Fellowship Class

Tarrytown United Methodist Church

June 21, 1998

Wayne Danielson

Lessons My Father Taught Me

Matthew 21:42. Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘It was the stone rejected by the builders

that became the keystone.

This was the Lord’s doing,

and it is wonderful to see?’”

John 21:4-6. It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  Jesus called out, “Have you caught anything, friends?” And when they answered “No” he said, “Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.”  So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in.

Mark 4:26-29. He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man throws seed on the land.  Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know.  Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full  grain in the ear.  And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.

Matthew 7:9. “Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?  Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish?  If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Most of you know that LaVonne is leaving Casis School after 21 years of teaching there. Next fall she’ll be teaching at Joe Dan Mills, a new elementary school being built in far southwest Austin where her former principal, Amy Kincade, will be in charge. Leave-taking was difficult, but the school gave LaVonne a nice going away present, a book entitled, The Complete Live and Learn and Pass It On, by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., of Nashville, Tennessee.

LaVonne has enjoyed the book and so have I. It consists of sayings and advice Brown has collected from more than a thousand “authors” over the years — men, women, boys, girls, teenagers — people who have sent Brown lessons that life has taught them and that they would like to pass on. As you might expect, the “advice” from so many authors covers a lot of territory, from deep thoughts to shallow ones.

Here are a few quotations:

Age 14: I’ve learned that the best way to eat oatmeal is to feed it to the dog while my parents aren’t looking.

Age 40: I’ve learned that you should never change everything in your life at once. Keep something the same just for stability, so that it’s easier to remember who you are.

Age 67: I’ve learned that nothing beats the taste of a slab of your own homemade bread fresh from the oven, slathered with a spoonful of your own homemade jam.

Age 89: I’ve learned that opportunities are never lost; someone will take the one you miss.

Age 21: I’ve learned that when I walk into my room at the end of the day, I always feel better if my bed is made.

Age 59: I’ve learned that if you want to remember your wedding anniversary forever, just forget it once.

Age 37: I’ve learned that when your wife simply answers, “nothing” when you ask her what’s wrong, you’re in deep trouble.

Age 12: I’ve learned that you always gain five pounds on the scale at the doctor’s office.

Age 39: I’ve learned that I can’t tell the difference between a $20 bottle of wine and a $40 bottle of wine.

Age 57: I’ve learned that when the traffic signal light says “walk,” I’d better run.

Some of those sayings are pretty good, aren’t they?

The book made LaVonne feel better, and, you know, one of the lessons I’ve learned in life and would like to pass on is this: Age 68: If she feels better, I feel better.

The book got me to thinking that it would be interesting to try to do a similar book made up of sayings of people in this class. We have learned a lot of useful things over the years, and we ought to pass them on. (I’m passing around some forms for doing this. It’s entirely voluntary. If you’d like to participate, please jot down your sayings and turn them in to Jessie B. or me, and we’ll get them printed somehow. If you would like to remain anonymous, that’s okay. And you don’t need to respond right now — think about it and mail your sayings in or bring them to class later on.)

Actually, Father’s Day coming up made me think of doing this.

I learned a lot from my father growing up, but somehow, with the passage of time, it seems to me that I’m getting further and further away from him. I used to have some of his carpenter’s tools, but they have all disappeared over the years. I have a mother-in-law plant that is still alive and doing well after 100 years, but that belonged to my mother and her mother — not to my dad. I don’t think I have a single hammer or saw left that belonged to him. He always put his initials on them, ALD, for Arthur Leroy Danielson, and I miss seeing his handwriting. I wonder where everything goes that we try to hang onto.

I’m careful about giving books away, so I decided to look for some that were in his library and that he passed on to me. Surprisingly, I could find only a few. Somehow even those precious books have just slipped away over the years. I could only find this one, by Elbert Hubbard, published in 1908, soon after my mother and father were married. It’s title is Health and Wealth. It is the kind of optimistic, outgoing, energetic book Americans used to write and read. It has a photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard sitting at a table with a lamp of the period —   the Mission or craft period —   on the desk between them.

Reading this book again after many years brought my father back to me in many ways. He was a young man at the time of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders — the time this book was written. He always wanted to be and always was, an energetic, active man, committed to life. The words of the plain, Midwestern philosopher Hubbard, probably contributed to his outlook. In this book, Hubbard presents what he calls “The Creed of the Future.” Let me read a little of it to you, so you can see how it differs from the creed that actually developed in America:

I submit this — I KNOW

That I am here

In a world where nothing is permanent but change,

and that in degree I, myself, can change the form of things

and influence a few people;

And that I am influenced by these and other people

That I am influenced by the example and by the work of men who are no longer alive,

And that the work I now do will in degree influence people who may live after my life has changed into other forms;

That a certain attitude of mind and habit of action on my part will add to the peace, happiness and well-being of other people,

And that a different thought and action on my part will bring pain and discord to others;

That If I would secure reasonable happiness for myself, I must give out good will to others;

That to better my own condition I must practice mutuality;

That bodily health is necessary to continued and effective work;

That I am largely ruled by habit;

That habit is a form of exercise;

That up to a certain point, exercise means increased strength or ease in effort;

That all life is the expression of spirit;

That my spirit influences my body,

And my body influences my spirit;

That the universe to me is very beautiful, and everything and everybody in it good and beautiful, when my body and my spirit are in harmonious mood;

That my thoughts are hopeful and helpful unless I am filled with fear,

And that to eliminate fear my life must be dedicated to useful work—work in which I forget myself;

That fresh air in abundance, and moderate, systematic exercise in the open air are the part of wisdom;

That I cannot afford, for my own sake, to be resentful nor quick to take offense;

That happiness is a great power for good,

And that happiness is not possible without moderation and equanimity;

That time turns all discords into harmony if men will be kind and patient,

And that the reward which life holds out for work is not idleness nor rest, nor immunity from work, but increased capacity, GREATER DIFFICULTIES, more work.

Well, what do you think of that?

How much have our values changed over the 90 years since this was written?

Quite a bit, I’d say.

• Our overall optimism has been tempered by four terrible wars.

• Our certainty of financial success has been muted by the ups and downs of our economy.

• Our conviction that work is all important in defining who we are has been altered by vast changes in the workplace and the general drift of employment either to high-end professional jobs or low-end jobs with little possibility of advancement.

• Our belief in white male supremacy has been forever altered by the arrival of women’s liberation, the civil rights movement, and the shift of our society toward multiculturalism.

• Our dependence on self has deteriorated in the face of problems too vast for individuals to solve, with a resulting and growing dependence on organizations and government to provide solutions for us.

There’s little question about it —   much has changed.

But some values remain, values that we all recognize as typically still American.

• Our interest in the peace, happiness and well-being of our country and its people.

• Our interest in fresh air and exercise and living a vigorous outdoor life.

• Our devotion to the idea of health, and the contribution we can make to our own well-being.

• Our notion that personal influence is important, and that we can influence other people for the better.

• Our conviction that we ought to be kind and good people, considerate of the feelings of others.

So some things change and some things remain of the philosophies of the turn of the century that fashioned the kind of man my father was, a man of unfailing kindness to his children, even when they said and did outrageous things.

But, honestly, I think that the things that influenced me most didn’t come from books at all — they were the things we did together:

• I remember how we planted the garden together in the spring, and the importance he attached to getting the rows straight.

• I remember getting to stay up all night with him at the schoolhouse on a cold winter’s night, keeping the furnace going so the water pipes wouldn’t freeze.

• I remember planting fruit trees so we could have fresh fruit all summer long.

• I remember planting new shade trees along the street with him —   after the Dutch elm disease killed all the elms —   even though he knew he would never live to see those trees mature.

• I remember taking one whole summer to build a new garage in the back yard.

• I remember raking leaves in the fall with him and building great bonfires.

• I remember picking sweet-smelling Concord grapes.

• I remember listening to bird songs —   he taught me that at planting time, the cardinal calls “Wheat year, wheat year, wheat year,” and that during mating season the cardinal calls his wife this way: “Pretty, pretty, pretty. Com’ere, com’ere, com’ere.”

• I remember picking a whole apple tree with him one day in October and storing the apples in the cellar.

• I remember raising rabbits during the war years to make the meat rationing points go further.

• I remember saying the pledge of allegiance and the Scout Law with him every Monday night at Scout meetings.

• I remember seeing him reading —   always reading —   a book, a newspaper, a magazine, the encyclopedia, even the dictionary.

• I remember moving the kitchen from one room to another when he got bored.

• I remember marveling at his Swedish love for coffee with lots of sugar in it, and what a big deal it was when I became old enough to have some too.

• I remember how he loved my mother, sentimentally, bringing her poems and flowers for no special reason.

Most of all, however, I remember his love for the church.

He served as Sunday School Superintendent at West Hill Methodist Church for 22 years. I’m not sure, but I doubt sincerely that he ever missed a Sunday. And nearly every Sunday we sang at least one of his favorite hymns:

“In the Garden,”

“Blessed Assurance,”


“Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.”

