Today is Super Bowl Sunday, but we Quakers can be a bit rebellious and contrarian. So I’m going to talk about baseball for a moment!
More than 30 years ago, Washington Post sports writer Thomas Boswell was a cub reporter. He was in the dugout before a Baltimore Orioles game interviewing the manager Earl Weaver. Weaver went out to exchange lineup cards and returned to the dugout to continue the interview. All of a sudden the National Anthem began to play. With the game about to begin, Boswell realized he had overstayed his allotted time so he apologized to Weaver. The famous manager looked at him in surprise and said, “This ain’t football. We do this every day.”
Major League teams play 162 games a year, just about every day during the summer. Baseball is one of the few sports without a clock…. Theoretically a game could go on forever… Perhaps some of you feel that a baseball game DOES take forever!
But I try to take mindful- live-in-the-moment approach to watching baseball. At times I’m intensely focused on every pitch. Other times I’m lost in conversation or just enjoying a leisurely day at the ballpark. The players themselves mix intense discipline, focus and training with more lighthearted and casual moments to make it through that long season – have you ever seen a Major Leaguer blow a bubble like a kid with bubble gum? You won’t see an NFL player do that!
Friend Elton Trueblood – whom we’re talking about today – was a Quaker theologian, philosopher, professor and author. He lived a life of discipline. He knew my dad and used to tell him “Time is a moral matter.” “Deliberate mediocrity is a heresy and a sin,” Trueblood would say. Yet Elton Trueblood also had a keen sense of kindness, sense of humor, and enjoyment of life – a kind of freedom he found being Yoked with Christ…. In today’s meditational reading printed in your bulletin, Dr. Trueblood explains Christianity as a paradoxical blending of freedom and discipline, and I believe he applied that to his everyday life.
To paraphrase Earl Weaver, “This Yoke of Christ ain’t heavy. We can live in fellowship with Christ and one another every day.”
My dad made several trips to Richmond to see Trueblood during his final years at Earlham. One evening my dad drove to pick Dr. Trueblood at the precise time they had set – Elton Trueblood was famously punctual! But this day Trueblood was a couple minutes late… This was almost unthinkable! My dad feared something was wrong. But, then, thankfully Elton Trueblood walked out of his house and got in the car. He apologized to my dad and said he had been following the Cincinnati Reds game and had gotten caught up in a key moment in the game….
The Philosopher, the Teenager, and the Tree
The day was Sunday, September 4, 2011. The afternoon forecast called for a chance of rain, but I was determined to go for a bike ride. I was feeling stressed that day because I was in the middle of changing jobs. I needed my bike ride! I headed north from my house in Hamilton County. Gray Road runs out of Carmel and turns into Moontown Road, and then as you leave suburbia and start getting into the countryside it changes name again to Hinkle Creek Road. I’m about 12 miles from home and it starts to rain.
Often times I keep riding in the rain. But I was passing by this small white church on a knoll – Hinkle Creek Friends Church. There was a nice little porch with a roof, so headed there to wait out of hardest of the rain. I sat down on the concrete steps. Inside I heard a man playing an acoustic guitar and singing a wonderful folk praise song. I know now that that door I sat next to was no longer in use because it’s the old church entrance that is right where the front of the sanctuary is now.
This man playing the guitar was only a few feet away from me, only he had no idea I was there. I listened to the song and watched and heard the rain all around me and looked at the big trees around the church. An incredible sense of peace came that I can only describe as the immediate and loving presence of God came over me. I actually began to cry.
After a few moments I came out of that intense feeling. I thought about knocking on the door to meet the man but decided not to. But I wanted to share this experience with someone, so I took out my cell phone and type these three messages onto my Twitter account:
“My ride today: Seeking shelter literally + figuratively from the storm at a country Quaker church. Thanks, Friends!”
“Man inside church playing guitar and singing folk praise song as I sit on porch + also listen to rain hit leaves.”
Then, just before I left I wrote:
“Uplifted, I pedal pack into the rain.”
Now, from the perspective of today I can tell you that the man playing the guitar was Mike Haemmerle. His wife, Kelly Haemmerle, was the clerk of the church. In a little over a year from that day in the rain the Haemmerles would welcome us to attend Hinkle Creek Friends, which we attended for a year before coming to First Friends. They’d invite us into their home to talk about our lives and about Quakerism…
But this is not a conversion story. It is the story of a spiritual seed – dormant for years –sprouting and beginning to grow into a tree of a faith I had yearned for all of my life.
