Orthodox with alterations

The evolving faith of Bud Hayes suits him

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

The faith Bud Hayes was given as a child fit him pretty well — as long as he remained a child.

His father was a pastor in a predecessor body of what would become the United Methodist Church. "At that time," Hayes recalled, "the Evangelical Church was in a transition from a more pietistic past. Although we didn't have them in the local churches anymore when I was a kid, we still had 'altar calls' at summer camp. They would bring in hot-shot evangelists who would work the crowd and then invite us to give our lives to Christ."

"My father was a very capable man," Hayes said. "He wrote a confirmation manual which the denomination published. He was respected by his peers, but in some ways he did not fit the macho male mold. He was not afraid to show his feelings. That bothered me when I was a kid, but now that I'm grown, I have a greater appreciation of him."

His mother was a traditional pastor's wife. She never wore slacks or jeans and resisted how women began to view themselves in the 1960s, wearing dresses her entire life. "That bothered me as I watched women dress more casually," he recalled. "From pictures I've seen, they were a stunning couple. She was quite lovely when she was younger. My father was good-looking too."

Hayes didn't feel a need to rebel as do many PKs (pastors' kids) and acknowledges his relative comfort growing up in a parsonage as an only child. 

"After I left home," he said with a smile, "I joined the Presbyterian church as a mild act of rebellion."

At the age of 12, he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up except that he wanted to have an influence. In a semi-autobiographical novel titled, Looking for Something, his protagonist, Pike rides his bike down to Lake Michigan (he lived in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, for several years as a boy). 

"Pike approaches the lake," Hayes related. "Fear starts to rise up in him, but he forces himself to stay there and face the expanse that he fears might swallow him up. He wants to do something noble, but he doesn't know what it is. All he knows is that he wants to do something that matters."

Hayes took his idealism to North Central College in Naperville, where he intended to take pre-med courses. Being a physician seemed to be a calling that fit the "noble" category. 

"I went through a romantic period with medicine," he recalled, "but didn't really take into account whether I had the talents or the skills or the intelligence for medicine. I just idealized it."

At some point during his four years at North Central, he rendezvoused with reality and began to move in the direction of the liberal arts. He also realized that seminary might be the place for him after graduation. The problem was that he didn't relate to the temperament of most of the guys in the 1950s who were pre-seminary. 

"I didn't connect with most of them," he explained. "It's hard to say why without appearing judgmental, but their world was too narrow."

When he confided to a professor his discomfort with going to the evangelical seminary right across the street from North Central, the prof asked if he had considered going to Yale for graduate study.

"It was like somebody opened a door to something I didn't even know existed," Hayes remembered. "What he said made sense. My father at first didn't like the idea, but that's how I ended up at Yale. It's an example of how one conversation can alter the course of your life.

Clearly, the faith in which Hayes had grown up no longer fit him. But instead of discarding it, he proceeded to make some alterations so that it would fit better as he moved into a world quite different from the one he had known as a child. 

To change analogies, he wanted to keep the baby, but the bathwater definitely needed to be changed.

At Yale, he encountered some of the most profound theological thinkers of the 20th century. He read everything from Karl Barth to the "process theologians." H. Richard Niebuhr was his dissertation advisor. Yale was a graduate school where, instead of being trained to pass on the faith, students were, in the words of Douglas John Hall, "thinking the faith."

After receiving a master's degree in ethics and contemporary theology, Hayes landed a position at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he was asked to totally redesign the required religion course he was to teach. 

"I could do whatever I wanted," said Hayes. "It was wonderful."

Instead of teaching a standard survey of different systems of belief, he asked his students to wrestle with religious issues explored in a wide variety of readings. 

"I had my students read Lord of the Flies by William Golding," he said, "which is a contemporary statement of the reality of evil, and an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre titled, 'Existentialism is a Humanism,' which is about taking responsibility for one's own life [with] no excuses. They read Psalm 139, which is about the inescapability of the divine presence, and Paul Tillich's sermon on 'Acceptance of Acceptance' which gets at the heart of what Christianity is all about."

Discovering recovery

Although he loved the five years of teaching at Albright, Hayes was frustrated that only a few of his students wanted to engage the issues with which he was asking them to grapple. He figured out that "what I really wanted to do was hear about people's problems, to get closer to what was really going on in their lives. 

"During that time, I did a fair amount of counseling with students," he recalled. "They would come to me with their stuff. That was my first introduction to the gay community. They thought it was safe to talk to me."

So when he was offered a job at what is now the Caron Foundation, a substance abuse facility also in Pennsylvania, he took it. At Caron, Hayes learned a new way to not only treat alcoholism but also articulate the faith into which he had been born. 

"The 12 steps of AA were central to the program there," he said. "The focus is on practice, not doctrine. I saw a lot of compatibility with what I wanted to do. I switched from teaching to [treating] substance abuse, and I've been there ever since."

"Working with the 12 steps was changing me," he said. "Alcohol isn't the only thing over which we are powerless. I saw a lot of ramifications to admitting we are powerless over some things. I became aware of how powerless I was over things I thought I could control. It initiated me into what has become a lifelong process on my part — giving up the need to control. At AA meetings I introduce myself by saying, 'I'm Bud Hayes and I'm recovering from myself.'"

He also discovered the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg about non-violent communication, yet another alteration in the way he articulates his faith. 

"Rosenberg has his own vernacular terminology," said Hayes, "that people can relate to easily. For example he teaches that we should listen with 'giraffe ears.' In his system we do not hear criticism, only feelings and needs, so that eliminates the whole situation of taking offense at what somebody says and wanting to set things right."

Inside/outside

About the same time, Hayes began attending Inner Peace/World Peace on Saturday mornings from 9/11/01 until January of this year and an ongoing peace vigil on Friday evenings at First United Church. His involvements forced him to integrate action with self-examination. 

"We struggled, of course, with the awareness that none of us by ourselves are going to change much of anything," he observed. "On the other hand, we believe deeply that when it comes to the great issues we face, we cannot afford to remain silent. And the question of how much good it does is really beside the point. It has to do with the witness we feel compelled to make out of our own convictions. We realized we can't change the world until we change ourselves, until we have inner peace."

Hayes got a job working in the field of substance abuse with Oak Park's Family Services (now Thrive Counseling Center) when he moved to this area in 1976 and worked there for 18 years until his retirement in 1995. Retirement has given him the chance to reflect on all the alterations he has made over the years to his faith garment by writing about that evolution.

"Recently I wrote a poem about the 12 years of our Inner Peace/World Peace meetings," he said. "I think what the group members were saying was that I put it into words, I gave expression to what they experienced." (See sidebar)

Just hope

Regarding the future, Hayes is not optimistic. He worries about climate change and what technology might do to us, but primarily he is not sure that human beings are capable of solving our self-made problems. 

"The older I get," he said, "the more cautious I am about thinking in terms of there being overall progress in civilization. I lost, if I ever had it, the naïve confidence of the Enlightenment in the ability of reason to lead us in the right direction. That has been contradicted so many times. What I have come to, however, is that it is important to see to it that my responses are positive — to participate in Marshall Rosenberg's method and the practices of my faith community, and to maintain healthy friendships. Beyond that, I just hope. I allow for mystery, believing in something we cannot see and cannot know."

When asked to describe his faith after all these years, Hayes replied, "I think I would decidedly land on the liberal side — not to be ruled by doctrine, not having my being Christian pinned on a single belief, but yes, I would call myself an orthodox Christian."

Reader Comments

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Barbara Miller from Chicago, Il.  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 1:17 PM

I have had the privilege of serving with Bud on the Peacemaking Ministry for years. I have benefited from his profound, provocative and faith based wisdom. I have been lifted by reading his work and feel privileged to read more in this article. Bud, I am so glad to know you and to have been a beneficiary of your experiences and wisdom. Barbara Miller

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