Pastor’s humanity can alter view of divinity

By Grant McGee: Local Columnist

There’s been some brouhaha over the NBC television show “The Book of Daniel.” The show got the kind of pre-airing publicity money can’t buy: It created controversy.

“The Book of Daniel” is about an Episcopalian preacher named Daniel Webster. Webster works to rein in the chaos of his dysfunctional family and congregation. When he’s by himself, Jesus shows up and they’ll talk about stuff; not because Webster is “chosen” … Jesus says he talks to everyone.

I watched “The Book of Daniel.” I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. By the end of the show I decided I might watch “The Book of Daniel” if there’s nothing else on.

What some called Webster’s dysfunctionality I saw as human-ness; it reminded me of a controversial preacher I once knew.

I grew up with ministers who were stalwart old guys; gray-headed men who spoke from the pulpit as if they were the direct messenger of the Lord himself. So when Dave Smith came to the little country church I attended he didn’t quite measure up to the type of preacher from when I was a kid. Dave looked more like a used car salesman than a minister. If you’d done it, Dave had too. If you mentioned a famous person, Dave knew them.

There was the time I mentioned that I was a big fan of the folk singer John Hartford. Hartford is probably best known as the writer of the 1960’s hit “Gentle On My Mind.”

“Yeah, I know John,” said Dave. “He and I were in a folk group in high school in St. Louis.”

Then Hartford came to our neck of the woods for a concert. I had the opportunity to chat with him after the show.

“By the way,” I asked him, “do you know a guy named Dave Smith.”

“Dave Smith,” said Hartford.

“He’s the preacher at my church. He says the two of you were in a group in high school.”

“I don’t remember a Dave Smith,” Hartford said. “Dave Smith, that’s kind of like John Doe, isn’t it? Is that his real name?”

Dave’s most endearing habit was what he did after the Sunday service. Services would end and Dave would walk outside. As we filed out of the church there was Dave, smoking a cigarette with one hand and shaking hands with the other. Or maybe he’d shake with both hands, holding the cigarette in his mouth, the smoke swirling around his face making him squint. Dave was only at the little country church for a year.

Aside from Dave’s seemingly tall tales and his need for a smoke right after his sermon, I’ll always remember him for altering the way I viewed God, the Earth and the universe. I had trouble visualizing God as this man who sat on a huge chair somewhere in the cosmos presiding over all.

“Did you see ‘Star Wars?’” asked Dave. “God is kind of like ‘The Force,’ like a presence everywhere.”

Just that attitude adjustment made a huge difference in my life. It came to me from a cigarette smoking, tall-tale-tellin’ country preacher. Another man with a “calling” acting as a guide to lead us through the “stuff” of life with a moral compass.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: