Read an Excerpt
Recollections of Kindness, Peace, and Joy
I met Ray the first year I moved to the city. He worships at a Quaker meeting near his hometown of Dublin except when the roads are icy; then he worships at our meetinghouse. His Quaker meeting doesn't have a pastor. They sit in silence and wait for the Lord to give them a message, as the old Quakers used to do.
Ray is suspicious of pastors and said so within five minutes of meeting me. "Most pastors like nothing more than to bully people," he told me. I replied that we pastors take classes in seminary on how to bully people.
Then he told me he didn't believe Jesus is God.
That's when I made up my mind I wasn't going to spend a lot of time with Ray. The next morning the phone rang, early. It was Ray.
"I'd like to take you to breakfast," he said. "I want to talk with you. Most pastors I've met don't know their theology. I want to see if you're any different." It wasn't a request; it was an order, a command appearance.
Ray drove by and picked me up. We went to Bob Evans and ordered pancakes. He asked me what I thought of the Trinity. I told him I believed in it. He disagreed. I started to worry. Ray was nearly eighty years old then, but vigorous. If push came to shove, I think he could have taken me. But Ray is a pacifist; he disagreed with me, then paid for my pancakes.
A month later it snowed again. Ray showed up at our meetinghouse. We sang "Are You Washed in the Blood?" It's a rollicking old revival tune. We sing it whenever our worship needs livening up.
Ray took me to breakfast at Bob Evans the next morning.
"I don't like bloodsongs," he told me. "That's beastly theology."
Now when it snows on Sunday, I make sure we sing "Are You Washed in the Blood?" Ray sits in the front row and grits his teeth.
Ray doesn't attend our Quaker meeting in the summer because the road to his meetinghouse is wide open. But once a month, generally on Sunday evenings, the phone rings. It'll be Ray.
"Let's go for a root beer," he'll say. "My treat."
I drive by and pick him up. We motor over to Edward's Drive-In where they serve root beer in a frosty mug. We sit in the car, sip root beer, and discuss German theologians of the 1930s. I point out to Ray how all of them believed Jesus is divine. Ray thinks about that for a while, then says, "Well, don't forget, those same folks voted for Hitler." Ray has an answer for everything.
Initially, I hadn't intended to befriend Ray. I'm just orthodox enough to believe God might zap a man who denies the deity of Jesus as boldly as Ray does. But we have to get our thrills somewhere. Some men have a weakness for fast women. I have a soft spot for eighty-year-old heretics who buy me pancakes and root beer.
Before Ray became a Quaker, he went away to World War II. His pastor saw him off to war by telling him to kill as many soldiers as he could. I think that's when Ray started having trouble with pastors. When he came home, he took up with the Quakers. He met his wife, Marjorie. They had three children. The kids grew up and moved away, and Marjorie was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. When Ray had to put her in a nursing home, he sat by her bedside holding her hand long after she'd forgotten who he was.
A few days after Marjorie died, Ray came by our house. He sat in the rocking chair holding our baby, Sam. Sam came into this world about the same time Ray's wife left it. I think in Ray's mind, baby Sam is a replacement. Ray calls him "my dear, little Sam." He rocks Sam back and forth, his eyes cloudy with tears. He tells me I'm a blessed man. On this we agree.
Ray still doesn't believe Jesus is God. And he still doesn't like blood songs. If orthodoxy were a requirement for friendship with me, Ray and I would be enemies. But it isn't, so Ray and I are friends. Besides, I've always thought that what is in a man's heart is even more important than what is in his head. I got that idea from the apostle Paul, who once wrote that love is the greatest gift of all.Hometown Tales
Recollections of Kindness, Peace, and Joy. Copyright © by Philip Gulley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.