“AND THE WORD WAS GOD”
The recent book “God, A Human History” by Reza Aslan provides an excellent introduction to the human ideas of what or who God is. Aslan is a respected academic, author, and student of religion. He is an Iranian/American Islam and a student of Sufism, but also a follower of Jesus Christ. By reading his book he recreates a complex history of God that has been created over the millennium by many people, beginning with cave drawings left by pre-historic humanity. Some of these older men we spoke with about God bring a deity into their lives directly, but in some cases God is revealed in different fashions, from non appearance to a relative outsider. Read these paragraphs and find your place among these men or carve out your personal location in what some folks call “God’s world.”
The final sentence in Aslan’s book is “YOU ARE GOD”!
Talking about faith and/or God can be an open event for some, while others require more listening and making assumptions following life stories and personal histories. With Harold Dunlop his personal history and beliefs came with ease and feelings of warmth and commitment. He identified his religion as “standard liberal Presbyterian”. Let’s see what that might mean.
His early childhood was spent in a small Oklahoma town where his father was the church treasurer and an elder for many years and where his mother was the leader of Presbyterian women in their work and worship. Harold became involved with young people’s church activity and attended special conferences arranged for youth. He was especially influenced by a young student who had moved to Tulsa, OK from Pittsburgh. As he attended Tulsa University his faith was a central part of his life and helped him with his personal decision making and also helped in his understanding of God.
His next stop as a young man was to attend medical school at the University of Oklahoma and was trained as a general surgeon. This was his career until he retired, removed his surgical gear and moved north near Baltimore, Md. to be nearer others in his family.
The concept of God is very real to Harold and he has specific beliefs that he carries in his life today. While many of us carry our beliefs quietly and under wraps, Harold knows exactly what he believes and expresses his beliefs most clearly—
God is the creator of the world;
God worked through evolution;
God brings creative energy to humanity;
God is important in decision making
His purpose is to be a disciple of Christ, to love and be loved and to be part of a loving family. The first Chapter of the Gospel of John, “and the word was God” has had special meaning during his life for Harold and remains today a beacon for his beliefs.
In our search for older geezers of varied faiths, we were fortunately directed to meet with Seymour Mauskopf, whom we shall call Sy for the remainder of this post. Sy is a professor emeritus of history at Duke University. His specialty has been the history of science and his publications, including his books, covered a wide variety of scientific history. He is an Ivy League grad from both Cornell and Princeton universities and his early effort was to study chemistry. His knowledge of the sciences covers volumes and in conversations with him, he frequently drops the names of Einstein, Newton, and other historic stars that had wide influence in the broad world of discovery and scientific theories.
Sy’s knowledge of religion may not be equal to his knowledge of scientific history, but in conversation with him, he is comfortable displaying his knowledge of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. He is a member of Judea Reformed congregation in Durham and as a young Jewish boy did the customary of bar mitzvah and celebrated Jewish history, especially as portrayed in the Old Testament of the modern Bible. He has wide knowledge of the biblical history of the Jews and quotes passages from the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) as the Jews, with help from their God, mercilessly destroyed their many enemies. He knows the troubles that Job suffered under Gods hands and recalls how Jonah was saved from the whale in order to witness how God would forgive the citizens of Nineveh in spite of Jonah’s objections.
As Sy toured me through biblical writings and history, these historical accounts prove to him that religion is of human construction and God’s actions or directions were created by a God who has been created by humans to perform through the actions of humans. In these biblical histories, God kills, steals, destroys in the manner of humans, often to allow the Jewish people to return from captivity or to restore the land they believed was given to them by their God. Moving along to the biblical New Testament, Sy has not given this much study, except to make the assumption that the apostle Paul never studied the Jewish past as he tried to evangelize citizens long throughout the provinces of the Roman empire.
While being an agnostic, Sy says, “I am not particularly a believer, but I take the enterprise seriously”. Most believers of most institutions would be pleased to have that statement of support. God according to Sy’s belief and understanding was man-made and not a holy deity who man believes in and worships.
As the son of a Texas share cropper, the life of a young boy is not a soft and rosy road. Charles Owens and his eight siblings moved many times during the depression of the 1930’s and early 40’s. His first opportunity arrived after high school in 1946 when his uncle introduced him to Texas A & M University. The US Army came along for a while, but he was able to graduate with a BS in Agricultural Administration.
This is where things became somewhat confused, but with careful consideration, his life moved forward in a surprisingly creative way. He saw a notice for “LA-3’s”—college students with agricultural skills joining the mission field through the Methodist church. He pushed this possibility aside since just at that time he had been awarded a fellowship in agricultural economics at NC State. So he came to Raleigh and joined the life of a local church. As the time went on, however, he realized that agricultural economics was a fading goal, overtaken by his religious undertakings in the local Raleigh church and ever growing zeal. A thoughtful decision sent him down the road to Durham and Duke Divinity School where he entered, completed his studies and became an ordained minister.
Now the “LA 3’s” were translated into reality. Off he went to Chile to perform his mission work in agriculture. Early there, he lived with high school boys and even preached his first sermon in Spanish. By the time his assignment had finished, he had a Chilean wife and was ready to return to the US and be a local pastor. It was during his time at NC State and working in a local church that the pressure built up for him to choose the life of a local church pastor.
With his agricultural experience he felt called to serve rural churches and starting out in Texas, he served three churches at one time, and with his Spanish language experience, he extended his mission work into Central America. He and his wife had three children, but that marriage ended in divorce. Over the years and with a second wife, her children, and his three, all became acquainted and remain friends. With 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, his life is full and he remains a constant delight to those within his current environment. Where it all started could have been while in Raleigh at NC State, or may have started earlier while in college, but all aspects of his early life directed and supported him into a fulfilling ministry and a long life of service. While the word “God” is rarely spoken orally or within his writings, God seems to have provided essential direction as his life unfolded.
Finding legitimate geezers for all faiths requires deep searches, and for Islam, we found an imam who is approaching geezerhood, but has a few years ahead to fully qualify—but he was the correct person to talk with, so here goes:
Imam Abdul-hafeez Waheed is the Interim Imam for Duke University Center for Muslim Life—a long title for an important academic center working with Muslim students and those of other faiths who seek to learn. The title “Imam” indicates his role as leader, and for Imam Waheed, he took a roundabout route to his present role. He was born in Harlem, New York city and grew up in an Episcopalian family and was so baptized. As an active young man he was a good athlete and played basketball on the Rockets, a popular team at the time. But life for the young man took some twists and turns and he became engaged in some troublesome activities.
Hearing a lecture about the 1977 New York blackout helped awaken him to a new direction in his life. Using the blackout for a message, the lecturer explained that life itself is deficient without light. This led him to study religions which drew him to accepting Islam which has transformed his life! His Episcopalian family supported his new found faith and he began to participate in the New York Muslim community at a mosque in the Bronx. While in New York city he became the chaplain at Ryker’s Island prison and continued that work after moving many miles upstate due to his wife’s health.
After his wife’s early death leaving him with three children, he remarried and through some fortunate connections, moved to Durham and began to volunteer at Duke. Duke president at that time, Nan Keohane, brought the study of Islam to become a part of Duke’s religious life which led to Imam Waheed’s role as the interim Imam . He lives the life of a devoted Muslim, prays five times daily, and lives the life of a true believer of Islam. He intends to write a book about inter-faith relationships. With his work as the leader of the Muslim Center at Duke, he is encouraged and believes there is healing in America. This man practices his faith diligently and is a dedicated follower of Muhammad, the founder of his faith.
With Dennis Buckley, it seems that the Word has been with him during his long 90 years and has been a strong constant along the way. His parents emigrated from England to Canada, then to Philadelphia where Dennis was born. During his youth, the family moved to Baltimore, noted as “the most northern southern city”. His mother sang in the church choir, but his father stayed away from church. Dennis and his twin sister attended Sunday school and he still remembers his early Sunday school teacher—David Hersey. During his youth he attended several churches with his young friends, more or less, as a mobile group of young believers who met in various churches throughout the community.
After high school came World War Two, then a degree in engineering at John Hopkins. He then married his junior high school sweetheart and the family then settled in Severna Park, MD for 25 years until he retired to Hilton Head, SC. He worshipped in Presbyterian churches with his family during all these adult years, until his wife died unexpectedly in Hilton Head.
Dennis had felt God had been a strong part of his life until this sudden death, and that caused an eruption in his loyalty. Dennis was angry and felt God had betrayed him. Fortunately for us today, he was surrounded by family and loving friends who pulled him back toward his early deep belief. As a very healthy 90 year old with an engineering degree and a willingness to serve God and the church, he expresses his love and belief by regularly offering his technical skills to run the church audio system, keep the lights burning, and using his skills wherever needed. In addition to his timely service in his church, he is a regular tour guide at Bennett Place, the Civil War historical site in Durham where generals Sherman and Johnson signed an armistice to end all fighting. I guess we can thank our favorite deity for men like Dennis who practice their belief in such useful fashion.
Geezers don’t all share the same beliefs, no matter how and with whom they might have become introduced to God ideas as young boys. Life conditions and/or introductions to a multitude of conflicting ideas will often have changed their thinking as they aged, or studied these conflicting ideas, or just began to reflect on what they once had thought was the reality of belief.
Porter Kier is a paleontologist, having studied at the University of Michigan, then working for his PhD at Cambridge in the UK. As a youth, growing up in western Pennsylvania, had attended a Presbyterian Sunday School and had a brother who attended the Moody Bible Institute and with that special religious training, actually “saved” Porter. Even with that intense brotherly salvation, Porter’s beliefs struggled and he was bothered about people going to hell in the afterlife. Further, his Baptist preacher brother eventually gave up the church himself and taught public school in California.
Porter’s career developed as he advanced his scientific knowledge at the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, and was Director of the Museum from 1973 until 1978 and remained as a senior scientist until 1985. During his years studying science, he became a specialist in sea urchins and in his studies, took their development back over the millennia. In studying natural selection over millions of years, Porter states that this is a direct conflict with Christianity and other religions that base their teachings on certain specific points of time. The eons of natural life creation and development do not add up to all the starting points taught through the various religions.
Over the years he began to work his life away from God. He believes that Jesus was a great man but that we humans do not need God to be good. We can have positive and highly respected morals without their being based on religion. The deer looks after the fawn and they are likely to survive through natural selection. Porter believes that women are badly defined in the Bible and God is totally unfair in this Biblical identification and definition of women.
At this stage in Porter’s life, he finds meaning as he cares for his wife, his love for classical music, and is courageous about the future. He makes friends easily, and has a very cheerful, open, and outgoing attitude. He can accomplish these without a deity in the way.
With over 52,000,000 followers, we could not overlook Buddhism as a religion to include in our post with older men and God. So we sought an old friend, Phil Leinbach, who practices a form of Buddhism in his daily living. Buddhism is more a path to follow for your daily living than a traditional religion. The genesis of Buddhist beliefs began about 2600 years ago and were the expressions of Siddhartha Gautama. These expressions, or teachings have spread worldwide and are particularly strong in eastern, or Asian, communities. Or friend, Phil and his wife Nancy, follow the Zen strain which came from Japan.
The Leinbachs came from a Methodist heritage, but felt this strain of religion was less than satisfying. They were introduced to an older Jewish couple who invited them to attend a Buddhist meeting, and what they heard felt right for them. They moved to North Carolina from New Orleans and became a part of the Zen congregation.
Followers do not worship Buddha or extend a belief in such typical religious experiences as the after life or the reappearances of a deity. Buddha wanted the lives of the followers to be relieved of the more ugly sides of humanity and for the followers to be separated from greed, hate, or delusion. Emphasis in the Zen branch of Buddhism includes mindful meditation which for some includes certain times each day for quiet meditation and prayer. There are postulates within the faith, similar to the Hebrew ten commandments, but believers do not look forward to “being saved” or having an after life.
The Zen center attended by the Leinbachs is led by an abbess who leads the regular Sunday services. She offers lectures and the attendees participate by chanting and each wears the symbolic rakusu, each one made by the individual who wears it. The Zen members are very socially conscious and offer significant service both to the Orange Correctional Prison, the prison at Buttner, and offer other services to prisoners. From time to time, prisoners leave the prison with a Buddhist member to participate in a service.
This post which is directed toward older men and God and with Phil Leinbach, there is no God to worship in his Buddhist faith. What he has found is a way toward a more peaceful and happy life and a way to serve fellow humans through quiet meditation and thoughtful service.