on which we could see the words “Mobile Meal Ministries”. There was also a small picture of the Blues Brothers on it and the words “On a mission from God”, which made us chuckle. After my wife commented, “There’s some good religion”, then I really knew I had to stop by The Bride Church since I knew that Mobile Meal Ministries (3M), an outreach to the homeless, was associated with it.
Not long after I entered The Bride Church and the service began, I could tell they were running out of room. The sanctuary was filled to capacity. The pastor, Bob Ouzts, addressed their space problem in his sermon and definitely caught my attention when he mentioned their church might be expanding into Wheatland, which is where I live.
The primarily Caucasian congregation consisted of a good variety of young and old which was impressive. I enjoyed the music the small band played and I noticed that many people joined in the singing, which is often not the case in many of the churches I’ve visited. I was intrigued by the custom-built plexi-glass enclosure built upon the stage to contain the drummer and his/her drums and assumed it was to tone down the loudness.
What especially impressed me about this church was their good works. The pastor, Bob Ouzts, founded the successful service group, “Craftsmen for Christ”, which utilizes primarily Christian volunteers to help low-income people repair and modify their homes, particularly if the resident is disabled.
A short presentation was given by church members Dr. Frank Smith and his wife about how they have been able to help facilitate the installation of water wells, promote entrepreneurship and work towards improving cocoa production in Ghana through the group Afrihope.
The brochure given to people entering the church listed many of the church’s activities, which included a marriage-changing seminar, a mission to South Sudan and various programs for men and women of all ages. And of course, the Mobile Meal Ministries (3M).
Pastor Bob certainly seemed like a very sincere man and after telling the sad story of a young man who recently died of a drug overdose, he tearfully shared,
“I don’t understand how a man can go before the Lord and ask for help and appearingly on this side of heaven not get it. ….Hurts.”
Pastor Bob shared of how when he was ten years old and on his first at-bat of the season in Little League he hit a grand slam homer. Unfortunately that was the last home run he ever hit because he lost his confidence and was afraid of failing.
Later on, he continued that most of us are on this side of what God has asked us to do and we’re sitting there in fear.
“Trust me.” God is saying, “Will you trust me?”
In short, it certainly seemed to me that The Bride Church represented good religion. Of course I have no idea how many people like my old neighbor Fred, or Dennis Prager’s former student, belong to The Bride Church congregation, but I can imagine that the lives of many people might have improved because of their association with the church. However, as I was about to finish writing about my enjoyable visit I discovered something rather disturbing.
I wanted to clarify something about the April 19th service I attended and proceeded to watch the recorded service online. However, I accidentally downloaded the April 12th 11:00 am service and stumbled across a skit claiming that Buddhists, Hindus, and especially Muslims are essentially Satan’s buddies. I respectfully disagree with that narrow viewpoint.
The Bride Church video I originally linked below, of their skit attacking non-Christians is no longer available. Hopefully, I had something to do with that.
In a similar vein, a few years ago, another church decided to set up shop in Wheatland and to introduce themselves, mailed out a flyer educating my fellow Wheatlanders about the evils of Mormonism.
I find it terribly sad when religious people, primarily through their ignorance, attempt to build themselves up by tearing down the faith of others. If we have confidence in our own beliefs, and if the religious group we are associated with has “good fruits” we are proud of, we should be able to stand on our own merits and not need to disparage others.
That said, all in all, I guess I would still encourage people to experience The Bride Church at 655 Colusa Ave, in Yuba City and to visit them in Wheatland if they expand. Although, unless you have a desire to perform in a skit, you just might want to leave your, turban, skull cap, head-scarf or other non-Christian paraphernalia at home.
I’m not sure how I came across that poem by Dylan Thomas to his dying father, but there it was, on my computer screen.
“Rage, rage, against the dying of the light,” was Dylan’s advice to his father. As my own father edges closer to his final time on earth I contemplate the best advice to give him. I doubt he’d listen, but instead of telling him to rage against the dying of the light, I’m wondering if he should embrace it.
I never expected my dad to live to be ninety years old. As a young man he got the tropical disease filariasis while trying to rid the Philippine Islands of the invading Japanese, along with his fellow Marines. Most of his life he smoked, drank and was fond of junk food. He loved Hostess Sno Balls, Danish pastries, sugary cinnamon rolls, fudge and all kinds of candy. In his late 60s he weighed nearly three hundred pounds; but that was before he was diagnosed with colon cancer and also congestive heart failure. He weighs about one-third of that now, but clearly, this cat has more than nine lives.