You see, before that day in 2011 I rarely thought about Quakers. I didn’t even know who George Fox was! When I heard the word Quaker I thought about one person – Dr. D. Elton Trueblood, a great philosopher I had personally met years before.
The funny thing is, I even once remember riding my bike by Hinkle Creek Friends years before with my dad and asking him, “Do you think Elton Trueblood ever spoke there?”
I still don’t know for sure if Dr. Trueblood ever physically visited and spoke at Hinkle Creek Friends Church. But I know for a fact that Dr. Trueblood’s life and testimony spoke to me at Hinkle Creek Friends.
My journey to Quakerism is a story I’ve come to entitle “The Philosopher, the Teenager, and the Tree.”
This story spans life and death and centers on the eternal value of the present time. This is a story a story of the eternal value of being a loving person because you strive to see God in every person.
Dr. Trueblood was born in 1900. He had hoped to live the whole of the 20th Century. But in December 1994 – just after turning 94 – he died in his sleep.
In March 1994, I saw Dr. Trueblood speak for the final time at the Yokefellow conference on the Earlham campus. His talk, entitled “A Life of Search,” eloquently recalled his long life in chapters.
Like Trueblood, I’ve come to realize that our human lives contain different chapters. As with chapters in books, human life is finite. Our lives have a set number of pages and a conclusion, no matter how much we want them to go on. Yet faith assures us that the end of the book is not the end of the story – this is the eternal nature of the human soul and of Jesus Christ. Trueblood beautifully reflected this truth when he wrote: “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”
Dr. Trueblood planted many trees over his long life:
Dr. Trueblood was an Iowa farm boy with Quaker roots reaching back to an Arnold Trueblood who died in 1658 a persecuted Quaker in prison. He was a lifelong member of the Religious Society of Friends. But he saw his calling as wider than Quakerism. He advocated reaching across denominational lines for spiritual renewal within Christianity and a transformed more compassionate society beyond it.
In 1964, Trueblood delivered a eulogy before more than 75,000 people at President Herbert Hoover’s funeral in West Branch, Iowa. Pastor Ruthie – who pastored at West Branch – read Trueblood’s words on the 50th anniversary of that service.
Trueblood wrote more than 30 books. Most provided everyday people with a meaningful and logical framework for Christian faith, fellowship and church renewal.
His long academic career included stops at Quaker and non-Quaker institutions. He earned graduate degrees from Harvard and Johns Hopkins and served as chaplain at Stanford. But he found his calling as a professor of philosophy at Earlham College.
Trueblood sometimes was the target of criticism from within Quakerism. Yet he saw Quakerism as a big tent. He remained solidly Christ-centered in his faith, yet he had at times a non-literal and surprising interpretation of Scripture. He dared to write a book called the Humor of Christ!
Trueblood was a man of supreme self-discipline. A 1992 Philadelphia Inquirer feature on Trueblood told how he organized devotional services at his retirement home. He asked a guest speaker to talk for 11 minutes. “Not 10, not 12,” the Inquirer noted. 11 minutes exactly! My favorite journalism professor at Ball State was Earl Conn, a Quaker who knew Dr. Trueblood. Dr. Conn often told the story of Professor Trueblood who excused himself early from a dinner party. Someone asked Trueblood where he was going. “To prepare for class tomorrow morning,” Trueblood replied. What class? “Philosophy 101,” Trueblood said. The great philosopher dutifully prepared for a freshman-level class. To Elton Trueblood, deliberate mediocrity was a sin. Any worthwhile task deserved full attention. Trueblood spoke without notes, making his point in less than 20 minutes. His books were deep but concise, typically under 130 pages. It is the vocation of Christians in every generation to out-think all opposition, Trueblood said.
Yet there also was a tender side to Dr. Trueblood rooted, I believe, in the Quaker principle that there is that of God in every person. Trueblood reflected on his life, asking: “How do I want to be remembered? Not primarily as a Christian scholar, but rather as a loving person. This can be the goal of every individual. If I can be remembered as a truly loving person I shall be satisfied.”
This brings me back to the beginning of my time with Elton Trueblood – this parable of “the Philosopher, the Teenager, and the Tree.” I was about to start Chapter 1 of my adult life in 1986 when I first met Elton Trueblood. I was a 17 year old high school senior, he was an 85 year old retired professor from Earlham. My dad, who then was about my age now, had sought out Elton Trueblood as an adviser, mentor and friend. My dad made several trips from our home near Pittsburgh to Richmond to see Trueblood. I accompanied my dad on one of his visits, and after seeing Dr. Trueblood I was to visit Ball State as a prospective student.
I met with Dr. Trueblood in his study at Earlham. I was a C student. I had struggled throughout high school, academically and socially. I have to be honest, I don’t remember much about my first conversation with Dr. Trueblood. But I do remember he treated me with kindness. He offered to connect me with the Earlham admissions department. He talked about my interest in writing and journalism and said I would be in good hands at the Ball State Journalism Department led by his friend Dr. Earl Conn, a fellow Quaker.
Soon after that, my meeting with Earl Conn convinced me that Ball State was the place for me. In fact, Dr. Conn would continue to encourage me and show an interest in my career until his death in 2009. Dr. Conn was a great storyteller, including his favorite classroom tale of when he covered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963 for Quaker Life, a publication Dr. Conn helped found.
I saw Dr. Trueblood just a few times after that day in 1986, and each time he’d take time, with a twinkle in his eye, to encourage me as a young writer and journalist. As a senior in college, I completed an editorial practicum with Quaker Life Magazine.
Over the decades Trueblood’s books helped me form and maintain my core beliefs… my basic Christianity. Elton and I especially bonded in the first half of 1993 when I lived a solitary life in a rented room in Connecticut 1,800 miles from my fiancée. In my first job out of grad school, I earned $300 a week promoting professional bike races. There was no cable TV, Internet, or social media. I found fulfillment riding my bike, attending a Presbyterian church, and reading Elton Trueblood. This simplicity heightened my spiritual focus. Two of the Trueblood books that stood out to me those months were “The Incendiary Fellowship,” about the need for Christians to rekindle the flame of fellowship cast upon the Earth 2,000 years ago by Jesus, and “Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish,” a look at the role religious thought and Scripture played in President Lincoln’s leadership style and character.
But despite a strong foundation of faith, I struggled for years to find a church where I experienced “incendiary fellowship.” In 2012, thinking of Elton Trueblood, I became curious about Quakers. For the first time, I approached Elton Trueblood not only as a Christian thinker but also as a Quaker thinker. So – almost 18 years after his death – I finally read what is now my favorite Truebook book, “The People Called Quakers.”
“There are, it is probable, many who are Quakers without knowing that they are,” Trueblood beautifully wrote in the preface of “The People Called Quakers.”
This book changed my life. I drove with my wife, Jennifer, and our three kids one Sunday morning to the Carmel mega-church we were attending. We sat in the giant parking lot as services began. Jennifer and I shared some of this church’s core beliefs, but we simply felt we belong elsewhere. In a spontaneous decision, I whirled our van out of the parking lot and drove several miles away to the closest Quaker meeting I knew of – tiny Gray Road Friends. We walked in during the middle of Sunday school and the few gathered greeted us as friends. We talked about Quakerism and about Elton Trueblood. My Quaker Chapter had begun. Since that day in 2012, I have experienced God’s presence within my own life and through the lives of others more fully that ever before. In 2014, I officially became a Quaker when I joined Indianapolis First Friends Meeting.
I often think back to the 1980s. What if Trueblood had not welcomed a new friendship with my dad, a stranger? What if he had not taken the time to give me – a teenager at a crossroads – his encouragement and, even more importantly, his full attention?
Through his writings and small acts of kindness, Elton Trueblood had helped plant a shade tree of faith within me that he’d never see mature. Elton Trueblood said he wanted to be remembered as a loving person. “This can be the goal of every individual,” he said. As George Fox said – “come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”
Without love, Trueblood’s scholarship and books would have lost their power.
To send us into silent worship I want to read you one final quote from Dr. Trueblood
“If you are a Christian, you are a minister. You can help others in ways no one else can. Many of us are sad, lonely, in hardship, and we need Many of us are sad, lonely, in hardship, and we need to face it together. "
That is the legacy of Friend Elton Trueblood. It’s about planting trees.