Mature Adults... Quality Years, Quality Life
Richard Clark is perhaps best known locally as the unofficial historian of the Peace Arch who has also been something of a gadfly for peace in appearances before Blaine City Council.
Clark, 78, is also a former college professor and newspaper editor who holds an undergraduate and three graduate degrees, including the first master of arts in sociology ever awarded by Western Washington University (WWU).
A life-long learner, he became a nationally certified piano teacher at the age of 60 and started an artists series in 1990 that later developed into the Pacific Arts Association, sponsors of local concerts and the highly successful Blaine Jazz Festival.
He has also just completed his third book, “Riding the Carousel with God,” an autobiography that tracks his life-long spiritual journey by inter-weaving his life story with a series of religious essays he wrote over a period of years stretching back to his youth in Blaine.
The combination of writing that tends toward the speculative on the one hand and the experiential on the other makes for some interesting reading, and will surprise many locals who think they know all about this diminutive priest, journalist, musician, writer and, most of all, teacher.
His use of a carousel as a metaphor runs through the book, beginning in the preface – “Certainly, I’m not the first person to compare life with a carousel. We’ve all gone round and round … in the passing prisms of our lives,” he explains.
“God also rides my carousel. One never rides alone, you know. But God hasn’t tamed me yet. I’m a feral theologian.”
Wild though he may be at times, like any good teacher Clark does not seek to indoctrinate but stimulate. He’s not after agreement but active dialogue.
“In lieu of traditional chapters,” he writes in his preface, “I have interjected essays that reveal the influence of religion and theology in my life, and vice-versa ... I hope my unorthodoxies will promote thought and reflection on behalf of my readers.”
Another device he uses that gives the book an almost conversational tone is to break from his past tense autobiographical narrative and, often at the end of chapters, switch to the present tense as a way of reminding the reader that he’s telling us not just a history but a shaped and focused story.
For example, at the end of the long “Scotch Cap diary” chapter (he uses titles but no chapter numbers) in which he tells of being trapped by an active volcano in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, the last paragraph begins “I think I’ll take a coffee break now, and interject another essay when I return ... if it proves too much for you, just skip it, and from there my Kodiak adventure will continue.”
Clark attended public school in Blaine beginning in 1936, a year ahead of Tom George, son of Blaine Journal publisher Red George. Forty-eight years later Tom would hire Clark at his newly combined Ferndale Record and Blaine Journal that he published as the Westside Record-Journal.
Clark’s family lived on a farm on Clark Road, later Valley View Road. In 1956 the Clark’s traded their farm to Jack Mathers for a house at Second and B streets. Clark still lives there, but in the intervening years has lived in several states and two Canadian provinces.
After graduating from WWU in 1952 with a B.A. in music, Clark attended Berkeley Baptist Divinity School in California.
He also served at a Baptist church in Pincher Creek, Alberta, four years later becoming an Anglican priest. His career as a Baptist ended with a heresy trial, and his career as a priest ended in the stresses and pulls of parish life.
A sabbatical year to attend WWU for graduate study in sociology ended with him leaving the church when he found that the kindly bishop who had supported him had been replaced by a martinet who returned his letters unopened.
Clark discusses all this with frankness and humor, reviewing at one point all the nicknames he’d had as a priest (Rotten Reverend Richard, Super Priest, Dangerous Deacon Dick and Humble Dick the Sneaky Parson). He went on to teach at College of the Ozarks, Southwest Missouri State and eventually Chapman College, who sent him to Alaska for his adventure with a volcano.
In 1983 he returned and signed on with the Record-Journal for 10 years beginning the following year. Since then he’s been a professional piano and music teacher.
The chapters include a couple of interesting variations, a copy of his diary he kept while in Alaska and a verbatim transcript of a deep and somewhat revealing encounter with church officials well after he’d left the church. Religiously, Clark introduces some complex and arcane issues with clarity and style, writing about the on-going friction between those who take the Bible literally and those who take it as originally written as a collection of informed community-shaping myths.
His opinions may border on the quirky but he has gathered wisdom in his years and his book, at times funny and sad, sarcastic and gentle, is a pleasant read that tells a lot about Blaine in the process of revealing Clark’s interesting life.
The self-published, 291-page book is not yet available at local stores, but can be ordered online. “Just Google the title and it will come up for as little as $9,” he said. He closes by saying “I treasure the opinions of others. If I’m still on Planet Earth after you’ve finished reading my book, kindly convey your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, who will appreciate hearing from you. Farewell, friends, I’ll look for you on the next carousel.”