For over twenty years Dad lived in a single-wide mobile home that was next to his fruit stand in Wheatland, California. I lived nearby and would often check on him. Many times, I would anxiously wait for my dad’s response after I had knocked on his custom-made, not-so-great-at-sliding, Oriented Strand Board (chip-board) door, which replaced the really-not-so-great-at-sliding glass door that crashed into the living-room one day after years of abuse. That OSB door did not look too out of place however, because it matched the OSB “window” at the front of the trailer.
If Dad wouldn’t answer the door I would then grab a small tree branch and walk over to his bedroom window, which was, believe it or not, a real glass window, and start tapping on it. Luckily, he would then wake up and I knew he was still alive.
My wife and I purchased a house in Wheatland which had a small “granny-flat” in the back which we hoped my dad would move into. However, although his trailer was definitely falling apart, he fought the idea for years, but finally moved into the granny-flat on the day a couple of scum-of-the-earth so-called men, staged a trailer-invasion-robbery against my then eighty-year-old father. They pushed him down, held a gun to his head and shouted, “Where’s all the money?!” somehow thinking that peddling tomatoes and cucumbers would yield more than around a hundred dollars for a day’s work.
Sadly, years later, my dad is still super paranoid after that assault, and is often worried that someone will attack him again.
“That robbery took the wind out of my sails. I lost hope in humanity when that happened,” he often says.
Recently I began to feel that the wind of life in my father’s sails has definitely started to fade, especially when he calls us in the middle of the night and talks about people in his bedroom that aren’t there. Or when he tells us that his old friend Dan Pingle stopped by and sold him some tomato plants and that Victor from the trailer park had just visited and that Victor didn’t want to buy any patriotic beans from the cart-pulling bean seller that somehow made it into my dad’s room.
Worried, I often look in on him while he’s lying on his adjustable bed, see his blanket moving with signs of life, and feel relieved that he’s still with us.
A few days ago on April 19, our family celebrated True Parents’ Day, one of the Unification Church’s major holy days. My wife found a suitable quote about parents from the Quran (in World Scripture, a Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts) and wrote it on the chalkboard in our dining room:
The Lord has decreed . . . that you be kind to your parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime, do not say to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, “My Lord! Bestow upon them Thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” Qur’an 17:23.
“I hope our boys read that,” I commented.
“It’s good advice for us too,” my wife clarified.
She’s right, you know. I told myself as I thought about how difficult it had been dealing with my dad that week. Somehow, I’ve got to be more patient with him.
“Call 911,” my brother-in-law, who works as a court-appointed conservator of the elderly, told my sister when she asked him about our dad.
He had taken a turn for the worse and was falling out of his bed, but wouldn’t let my sister and me help him. He’d been having hallucinations, or perhaps he was seeing spirits waiting to take him home with them. My sister phoned 911 and soon around half the population of Wheatland (or so it seemed) showed up to help my dad into the awaiting ambulance.
My dad’s in the hospital now. He’s getting better and may even be coming back home or be taken to a nursing home for some skilled care. My sister was asked by the hospital to set up an Advance Directive to help decide what they should do if our father is incapacitated and can’t make his own decisions regarding end-of-life issues.
“How much effort should the doctors make to keep you alive, even if you’ll remain unconscious?” My sister asked Dad.
“I want them to do everything they can to keep me alive,” he responded.
It looks like he’ll be “raging against the dying of the light” after all. Who am I to suggest otherwise?
Although that room in Lincoln, California, was filled with around forty men, it was so quiet you could’ve heard a mouse burp. I’m not sure I would have heard that because my heart was beating so loudly. Those men were staring up at me, waiting for me to start singing a song I had written. Boy was I nervous!
Minutes before I was introduced to the small crowd, I was sitting in my chair thinking I was going to get sick. What was I thinking? How’d I let myself get into this situation? Then I realized it was all Mrs. Blackwell’s fault.
