“I have a dream”

Inside Mt. Olivet Baptist Church

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 marching on.”

The voices of Mormons, Baptists, Episcopalians and Unificationists echoed throughout the small church as the words from  Battle Hymn of the Republic rang out.

Mt. OL1

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.

W Mormon 2 - Copy
Wheatland LDS Church

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.

LDS member Arlie Capps gives the message.

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!’”

Flyer for this year's event
Flier for this year’s event

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:


How big is your God?

 (Guest authored by Maree Gauper. Also appeared in the Appeal-Democrat’s: Message of the Week, Jan. 16, 2015.)

Jesus said the two most important commandments were to “Love God with your whole heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”.   He didn’t say, “Love your doctrine as yourself” ,“Love your denomination as yourself”, “Love your own religion as yourself” or “Love only your own race as yourself.”  He meant us to love our fellow humans, whoever they might be.

By emphasizing those two commandments, Jesus revealed a God whose heart is not small. “God so loved THE WORLD…” ( John 3:16).  He didn’t just love the Jews or the Christians. He loved, and still loves, the whole world, with a heart so deep, wide and large that it is difficult for us to fathom. But the rulers of that time did not understand Jesus. Their God was too small. They charged him with heresy and had him publicly executed.

 The year 2000 marked the 400th anniversary of the untimely death of Giordano Bruno, an Italian priest  who thought deeply about God and the cosmos. Bruno had a large, expansive view of a vast, infinite universe where the earth moves around the sun, not the other way round. This brought him into serious conflict with the authorities of his day. Their God was too small. They had Bruno imprisoned, charged with heresy and burned at the stake.

Martin Luther King had a dream.  His God was not small, and neither was his dream. The dream was as big as God’s dream, that all people could live in peace and that there would be an end to racial injustice and all forms of bigotry.  He was also misunderstood in his lifetime, served time in jail and became the victim of an assassin’s bullet.

If we believe in God, but we only love our own kind, our God is too small.
If we only love our own family, our God is too small.
If we only love our own denomination, our God is too small.
If we only love our own religion, our God is too small.
If  God loves the whole world, He expects nothing less from us.

This year in memory of Dr King, and in praise and thanksgiving to the God who inspired his message and his dream, let us put aside whatever man-made barriers have divided us from one another, and worship together as one family under one God.


A Changed Life

ChRM - Copy

It was a dark and stormy night. (Really, it was!) I had already attended a worship service at the Christ Has Risen Ministries at 1225 Pasado Rd. in Olivehurst a few weeks previously, and now I was driving through a December storm to attend a weeknight Bible study.

I had told my brother, Greg, about my earlier visit, and he informed me that he and the pastor used to run around together years ago. My brother also told me that his ex-sister-in-law, Deedee, attends the church. I wanted to speak to both of them before writing this post for my blog and thought that a weeknight would be a good time to do so.

Since the weather was so bad, and it was a Tuesday night, I fully expected the Bible study to be sparsely attended. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few cars in the parking lot and when I walked into the sanctuary there were around forty people, young and old, inside the church listening to their pastor, Leonard Self, lead the Bible study.

Pastor Leonard Self

If he would let his beard grow longer and bleach it, Pastor Leonard, with his stocky build and joyful countenance, could probably get gigs as Santa Claus during the Christmas season. When I first entered Christ Has Risen Ministries and sat down to listen, I was quickly impressed by his sincerity, especially when his voice quivered and his eyes teared up when he spoke about his love for Jesus and how the spirit of God set him free.

“When you step into Christ, you’re a new creation…Christianity isn’t for wimps, but God uses wimps…If you think Christianity is easy, you’re wrong!” were just some of the memorable words I had heard from the pastor on my first visit to his church. However, when he explained to the congregation about how, when people accuse him of using Christianity as a crutch, he responds, “No, it’s not a crutch, it’s a stretcher, it saved my life”, I knew that his was a changed life, a life now dedicated to helping others.

As I sat near the back of the church on my return visit I could hear the wind rattle the doors on that blustery night as I surveyed the congregation. I saw a Native American woman, about my age, and knew she must be Deedee. I saw bikers wearing leather jackets with the words “Christ Has Risen Ministries” embroidered on the back. I sensed that this was a congregation that had weathered many personal storms in their lives and you could see it on their faces. But they had found a place of refuge.

“I used to be so angry”, a younger man wearing one of the leather jackets testified. “I was always looking for a fight, but now I’m not. I’ve found peace.”

Sunday morning service

As the testimonies and personal stories continued, Pastor Leonard reminded the group that they were a family, and that families look out for one another and that people could share their troubles and triumphs because everything stayed in this room.

When the study was over I approached the Native American woman and confirmed that she was Deedee. She introduced me to her husband and children and we talked briefly about my brother.

I then talked to Pastor Leonard and told him that my brother was an old buddy of his. We also talked briefly about my blog and I told him I had just written a post about Alicia Intermediate School, which used to stand across the street. We spoke about Peter, my fellow sixth-grader, who had stood up for me in the boys’ bathroom many years ago.

“Peter lives a few blocks from here,” Pastor Leonard informed me.

“That’s good to know”, I said, thanking Leonard and making a mental note to look up Peter some time.

I held tightly to the doorknob as I opened the door to exit the church and then walked across the street to my car. I zipped my jacket tighter to protect me from the wind as I stood there and watched the taillights of the cars that were leaving and I wondered about the lives that must have been changed in that church across the street. Theologically, I still have issues with certain aspects of traditional Christianity, but it’s hard to argue against the miracle of a changed life.

high street dreaming #2 by mugley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
   by  mugley