abba's way

An I-can-do-no-other sleepwalk into … music.


To be muddled in the now is to be threatened by the past. I needed a day of muddled nowness to come to my senses and face the worst wrench of my life. The muddledness was the sign. Fear not to wrestle with a memory too portentous to be conscious! And so it is that I will refer back to  to the little paragraphs in which our “author to date” noted that I received a call from Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, Jr. encouraging me to try out for the editorship of The Christian Century. To have said no would have been to strike out on the third pitch from the mound on which the good doctor stood. The first was when Blake said, on the eve of my departure from Geneva, that I could work directly for him if I wanted to. Whiff. The second was when Princeton Theological Seminary offered me a chance to get a doctorate if I would move there and edit the journal Theology Today. Whiff. This was the last chance.  Even though every fiber of my being warned me, even though a huge unconscious NO was bobbing to the surface, I agreed to be a candidate. I knew what I was facing. There was that former editor who no doubt still harbored umbrage because I had the timerity to say that he was wrong in his effort to discredit Saul Alinsky. And there was a prominent member of the Century’s board of directors. She had been named to the honorific post of President of the National Council of Churches at the 1969 meeting where my ragged army had contested that office. To say I was politically dead in the water was an understatement.

I look back now and exult in where I am and what I know. I see escape from the constrictions of religion as the essential requisite for unifying humankind to grasp the world in all its truth beauty beauty truth. I might have engineered a life of continued fame as a politic diplomat in the fading world of ecclesiastical ecumenism, still inhaling the box-laden fragrances of my yard in Cointrin. Playing bridge with Blake, Ganya and Lew. Suppressing the need to be at the cutting edge of things. I might have absorbed the theological fragrances of Princeton and suffered no ill effects, gradually negotiating the politics of achieving Presbyterian prominence. And months and months of copious consideration of how to make the Christian Century hum might have been rewarded with a phone call from Chicago saying, Yes, we have selected you. But there was no call at all. An editor was installed without even the courtesy of a notification. I have not mentioned that Ganya declared if I got the job at the Century she would not move back to Chicago. I told myself she would change her tune. I had determined that as editor I would immediately reignite the fight the Century had once waged against the resurgent forces of fundamentalism. I would eschew the mild liberalism of the last few decades and go for the jugular, fomenting a national debate that would fly in the face of the emerging bipartisan gridlock, the conspiracy to maintain the status quo. I would insist on the need for grass roots renewal of congregations and smart ecumenical moves that would essentially marginalize and overcome the fundamentalist wave. When the ax fell, I was more done in than I thought imaginable. Ganya said I did not smile for a year. It would take decades for my slow-working mind to achieve peace and a creative sense of things. As it was, my exile-to-come was marked by a somnambulant collapse, an I-can-do-no-other sleepwalk into … music.

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