I first met Mrs. Blackwell when my wife started playing piano at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, which is a primarily African-American Church in Olivehurst that can trace its roots to 1852. My wife also played at the Chapel at Beale Air Force Base. Now I can’t remember how it happened, but somehow I ended up in the Base chapel choir for their Christmas Cantata. I think they just needed to fill a spot because they never even heard me sing. If they had, perhaps they would’ve realized why I was told many years ago by a Japanese musician friend that I was “tone blind”; I knew he meant “deaf” and I got his not-so-subtle hint.
Anyhow, one day I walked into an office at Beale to update my contractor identification and one of the people working in that office was Mrs. Blackwell from Mt Olivet Baptist. We chatted for a bit, and I told her I had recently joined the choir at the base chapel.
She gave me a mischievous look and said, “I’ll have to keep that in mind.”
Why’d she say that? I thought as I walked out of the office. About a week later I got my answer when I received a phone call.
“Is that Bob?”
“Yes, this is Bob.”
“Bob, this is Mrs. Blackwell from Mt. Olivet.”
“Well hello, Mrs. Blackwell. What can I do for you?”
“Well Bob, I was wondering if you might be able to help us out with our entertainment for our Christmas program.”
“What do you want me to do? Join the choir or something?”
“No. I was hoping you could sing a solo.”
“Sing a solo.”
“Mrs. Blackwell, you know I did join a choir, but I stand way in the back where I can hardly be seen, or heard. I…I… don’t know about singing a solo.”
“Oh don’t worry. You’d be fine. We’d love to have ya.”
“I’ll tell you what. Let me think about it for a few days, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Okay, I’ll be waiting. Bye now.”
Once I hung up the phone my first thought was, how am I going get out of this?
However, that same day I started listening to a recorded sermon by Pastor Kevin Thompson, of the Bay Area Family Church in Hayward, California. In his sermon, Pastor Thompson encouraged his congregation to challenge themselves, to go beyond their comfort zones.
Wow. Singing a solo at Mt. Olivet would certainly put me beyond my comfort zone, I thought. Heck, I might be able to make a lot of people uncomfortable just by hearing me sing!
It just so happened that during this time I was also attending a Bible study organized by Heritage Church in Lincoln, which unlike Olivehurst, is a relatively well-heeled community a little south of where I live. During the study I was so inspired by Romans 1:20 that I wrote a song about it.
Maybe I could sing the song I wrote? That way, no one would know if I was singing it wrong. So I gave Mrs. Blackwell a call and told her that I would sing a solo for their Christmas program.
And that’s exactly what happened. Christmas week arrived and I sang my song at Mt Olivet. The congregation was warm, enthusiastic and supportive. They clapped and sang along and I felt rather proud of myself. But then I wondered if maybe this African-American congregation was just enjoying the novelty of a red-headed white guy singing in their church. And would they have been just as supportive, although confused, if I was up there singing “Row, row, row, your boat”?
Meanwhile, the Bible study in Lincoln had taken a break in December and reconvened in January. The leader of our small group, Tim, asked us to share stories we had about our Christmas and I spoke about writing a song and singing it for a congregation.
“Wow, Bob, that’s great. Do you think you could sing that song and give your testimony in front of our larger group sometime?” asked Tim.
“Uh, yeah, I guess”, I responded, feeling rather surprised he would ask me to share my testimony.
After our meeting, I approached Tim and asked, “Are you sure you want me to give my testimony? You do remember that when I introduced myself to the study group I explained I’m a member of the Unification Church founded by Reverend Moon?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess I forgot.”
As I was later leaving the study room, I glanced behind me and saw Tim speaking with the church’s pastor.
Eventually weeks went by, and I was never approached again about singing that song, so out of curiosity I asked Tim about it.
“How ‘bout you sing your song, but don’t give your testimony?” Tim suggested.
“Okay. I can do that,” I said, thinking, whatever.
And that’s how I ending up standing in front of a bunch of WASPs. And I’m not talking about the insects. I’m talking about White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. I wasn’t quite sure if it was because of my religious affiliation, or because they were just a bunch of white guys, but this crowd wasn’t nearly as supportive as the one at Mt. Olivet. In fact, the difference was, well, black and white.
Come on you guys, loosen up a bit, I wanted to tell them, but I didn’t. Instead, I simply took a deep breath and began singing:
Somebody told me,
Somebody told me that God was dead.
But I didn’t listen to a thing they said,
‘Cause I knew it was just a lie.
I said, oh, won’t you listen,
‘Cause I’m ‘bout to tell you why.
