In the Minister’s Study (continued)

Hank was intrigued. Conversion? Where exactly was this conversation with the Reverend going?

The minister continued: “Jesus said, ‘Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that all my life. But I never got what it means about becoming as little children. And no one ever explained it, I guess assuming we all knew what that meant. But I never did.”

“I’m not sure your preacher or Sunday School teachers knew or even thought about it either. I’m suspicious that folks are more comfortable memorizing and quoting scripture than studying its message. I never really gave this scripture much critical thought myself until my Professor of Theology told us one day: ‘You future clergymen are so obsessed with converting souls when you should be converting minds.’”

“O.K., there you go again. I’m not following you when you talk of conversion, implying that I’m experiencing such a thing right now.”

“You said you’ve read Thoreau. You should consider also reading Emerson, who was Thoreau’s mentor, along with Wordsworth, a major influence on Emerson. All three of these divines argued for the primacy of the child’s innocence and sense of wonder. It seems that adulthood as well as formal education succeed in driving the innocence and imagination clean out of a child as he matures. That is unfortunate, the loss of wonder, of curiosity, the brimming of the imagination. Wordsworth wrote that the child is father to the man. I believe that. And I concur with Einstein when he argued that imagination is more important than knowledge.”

“Well, you’ve given me quite a load to think about, and I appreciate it. Pardon me for saying it, but you don’t strike me as the typical man of the cloth.”

“That’s probably because of the climate of my generation. In the fifties and sixties, we were generally suspicious of authority and enforced conformity. It seems to me that your generation is more comfortable with rule-following. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs—I think I learned more genuine theology from them than I did from Concordia Seminary.”

“You went to Concordia? I’m from St. Louis!”

“I was aware of that, but not sure that you—a Baptist—knew of my seminary and its theological persuasion. My Germanic heritage has made Lutheranism an easy fit for me generally, though I’ve been more sympathetic to the critical historical methodology the Germans have been infamous for applying since the eighteenth century. I sense that the general trend many refer to as ‘modernism’ is going to split the seminary pretty soon. I’m only glad I’m no longer there to take sides.”

“As a Baptist, I never heard mention of what you call modernism.”

“That’s not my label. Those who are suspicious of it, wishing to cling to traditional, conventional church standards use that word. If you haven’t gotten into it, you probably will if you stay inside the church life. I will go on record to say that, though I still consider myself a legitimate Lutheran in faith and practice, I owe a great debt to the outspoken minds of the fifties and sixties. My position is this—if you don’t understand the issues of existentialism, then you don’t really understand the twentieth century. But I guess that’s for another time, if you and I continue these chats.”

“Well, I do plan to leave in the next day or so. But I really believe I’ll be back, after I’ve had some time to digest what we’ve talked about today.”

“I hope you do come back. And if you do, please visit our church. I think you’d get a kick out of our organist, Linda Sterner. She’s probably got hurt feelings because I came down hard on her last Sunday for playing out of a Baptist Hymnal. I just feel that their chosen hymns lack the foundational depth than the ones Luther composed. But Linda is a free thinker and reminds me much of myself when I was clawing my way through the sixties. I did notice her carrying a volume of Ginsberg poems with her Bible a couple of weeks ago.”

“Well, thank you again, Elton. I believe I best be on my way.”

“It’s been my pleasure. Let me say one more thing, if I may: You say you are going on the road because you have not yet had a life. You complain that you haven’t traveled more than forty miles from home. I’d like to point out to you that the philosopher Immanuel Kant never traveled more than forty miles from his hometown either, yet his powerful ideas shifted the course of Western thought. Though not a traveler, he was fond of geography and read books on travel. Lecturing as Professor of Philosophy, he held his students spellbound, blending natural history, literature, physics and astronomy into his philosophical discourses. He truly lived a life of the mind. And I’m convinced that you are ready to convert now to that kind of a life. No doubt your travels will enrich you, filling you with new stories and insights, but Emerson reminded us that ‘though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.’ Whatever you do, just don’t stop reading, don’t narrow your interests, and please never stop questioning. Your greatest resource in your life’s odyssey is the imagination and curiosity you carry in your own mind. Never sell that short. And I wish you good fortune.”

I hope you enjoy this latest installment of the Hank cycle. My watercolor supplies were delivered today, and I’m excited about beginning the next painting and promise to keep you updated.

Thanks for reading, and please check out my website at www.davidtrippart.com

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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