Marvin McDonald, Peace Lutheran Church, Abbotsford, BC
My story, like everyone's, unfolds in the communities where I have lived. As I was growing up in Minnesota, we didn't talk much about God or faith. We went to church, the kids attended catechism, but God was largely assumed. After my father was killed in a car accident when I was five, we lived for several years with each of my mother's parents.
It was difficult being a single-parent family in the early 1960s. My grandparents were divorced. We called grandma our Nana and she was a devout Catholic who remained single for the rest of her life. My grandpa Rogers was an active Baptist and had remarried, so I had a couple of uncles and an aunt who we saw occasionally. One of my dad's brothers kept in close contact for many years until they moved to Arizona.
In my dad's family, faith wasn't talked about much, either. My stepfathers didn't talk about, and rarely participated in, church activities. Catechism, first communion, and confirmation all provided some chances to discuss some things and read a bit, but there was little passion or encouragement for personal searching.
Singing in a youth service and helping out with parish events were good opportunities for me to be involved and to be supported. However, the classroom formats and participation in events presumed a lot. Without discussion or mentoring, we youth were left to personalize our faith on our own or at home. I didn't know how to say or do anything, but it seemed vaguely that something was missing.
When I wondered about these things as a teen, most of the active discussions were with other students at school. We challenged one another. We talked about different churches; we participated in camps and youth events and bible studies; and we sporadically visited one another's churches. I circulated with an active, searching crew.
One time a few of us asked a Lutheran pastor, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Baptist missionary to come and talk to us and answer our questions. In the midst of many different discussions and challenges and wonderings, it seemed increasingly clear to me that knowing and following God required personal commitment and surrender.
Although there was some life and richness in the churches, too often the formal activities faded into habit or presumption. The challenges of living a committed faith were sometimes talked about in some Protestant groups, but the adventures of faith were only rarely acknowledged in the churches I knew.
In my wanderings, I encountered few people who were curious or adventurous or surprised in their faith. The challenges and inspiration offered to us by adults were largely through the domains of schoolwork, sports, or music , but faith was politely avoided in the activities at public schools. Before I began university, I spent a year in France where I encountered conflicting faith traditions and more secularism. While opening important horizons for me, there was little chance to sort out my questions.
So when I went to university I was wondering about many things. I went to a Roman Catholic university questioning whether the overwhelming weight of habit and convention had killed faith among most Catholics. What I found was the usual apathy but also vibrant faith communities and prayer groups and a chance to begin studying theology while I pursued my academic interests in science. I learned about worship and prayer and bible study. The campus chaplain was uninspiring, hesitant in response to my questions when it became clear that I disagreed with him theologically.
My pivotal inspirations came from Christians asking serious faith questions in the sciences, in books, and among a few students and staff at the university. I discovered groups like the American Scientific Affiliation and the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. When I decided to go into psychology I found authors like Paul Tournier and Gary Collins. I found in libraries the doorways into worlds unknown and pathways to expanding horizons of Christianity. In those years I encountered challengers and supporters, opportunities and responsibilities, friends and detractors.
During those years I met Darlys while working for a summer in North Dakota. As we became serious and talked about marriage, that raised questions of a different sort. During the course of our engagement we agreed that we wanted to worship together and raise our children in the same congregation. In the end we made the decision largely on theological grounds. It was a better fit for me to be reconfirmed as a Lutheran-without rejecting Catholicism-than it would have been for Darlys to "convert."
It seemed to me from my youth onward that Jesus' calling includes the dedication of career and work to God. Through my years of schooling and early job hunts, I tried to weigh priorities with that calling in mind. The balance of work and family has been an important facet of vocation along the way. The costs and challenges of maintaining vocation as priority have been accompanied by encouragement, companionship, and the faithful surprises of our loving, creative Saviour. In Lutheran congregations across Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Alberta, and BC, we have found many brothers and sisters with whom to share the journeys. Opportunities for service were many and varied, always challenging and sometimes inspiring.
Having children was a very special opportunity to see God's hand at work in the very midst of our lives. We each bring family traditions and experiences as we strive to nurture our sons in today's world. The faith of Darlys' parents has quietly but surely nurtured our family in a finely woven tapestry of life and love. Her brother and his family have also been gifts to us as a couple, as a family, and as children in the kingdom. Among my siblings, one sister and her family have a special place in sharing God's grace with us. We live at a distance from family, and that has limited our blessings in significant ways-and continues to do so.
One of the blessings of teaching professional counselors is the opportunity to be part of God's work in others' lives. Because counseling requires self-examination, spirituality and faith come up all the time. As I work with colleagues and students and my own clients, sharing steps along one another's journeys becomes quite possible, partly because we are always focusing on ways to nurture human health and well being.
A similar privilege arises from my research and writing as a Christian in psychology. I can talk with many different people about their faith and why it matters. In recent years there has been a partial shift in the ways that public discussions of faith and spirituality are handled. A new kind of openness is being promoted that acknowledges the great importance and diversity of faith commitments and worldviews in today's world. For instance, I've been in dialogue with a leader in the BC Humanist Association for several years as an extension of interfaith dialogue. It's an exciting time to be a part of these discussions and to find more ways to live out faith in Jesus in changing times.
I am profoundly grateful to our precious Saviour for life and for calling. Through God's grace I have opportunities to explore and nurture faith, both my own and others', with family, at work, and in fellowship with other Christians. The story continues.