My Life So Far–Seminary Adventures

I'll begin this section just a bit earlier than seminary. The trip on the ship was great. Not long after leaving Yokohama, there was a table tennis contest. I parleyed my college playing into a ship championship. Table tennis is always fun, but it got more interesting as the ship rolled in the Pacific waves. Our ship was immense by the standards of the day and the amenities were luxurious. Of course it was nothing like the cruise ships of today. The Chusan held 1500 passengers, today's smaller cruise ships are larger than that.

The second incident that I remember was pulling into Hawaii. Now don't misunderstand, I love Japan and I appreciate the Japanese food–even the effort the Japanese made to accomodate American tastes and fix American food. (I still eat a Japanese breakfast a couple times a week–usually including fermented beans.) But arriving in Honolulu, we had all day to explore the city and sightsee. As lunch time approached, I knew what I wanted for my first meal in America: It was late and we only had a couple hours before reboarding, but we headed for a hamburger joint. Not a Burger King or McDonalds, but a real cooked-to-order place.  I ordered the quintessential American lunch: hamburger with onions and tomato, chocolate malt, and french fries. Tamayo and I have often laughed about this. The Japanese equivalent was not even close. (The reverse is also true. What passes for ramen in the US, is a gross and hardly edible version of what in Japan is sublime.)

Our ship arrived in San Francisco, where we were greeted by all the Customs and Immigration workers. But we had brought little with us. We left Japan with very little and arrived no wealthier. The seminary actually sent a car to pick us up and introduce us to this new environment.

We were given a third floor apartment in Hunter Hall and allowed to rest for the night.

The next day, we signed a rental agreement and agreed to become the apartment managers for this student housing building. It was a great opportunity. We got to meet and greet new student families as they arrived; a fascinating view of the varieties of humans called to Christian ministry.

We also became friends with the students who were ahead of us in this process–some to graduate this year and some next. Our neighbors included the Aloras. Ed and Eloise were working class folk with a high school degree when Ed felt drawn to be a pastor. He had first to attend a four year college and get his bachelors degree before entering seminary. But he did it well with Eloise' support. In 1964 he was in his second year and looking toward fulfilling what seemed the purpose of his life.

It wasn't until May that the first of the new students, who would be my classmates, began to arrive. Some came a bit bewildered, others ready to study; but there were a handful who came filled with themselves. I suspect the folk in their home churches had been treating them with adulation for "going into the ministry."  One man knocked on the manager's, our, door. Tamayo was standing beside me as I opened the door and he proudly announced, "I'm a divinity student." I was sorely tempted to make a snide comment. I remember looking at Tamayo, who was stifling herself as much as I was. But we both restrained ourselves. After assigning him and his family an apartment and returning to ours, we almost had a break-down from constraining ourselves.

I'm not going to make a day-by-day recitation of my years in seminary, just hit a few high points and some of the outstanding people with whom I came in contact.

First and foremost was the seminary president, Ted Gill. Ted was a visionary. He was able to "entrap" some of the brightest and best scholars to come to San Francisco Theological Seminary. His pinnacle, in my opinion was getting both David Noel Freedman and James Muilenburg. These were two of the worlds greatest scholars of the Old Testament (As we still called it then–now, more properly, "Hebrew Bible" or simply "Tanakh") They often disagreed (Not on simple wording or translation issues but quite important interpretations.) on the implications of scripture passages.  He brought both Neill Hamilton and Herman Waetjen who like Freedman and Muilenburg were visiting the scripture from different perspectives.

Ted Gill was a man who saw the Christian life as one that engages God and the world. For Ted, it wasn't about sin and salvation of each one's soul, but about the salvation of the world. He would have been very much at home in the current debates about global climate change. He would have been pleading for us to work toward our salvation, not destruction. Ted took that perspective to the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. He marched beside Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma and inspired a busload of seminary students to join that march and to work afterward in voter registration efforts that were opposed by much of the white southern population and law enforcement.

Ted also brought great music to the seminary, inviting outstanding artists to visit and perform, first in the chapel and then at First Church, San Anselmo, at their amazing new organ.  SFTS was originally founded in San Francisco, but around the turn of the century (19th-20th), in their wisdom the church fathers decided that tender young seminarians should be sheltered from the sin of the city and moved it to San Anselmo. Ted saw things differently. He saw that to be true to our "calling" we needed to engage in the real lives of people who lived in the city. So many of our classes had practical experience as part of them, and we would commute to the city to see where God was caring for people.

