“Good Ground” : Dr. Duane Arnold PhD
This week I’ve spent a good bit of time looking at a picture. It was taken back in the early 70s. There are ten of us on a stage sitting atop amps, guitar cases and a Hammond B-3 and Leslie speaker cabinet. All of us were involved in the music and teaching outreach of our Fellowship group (which latter morphed into a church). We were all in our late teens and early twenties. With the long hair, beards, jeans and flannel shirts, we looked like we could have been the road crew for Eagles or The Allman Brothers or another band of the era.
I’m sure we must have scared to death many of our older brothers and sisters in the faith, especially those in the numerous mainline and evangelical churches in the community.
Last week, one of the people in that picture died of a massive heart attack at the age of 62. Jim was the first of us to go. It was completely unexpected and it broke my heart. He had started the Fellowship with me. For some years, he was my best friend. We worked together, debated music together, traveled together, lived in the same house, went together to buy his beautiful Gibson Gospel acoustic, talked about songwriting, played practical jokes on people, came up with the worst puns in the world and prayed together…
And now he’s gone…
Jim had continued on from the Fellowship to college, then a post-graduate degree, eventually ending up in an academic position on the east coast. As I scanned the photograph, I thought about the rest of us. One became a successful businessman; four of us had taken up our theological education and gone into the ordained ministry; one is an executive with a global missions program (having married another person in the picture) and the remaining two in the picture are dedicated lay people in their respective churches.
I’m sure, at the time, few would have predicted such an outcome.
Maybe, however, some who helped and mentored us at the time might have hoped that we might turn out alright. A local physician actually purchased our first building for us. He turned over the keys, made no demands on what we did or did not do in the building and continued to generously support us through the years. In fact, the only time we saw him, was when he would drop off books that he thought would be helpful to us – Francis Schaeffer, Os Guiness, C.S. Lewis, and a host of other authors, some known to us, others a new revelation. A local UMC minister encouraged his son to attend our Bible studies and coffeehouse, as the youth group in his own church was not very active. While in no way interfering with what we were doing in the Fellowship, he would drop by brochures on seminars and conferences dealing with subjects as varied as pastoral counseling, ministry to young married couples, and nursing home visitation. If we were interested, he would sponsor us and pay the expenses incurred. Additionally, if he had a special speaker come to his church, several of us would be invited to meet them and have one on one sessions with them regarding their particular expertise. One older gentleman in the community owned a auto body and repair shop. A fundamentalist, he remained on the fence as to whether or not rock music was of the devil, but when our band acquired a cargo van, he volunteered to paint it and help us fit out the interior for touring.
I could go on with example after example of the graciousness and generosity of these “older” believers who looked past the hair, the beards, the jeans, the music and all the rest to see something of value; something worth encouraging. By all rights, they should have been standing on the front porch yelling at us “kids” to “get off my lawn”. Instead, they not only allowed us on the lawn, they invited us onto the porch and into their homes.
Sometime back, I visited the physician who had been so generous to us all those years ago. He was dying of cancer. He had only weeks to live. I had kept up with him from time to time in those years, often sending him copies of my books and articles or letting him know if I was appointed to a new position, but I wanted him to know more. I wanted him to know about the others. I wanted him to know what he had done. He was very weak when I came to visit, but his eyes still sparkled. First we talked a bit about my career and then we moved on to the others. I shared with him what they were doing and all that they had accomplished. He was completely engaged. At the end, I thanked him for what he had done all those years before and told him that he was a part of everything that all of us had done in our lives and ministries. He turned to me and said, “Duane, when you plant a garden it doesn’t look like much. You hope that it’s good ground, you plant the seeds and you get out of the way, nourish and help where you can and wait. You and your friends were ‘good ground’ and the garden is beautiful…” His voice trailed off, his eyes filled, we embraced and, before I left, he gave me a book (of course) that he thought might be of interest to me. Then he said, “Now it’s your turn.” Of course…
The death of my friend, Jim, reminded me that, indeed, it’s now our turn and the time left to us is limited.
I’ve read a great deal about Gen X and the Millennials, most of it written by people my age. Usually the articles are laced with thinly veiled caustic comments concerning skinny jeans, music, man-buns, microbrews, ink and all the rest. These observations are usually linked to sarcastic off hand remarks with regard to weak theology, vapid worship and the strong implication that somehow they are responsible for the decline of the Church in the early twenty-first century. The idea that we, in fact, may be responsible for problems of our own making, tends to be ignored or, if raised, shouted down.
For myself, I’m going to hope, like my friend, that there is “good ground”. My task, in the years that remain, is to plant some seeds. I have some nourishment to bring – theology, church history, ethics, tradition and a bit of experience – but I also will have to learn to get out of the way and allow the seeds to grow.
It might just be a beautiful garden.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to become acquainted with some millennials who are engaging in awesome kingdom work.
At first I was put off by the gages, the ink, and the theological beliefs that are different than mine.
That’s when I heard the Lord tell me to get off His lawn… 🙂
This young folks are doing things I have been praying someone in this community would do…and it’s my job to to encourage and help them anyway I can.
