Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
July 2023 - Volume 23, No. 7
To “Integrate the Contraries”
Mark Twain 1835-1910, a great favorite of my father, once said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
And in the words of a great favorite of my own, Carl Jung 1875-1961, “Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being. but by an integration of the contraries.”
Once, a number of years ago, when I was back visiting my old Iowa home town, and reminiscing with a young woman who had been a neighbor, we were discussing my parents. She said, ‘Your folks were always thinking at least a generation younger than they actually were. That’s why it was such a treat to talk to them. And I recall other occasions when someone would tell me how easy conversation had been with one or both of my parents. Almost always one-to-one.
And I personally recall how easy it was to talk to my Dad. Again and again I recall how easy it seemed for him to set aside whatever he was doing to talk with me. I don’t recall at this time the subjects of our conversations, just his seemingly easy ability to reach back and forth from his world to my own.
I think of the late Robin Williams, in those movies where he was a teacher and that remarkable ability to connect with troubled youth. I know my Dad always wanted a way to make a difference in the world, which is why he became a preacher. Sadly the larger Church would in those days especially more honor clergy who would “build churches ” (i.e. buildings). My father and mother were ones to build “little individual bridges” - gifts for which he found the larger church had frequently lost imagination.
Someone once wrote, “What good is sight when you have no vision?”
Sight is what you have at any given time or moment. Vision is the larger context or frame in which sight exists and takes on meaning.
One way to get to know my father is through his photographs, a few of my favorites which hang in my office. He was a photographer all of the years I knew him, and he was a very good one. That ‘eye’ is a part of his legacy.
A favorite theme of my father’s photography was capturing individual trees that survived in difficult circumstances. He saw in them a vision of ‘tree heroic’ in the face of difficulty and struggle. And those photographs for him captured a poignant heroic beauty.
Now contrast let me turn that to a current phenomenon with many Roman Catholic parish churches of having a side yard full of white crosses, representing “Right to Life” ideologies. Not to be disrespectful, but my father would never photograph such a spectacle. There are no fetuses of unborn children buried under each of those crosses. There is no sign of struggle or suffering. It’s simply a sterile show-piece. There’s no sign of the struggles of some real people with the true and often excruciating suffering underlying the abortion question. It’s not a Flanders Field.
Back to my Father. During the years of our nation’s involvement in World War 2, he was for a time the only Protestant clergyman within a 50-mile radius of his small parish back in the Rockies. 1) He was born pacifist, anti-war to the bone. 2) He had to minister to many families of the casualties of that war. And he would readily admit he was not adept at that kind of pastoral work. But I am certain no anti-war rhetoric or beliefs were parts of those conversations. He would offer the words of Holy Scripture, the prayers of the Church, and in his own grace, quietly suffer with those households he had to visit.
I have often wished in the years since then to have been able to ask him about how he did that. What he saw was the terror and cruelty of war. But I have no doubt he carried a vision of something far greater than what he saw before him. I know even back then he had begun photographing his trees.
And many years later he was still setting aside whatever he was doing to spend time listening and talking with me.
He was my Father, and I am forever his Son. So much of what I do in this life comes from him. And I love that man.
And from that I can know who I am.
Even though that was a foundational character of early Methodism.
After my father died, my mother gave me a photo album filled to capacity with black and white photos from his life in the 1930’s. None of them are dated or annotated, and that was the decade, his 20’s , before he met and married my mother when he was 30. Marrying her was one of the best decisions he ever made. But (strangely) she knew practically nothing of his “Chicago years” in those photos which, undocumented, gather dust on a lower bookcase shelf in my library.. Strange, but I feel that much of who I am was still nurtured in those long buried years. The Methodist Church was back then known for it’s dual social witness of prohibition and world peace. (The latter, I’m certain, lives in the shadows of those silent photos.) Many of his friends went to prison by refusing the military, and he and his new bride went to Colorado to ‘wait out’ the war and pursue his ministerial calling. Out there I was their first born. So much of me was pre-formed already. I still carry so many unanswered questions. But the ‘form and shape’ of my personality still prevails. [Well, that footnote certainly took over the page, didn’t it.]
Unfortunately I have no source available. This itself is an example. If ‘seeing’ is all that is important, the context or vision isn’t necessary.
My father left the ministry for the time of my Junior and Senior High School years - so that the peripatetic nature of being a Methodist minister then didn’t have to involve being ‘sent’ to a a different parish or town every few years. Instead, he purchased a Photo Studio in Independence, Iowa, and I was able to spend a lot of time working with him in that space as well.
If you will, please indulge me one more footnote.
It was during those years that my mother discovered and brought to our town, The American Field Service, an International student exchange program, which subsequently played a large part of our family and community life. AFS was originally a battlefield ambulance service in world wars 1 & 2. Out of that carnage emerged a high vision, which became their hallmark motto: “Walk together, talk together, all you peoples of the earth, and we shall have peace.” Talk about ‘an integration of the contraries.’
Old Family Stories
Add a Comment
FREE Monthly Newsletter
Whether you are a client or not, you can always benefit from some
free monthly words of wisdom: