zigzag journey

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… the un-assuming odyssey of a donkey learning to see…

journey post 10: You don’t have to check your brain at the door

Say the name “C.S. Lewis” and you’ll likely conjure up images of a magical place called Narnia and the stories of “Aslan” and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.   Ask about the author, and most will know that he was a Christian and that “Aslan” is a Christ figure.  Ask a Christian, you’ll probably hear that Lewis wrote some books about Christianity like The Screwtape Letters, a delightfully thought-provoking story/conversation in which a devil named “Screwtape” is coaching his nephew on how to steer a human away from “the enemy” (God).

Lewis’ name does evoke Narnia to me now, but I didn’t experience Narnia for myself until I read the stories as a dad to my own children when they were home from school in Senegal.  Beyond that, the name C.S. Lewis brings to mind some delight-filled memories of my own: the context in which I first heard the name, the very seeds of faith sown in my heart and mind and the shoot and blossom that would emerge in the summer of ‘71….

1962 brought a new minister to our church, Rev. Roland F. Hughes.  I was in junior high and 14.  My dad had died in April of ’61, and our previous minister had left later that year.

“Roland” is how we got to know him—even us kids.  Roland was a shock to our still formal culture of early 60s America—a complete reversal of expectations from what I had come to expect in a pastor, especially in a Presbyterian church where some things are “just not done.”  He was in his early 30s and brought his new bride Harriet, in her mid 20s.  To us highly mature teen boys, a minister of God just would not have a babe as a wife.  But Roland also brought his tall, manly, muscular frame— and his surfboard.  My mom had been part of the pastor search committee, and one of the first things she told me before he came was that he loved young people and surfing.  That’s all I needed to hear.  The “Beach Boys” had just made their splash on the American rock scene, and everyone was goin’ surfin’!

As we got to know Roland, there were other things that stood out about him as a minister.  He really did care about young people, and even when we had a youth intern, Roland was our pastor, what we’d call today a “youth pastor.”  You could see it in his heart.  He’d take us to mountain snow retreats and to surf camp in the summer.  He really was enthusiastic about surfing and other sports.  He was even enthusiastic about his sermons—and he memorized them, which did not seem to be the “page turning” norm.  Roland always had one ready to replay, whether in his Sunday morning suit (he often didn’t wear a robe), bundled up at snow camp, or standing over the campfire in his swim trunks.  He was passionate about what he had to say.  Roland was legendary among us young folks for one particular message: “Jesus Christ, the Man’s Man.”  Roland himself was probably as close as anyone I ever knew to a man’s man.  He made some people in the church uncomfortable by his political stands because he spoke out—even at community meetings—for civil rights, fair housing, and other issues, although his sermons were mostly about Jesus and spiritual topics.

Roland Hughes 1986

Roland Hughes, 1986, a characteristic pose–using his hands to make a point.  (Here, as Pastor of Monte Vista Pres in Newbury Park CA.  I don’t know who took the pic.)

By the time I was in high school, our youth group was meeting every Sunday night at Roland and Harriet’s.  We always had a large group—generally over 20 as I recall—and Roland would talk with us very personally about the importance of living for Christ.  He’d bring in speakers and take us to Billy Graham crusades.  In those days, I assumed I was a Christian.  Meeting in a smaller group one night, he wanted to go through some evangelism training so we could learn how to share our faith.  He asked us to role play explaining how to become a Christian.  When my turn came, I remember feeling fretful.  I stammered out that I didn’t think I could explain it well, but I “had a friend”—referring to Roland—who could, and would take the person to meet him.  I didn’t know it, but I was developing my hiding skills….

Roland was also fond of quoting two well-known Christian scholars, Karl Barth and C.S. Lewis.  Barth was an erudite, intellectual theologian and very controversial.  Lewis was a medieval scholar at Oxford, a poet, a writer of children’s stories—I’m not sure if I was aware of that back then—and, while not a “minister,” wrote a lot about Christianity, either directly or in story form.  I could not tell you a single quote that Roland made from Lewis or Barth, but I did come away from that time knowing that they were important to Roland and therefore somehow important to us.

Sometime after Michelle and I were married in September 1970, my friend Andy gave me a copy of a book, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, saying I should read it.  Lewis, of course, needed no introduction, and I would need no pressure to read it, thanks to Roland Hughes.  I knew he was a certified smart guy held in high esteem worldwide, a man who didn’t check his brain at the door when moving from atheist to Christian.  I don’t think I knew anything specifically about the book except that Roland spoke highly of Lewis and my school drop-out friend thought it would be worth a careful read.  I considered myself pretty smart in those days, and if an intellectual academic like C.S. Lewis bought into Christianity and identified himself as a follower of Jesus, then I wanted to know why.  My friend, I think, knew I still had questions about the resurrection and other stuff, but I doubt he recognized any of the deep fear that was holding me back from being more open about those questions.  The struggle I would face in the coming months would concern so much more than facts and faith…it would also be about overcoming fear…. Lewis would serve as the catalyst to help me push past the fear threshold.

Thanks, Roland.  I owe you.

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5 thoughts on “journey post 10: You don’t have to check your brain at the door

  1. andymc2013 on said:

    I wonder if Roland ever really knew how much impact he had on us during the early days of our faith There are a number of men and women that are or have been in full time service for Christ because of this man. Now that he is in glory, I’m sure he knows completely. I am turning 65 next month (ha, ha Walt is older than me), and to this day I still call him “my pastor.”

    Roland and I used to debate areas of theology and of course that was after I had gone to Bible school and became a pastor and knew everything. I honestly can’t remember what we differed on and it doesn’t matter anyway. But the lessons I remember most from Roland had very little to do with anything we debated.

    He taught me about my security and dependence on Christ and the holiness of His name and person. In fact, I seldom heard Roland call our Lord Jesus and when I ask why he told me because he felt that was too casual for someone that we will kneel before. That always stuck with me. Jesus may be my friend yes, but the Christ is my Savior and Lord and far more than simply a friend.

    Probably the biggest lesson that he taught me was about ministry. He prepared me for how ruthless and hurtful that church people can be and how even those that seem to be the closest to you will turn on you faster than you can imagine. But in all of that “don’t run”…stand for truth and what is right”…”preach the word” and know that this too shall pass.

    I don’t think that I could have made it this long in ministry if it hadn’t been for what I observed in his life and ministry.

    Two more things. 1. Roland taught me how to treat a woman and love my wife with respect. 2. I remember the sermon, “Christ a man’s man”, but the sermon that stuck out throughout all of my life was, “Could It Be You.” Do you remember that sermon buddy?

    • I don’t remember the title, “Could it be you.” Refresh me a bit.

      • andymc2013 on said:

        Maybe that wasn’t the official name of the sermon. But it was preached at our friend Denny’s memorial service. It was a shock for us that someone so alive and happy could be taken away at 16.

        The story goes that as Denny was dying he tried to get out of bed. Roland tried to stop him but Denny insisted that he had to tell his friend that he must believe in Christ.”

        As Roland told that story to hundreds of people at the Forest Lawn Cemetery Chapel, of which I’m sure 70% were students from Eagle Rock High School, he said that Denny never revealed who that friend was that Denny urgently wanted to tell him the gospel.

        The final words of the message that day from Roland were…”Could It Be You?”

        I don’t know if it was me or not, but that day you couldn’t convince me otherwise and I did business with God that very moment. Thanks Roland.

  2. I remember it well….I also remember feeling troubled and fearful about it at the time, but I don’t remember how I sort of “sneaked” out from that.
    You’ve told me the story of how that brought you to Christ before.
    Thanks for the retelling. Yes, and thanks, too, Roland.

  3. Harriet Hughes on said:

    I remember those days in Eagle Rock so well and the lively Youth
    Group outings and parties (didn’t we have a Halloween party in our garage) Thank you for honoring Roland and his ministry there- I am sure he is smiling in heaven to
    hear of the impact of his life and messages. God has certainly been faithful in using those early memories to work in your lives bringing you both to maturity in Christ. I am proud of you both and grateful for our continuing relationship with Multiplication Ministries.

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