Maybe I’ll even get some ink…
Could not agree with you more…
One of the things that those of us who have been critical of the “Jesus Movement” in the sixties and seventies have to come to grips with is that the fruit has lasted.
The older generation at the time didn’t like the worship or theology much then either.
Neither did I…I didn’t like hippies. 🙂
50 years later, a great many of those former hippies are still walking with the Lord.
May it be so with this generation as well…
This is a profile of one of the people referenced in the above article –
Duane: I mostly lurk here and occasionally check in and read, but this was an important and timely piece for many of us. Much of what I feel called to do (and am, in fact, doing, haltingly…) is being part of what God is doing in raising up the next generation. I’ve discovered that I don’t have to work with these young, energetic Millennials (and now “Gen Z” kids), but rather, I get to. As in the parable, as in previous generations, so now: the Farmer is sowing seed, and inevitably some of it will fall on “good ground.”
Thanks for checking in! It’s a new learning curve for many of us… note I say “learning” not “teaching “. We have as much to learn as to teach…
Duane–thoughtful, helpful piece on ‘perspective.’ I’m 59 now, long in the tooth for a public school teacher, but still work with junior high students daily. They keep me young, enthusiastic, and hopeful. I look at my peers…not so much so. Loss of loved ones tends to clear the fog of critique and pettiness, doesn’t it?
Many thanks. Yes, life and death tend to bring things into focus…
“I’ve read a great deal about Gen X and the Millennials, most of it written by people my age. Usually the articles are laced with thinly veiled caustic comments concerning skinny jeans, music, man-buns, microbrews, ink and all the rest. These observations are usually linked to sarcastic off hand remarks with regard to weak theology, vapid worship and the strong implication that somehow they are responsible for the decline of the Church in the early twenty-first century. The idea that we, in fact, may be responsible for problems of our own making, tends to be ignored or, if raised, shouted down.”
Rather than looking to blame anything beyond sin nature and the Times in which we live, may we all continue to present ourselves daily, Romans 12:1-2 style and place our hope in God’s Power and His Spirit, being mindful of the adversary who is devouring all over the place.
Michael… yep. Ink. Lest I say “I told you so”, skinny jeans are fun. BTW.. I L O V E what’s happening in our old home town. “My heart rejoices, in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord, my heart is enlarged, over mine enemies, because I rejoice in His salvation. There is none, holy as the Lord, there is none besides Thee, Neither is there any Rock like our God, neither is there any Rock, like our God” 1 Samuel 2:1-2 (rest of the chapter is great too)…..Hallelujah!!!
Don’t underestimate the next generation. They will probably do great things.
My generation is doing amazingly well at making a great mess of everything. So, who knows.
#10 David H
Agreed. The key to it may be some of us getting out of the way and letting something new happen. These days I notice a good number of “old white men” yelling at the “kids” to “get off my lawn”…
Yelling “Get off my lawn” is, for this old white guy, so much easier to do than shut up, listen and offer encouragement. I appreciate your insights, Michael and Duane.
Many thanks Captain Kevin…
“GET OFF MY LAWN!!!” – great comment Michael, and I take it seriously. I’ve had criticisms in the past, but who am I to poo poo what people are doing for the Lord? And amen to the comment about the Jesus movement and it’s fruits.
Here are some insights by a pastor who has congregants from 25 different countries and cultures, the large majority age 25-40 in age.
What is it that our young people don’t buy anymore?
— Uncritical patriotism and American exceptionalism (“my country, right or wrong”).
–Unexamined white supremacy, both the nativism of the Right and the paternalism toward people of color by the Left.
–Unfettered consumerism at the expense of global fairness and environmental sustainability, and endless consumption as a personal coping mechanism.
–Rugged individualism and the subtext of the American dream – the accumulation of enough skills and wealth so as to be completely independent.
–Christian denominational sectarianism, parochialism, and triumphalism in the face of religious pluralism.
I think he is right… it’s time for a “new Reformation”…
@15: That plough article links to the Bruderhoff community site. Interesting stuff:
Love of neighbor leads us to give up all private property, the root of so much injustice and violence. Christ teaches his followers to reject mammon – the desire for and the power of possessions. He warns, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” He saw into the heart of the rich young man whom he loved and told him: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Mammon is the enemy of love. It drives some to build up individual fortunes while millions lead lives of misery. As a force within economic systems, it breeds exploitation, fraud, materialism, injustice, and war.
All that serves mammon opposes the rule of God. A person who keeps anything for himself disregards Jesus’ commandment to his followers to give up their private property. He has taken something intended by God for the use of all and claimed it for himself.
If you record any songs that Jim wrote, I would love to find a way to hear them. If you have any recordings of him singing, it would mean very much to me to hear those as well. I miss my brother.
We don’t have any recordings. We’ve asked those around at the time. We did record demos for Sparrow. We’re still trying to teach those down….
We do have the lyrics to four songs of Jim’s we hope t record. I want to keep his memory alive and vital.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for my email. Bless you and know that we are praying for you.