I learned those songs —   and many others —   by heart.

He was a man of great faith.

He felt close to Jesus. I remember one demonstration we did. We got 50 kids to stand in line and pass the Bible from one to the other to illustrate that all of us were just 50 people away —   just 50 generations away from the real Jesus. Jesus wasn’t just a poetic symbol to my father. He was a real person, and I guess that my lifelong attempt to understand the gospels has always been based on my father’s unfaltering appreciation of that reality.

My father’s faith extended easily from belief in God to belief in other people. Although I wasn’t at all confident about going off to the University in Iowa City, he knew I would do well, and in 1950 he sent me off in the 1935 Dodge with all clean clothes, $50, a bag of potatoes and his blessing. How could I possibly fail?

Jesus used the image of the good father more than any other prophet of the faith.

Some people have said that he did this because he didn’t have an earthly father, and he acutely felt the lack of one. My own feeling is that he did have a wonderful earthly father in the person of Joseph and that his vision of his heavenly father was influenced by this great and good man. For example:

The images of working and building might have come from Joseph:

• the carpenters in the shop criticizing one another has the ring of reality to it.

• so does the saying about the rejected stone that becomes the corner of the building — that must have been comforting to Jesus.

• so does Jesus’s interest in the temple and how and how that great building would all come tumbling down.

• so does his contrasting image of the house built on sand and the one built on a solid foundation of of rock that is able to withstand the flood that will come against it.

• so does his conviction that the tower falling in Siloam that killed those men was not intended or caused by God.

• so does his conceptualization of heaven as a place “of many mansions.”

The images of fishing might also have come from Joseph:

• the notion of choosing his disciples to be “fishers of men.”

• the conviction that storms will pass and that calm weather will return.

• the suggestion that fishing from the other side of the boat may be all that’s needed to bring in a huge catch.

The images of farming and growing things might also have come from Joseph:

• the importance of seed falling into good soil for it to grow and prosper.

• the importance of not looking back when you start to plow.

• the need to be patient and wait for growth to occur.

• the importance of having good help to bring in the harvest.

• the importance of giving a fig tree another chance to bear fruit.

• the miracle of small things, like mustard seeds, growing into big plants.

The images of sheep and shepherd might also have come from Joseph:

• a good shepherd will go out looking for one sheep that is lost out of a hundred, just as Joseph and Mary went back to Jerusalem looking for Jesus.

• sheep that learn to recognize the voice of the shepherd cannot easily be led astray.

• and people will be judged in the last days, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Most of all, the images of a compassionate father might have come from Joseph:

• Jesus prayed to his father in heaven as “abba,” an affectionate term for father. Did he call Joseph “abba” when he was a boy?

• Jesus reminded us that a father will not give his son a stone when he asks for bread, or a serpent when he asks for a fish. Where did he get that idea?

• Jesus, in one of his most famous parables, tells of a father who sees his prodigal son coming a long way off and runs to greet him and welcome him home again. Falling into the arms of a forgiving father is Jesus’s greatest metaphor of the Christian’s relationship to God. Did Jesus have such a father?

In these days, it seems to me that we disparage fathers and find a lot of fault with them.The popular image of fathers is that they may be nice to have around the house for menial tasks, but they are not really necessary any more.

A slogan of the feminist movement was a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Do you remember that one?

One day soon, some people believe, we will be able to do away with dads altogether and just clone the female line, like Dolly the sheep.

The notion of linking father so closely with God, as Jesus did, is thus debatable in some theological circles.

Our own church is among those engaged in cleaning up the hymns and the liturgy to cut down on the use of fatherly terms.

I’m sorry to be old-fashioned, but I am kind of agin’ doing this.

I know that there are lots of abusive dads in the world, a lot of deadbeat dads, a lot of dads more concerned with their jobs than their wives and children, a lot of dads more concerned with sports on television than with what their teenage sons and daughters are doing Saturday night.

But does this mean that we need to rewrite the hymns and the liturgy and perhaps, one day, the Bible itself?

Somehow I don’t think so.

It seems to me that it means we all need to pay more attention our faith and its meaning for each of us. We need to think of the fathers that we knew and loved instead of the fathers that  are served up to us on television today. Instead of getting rid of the fatherly images in the holy writings, we need to use those writings to learn how to be better fathers than we are or have been. We need to become fathers more like the earthly father that Jesus knew and the heavenly father whom he loved so well and who loved him in return.