Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Transformative Moment

I've written so much about myself - blabbed, actually - that I thought I'd have this transformative moment be someone else's!

In 1977, I was a new 'single' and looking for a church home, preferably one that had an active singles group. I found one, at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. This group, called TGIS (Thank God I'm Single, as they somewhat irreverently nicknamed it, instead of Thank God It's Sunday), met at 11 am each Sunday morning in a very large fellowship hall.

The vast majority of its members came only for TGIS, altho several arrived an hour early to attend the "folk" services. I asked about these. What were they like? I was told that these services were more 'relaxed', that the songs were often composed by the choir director and accompanied - not by the majestic organ, but by jazz combo-type performers and that parishioners often laughed, clapped and sometimes even shouted during the service.

That sounded very strange to me - yet, at the same time intriguing, and so I went to one. Then I went to another. And another. It was while I was attending one of those folk services that I first heard Dr. Wharton speak.

I was so impressed! His central message always seemed to be "God's love", "God's grace", "God's forgiveness". I couldn't get enough of listening to this man! He filled my heart with such joy. I attended every class he taught and dragged every one of my friends who would allow themselves to be 'dragged' to church with me, hoping they might feel just a wee bit for themselves some of the happiness that welled up inside me every time I heard such good news.

One of these was Ruth, one of my best friends, who was a Unitarian church member. I asked her after the service what her impression was and she said, "If I had to try and describe him in one word, that word would be 'nonjudgmental'."

As a Christian born in the late 1930's, I was taught early on that only those who believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour will go to Heaven. However, I often heard Dr. Wharton say he had trouble believing that the God he loved so much could be so narrow-minded (his exact words).

He had many friends - close friends - outside of the Christian faith, but there were those within the church who felt threatened by his publicly-stated views. He had a profound influence on me, and to this day - 30-some years later - I am often reminded of his stance on judging others when I find myself being critical.

It is Dr. James A. Wharton's "transformative moment" that I would like to share with you ... ... the definitive moment in his life that forever changed him from a smug, anti-social and rebellious teenager into a lifelong and nonjudgmental servant of God.

He and his group were walking along down the sidewalk, seeing what kind of trouble they could get into, picking on whomever and rudely laughing at others' misfortunes when - all of a sudden - they heard the screeching of brakes and the unmistakable sound of 'something' being struck.

Quickly, they all looked around. There, lying almost in the gutter, was a woman. It was she who had been hit by the car. She was bleeding. Badly-injured, it appeared. She was unkempt and filthy and reeked of liquor. The group began to laugh and point.

Young James, however, went towards her to get a closer look. He felt compelled to take the dying woman in his arms, and as he did so he felt the love, grace, forgiveness and power of Jesus Christ go through his arms and enfold the woman.

"Even to the least of these," he thought, and was overwhelmed with God's love and mercy.

I'm sure I haven't told his story very well, but that's the truth as I remember him telling it many times over. In preparation for this post, I tried to look up James A. Wharton, to see if he's still with us here on earth.

He spoke on "Ichabod or Ebenezer?" at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's centennial celebration in 2003, the text of which can (supposedly) be read on-line. However, when I went to the site, it's not there. But, this would have been six years ago. Tomorrow*, if I get a chance, I'll call their library to see if the text of his sermon can still be read.

*This is being written on Tuesday evening, the 18th.

I hope that you and your readers will forgive me, Steven, for not writing about myself here. You had such a splendiferous idea and I can't wait to read all of the linked entries!


Golden West said...

Lovely, thank you.

The Bug said...

Dr. Wharton sounds like someone I would have enjoyed hearing speak - I also never understood the concept that my belief was the one true way to God - there are many paths!

steven said...

hi goldenrod - no forgiveness is needed here. moments that change us change us whether they're first hand second hand whatever. they affect us and that's what this is about. there are people who graced with unconditional love that simply pours from them. people have difficulty connecting because for the most part we are brought into a world in which you give in order to receive back. there are expectations. i think it's wonderful (and not surprising) that you were so deeply affected by somone who gave unconditionally. lucky you!!! have a lovely day and thanks for your contribution here. steven

Sid Smith said...

Hi there,
I came here via Steven's meme. Whilst I don't have any religious affiliations I really get a sense of that moment you've described. Thanks for this.

Eryl Shields said...

Hello, I'm here thanks to Steven and just wanted to say thanks for this story: non-judgmental people are pretty hard to come by, so it's always nice to hear of another one.

Kathryn Magendie said...

A lovely post. . . thank you for writing of this.

Barry said...

Dr. Wharton sounds like a fascinating man, whose understanding of Christianity is so much closer to my own than many Minister's I've heard recently.

Goldenrod said...

Thank you all for your comments. I'd like you to know that I DID call the library at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary much earlier today and left a message, stating what I was looking for and hoping for a call back. No response. :(

Dr. Wharton is now approaching 80. I tried for some good while yesterday to locate his present whereabouts, hoping against hope that I'd have some success. His name was listed on several sites. He was an old testament scholar and a professor at the seminary in Austin. On one site I saw the notation, "Please pray for Jim Wharton", and so I fear he might be ill.

I'll be visiting each of your sites soon ... ... I taught a class this evening and my day was filled with preparations, but I'll have some time tomorrow to take a look around.

Thank you all again for your warm responses.

Goldenrod said...

Sid, I hope you subscribed to subsequent comments on this post. (?) I've read and listened to the YouTube posting on your 'transformative moment' post and have tried (4, 5 or maybe 6 times now to leave a comment) ... somehow or another, I keep getting blocked by "popups". I give up.

Please know that I enjoy your posts.

Titus said...

Goldenrod, thank you for such an inspirational post, and for reminding us what the essence of Christianity is - charity. Loved it.