A few incidences:

Several of my most memorable experiences included Dr. Muilenburg. In my Hebrew class, he substituted for the regular teacher one day. He had us writing the hebrew letters on the blackboard. I suddenly felt his hand on my shoulder when he said, "David, you are Jewish as well as Christian. Don't ever forget your Judaism. You can't understand Christ or Christianity without understanding and appreciating Judaism because Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew." Nor have I ever forgotten that.  Another time, Dr. Muilenburg, with a humorous gleam in his eye, announced to the class discussing languages, "Hebrew is God's language. God speaks Hebrew." At this late date in my life, I disagree, but I understand his sentiment. I think that the ensuing years have proven that "God speaks mathematics."

Another Muilenburg story is the night that he invited us, the students in his seminar class, to his home for dinner. James Muilenburg was one of the translators of the RSV bible; he had already retired twice from other seminaries; he had been on archeological expeditions many times. After dinner, he took us into his study and showed us many artifacts that he had collected in various "digs". He suddenly grabbed a small bust off the shelf, extended his arm and asked if anyone wanted this "junk". I reached out and took it from him, "I do." I think he was as surprised by this as I was, but he was gracious enough to not ask for it back–and I had the chutzpah not to offer it. He explained that it really was tourist "junk". There were thousands of similar pieces. However, the tourists to whom they were sold were visiting the tomb, 2000 years ago. So, junk yes, but 2000 year old tourist junk. I have kept that piece for all these years.

Muilenburg was, from the vantage point of a seminary student, an old man. Old people gave up on romance and sex at some point around 40 or 50. So it was amazing to watch him relate to his wife in a frankly romantic way with an only slightly hidden sexuality. (Remember that this was the early 1960s.)

You will notice that there are few comments about women in this tale. There simply were few women at the seminary and no professors–that I remember–quite a contrast with today when more than half of the students and many professors are women. At this time in the early 1960s, Tamayo's job was to support me emotionally and, at the beginning, financially.

There was only one woman student in my class. Andrea had been a Lutheran, but the Lutherans were not ready to ordain women, so she became a Presbyterian because we would. Andrea was an amazing student. Extremely smart and capable, she "stole" all the scholarship prizes as well as the preaching prize. She was also physically attractive and in her personality, she shined. After graduation, she became the chaplain at a university in Maryland. Eventually the Lutherans discovered what they were missing and changed their minds about women's ordination. Then Andrea reverted to her Lutheran roots, eventually working on the staff of the Lutheran bishop of Maryland and Deleware. Andrea developed breast cancer in her 50s and was the last of the five women friends I've lost to breast cancer.

When I arrived on campus in 1964, there was a project underway to build a modern photo darkroom and broadcast studio in the basement of Montgomery Hall. There was already a print shop churning out all the print materials for the seminary needs. I have been a photographer most of my life and was immediately employed to work on this project. Lou Yates was a professional photographer and also worked on call for CBS Wide World of Sports as a sound engineer. Even before I arrived, Lou had Art Ramos who was graduating from the seminary that year, doing a lot of work, particularly cabinetry and framing walls. My Air Force training came into play as I knew about electrical work and could do the minor mounting of outlets, etc.

This all fit together nicely for me. I learned a great deal of photography from Lou, picked up a few opportunities to photograph weddings, and even acquired some new darkroom skills. At the same time, I was able to use my electronics and broadcasting background to install cameras, lights and sound gear. Of course Lou was the professional who planned it all, but he was a good teacher.

Fortunately, much of this took place before I began my mandatory study of Hebrew. That was a constant several hours-a-day grind. I had gone to Hebrew school as a child, but that was only designed to let me do a passable job of reading the Torah at my bar mitzvah. And it ended there.

The broadcast studio part was to support remote broadcasts for the seminary radio station. Instructors could come down and record programs to be aired on KXKX-FM at a later date. The station was owned by the seminary and the normal listening public got the main channel of classical music, special interviews and feeds from other news sources. The FM station can carry additional channels that are hidden from the public. These are usually used for services like Muzak. But on KXKX they carried recordings of Presbytery functions, lectures by professors from the seminary (And later from the other seminaries in the Graduate Theological Union)

This is probably the best point at which to say some things about my lover and wife, Tamayo.  From the moment we landed in San Francisco, she began working to support us financially. But she was also a great support for me personally, encouraging my studies and my interests in photography. No one could have been a better partner for this and future endeavors. She was amazing. Of course it was a partnership. She was our primary source of income, but also supported my studies with all her heart. I did the cooking and much of the housework so she could also squeeze in classes at the community college.