You see, I saw my babies
when they were being born.
And I watched the sun arising
In the early morn,
And I heard a song of a whippoorwill,
Saw flowers growing on a distant hill,
Tried counting all the stars up in an endless sky,
Saw a flock of birds as they flew by.
You know that’s just a few of the reasons why
I say, oh my Lord, you’re everywhere I go.
‘Cause everywhere I look I can see you Lord,
Everywhere I am I can hear you Lord,
And everywhere I am I can feel your love.
You’re in the mountains, way up high,
In the desert dry,
In the country, and the city,
In the ugly and the pretty,
In a forest and a stream,
I say…up….down…and in between.
I say, oh, my Lord, You’re everywhere I go.
‘Cause everywhere I look I can see you Lord.
Everywhere I am I can hear you Lord.
And everywhere I am I can feel your love.
You’re in the black and in the white,
In the day and in the night,
In a servant and in a slave,
In the righteous and in the brave,
In the humble and the meek,
In the strong and in the weak,
I say, oh, my Lord, you’re everywhere I go.
But I’m not a blind man, for I can see.
I know there’s a lot of pain and misery.
And sorrow may be your friend.
But if you can trust in the Lord,
Your heart can mend, and then…
Everywhere you look you’ll see him,
Everywhere you turn you’ll hear him,
That’s because everywhere you go,
You can feel His love, that’s because
He’ll be everywhere you go.
When I finished singing, the room was still rather quiet, and some of those guys looked like they were in shock, at least for a short moment. And I thought, that wasn’t so bad after all! It fact it was quite exhilarating standing there, beyond my comfort zone.
“I was afraid this was going to happen.” I told myself as I began to choke up and my eyes began to water as I looked out into the singing multi-racial crowd packed into Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Olivehurst, California to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18th, 2015.
“Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marchingon.”
The voices of Mormons, Baptists, Episcopalians and Unificationists echoed throughout the small church as the words from Battle Hymn of the Republic rang out.
It was in 2001 when my wife, Maree, first entered Mt. Olivet Baptist Church to play the piano for their church service. Although she had played for many different churches, this was the first time she had ever played in an African-American church and she was nervous, but the warm-hearted reception from the congregation, charismatic preaching and powerful music soon calmed her fears.
Maree, who has played in an assortment of churches throughout the years, realized that many churches sing the same songs, and believed that music could help break down cultural and religious differences. In 2013, she mentioned her dream of a choral festival in honor of Martin Luther King to Mary Capps, wife of Bishop Arlie Capps of the Wheatland Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to Amanda Johnson, Senior Warden of Grace Episcopal Church in Wheatland; and both were very supportive. Ultimately, in January of 2014, the First Annual Community Choral Festival was hosted at the LDS chapel in Wheatland with Rev. Carl Dorn of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church as the keynote speaker.
Choirs from Rev. Dorn’s church, the local LDS ward and Grace Episcopal Church performed. One especially moving moment during that event was when the Grace Singers started singing the historic Mormon anthem, Come, Come Ye Saints, and the entire congregation joined in, much to the surprise of Bishop Capps. That successful inaugural event paved the way for this year’s celebration at Mt. Olivet Baptist.
Deacon Bill Blackwell of Mt. Olivet asked if I could be the emcee this year. I said yes, but I was worried that I would get too emotional. Sometimes when I think of the past I find it hard to control myself. I still remember when I was attending Marysville High School in the seventies and riot police were at my school because of racial tensions. It is just so sad when God’s children can’t love each other.
I took a deep breath and then joined in the singing. It was such a happy occasion and I’m sure Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been glad to see such a diverse group worshiping together and singing praises to God.
Good food, fellowship, hospitality, praise dancing, singing, poetry and a great message of God’s love for his children from LDS guest speaker Arlie Capps made for a truly awesome event. I even heard the emcee did just fine. Whereas the first year, three churches were represented; this year there were five. Next year, I believe we’ll need an even bigger venue as we work towards Dr. King’s dream that all “God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!’”
It’s amazing how music and fellowship can help break down barriers and misunderstandings. Maybe TED could even put together a choir made up of the people I write about in my Tiff with TED blog posts and join us next year. If they do, I just might have to forgive them for their intolerance of the past.
The Appeal-Democrat published an article about the event on their front page. To read that article and see more photos visit: