My Father, my Friend

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My dad, Robert Hallquist. This picture, taken in the early 60's was taken at his workplace, Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, Baltimore, MD when I was just a kid. He turned in his shipyard duds for a pastor's suit and has been in the ministry for nearly 60 years. Good move.

Today is Father’s Day, the day we think about and honor our fathers. I think about my father often, not requiring any holiday to remind me of what he means to me.  And, he means a great deal. Although I enjoy my relationship with him, our journey hasn’t always been the smoothest. We’ve had a few bumps. I think most people could say the same. Nevertheless, I rather think about the joys we’ve had on our journey together. The ruts, bumps, and detours in the road have merely made us stronger.

As a young boy growing up in Glen Burnie, Maryland, a town just south of Baltimore, I knew my father as a hard-working and passionate man. I also feared him. With that, he presented for me the first recognizable paradox in my life. How could I, on the one hand feel free and comfortable with him, while on the other hand, feel the great sense of fear toward him? Like most children, they would want to feel completely safe and care-free with their parents at all times. I didn’t have that. It wasn’t that my dad was abusive; he just didn’t spare the rod as much as I wish he had. I thought he was too tough on me.

My first recollection of my father’s vocation was that he was a steelworker. I was kind of proud of that and in awe of what he did and where he worked. He was employed by Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. At the time, Bethlehem Steel was the largest producer of steel in the world. (see http://wapedia.mobi/en/Sparrows_Point_Shipyard) I remember that he took me to the plant one time (maybe more) and I was in awe of its size and extent. It seemed that somehow, my father’s stature was linked in some measure to the size of the place he worked, and it was huge.

One of the benefits of living near Baltimore was that my dad would take me to see the Baltimore Orioles play at Memorial Stadium. What a thrill. All my heroes were there. Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Jerry Adair, Stu Miller and a host of others. There was, and is nothing better than going to a big league ballgame with your dad. I was very fortunate to be with him on such occasions and still relish those experiences to this day. But baseball games were not the only things I got to do with my dad. We went fishing, visited museums, went on cool vacations, and a host of other things that made my childhood blessed. My father did a lot for us beyond providing a roof and all the essentials.

Like a lot of boys, I thought my old man was pretty smart. He seemed to be able to give an answer for everything and I didn’t think there was anything that was beyond his knowledge. He also seemed to be up on what was going on in the world and I was always under the impression back then that he was some kind of financial wizard. He would, from time to time, mention how some stock price was doing on the New York Stock Exchange. But he really confused me with all that finance talk, especially when he would mention the price of certain shares. I was only confused because I thought he was saying, “chairs”. You can imagine the confusion. I couldn’t understand how millions of chairs were being traded someplace in New York almost every day of the week. Why would people be trading chairs? Fortunately, that issue cleared up before I asked anyone how this could be.

Other than working at the steel plant, my dad had started a church in Glen Burnie and it became a large part of our lives.Church is still a critical link in our relationship. It is something I cherish deeply. As you can imagine, having a father who is a minister is a unique situation. I was keenly aware that my behavior was to be held at a higher standard than most of my friends and other kids. I’m not so sure I did so well. God is my judge.

As the years went by and I began to hold to and voice my opinions about the world I was living in. It was apparent that my dad and I were not so much in agreement about a lot of things. Nothing exemplified this difference more than the Vietnam War, politics, and the 60’s and 70’s culture. We definitely had a generation gap between us. It was during that time that our differences became more distinct and what we had in common was under pressure. My dad was beginning to appear more adversarial (as I was) and in my view, hypocritical. He was a minster of the Gospel, but I felt he had become a minister to others and left me out. Why wouldn’t he give me the same respect he would give to a total stranger? It was during my high school days that I just wanted to get out and prove him wrong. I could do better.

Fast Forward….By 1983, I had been to college, married and had two children, had a few jobs including a pastorate of my own, and was now in the US Navy, attached to a nuclear submarine. It was during that time that my relationship with my dad was really in the pits. We could find almost anything to argue about and frequently did. People did not enjoy being around us when we were together. Now mind you, I still loved my dad, but I could barely stand to be around him. Then one day while I listened to a guy talk about bitterness, it hit me. Although I was an eternal optimist, I was becoming bitter about my dad and I felt that something had to be done about. I’ve met a bunch of bitter people in my life and they’re not fun to be with. I’d rather eat lint than to be with a bitter, cynical, and sarcastic person. They can cause a total eclipse on a sunny day. I knew one thing. I was moving in that direction and something had to be done. Now, the dilemma.   Who was going to make this thing right? Surely, my old man should apologize for all his wrongs and stupidity and then things would be better. Somehow, even though it seemed like the thing I wished would happen, I knew the odds weren’t good. But that really isn’t the point here. I needed to take some responsibility for this relationship. I needed to do something. I knew it would take a paradigm shift in my thinking to move beyond anger and bitterness. I needed to have some self-respect and do the right thing. It didn’t take long before I did something.

