E-pistle August 21

Woodstock, People’s Park and the Call to Follow
 
Last weekend marked the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, the three-days of “peace and music” that are among the defining events of the now-aging Baby Boom generation. Last May was the fortieth anniversary of Peoples’ Park in Berkeley, California, another event in that decade of discontent.  Next month will mark the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of my college career, not at the Berkeley campus, but at the far more beautiful Santa Cruz campus of the University of California.
 
UCSC would seem like an idyllic place for a college education. Its buildings are nestled at the edge of a redwood forest on the hills above Santa Cruz and the north end of Monterey Bay.  On a clear day you can look across the bay and see the cliffs above Pebble Beach. The university itself is organized around a system residential colleges, and as an American History major I was assigned to Cowell College with its wonderful motto, “The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends.” 
 
Like most institutions, churches included, the college did not completely live up to its motto, but in time I would receive a superb education that included both truth and friends.  The first day in my first American History class the eminent historian Page Smith told his class of novice historians that if we wanted to understand American history we would have to read and know the Bible very well.  Good advice for young historians and for life.  Among those I count as good friends today are some I met at UCSC.
 
But the fall of 1969 was a tough time for me. I would turn 18 that fall and was 500 miles from my home. I did not yet have many friends and like Pebble Beach on a foggy day, truth was often hidden my view.  The same drugs that had made Woodstock much less than a weekend of music and peace were everywhere on campus, sometimes seeming harmless enough, but at other times tragically destructive. The radical politics of Peoples’ Park and Berkeley free speech confused me and I wondered what would become of the world in which I had grown up. 
 
It wasn’t until late in the fall term of 1969 that I would really get to know Calvin, my next door neighbor in the dorm. As we began to become friends, Calvin introduced me to a friend of his, Jesus Christ.  Oh, I already knew Jesus, but like someone you know as a passing acquaintance, someone you might greet with a casual “hi” or “how ya doin’?” on the way to or from class. I had met Jesus in Sunday School and with genuine sincerity, as much sincerity as I could muster as a 15 year old, had confessed him as Savior and Lord the day I was confirmed as a member of the church back home.  Calvin knew Jesus more than casually, however.  He knew him intimately, he knew him as friend knows a friend. It did not take long for me to know that I wanted to know Jesus as Calvin knew Jesus.
 
Calvin invited me to worship at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Cruz and there I met a wonderful group of fellow students and an amazing youth director and his wife, a company of friends in the pursuit of Truth. The songs we sang in that group of seekers weren’t exactly Jimi Hendrix, but they spoke to my heart. And more than that, in that company of friends I discovered serious Bible study and joyful Christian fellowship for the first time.  Jesus became more than a passing acquaintance; he became a friend.
 
So I decided to follow Christ that fall of 1969.  It is not so much that I had wandered, prodigal-like, in the far country or had been told to sell all I had and to follow him. It was more that the fog of confusion and loneliness had lifted and there was nowhere else, and with no one else, I wanted to be.
 
Forty years is a long time.  I give thanks for that fall of 1969, for Calvin who invited me to worship with him at First Presbyterian Church, for that amazing youth director and for friends from those days who remain friends and still pursue the Truth.
 
Maybe it is because of the fall of 1969 that I call the congregations I serve to pray each fall for the students they send off to the college campus – that in the company friends they might pursue and find the Friend who is Truth.