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

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Prayers for John and Elizabeth Edwards…

When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Psalm 32:3-5

While the media indulged in a feeding frenzy over the news of former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards’ admission Friday to an extramarital affair, my heart was most grieved to see and hear some Christians once again taking the low road by moralizing over Edwards’ infidelity without focusing on his restoration. Of course, there will always be those that are willing and able, in true Pharisaical form, to “cast the first stone.” This is the way of the world. However, this mindset is in stark contrast to the biblical moral prescribed in Galatians 6:1 which instructs,

“…if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

The fact is, reconciliation is at the heart of Christ’s ministry and He demands that those who follow after him will seek the reconciliation of mankind to God. This includes John Edwards. Unfortunately, too many Christian in these cases, especially those who are politically biased, are more poised to be the adversaries than advocates. (see my post, “Are You Doing the Devil’s Business?“)

There are those who will argue that John Edwards is a scoundrel, a liar, and a wretched sinner and deserves the scorn and punishment he is getting from the press. When considering that his wife Elizabeth was battling breast cancer at the time of this infidelity, Edwards definitely appears to be a totally selfish and reprobate piece of flesh deserving to be ostracized and totally discredited in the public. His actions were absolutely despicable. But considering the confession of his sin and his appeal for forgiveness from his wife, family, and his Lord (see the ABC interviews – Part 1, Part 2), it becomes imperative for anyone wearing the label, “Christian” to pray for John Edwards and his family to be completely restored to each other and for Edwards to come to a deeper relationship with the God who he calls, “my Lord.” No Christian should forget that God sent his son to the earth for sinners. John Edwards is just one more among billions of us.

Just remember what Jesus said,

if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matthew 6:14-15

Considering this caveat, everyone calling themselves a “Christian” should be eager to forgive others of their sins, lest God see their unforgiving, judgmental spirit, and refuses to forgive the “Christian” of their sins. In addition, if we desire for others to pray for us in our times of weakness, we should seek mercy for others and pray for them in their times of shortcoming. Anythings less is indicative of one who knows nothing of being “poor in spirit.”

I am not John Edwards’ judge, but I know what being a sinner is. Knowing that fact, and by faith in the work of Jesus Christ, I know that God has forgiven me and bids me to “go and sin no more.” I think the same applies to everyone including John Edwards. My prayers are with him, his family, his supporters, and the woman he had the affair with. May they all come to the peace that “passes all understanding.”

Related Articles:

The Benefits of Getting Caught – Jeff Garrett

Forgive and You will be Forgiven – Lyle Welty

Practical Paul: Restoration – Brent Riggs

Elizabeth Edwards Statement on the Affair

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Falling into Grace

Shame The idiom, “fall from grace” is typically used to express the idea of a loss of status, respect, or prestige for a failure of moral character. Just in the past week, we’ve borne witness to the moral failure of Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York because of his involvement with a prostitute. People have and do fail, some failures being more public and shameful than others. In recent years very public ministers, such as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard have had their sins broadcast around the globe, not only bringing shame on themselves, but shame to the Church. High-profile politicians such as Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Randy Cunningham, and Bill Clinton have had very public failures splashed over every newspaper in the land. Exposing and scrutinizing the sins of the rich, famous and powerful seems to garner as much interest as other national past-times such as baseball and American Idol. It’s a bloodsport.

This morning, Easter morning, the guest speaker at our church was John G. Rowland, former governor of the state John G. Rowland Connecticut, the state in which I live. On July 1, 2004 Rowland resigned as governor after facing charges of tax evasion, corruption, and bribery. More than likely, Rowland would have been impeached if he had chosen to fight the charges. In the end, he would spend ten months in federal prison for “honest services mail fraud” and tax fraud.

For most of those in the crowd attending the service today, they only knew John Rowland because of his history in state government and his legal troubles. For me it was personal. Seeing him at church today brought back waves of past memories relative to the eminent domain case that consumed almost seven years of my life. John Rowland was a central figure in our contention that government should not seize personal property to give to another person, institution, or business, but for strictly defined public uses such as for roads, schools, and the like. (see the tab above, “NABOTH’S VINEYARD” for information on the case)

On February 3, 1998, the day Amy and I had our offer to buy our home accepted, Governor John Rowland, George Milne of Pfizer Corporation, and City of New London officials were on-board a ferry in the Thames River announcing that Pfizer was going to build it’s Global Research facility in New London, a few blocks from our house. This was great news. New London needed an economic asset of this magnitude to jump-start the city’s sagging fortunes and move it toward a better quality of life. Amy and I were thrilled. For the next nine months the New London Development Corporation, the city’s quasi-public/private agency, began a course of informational meetings about the development of the area adjacent to the new Pfizer development. For most residents, including myself, the idea of redeveloping the Fort Trumbull peninsula was welcomed news. However, before too long, we began to detect some stories of underhanded attempts by the NLDC to get theresidents of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to sell their homes to the NLDC. For many residents, the neighborhood had been their home for most of their lives, and many of the residents, being quite advanced in years, just didn’t want to sell. That’s when the pressure began.

By the end of the year, 1998, Amy and I wrote up a petition that stated our support of the residents to stay in their homes and that the proposed development should incorporate the neighborhood. The petition was part of the administrative requirement for an environmental impact study. After a short time had passed, we began to hear more and more distressing stories of harassment and intimidation. Part of that intimidation was a threat of eminent domain. Legally, according to the Connecticut General Statutes, using the threat of eminent domain is illegal until a government plan had been certified. That wouldn’t happen until February 2000.

During 1999 we continued to hear stories of how the NLDC was strong-arming the residents in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood by employing some fairly deceitful practices. In more than one case we found where the home evaluations the NLDC was giving the residents showed a considerable drop in value. All the while, the city continued to tax them at a much higher rate. Clearly unjust weights. What was really sad was to see elderly residents being treated so poorly. They were being given low offers for their homes which carried no mortgages. These folks had worked all their lives to raise families and buy their homes, which they now owned, free and clear. Sadly, the offers they were given by NLDC wouldn’t buy a garage, much less a home. In addition most of these people were retired having small retirement pensions. They couldn’t afford or even qualify for a new mortgage that would give them the same house as they now owned. In spite of our rantings to the city, state, and NLDC about the injustice of what had been and continued to be done, it fell on deaf ears. Instead, the residents were being told they needed to sacrifice for the common good. It was ironic that Claire Guadiani, president of both the NLDC and Connecticut College was saying that the remaining residents needed to sacrifice for the common good, yet at the same time, we discovered that the original plan that had been developed included an educational campus led by Claire’s husband David Burnett, a Pfizer executive. No conflict there.

At the end of 1999, members of the Coalition to Save Fort Trumbull Neighborhood, an organization formed to save the neighborhood were fairly certain the path the state was taking in the project was one that would force the remaining residents out of Fort Trumbull. Their gentrified neighborhood just didn’t fit with the world class Pfizer development. On January 18, 2000 the New London City Council voted 6-1 to approve the municipal development plan submitted by the state, through their agent, the NLDC. In that act, the council gave its power to use eminent domain to force out unwilling residents from their homes. The plan was hatched and approved at the highest level of state government in the person of John G. Rowland.

For most of the next year my wife and I obtained thousands of pages of emails, letters, and other documents through the Freedom Of Information Act. After a while, we could have written them in our sleep. At any rate, as we continued to dig up violations of statutes and other laws, we sought legal help. We retained the service of a local attorney, (our personal attorney) Scott Sawyer. By May 2000 we formed an organization, the Fort Trumbull Conservancy in order to launch legal actions against the city, state, and NLDC. In July 2000 we filed our first lawsuit. While we proceed to fight on state-level statutory levels, we also lobbied the support of the Institute for Justice– IJ, a Washington-based public interest law firm. They took up our cause in December 2000.

For the next four plus years, we continued to fight to preserve the property rights of the residents and hope for a modification of the plan in order to get the development going in uncontested areas of the project site. The results were disheartening on all sides. Through that period we went to superior court, the state supreme court, and finally, on February 22, 2005, the case was heard in the highest court in the land, the US Supreme Court.

From early on in the struggle, Amy and I participated in weekly prayer walks in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. It was led by myself and John Endler, pastor of First Baptist Church in New London. We had asked people and churched to join us in an effort to pray for reconciliation and peace in the city. A number of people were faithful to the call for over five years running. Sadly, only two churches participated. During those days I noticed there were three kinds of prayers being offered. The first was a general prayer for the residents and the resolution of the immediate problems. The second was a prayer that was more sharp-edged, with a call for justice against those who had violated the residents in the neighborhood. The last kind of prayer was one of reconciliation to our enemies in this particular fight and one that sought truth and mercy. I was one that prayed for reconciliation. That included prayers for John Rowland, Claire Guadiani, and our city officials.

I found that the more I prayed for my “enemies”, the more I felt God releasing love for them in my heart. Even though I would still continue to confront them over what I saw a injustice, I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to hate them. I had to pray for them, I had to love them. )

In 2004, I was not at all surprised to hear about Rowland being charged with tax evasion and other charges. For me and my wife, we KNEW since 2000, it was going to happen. We knew he would be kicked out of office. (Read NABOTH’S VINEYARD. In it I said in February 2000 that John Rowland would not make it through his term as governor.) After hearing the news, my heart was heavy and I began to pray for him and his family. I felt very strongly that God had His hand on John Rowland and was doing something special in his life. That special thing was fine-tuned after Rowland was sent to federal prison for ten months. I thought of him and prayed for him often, believing that God had him right where he wanted him.

When I heard that John Rowland was released from prison and that God had indeed done something in his life, I remembered the verse of scripture my mother would always encourage me by, Romans 8:28. Ironically, it was this same verse that got John Rowland through some really rough patches while in prison. That verse says, “We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are chosen to be a part of His plan.”

It is so wonderful to see that God has used what man would consider a nail in the coffin of a life to resurrect a new man, that like David, after he was caught in the sin with Bathsheba, was empowered to preach God’s word. (Psalm 51) Wow!

Today, I heard my enemy speaking of God’s glory and the power of Christ’s resurrection. What a joy to see him redeemed. Actually he fell into grace instead of falling from it. He may have lost status, respect, and prestige in the world’s eyes, but in God’s eyes, John Rowland has status, respect, and prestige as a child of God. Grace is unmerited favor, that which is bestowed, not earned. The Scripture says that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. (Romans 5:20) Indeed, John Rowland has fallen into God’s grace. I know, because I’m there with him.

Peace,

Steve