“I don’t care what you believe, frankly. I don’t care if you believe that Christ was actually bodily resurrected from the condition of being clinically dead, or if you believe it’s all a silly myth. I don’t care what you believe. I care what you love. If you love the Creator and the creatures and your neighbor and yourself and your family and your enemy and the Earth and the Great Mystery, then what in the world do you need beliefs for? And if you don’t love these, what earthly good will beliefs do you anyway?”
Rob McCall is a naturalist, writer and ordained minister who from 1986 until his retirement in 2014 was pastor of the First Congregational Church of Blue Hill, Maine. Since 1992 he has authored and produced the widely popular Awanadjo Almanack, a weekly broadcast from WERU-FM to a listening audience in mid-coast Maine and the worldwide web, and appearing as a regular column in several publications. The Almanack, “devoted to feeling at home in nature and breaking down the wall of hostility between us and the rest of creation,” began as a weekly commentary on observations of local plants, animals and small town life on the Blue Hill Peninsula. Awanadjo is Algonkian for the “small misty mountain” that slopes upward from Blue Hill village and provided endless inspiration for this author and preacher.
In the introduction to his Great Speckled Bird: Confessions of a Village Preacher, he says:
I am not a Christian by any prevailing definition. Christians can say the Apostle’s Creed without crossing their fingers. They believe in the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body. Christians are sure that accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior will gain them a place in heaven . . .Christians are confident that theirs is the only way, and do not hesitate to convert others by force or guile. Christians believe that humanity and the Earth are fallen and can only be redeemed by Christ. They believe that animals have no souls and that mankind is master of the Earth. All my life I have read the same scriptures, prayed the same prayers and sung the same hymns as other Christians, but I have been led another way. I do not believe these things. Nor do I find much evidence that Jesus believed these things either.
This “other way” is what McCall calls the Old Faith:
It is a faith which was from the beginning. It is a faith in the earth and the weather, the sun and moon, the land and the sea . . . It celebrates the healing power of the Creator spirit . . . It has two natural laws: ‘you reap what you sow,’ and ‘Do unto others as you would have others do to you.’
Scripture and nature are the two pillars of Rob’s creative and spiritual life, and when they are interwoven both are further illuminated, as in this recent passage:
We are told that Moses was out seeing for himself when he saw a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, not through any book or priest or church, but in the form of a living plant on fire. This is the elegance of myth, because this is precisely a description of plant metabolism: every plant is doing a slow burn as carbon, water and sunlight are synthesized by chlorophyll into sugars which the plant burns to sustain its life, and all life. Every bush is a burning bush, every shrub a revelation.
“I learned to love scripture from my father,” he says, “and nature from my mother, whose knowledge and love of wildflowers moved me.” Rob’s father was Clarence Field McCall, Jr., the United Church of Christ Conference Minister for Southern California at the time of his death, and a pastor for most of Rob’s growing up years. His theology was mainstream Protestant, was grounded in the gospel, and was more focused on social and economic justice than it was on personal salvation or church doctrine. Barbara Warren McCall was a Yankee Protestant who met Clarence in seminary, and when they were ordained together in the late 30’s she became one of the very few ordained female ministers in the country.
The McCalls headed west after their New England wedding and were serving a church in Rapid City, South Dakota when Rob was born in 1944, their third of four children. They moved a few years later to Forest Grove, Oregon, a college town one hour’s drive east of the Pacific and nestled in the Tualatin Valley, with majestic Mount Hood clearly visible on the horizon. In summers the McCalls headed to nearby campgrounds or Glacier or Yosemite National Park. They packed a canvas army tent and food and camping supplies for all six into a Mercury sedan that Clarence had rigged with a makeshift kitchen that unfolded from the back of the car. It was an idyllic life for a boy. When they moved from Forest Grove in 1954 and drove east toward their new home in Oak Park, Illinois, Rob remembers watching Mount Hood through the rear-view window for a long time until it disappeared.
Around here the spirits of the town are mostly Christian. But the spirits of the forests are Algonquin; the spirits of the snow and ice are Inuit;the spirits of the mountains are Buddhist; the spirits of the big trees, rocks and waterfalls are Shinto; the spirits of the animals are Neolithic; the spirits of the bays and islands are Celtic, Druid and Pagan. If you stay in town, Christianity might be all you need. But if you wander far out beyond the town, Christianity may not be enough.
Rob graduated as a philosophy major in 1966 from Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and Harvard Divinity School in 1970. Before entering the ministry in 1985 he lived in Concord, Massachusetts, where his Musketaquid Almanac appeared weekly in the Concord Journal. He has been married to painter Rebecca Haley McCall since 1967, is a fiddler, mandolin player, singer and guitarist and has worked as an elementary school teacher, handyman, tree and landscape contractor, church sexton, chimney sweep, and the foreman of a 250 acre apple orchard. His formal education also includes graduate studies in education, Doctor of Ministry in Congregational studies, and Certification in fruit trees and entomology. His Small Misty Mountain was published by Pushcart Press in 2006 and distributed by W.W. Norton and Great Speckled Bird, a collection of essays and sermons, was published by Pushcart Press in 2012.
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