Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 21, 2010


Some people inspire and influence us in beautiful ways


          Across the years few people inspired me more than Elton Trueblood, the noted Quaker author, theologian, preacher and philosophy of religion professor.  He was 70 and already retired from teaching when at age 38 I met him.

          His wit and winsome personality impressed me but I was awed most by his disciplined way of living. He was orderly in every way imaginable. He shared the conviction of John Wesley that one should never waste time in idleness.

          When he learned that I aspired to become a good writer, he asked when I did my writing. I was floored by his simple question and embarrassed by my answer.

I said meekly, “Whenever I can find the time.” He chose not to chide me though his momentary silence was a gentle rebuff.  Quietly he said, “I write every Thursday. I find it necessary to set aside a time every week to devote myself to serious writing.” 

          He did not go on to tell me I needed such a plan. There was no need to do that.  He realized that his point had been made and that no reasonable argument could refute it.  Skill in writing results from the disciplined use of one’s time.

          In the years since that conversation I have struggled not to “find” time for writing but to dedicate weekly blocks of time for writing. Though time management is not easy, without it most of our goals can never be realized.

          Trueblood taught me the value of punctuality. He never kept people waiting. When I spent two weeks with him at Earlham College he invited me to meet with him every morning at eight am. If he said eight o’clock, he meant eight o’clock, not five minutes after eight. 

For ten days I met him at his study at eight every morning. We shared together for an hour. At nine o’clock he excused himself to attend to other duties. I was never late and he was always there when I arrived.

When Trueblood stood to deliver a sermon he always pulled out his pocket watch and placed it on the pulpit. Twenty minutes later he was done. He had a plan and he stuck to it.  He was organized but even more he was brilliantly effective. His messages were relevant, riveting, and persuasive.  I found his preaching clear and compelling. I felt somehow God was speaking to my own heart every time I heard him preach.

I loved Trueblood’s idea of living life “in chapters.” He used that idea to write his autobiography, While It Is Day. It helps to “close” one chapter in your life and turn the page to begin a new chapter. 

During his prime Trueblood was the most widely respected Quaker in America. His 35 books were written for the laity but his writing deeply influenced the clergy in most major denominations. He despised the word “laity” and the pulpit as well. Pulpits serve only to separate people, he said. He argued against the separation of persons as clergy and laity, insisting that “every Christian is a minister.” This single idea became widespread and has profoundly affected Christianity for the past 50 years.

Two of Elton’s best books were The Company of the Committed and The Incendiary Fellowship. Both are still good reads for those who are serious about living a disciplined Christian life. I loved his book about The Humor of Christ. He also wrote a good book about Abraham Lincoln in which he described him as “a theologian of American anguish.”

I am a better man because I met Elton Trueblood. His willingness to embrace me as a friend, and become my mentor, was one of the truly great blessings of my life. When he died at age 94, in 1994, I knelt in a quiet place and thanked God for his remarkable influence upon my life.

Some people touch our lives in beautiful ways. They inspire us to become better people.  Somehow their influence makes the trials of life more bearable. + + +