In his famous velvet voice Ol’ Blue Eyes crooned:
I lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I did it my way
Frank popularized the song “My Way” in 1969. In a recent Sabbath School class at Sligo Church we discussed people blindly following autocratic religious organizations like ISIS. This sparked my thoughts to Frank’s song that praised independent thinking and doing.
A Good or Bad Song?
I recalled this song I heard some 50 years earlier because it evoked such strong negative reactions from two clergy. Shortly after hearing Frank sing it, I heard a sermon from an Adventist guest minister at Spencerville Church in Silver Spring, MD. His message was this song is bad. You should do things God’s way and not your own way. He implied: You find God’s way from God’s true church primarily by heeding Adventist church pastors and other leaders.
Unbelievably I heard almost the same sermon on the radio a few months later by a Roman Catholic priest. Only the endings were different. The priest said God’s true church was the Catholic Church and one should get directions from priests and the Pope, who is infallible when issuing edicts in the matters of faith and morals.
Some might agree the song was bad and say Frank’s message was self-centered On the other hand some would say the song lyrics carry a good message. Frank admits in the song that he made mistakes but he did it his way and took responsibility for his actions.
When Barbara Bush died, Gordon Gray, White House counsel for her husband, eulogized her by saying, “She did it her way.” Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, wrote an op-ed article in the Washington Post saying he only had a few weeks to live and, “I leave this life with no regrets…I lived the life I intended.” At John McCain’s memorial service they played Frank’s recording of “My Way.” On the other hand, Michael Gerson, former head speech writer for George W. Bush, wrote this about an elected official he felt was narcissistic, “The sound track of his whole life has been Frank Sinatra crooning I did it my way.”
Making Important Life Decisions
To the question of doing it either our way or Gods way, let’s also consider the important influence of parents and spouses. By God’s way we include the influence of the Church hierarchy and the clergy who some claim are God’s representatives here on earth. Here are a few examples of people making life decisions.
Choosing a Career
Robert was majoring in business at an Adventist college but a college staff member advised him to switch to pre-med which he did. He was in anatomy lab at Loma Linda School of Medicine dissecting a cadaver when an MD, who was not too happy with his own work, dropped by to see him. He sensed Robert didn’t really enjoy what he was doing and told him, “Put down those instruments right now and walk out of here and never come back.” Two weeks later he dropped out of medical school. After leaving medical school he studied information technology and never once regretted doing it his way.
An Adventist minister asked me what kind of work I was going to do now that I had finished college. I told him I had an engineering position with the Federal Government. He said, “You’re wasting your time in worldly work; you should work for the Church.” These words struck a blow to my ideal thinking that public service for one of the World’s greatest democracies was noble work. He failed to mention that Romans 13:6 in The Living Bible says, “government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing God’s work.”
Selecting a Spouse
Steve Roberts, currently a political commentator, was the son of non-religious Jewish parents. Cokie Boggs, also a commentator, was a daughter of practicing Roman Catholics. They became friends in 1962 and Steve’s family strongly opposed the idea of his marrying a non-Jew. Steve did it his way and married Cokie. She took it upon herself to make Judaism a part of their lives and encouraged Steve to celebrate Jewish holidays. Steve’s father said Cokie, a Catholic, was the best Jew in the family.
Selecting and Practicing a Religion
The father of my friend, Richard Coffman, was baptized an Adventist but stopped going to church while he was still young. He married a Catholic girl but he started attending the Adventist church again. The first time he took his wife to church the minister preached on the mark of the beast, a message unfavorable to Catholics. This was more than his Roman Catholic wife could take. She stood up and yelled out, “You’re a damn liar,” and stormed out of the church. The Catholic wife eventually became an Adventist. She did it her husband’s way in the beginning by going to church with him, did it her way when she called down the minister, and did it her way again (or was it God’s way?) when she joined the church.
The late Peter Hare was an organic geo-chemist and one of the leaders at the General Conference’s Geoscience Research Institute (GRI) that supported well-qualified and church-loyal scientists to study the origin of the earth. The Church financed Peter while he attended Cal Tech to earn a PhD. The Church was not happy with him after graduating; there were parts of the Bible creation story he couldn’t support. He was always loyal to the Church even thought he was conflicted because he was unable to always reconcile the ambiguities between science and the scripture on the origin of the earth and human beings. He resigned from the GRI and took a position at the Carnegie Institute of Science where he had a successful career. He did it his way.
Finding God’s Way
The Adventist fundamental beliefs hold that both the Bible’s Old and New Testaments are the Word of God. They also say Ellen G. White is a messenger of God and her writings are an authoritative source of truth. The frequency of ministers quoting Mrs. White has gone from almost always, to seldom if ever. Many of her writings are strong do it God’s way messages. She wrote, “Trust God and he will direct your ways…we have not the wisdom to plan our own lives. It’s not for us to shape our future.” On the other hand, when people contacted her for inspired advice she would often tell them to make their own decisions, use reason and judgment, and use your common sense
While she didn’t tell members to look to the ministers for a personal message from God, there seems to be a Church folklore that ministers do bring personal messages to us from God. Once at an Adventist church service someone prayed, “Dear Father, we know our pastor is gifted and receives messages from you.”
I reviewed writings by several Christian theologians on how to find God’s plan for one’s life and I summarized the results as four different methods. The first is to search the scripture and pray. It includes getting additional help from God which he gives through super natural means: dreams, premonitions, visions, or directly talking to people.
The second approach includes reading scriptures and praying plus seeking counsel from wise, godly people. But the writers give mixed messages on seeking counsel from “have confidence in your church leaders and submit to their authority” to “it is wrong to be totally dependent on others for guidance.” 1 John 4:1 (TLB) says “…don’t always believe everything you hear just because someone says it’s a message from God…”
The third approach involves the use of divination. In my review of Christian theologians I did not find anyone recommending this approach. Rather, they discouraged it. However, I have heard about Christians using this method. They randomly flip through the Bible and where it opens they blindly run their finger down the page to find the text with a special message.
The fourth approach recommends looking for broad principles when searching for God’s way. God has no special plan for our lives. What he wants for you is what he wants for everyone else: love God and other people, and live a life of integrity.
Whose guidance should one use to help make important life decisions: your own, God, clergy, parents, or spouse? And if it is God’s, how would one find God’s plan for their life? Career guidance from ministers who have no vocational counseling training should be carefully scrutinized.
I believe Frank’s song, “My Way,” has a good message. One should do it their way. It means thinking for yourself, taking responsibility, and not being a yes-man. And doing it my way and God’s way are not mutually exclusive. Do both. We have reviewed several approaches to finding God’s plan for our life. The approach I feel most comfortable with says God has no special specific plan for your life. Rather what he wants for you is what he wants for everyone else.
If one gets discouraged with some of the Church’s teachings and practices one can be like Peter Hare and try to keep their integrity and yet remain loyal to the Church. Remember it’s directed by human beings. The late John Dingell served in the U.S. Congress for 59 years, more than anyone else in American history. Someone said that he was such a successful legislator because he was able to live with ambiguities. This may be the key to living a successful religious life.
Heber Bouland began attending Cradle Roll Sabbath School in 1932 when he was four years old. He is a retired systems analyst and is now an artist and author of The Last Trolley Stop, a memoir about growing up in Takoma Park during the Great Depression. He currently resides in Columbia, Maryland with his wife, Dolores.
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