On the Corner
by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief –
It must have been in the late 60s or early 70s. We put on this new musical in the old Long Beach Municipal auditorium during one of Bill Parkins’ renowned Long Beach camp meetings. I know it was right around the time I was appointed the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps Sergeant-Major.
It was a new musical called Take-over Bid written by a couple of young British captains. The plot-line found this particular Army corps somewhat in disrepair—going through the motions—losing its vitality—forgetting its reason for being—ignoring its identity. It sought to bring the Army back to life by paying more attention to the ideas of a younger generation that seemed to want to preserve essentials while developing new means. The “establishment” in the corps resisted, so these young adults wanted to “take-over.” This “old crowd” had been running things too long. They needed to be put out to pasture.
At the time I was approaching 40—not old enough to recognize the on-set of ageism. (It takes “years” to recognize ageism).
As a new sergeant-major in my own corps I felt exactly the same way as the play’s “younger crowd.” Therefore, I didn’t see that this was anything new—especially in that, at the time, our corps was experiencing that same delightful stress.
One of the characters in the musical not asked to perform any arias was “The Corps Sergeant-Major.” He was a strong defender of tradition and was supported at the corps council meeting by one or two other “ancients.” I was asked to play the role of the elderly sergeant-major, and, even though highly disappointed I had no solo arias to allow the magnificent warmth and sound of my own voice to shine through the caverns of the old auditorium, I accepted. (Hearing recordings of William Booth’s speaking voice, I doubt he was ever asked to sing a solo, either).
I can’t remember how the play ends, but I’m sure tensions were resolved, new plans made cooperatively, and everyone was happy, saved and serving.
Recently, after almost 40years (I’m told) I have relinquished my responsibilities as the Tabernacle Corps sergeant-major. It has been a great run—filled with wonderful experiences that added immeasurably to who I am, what I do, where I’m going and how I relate to others.
This is how I see myself almost 40 years after that first sergeant-major role.
I tend not to live in the past. I’m very “present” oriented. I learn from the past and plan for the future, but I live in the present. Sometimes, this leads to procrastination. My thoughts tend to focus on the positive. I label myself with words that give me confidence.
I strive to achieve humility, while avoiding any indication of self-centeredness. (Some might see these paragraphs as indications of failure in this area. I don’t).
I recognize mistakes and, if they have hurt or diminished others, I seek forgiveness. I delegate responsibilities easily and strive to stay out of the way. Sometimes I get in the way and things run better—and sometimes much worse. I feel respected by those around me, but sometimes, also, my impatience leads to a desire to control. This is the characteristic I like the least. I know I can change this. I’m working on it with the massive assistance of my sweet Diane, our six children, their spouses, all their children, and the soldiers of the corps.
Somehow, I have learned to handle stress—and even enjoy it. I take seriously the Army’s motto—Others—for I enjoy people—all people very much. I work to avoid judgmentalism—and most often am successful. I have learned the value of empathy in human relationships and seek to be empathic with others.
My life is guided by positive values about which, for the most part, I am aware. I relate to God through the image I have of Christ. I value diversity— respect differences—work to resist any form of oppression imposed on anyone—struggle to love my neighbor and remember that “people matter most.” I keep my promises—maintain my vows and remain faithful.
I try to be around people who will add positives to my life.
While I recognize that those with whom I associate can have much to do with the characteristics seen in my life, I do not believe that those around me shape me. I recognize that I have choice. I can allow this to happen if I choose, or I can disallow it. I must take the freedom that is mine and accept total responsibility for the manner in which I choose to use it.
At the Tab, I have been blessed with a great array of friends including some magnificent corps officers. There has been harmony even in disagreement. My parents, their friends and associates, my family at home and my family at the corps have contributed in significant ways to my life. The Army as a cultural institution with its own set of values and mores has also provided the environment from which my choices have added such words as perseverance without perseveration, consistency without rigidity, love without manipulation.
I stay in the corps while passing the mantle of lay-leadership to the one who follows—a generation behind. Interestingly enough, the search committee selected our daughter, Sharon, as my replacement. In some ways, it might say we like what you have become, Bob, and see a lot of it in her. I say, “it’s true—only it’s even better.”
… and in the words of Tiny Tim—“God bless us, everyone.”