On a weekend just after I had been assigned to the USS Shark (SSN-591), I and my family took a trip to New Milford, CT to visit my folks for the weekend. When we got there, the folks weren’t anywhere to be found. They were out shopping. So during that time, until they arrived home, I stacked a cord of wood and cleaned up around my parent’s garage which was an ongoing project. When my folks got home, the tension began building. You could cut the tension with a knife. First my mother came into the house and like all grandmother’s quickly embraced my kids and gave me a quick kiss. Then, in what seemed an eternity, my father walked in. He looked at me, paused, and then asked, “did you stack that cord of wood?” “Yes,” I replied. The tension thickened and I noticed that everyone in the room got quiet and almost froze. Then my dad asked about the garage too. I figured that he was going to let me know that I did something wrong. Then after these questions he made a comment that I could have jumped all over in rebuke. His words, “It’s about time” where the kind of words that I could have thrown right back at him, with relish. Nevertheless, I wanted a change in our relationship and I knew that this was the moment of truth. The truth is that we are all responsible for our own actions and character. We have choices in the matter. There will always be those who point to circumstance as a reason t deflect responsibility in these situations, but I have found that  those who live under the circumstance will always be living “under” something and never finding any peace or success in life.

So, what happened ? How did I respond? Well, I did what Solomon said. Agree quickly with your adversary. I looked my dad square in the eye and said without hesitation, “You’re right!”  The silence was deafening. It seemed as if I could have read “War and Peace” in the time he took to respond. At first, I expected he would continue to provide commentary on my response, but he did something totally unexpected.  He changed the subject.  When he did respond, he asked me if I would look at some plans he had been working on (I can’t remember what they were. I was in such shock).  After that moment, things changed for my dad and me.  We started to respect each other and have become very good friends, not merely a father and son.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about my dad. He’s bared his soul and told me things I wish I had known 35 years ago. I realized that my dad, like me, has been disappointed, scared, and scarred. He’s human, not Superman. That has made him stronger and bigger in my eyes than any pretense of invincibility or bravado could ever do. The knowledge of his weakness, disappointments and fears has put him and me on the same level. I see that, like me, he’s been working out his life like we all do. As fallen humanity. That’s important for all of us to remember. We all deserve a little grace and mercy and we should try to give some, too. In fact, you’ll find that in this regard, it is better to give than receive. See: http://www.joycemeyer.org/OurMinistries/EverydayAnswers/Articles/art48.htm

Today is Father’s Day and I thank God that He’s given me the dad I’ve had. No regrets. Even the bumps in our road have taught me the value of having a good suspension system. The road doesn’t much change, but your ability to absorb the imperfections in the path helps you last longer and arrive at your destination intact. These days, when I look in the mirror every morning, I see more of my dad in me. Thank God. Being able to see him, gives me hope and a peace for the day.

Thanks Dad for everything!

Bob and NBA Trophy

Dad, holding the NBA Championship trophy won by the Boston Celtics in 2008. Taken in Martha's Vineyard.

What Makes A Dad

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle’s flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it … Dad

Are you doing the Devil’s business?

When I was in the US Navy Submarine Force it was common in our parlance to boast that, “there is only two kinds of ships… submarines and targets!” For us bubbleheads, there was and is, no arguing the point. But of course, there were always some skimmer pukes (that’s what our surface navy brethren are affectionately called) who would provided a dissenting view. I wish I was able to keep some of the pictures of the ships I saw through our periscope. They looked great in the cross hairs!

Like most observable subjects, there are more than one facet to behold and many of our cultural, scientific, political, religious, and historical expressions and artistic styles resonate with the obvious contrast between these differences. We often attempt, and some times succeed (in some non-scientific degree) to pidgeon-hole most things observed. It seems from my unscientific survey that we default to a standard that insists that there are, much like my submarine tenet, there are only two kinds of …whatever the subject des jour. I know there are many who see more than just two choices or facets to be observed and considered, but for my “theme des jour” I’m going to reiterate a little proverb I’ve been broadcasting for a number of decades now, and I always thought it worked in every condition or culture. It simply goes like this:

The work of Jesus was to be our advocate. The work of Satan is to be our accuser. Which one do you model?

This adage has its basis in three scriptural passages.

1. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for ] the sins of the whole world. (I John 1:1-2)

2. War broke out in Heaven. Michael and his Angels fought the Dragon. The Dragon and his Angels fought back, but were no match for Michael. They were cleared out of Heaven, not a sign of them left. The great Dragon—ancient Serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, the one who led the whole earth astray—thrown out, and all his Angels thrown out with him, thrown down to earth. Then I heard a strong voice out of Heaven saying, “Salvation and power are established! Kingdom of our God, authority of his Messiah! The Accuser of our brothers and sisters thrown out, who accused them day and night before God. (Rev. 12:7-12)

3. So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 7:12)

In sum these verses provide a foundation for developing a good self-image, ethics, and character. It also provides the basis for conflict resolution, reconciliation, and redemption. It’s simple. Try it out.

Related Articles:

Do you have a critical spirit?

Recognizing the Acccuser

Jesus Interceding for Transgressors – C. H. Spurgeon

The Buck Stops Here

last judgment

The Last Judgment – Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

On February 13th, 2000 about 120 souls marched to the beat of a dirge played by a sole bagpiper as a mock funeral procession was conducted to observe the “death” of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London, Connecticut. It had been about a month since the New London City Council voted to demolish the neighborhood to enhance the planned development of Pfizer Corporation’s Global Research facility. The residents had recently learned that they would have to take the offers the state was offering or face eminent domain proceedings.

As we march down Smith Street, passing by the Pasqualini home, I saw 95 year-old Walter Pasqualini, gazing out from his bedroom window with a grimaced look on his face. Later we would discover that Walter was crying as he realized that the threats he had heard about losing his home was indeed true. His family was worried that this reality would be devastating to his health and risky for his wife, Cesarina, who was legally blind. Walter would die within the next three months, his family insisting that the city of New London and the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) was responsible for his death. I remember standing at the grave site with Walter’s daughter, Shirley Goss, as she kept on repeating the words, “they killed him.”

The following Monday night the city council chambers were filled with irate protesters who felt the city council members should get an earful for their treatment of the residents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. When my name was called to speak before the council, I asked a simple, but serious question. “Why are the family members of Walter Pasqualini saying the city is responsible for Walter’s death?” That question was rooted in the crucial question of what responsibility does one assume when your actions result in harm to another person. Apparently I hit a nerve because one counselor got up from his chair and left the chamber, refusing to hear the rest of my comments. At the end of my address I reminded the counselors and some members of the NLDC that were present, that like the medical profession, the first rule of politics is to do no harm. Surprisingly, they didn’t ever admit to having the least bit of responsibility for the Walter’s ill health or his death.

For the next five years there would be more sad stories about the ill-treatment received by the remaining residents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. Those stories are a matter of public record. During that period, at least three other residents would die, mostly from stress-related factors. Other would develop critical health conditions due to the anxiety and stress placed on them by the harassment and ill-treatment they received at the hands of NLDC and the city. From the commencement of the implementation of the development, many of us who supported the residents had appealed to the state to insure the safety and well-being of the residents, and to be reasonable and just in their offerings for the resident’s properties. Out of perhaps, two dozen written appeals, only two responses were ever returned. The Rowland Administration seemed to turn a blind eye to the injustice and malicious behavior its agent, the NLDC was perpetrating on the residents in the neighborhood. They were satisfied that everything was being done “legally.” No matter how much they hid behind the “legal” excuse, they couldn’t possibly defend their immoral neglect of protecting some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens.

Sadly, to this day there are but a few of those officials who have admitted that what happened in Fort Trumbull was wrong. Perhaps the others actually believe they didn’t do anything wrong. I would call them morally depraved. In the end, when you apply the standard of the Golden Rule to how the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan was implemented, it would suggest that there are a number of city, state, and NLDC officials that will reap fear and harsh treatment. I still hope that for those who claim to be Christians, they will realize the harm they did to simple citizens, who are guilty only of wanting to live the American Dream on their own terms, and without the threat of a tyrannical government stealing that dream for the benefit of their grand schemes.

Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here.” In Fort Trumbull, no one wants to admit to the damage done to real people. No one wants to take responsibility. They keep on passing the buck. For some it is ancient history, never to be revisited. The problem is that God judges how we treat others and there is no statute of limitation. We reap what we sow. I only hope that those involved in bringing harm and disgrace to the former residents of Fort Trumbull will have the moral courage to just say they’re sorry. It would go a long way to healing this city.

Would Jesus waterboard?