Over our seminary years, Tamayo worked first in an office in San Francisco, but eventually took a job at a local factory. It's hard to believe that we had a factory here in Marin County, but this is where Fairchild Semiconductors made diode arrays. These were an early semiconductor and the internal connections were not etched in a silicon chip, individual wires from each diode had to be precisely welded to one another before the whole thing could be encased in a potting compound. Eventually some of Tamayo's diode assemblies flew in space as part of the NASA Gemini flights.and before her time at the factory, they had also been in the Mercury flights.

She later took a job in the seminary library, often being the last night shift person. When I began being really paid for my efforts at KXKX-FM and then at the seminary, Tamayo was able to work less and study more at the college.

As I pursued my master's program, I had to study Hebrew and Greek to read the bible in original languages. (It is true that Jesus and his contemporaries mostly spoke Aramaic, but all the documents that came our after Jesus' death were written in Greek.) Other classes in theology, various biblical skills, ethics, education, counseling were an early part of the curriculum.

I'm not sure what drew me to the counseling, but I made it my "Major" in seminary. There were no official majors, but I took all the counseling classes I could–while still completing the required courses. It was a full schedule.

Most of the classes were "classes" and I won't bore the reader, but in my second year, I spent a quarter interning with the chaplaincy at San Quentin prison. I then continued that part-time internship with a shift in direction to counseling. My counseling supervisor was a part of a group that met in San Francisco with Eric Berne. Berne had developed something called Transactional Analysis, later popularized as "I'm OK, You're OK". As the guest of my supervisor I got to attend a few of the meetings and began to learn more about this TA.

The counseling training at the seminary was taught from more traditional perspectives, Neo-Freudian, Jungian and, at the extreme, the work of Viktor Frankl in logotherapy. Transactional Analysis was a fresh idea. It was psychodynamic, but also behavioral. That means, it took the perspective of both of the most promising lineages of psychotherapy or counseling.

Just a couple more stories to connect some dots. After a year of working with Lou Yates, I was recruited to work at the radio station. Since I had commercial radio licenses, and some broadcast training and both technical and on-air experience, it was thought that I could bridge the needs in both on-air presence and technical capabilities. This was an exciting time. The studios were in an old building in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.

I worked a 4pm to midnight shift 4-5 days a week and all day on most holidays. This meant that I came into almost daily contact with whatever was happening in the "hippie kingdom" that was the Haight-Ashbury in those days. One late afternoon, as I stepped up onto the porch to enter the building, one young, bearded and scruffy looking fellow, handed me a half-eaten sandwich said, "You look hungry. You need this more than me." I managed to thank him, take the sandwich and enter the building before I had to take a bite.

That year we did interviews with Cesar Chavez and others from the grape boycott and the march from Delano to Sacramento. I got to interview  Kwame Ture, also known as Stokely Carmichael. Of course, all this while still studying to complete my work at the seminary.

Eventually, I did graduate, passed my trials of ordination and was invited to apply to be a Fraternal Worker. I'll have more to say about that in my next section, but for now, the United Presbyterian Church had decided to no longer have "missionaries." They would still send out people to various locations, but those folk were to be learning as much from the churches and peoples to whom they were sent as they were to be teaching. In other words, this was to be a more mutual relationship, acknowledging that other cultures, nations and peoples had things to teach us.

When I accepted this position as a Fraternal Worker, it was the last step prior to ordination as a minister in the Presbyterian denomination. My ordination was scheduled in Redwoods Presbyterian Church in the town of Larkspur. There were many there who had supported me and my endeavors over all the years. A key person in my life, whom you might remember from my Air Force years was the Rev. Donald Sears. Don had begun my transformation from a conservative convert from south Texas by asking the questions that can't be answered. Helping me recognize that whatever concept I had of God, was insufficient was a key to recognizing finally that all "god language" is metaphor.

Don flew in from Kansas to give the sermon and the charge. I can't say enough about Don. He has been, throughout my years, a key to my spirituality and my sense of purpose. Of course there have been many others, but Don has held that central place.

Following ordination, the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations–a mouthful we always abbreviated to COEMAR (Komar)–had us plan for a six month stay at the Missionary Orientation Center in Stony Point, New York.

We packed crates with most of our belongings, even took the back seat out of our 1966 VW bug and packed that to give us more room. With a top rack on the bug, we made a leisurely trip across the country, visiting friends along the way, camping in campgrounds in between friends, and eventually found ourselves at MOC to begin the next chapter in the saga.

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