THIS GLADIATOR HAS BATTLED LIFE’S TRUE SCOUNDRELS

THE HUMAN RACE

FOR FOUR UNPRECEDENTED DECADES, REV. JOHN R. CALHOUN

HAS SERVED ONE CHURCH     


     My favorite gladiator isn’t Russell Crowe (Maximus), Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) or Brad Pitt (Achilles). It’s Rev. John R. Calhoun. All 5-foot-7-inches of him. The villains he’s crossed sabers with over the past half century as a minister and religious scholar, are death, degradation, greed, violence, drug addiction, loneliness, hypocrisy, racism and heartbreak.

     Let’s see Hollywood top that.

     On Sunday (March 15, 2015) he will be named minister emeritus of the Manhattan Beach Community Church where he had served as senior minister for 40 years. (He retired in 2010) During that period he married and baptized a flock of kids. Including those belonging to my wife, JoAnne, and I.

     As a religious scholar, he also coped with the risque cartoons I drew of him. (as illustrated)  So John Robinson Calhoun maintained a sense of humor about himself and the world he lives in.

     Since his battles on behalf of others are for God’s eyes only, nobody knows precisely how many knock-down-drag-outs he’s won or lost during his long tenure as the senior minister of the Manhattan Beach Community Church.  

     As one who identifies himself as spiritual, and facetiously as a heathen, I interviewed this caring son of a congregational minister from Billingham, Washington a number of years ago.

     Here are his words:

     “Life is hard. It’s difficult, complex, intricate. You have to be awful brave to get through it because there are so many disillusionments, disappointments — things that are really hurtful.

     “Tragedy comes to all of us. God doesn’t single out people to punish. When your expectations, hopes and dreams are dashed, you have to keep on keepin’ on.

     “We live in a very violent world. It would be nice if this was a kinder and gentler place without war, crime or greed. God is not responsible for the man-made problems.  

     “My heroes aren’t athletes, movie stars, politicians or corporate icons. My heroes are average people who deal with a wide variety of tough issues. I know their stories. They are the bravest.

     “You’d be surprised at the grief I’ve seen. The first rule of being a minister is to be able to share intimate thoughts, to keep a confidence, to be forgiving, not judgmental. I’ve tried to be that way.

     “In every life there are tragedies that seem to have no logical answer. Life is a mystery. It’s unpredictable. We all search for reasons for our personal problems. On this side of Heaven, we may never know the answer. Maybe on the other side more light will be shed on the subject.

     “I believe strongly in the long run; that the final outcomes belong to God. I try to take God more seriously than myself.

     “Years ago I attended a memorial service in Maine for a fundamentalist friend who had fallen into a river and drowned.  People at the service blamed his death on ‘the will of God” or said that ‘God needed him more.’

     “I think my friend was just careless.

     “There are many things that people attribute to God that aren’t attributable to God. The world is as it is. There are difficulties and adversities we can’t control.     

     “God’s agenda and our agenda sometimes don’t coincide. But if we put our shoulder to God’s agenda, good things can happen.

     “Like everyone else, I’ve experienced good times and bad times. What helps me keep the faith is I have very low expectations. I don’t think God is going to solve our problems. We are quite capable of working out most of our dilemmas.

     “When people disappoint you, it’s all right to be aggravated. You can love people but you don’t have to like everybody. Those who have aggravated me, I can see the tragedies in their lives that make them upset with life. Many times when they hurt others, they do so because they are sad and disillusioned with their own lives. If they take out their frustrations on me, I don’t take it personally. There’s an old Arab proverb: ‘The dogs may bark but the caravan continues on.’

     “I try not to be judgmental. We all fall short of our expectations. For the elderly — and I guess I now fall in that category — life becomes more harsh, more difficult to deal with.     “In spite of everything, we must maintain a sense of humor. You can’t take life too personally. Now that I’m 78 (he said recently), I’ve found that old age is highly overrated. It’s not the Promised Land.

     “You don’t need to take yourself so seriously. As a minister, I’ve always seen myself as just part of the gang. We all fall short of our expectations and must face our own woes.

     “Culture and society has changed — not all for the good. Life has become more impersonal than personal. Yet life is filled with small victories. We’re all in the same boat rowing up stream against the current.”

     Over the years, I’ve peeked into the conscious of John Calhoun. At times I’ve found pride, loneliness, humility, a liberal bent and a passion to make others laugh. He comes with a philosophic intellectualism that’s fueled by a sense of Godliness.

     It allows him to comprehend his own inadequacies as a mortal and battle relentlessly for anybody he can help.

     Yeah, active or retired, old John R. Calhoun is still my favorite gladiator.

Boots LeBaron —

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