SurferOn Saturday, March 8, 2008 President Bush announced that he vetoed a bill that would end the use of waterboarding. At first glance the term waterboarding seems to be synonymous with surfing or some other kind of wave-riding sport. Maybe one would think it’s something akin to boogie boarding or paddleboarding. It sure sounds recreational. However, for anyone not living in a cave or hasn’t been paralyzed by their video games for the past couple of years or so, they probably know the term waterboarding is hardly related to any accepted recreational sport. Of course, if you see torturing other humans as an accepted recreational pastime, you may disagree.
According to my favorite quick-reference encyclopedia Wikipedia, waterboarding is “a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on their back with the head inclined downward (the Trendelenburg position), and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning and is made to believe that death is imminent. In contrast to merely submerging the head face-forward, waterboarding almost immediately elicits the gag reflex. Although waterboarding does not always cause lasting physical damage, it carries the risks of extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, injuries (including broken bones) due to struggling against restraints, and even death. The psychological effects on victims of waterboarding can last for years after the procedure.”
Waterboarding
Waterboarding was used for interrogation at least as early as the Spanish Inquisition to obtain information, coerce confessions, punish, and intimidate. It is considered to be torture by a wide range of authorities, including legal experts, politicians, war veterans, intelligence officials, military judges, and human rights organizations. In 2007 waterboarding led to a political scandal in the United States when the press reported that the CIA had waterboarded extrajudicial prisoners and that the Justice Departmenthad authorized this procedure. The CIA has admitted waterboarding Al-Qaida suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
The central issue here is whether the use of waterboarding or any other form of torture is a legitimate program for extracting critical information. There are many people, including Christians who believe this form of torture is warranted given the value of the information extracted from high-valued suspects. It has been said that the intelligence obtained from these suspects through waterboarding was critical to preventing other specific acts of terrorism against the United States and some of its allies. Many of these acts if carried out, would have resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives, billions of dollars of economic damage, and a depreciation of our “way of life.” Given the level of possible destruction to people and property, some could assume that any form of torture is legitimate if it is to insure the national security and well-being of the nation. After all, the purpose or government is for the defense of the nation (against foes, foreign and domestic) and to insure domestic tranquility. Shouldn’t the government use whatever means it has at its disposal to insure national “peace and safety?”
Even though there are plenty of people who support the use of torture for preventing acts of violence and terrorism, there are also a number of dissenting opinions. According to a CNN poll, “a majority of Americans consider waterboarding a form of torture, but some of those say it’s OK for the U.S. government to use the technique, according to a poll released Tuesday.Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.”Although I think I have a good understanding of the complexities of the questions being raised regarding torture in general, and waterboarding specifically, I want to explore what side professing should Christians areon. Should Christian give assent to torture or not? I believe theScripture give us some fundamental direction in dealing with these kinds of questions. I think the first thing we must remember is that, man’s ways and thoughts are not the same as God’s and that the characteristics of God’s Kingdom hardly mirrors the same attitudes as those that are typical to our own natural, worldly understanding. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) presents such a comparison and contrast between His kingdom and the world. The sermon presents the essence of true Christian character seeking to represent Him in the world. Throughout the sermon, Jesus presents His hearers with the evidences of Christian character and piety. He does this by exposing the thinking of a unregenerated, worldly mindset. This is most profoundly detailed in his treatment of enemies, where in Matthew 5:43-48 we read, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”Is itevident that Jesus is compelling those who follow him to be as God is. That is to be perfect as God is perfect. Even though many would argue that that ideal is impossible, I think that one can see it is a real matter of intent that is at the core here. We are to be imitators of God, as children of God. Therefore we should resolve to demonstrate love for our enemies and to seek to do to others that which we would like for them to do to us.How about torture?
Is there any place in scripture that suggests God approves of the activity of inflicting severe physical or mental pain on an individual for the purpose of extracting information relative to a crime planned or committed? Doesn’t a loving God want to prevent the bloodshed of innocent lives and desires the destruction of evil men? I would agree that God hates to see injury come to anyone, especially the innocent, but it is abundantly clear throughout scripture that God loves his enemies and continues to give mercy until that mercy is ultimately rejected. The issue of the use of waterboarding, or for that matter, any kind of torture is not of the Kingdom of God and is clearly rooted in the belief that the ends justify the means. For Christians the question is whether there is a place in our lives where we can give legitimacy to acts that bring physical, mental, and emotional harm to one human being so as to “guarantee” the physical, mental, andemotional wellbeing of a larger community. Ultimately, as members of the Kingdom of God, can you see Jesus using waterboarding or torture to save other innocent lives. What would Jesus do, and should we imitate Him?
This week I’ve read a few blogs considering the question regarding torture and the relationship of the Church in society. Please take a look at these submissions by Mark Liederbach, Greg Boyd, and David Kuo. It may be a bit to read, but I think it’s pretty insightful, responsible, and serious. Let me know what you think. _ Steve