November 15, 2007
Last week four of us traveled to the Pacific Northwest to share our plans for the seminary with two small groups of friends. Two of the travelers were employees of the seminary's foundation, Ben and Nate, and one was a former trustee, Peter, who co-chairs our "From Here to There" campaign.
When I return to the Pacific Northwest I feel like I am returning home. I was born in Corvallis, Oregon, when my dad was finishing college at Oregon State. He went there on a baseball scholarship and the GI bill. We lived in Seaside, Oregon, for a short time, probably a year and a half, and then moved to Seattle where my sister was born. I don't remember anything from those years, although I thought once that I remembered a Dalmatian dog attacking me. My mother told me before her death that it was an event that happened in Richland, Washington, in my first grade, and it was two Dalmatians who barked at me through a cyclone fence. Second grade was in Spokane, Washington, then third back in Corvallis. We moved a lot as my father was promoted. Fourth grade found us in the Bay Area in northern California where we moved to southern California in eighth grade.
I wasn't done with the Northwest, however. In November of my senior year in high school we moved again to Oregon, to Beaverton where I finished twelfth grade at Sunset High School, one exit before our hotel in Beaverton. Although I moved back to Anaheim two days after graduating, surfing my way down the coast with a friend who dropped me off to make a new life for myself, I spent those six months exploring Oregon and Washington as only a footloose, bored high schooler can.
Since our first meal event was in Beaverton I had a chance to walk for an hour over roads I once drove over. Back in 1968, the roads were two-lane country roads through farm land. Now they were four and six-lane roads through mile after mile of houses, stores, and apartments. Hillsboro was ten miles away; now it runs into Beaverton or vice versa. To cross an intersection on foot is risky because the light isn't long enough to make it that far without running.
The weather was beautiful. Mid-sixties, clear skies, cool evenings. Our event went well with six people attending. They are "intimate gatherings" with people to share inside information on our ministry. Walter attended. Now 85, he described me as a seventeen year old at his church, Bethany Baptist, back in 1968. Nice singing voice, he said. How were my parents? He also said to Peter, a retired physician that he remembered a young Boy Scout receiving his Eagle award in the church he attended when in college in Grand Forks, ND, in 1949-50. Was he the same person, he asked? He was. Amazing!
Several old friends attended, too. It was great to see them and to know they have played some part in our ministry over many years.
Tuesday morning we drove up Interstate 5 to Tacoma for our next intimate gathering with fourteen people. Most of the drive only showed hints of the beautiful countryside because of fog and light rain. After all, how do you think it got so green and lush. We didn't glimpse Mt. St. Helens or Rainier. As we arrived at our hotel in SeaTac, the clouds cleared a little and we caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainier in a shroud.
In the evening, our second event went well with many good questions and high interest in the new building and changes in ministry focus. The next day was spent with a couple of informal appointments, a visit to Pike Fish Market, and attendance at the Sonics versus Memphis Grizzlies game. It was a wonderful day with clouds closing in in the evening. By Thursday we were headed home.
Seattle has spread out, too. The downtown has been upgraded and renewed, but some of the area around the Space Needle has not changed since the World's Fair in 1962. On the south side of downtown, new sports complexes have emerged. My imperfect memory thinks there used to be endless railroad tracks in that area. Boats shuttling passengers and autos go every direction across the sound. The ferries are modern and fast. It seems to me we see lots of sea planes in the sky at all times of the day, but it may have been so in the past and I just don't remember. And, of course, some of the best seafood and clam chowder in the world can still be found.
John, a friend and former colleague, tells me that the Northwest has the lowest church attendance in the U.S., but it has the highest rate of spiritual interest. Its spirituality may not be directed to the true God, but God's people should help people with this high level of spiritual interest find a real deity to answer their quest.
As I drove over the roads, I recalled that my favorite fantasy writer, Terry Brooks, lives in Seattle for part of the year. His latest trilogy (with two volumes out so far) revolves around a future Seattle and Pacific Northwest where human history is coming to an end because of the forces of evil. This trilogy is a prequel to his famous Shannara series. You can see where his characters travel and sleep and combat evil. Someday elves, humans, and mutants may find peace in the Northwest.
Journeys to familiar places heighten your ability to see. Somehow sights that are familiar, like Mt. Hood or Rainier or Mt. St. Helens or the Three Sisters, loom bigger, more dramatic from the plane, while other sights jump into significance that were barely remembered from years ago.
Even more startling is how constant change is. New buildings, communities, businesses, schools. More people, more cars and trucks and planes. More of everything.
I guess our news about our ministry finds parallels with our trip to Oregon and Washington. Changes keep occurring while many things stay the same. It is refreshing to see the new and the old with eyes made sensitive by the passing of time.