Author’s Note: For the first time in over seven years, the Ford brothers — Mark, Patrick, and Robben — will share the same stage — and it will be in their home town of Ukiah at Sundays in the Park, August 17th, 2014. Here is the fourth and final interview in the series with Pat Ford. —DS
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Growing up in this small community of the Church of Christ here in Ukiah, I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the great old fire-and brimstone preachers. To me they were entertaining, and luckily for us, in our particular denomination, they weren’t usually over-the-top. I would get excited by it all, and as I was a good talker myself I thought “I can do this!” By my late teens, I started giving “lessons” or “sermons”. In our church you didn’t go to school to be a minister. If the people wanted to hear you talk, you talked. We didn’t have paid pastors, but if you got into the preaching circuit of churches in your area (which for me included most of California) you could get your expenses paid and a bit more.
There were a lot of versions of the Church of Christ. They would have their battles back then like, for instance, whether you should use only one cup, or many cups, for communion. So there was the “Cups” Churches of Christ and the “Single Cup” Churches of Christ... and never the twain shall meet.
Though I liked to hear the really good preachers I was not happy with their message. They were usually all about “you better get on board or you’re going to hell.” They had graphs and giant charts and covered the walls with illustrations of the prophesies of Revelations. It was all about how the Church Of Christ was the one true way and everyone else was going to hell. This just wasn’t me. I liked the preachers who weren’t so mean spirited... those who would talk more positively about forgiveness and a loving God. That’s the way I wanted to be. So when I first started speaking it was about that... the good, positive side of what the Church had to offer versus the negative side.
I had really gotten into the spiritual aspects of the American indians earlier in my life and how they were the stewards of the land rather than owners. I’d go down to the library in Ukiah and there were these books by UC Berkeley guys from way back in the early 1900s about the Pomo Indians around here and I would study their religion. They had these wild stories like the Coyote reaching under his armpit and taking a ball of wax and creating the earth... some pretty out stuff... not necessarily what I bought into. But I just loved the fact that it was earth oriented.
The indians in this area were very peaceful unlike some of the aggressive indian groups out in the plains. The Pomos had a good deal going here, living off the abundance of the land. That is probably why they were so open to the new cats coming into town... the Russians, and the Spaniards. Sadly that did not work out so well for them in the end.
The authors also wrote about how the indians were treated here in Ukiah, not being able to come into the front door of a restaurant for food... having to stand outside in the back where they were handed their food through the back door... and the mistreatment, the slavery, especially in Lake County.
Studying the American Indians, especially the Pomos, opened me up to other possibilities, and my religious views were influenced by seeing how these people were real earth oriented. They were true stewards of the earth and they really cared for one another. It wasn’t just about, “What can I get out of this for me?” Rather it was about the people as a whole. To me this was much more Christ-like and they had never even heard of the guy. And I’d talk to these other Church of Christ guys who said, “Yeah, those indians are going to hell. Sorry. They didn’t get it.” What? Because they didn’t know about Jesus they’re going to hell? What sense does that make? That’s what this God is all about? And even if they did hear the “Word”, they still only got maybe 80 years to follow the rules to find out if they were getting an eternity in heaven or hell.
I just didn’t get the God of the Old Testament and in the New Testament it didn’t get that much better. I didn’t get that there could be a creator... a guy who could create this massive universe, where time was infinite, and yet this character would only give me 60 to 90 years of life to get it all right or else I’d burn in hell forever. I just couldn’t grasp that a being of that greatness could be so petty. It just seemed so unbelievably bizarre to me. I thought if this is what this character, this creator, this God is all about, I really don’t think I want to have anything to do with him.
So my preaching began to veer further and further away from Bible text and more and more about being Christ-like and what a loving God would be like. I would maybe quote one scripture and then start talking about St. Francis of Assisi and other characters that our group would consider totally off the wall. You would never hear a preacher quote from a Catholic let alone some Buddhist. The thing was I was a good speaker and had the ability to utilize my voice in a growing, more powerful way, and I could get my audiences attention and keep it even if what I was saying challenged them. I knew I was having an impact, but I was getting further and further away from Church doctrine and it got to where people were thinking I was just too far out.
The last sermon I gave at a church here in Ukiah was a talk about sincerity. It was an NFL playoff day. The first game had already started before church, and I said I know there are some fellows out there who wish I would get this over with so they can get home for the game. I said that this comes back to sincerity of the heart. “If you really believe there is some cat up there in the clouds somewhere who understands your every thought, and if you got up this morning thinking about the game, and came here wishing I would hurry up and get done so you could get back to the game... you think He doesn’t know that? And that he is giving you points because you showed up? Or would you have been better off saying ‘you know Lord, I’m not going to make it today, there is a game and I really want to see it.’ Which is better, the guy who is honest about it and stays home or the guy who goes to church and then spends his time wishing this would get over so he can see the rest of the game?” I used this as an example of sincerity of heart. After that lesson they didn’t ask me to come back.
So that was kind of my ballgame for being a preacher guy. Besides, I had become so frustrated with organized religion of any kind. It wasn’t that I was in the wrong religious group, I just didn’t belong in any organized religious group at all. I had also been studying different religions around the world and had come to the feeling that any time religion became organized, then it got messed up. And the worst part was each one believed that they were “right”, that their’s was the only way. How individuals on this planet could ever think that they knew “the way” was beyond me. I just needed to be honest with myself and follow my own heart. If there is a creator than hopefully that being will understand that I have given it my best shot, instead of following along with the group thinking I’ve got it right.
I practice my own personal path which is a very earth/nature related religious viewpoint. I try to live within the bounds of what my own personal life lessons have taught me.
Whatever I do is because of choices I have made, not because of some book and/or some organization telling me the way.