My Tapestry

This journal was begun in 1999. In Calvin Seminary, I took a class entitled “Adult Education in the Church” taught by Dr. Ron Habermas, McGee professor of biblical studies at John Brown University. As part of that class, we were given the assignment of looking back on our own lives and writing what he called “the tapestry” of our lives. It made me think about people in my life who influenced me and the events in my life that remain somewhere in my mind. It caused me to reflect on my relationship with God and how it changed at various times in my life. As I thought about this website, I remembered that assignment and I found “My Tapestry” on an old floppy disk that was corrupted. Fortunately for me, I was able to recover it and plan on expanding on it and bringing it current from 1999 to 2007 and beyond. Doing this was not only enjoyable; I was personally enriched by it. I thank Dr. Habermas, who by the way is an excellent teacher that I admire very much.

My Tapestry

I was born on February 17, 1956 in a little North Jersey town called Midland Park. I was the first son born to John and Eleanor Kooreman and the first grandchild of my paternal grandparents, Jacob and Alice, with whom we lived during the first years of my life.

1956 – 1960. During these years, I lived at 46 Rea Avenue in Midland Park. I find it interesting that I remember that because there are many other addresses which I don’t recall. We lived in an upstairs apartment and my grandparents lived downstairs. My grandparents were key figures in my life. My father owned a restaurant and worked long hours and I didn’t see him as often as I would have liked. I spent a great deal of time with my grandfather, Jacob and of course my mom.  My grandfather and I did some projects together including making a birch tree log into a candle holder for my mother. I had a good friend named Bill Wendelaar who was born 3 days before me and who lived next door. We became best friends and played together every day. We remain friends to this day. I don’t recall a marker event or an image of God other than as someone who was always watching me. This was the 50s, which I thankfully don’t recall much of but clearly times and culture have changed dramatically since. Our home at 46 Rea was the center of my universe and my parents the authorities in my life. In 1959, my sister Debbie was born. I certainly was not a good child. I did things that cost my parents some money. My dad tells me that I filled up his gas tank using a garden hose. I remember throwing rocks through windows of a small house built behind our neighbor’s home. I was in a truck that rolled down the street and struck another vehicle. I caused them grief from an early age. That continued for a long time.

1961 – 1967.

I began school. I attended the Midland Park Christian School on Maltbie Ave. which was just 2 streets over from Rea. Billy and I walked to school every day. In 1963, we moved from our home in Midland Park to an adjoining town. The first move was traumatic because it was away from my grandparents and my friend Billy. We subsequently moved quite often and it became easier each time, especially because I remained in the same school system – Eastern Christian School Association.

I grew closer and more appreciative of my father and I can remember special times with him. He took me to a demolition derby and to baseball games and I very much looked forward to those times alone with him. My circle of friends grew. I also grew close to several cousins and we spent most of our Sunday afternoons together at my maternal grandmother’s home in Glen Rock. I can remember driving with my parents on November 22, 1963 and they were listening to the radio when it was announced that our president had been assassinated. My mother burst into tears and I didn’t understand. My best times were spent with friends playing and I actually by this time experimented with smoking cigarettes which we stole from my father. He smoked Kent. I believe that I prayed regularly and was certain that God was watching and taking care of me. I was raised well by my parents and never doubted God. I trusted in Him. My center began to shift to include school. I moved from the Midland Park Christian School to the Wyckoff School when the Midland Park School closed. In 1962, my brother Alan was born. My father became more of an authority in my life during these years although I stretched his limits. One big event during this time was a summer day on which Billy and I rode our bikes from Midland Park to a place called Beaver Lake. It was a trip well over 30 miles and I remember my mother being quite concerned. We did it.

1968 – 1969.

These were my junior high years and from all accounts they were difficult years for me and my parents. I drifted apart a bit from Billy and developed some new friends who my parents considered to be a bad influence on me. Mike Hemkes, Barry Hoekstra and others were rebellious and often in trouble but fun to be with. We listened to music, including the Beatles, the Stones, the Band, the Doors and Led Zeppelin. My parents remained key relationships in my life but I enjoyed times with my friends and their acceptance of me was a priority.

I remember April 4, 1968. I was listening to the radio in my room and there was a bulletin announcement. “The American black civil rights leader, Dr Martin Luther King, has been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.” Within just a couple of days, rioting broke out in many American cities. It was a frightening and confusing time. My uncle John Hagedorn was in the National Guard and called to duty in Newark. I remember a Sunday afternoon at my grandmother’s home in Glen Rock at which Uncle John came back and told the adults (I overheard) that “I got some of the n*****s.”  (I doubt it by the way. He talked big.) My father rebuked him and said, “You can’t be a Christian and talk like that.” Uncle John said, “Then I guess I am not a Christian.” All the adults sat in dead silence, undoubtedly uncomfortable and probably upset with my father for destroying the nice Sunday afternoon. I was very proud of him and I will never forget that. I had a morning paper route. I delivered several different morning papers. I remember that the NY Daily News was not with the rest of the bundled papers when I went for them on June 6, 1968. When I returned home from the route, the NY Daily News papers were now there. They had the largest headline I had ever seen. The entire front page said only, “KENNEDY SHOT”.

This was a time when I neglected God. It was not an intentional withdrawing from him. I always believed but I simply knew that I was not pleasing him. During this time, my friends were central in my life. My parents were concerned.

1971 – 1974.

My high school years – After living at various addresses since moving from Midland Park in 1963, we returned to Midland Park – to a very nice home on a large lot and quiet street. My mother loved her new home and they lived there for over 30 years. In 1972, my mother at age 40 gave birth to my sister Sharon. During the first years of HS, I continued the rebellion of Jr. High. However by my junior year, I was ready to find and know the reality of God in a more personal way and I sought Him. It was a time when that was actually a popular thing to do. I attended with friends, more contemporary and charismatic services. I gave my life to Jesus again. We began Bible studies and had prayer meetings which became attractive to others who were seeking more in their lives. Doug Schuurman was an important person in my life as he was (and is) a natural and gifted leader who organized and conducted these times. God was very real to me. We went regularly to hear Malcolm Smith, a very charismatic teacher. Sometimes I think that He was never more real and important to me than in those days. He used me to bring my best friend Bob Steenstra into relationship with Him which was thrilling. I returned home figuratively and literally. My parents were affirming of the changes in me.

I worked in my father’s restaurant during these years, “Johnny and Norm’s Drive In” at 1140 Goffle Road in Hawthorne. I became a pretty good short order cook and enjoyed many friends. I enjoyed hanging out with waitresses – good people and fun to be with. I dated various girls but remained somewhat insecure. Nixon resigned in 1974. I remember talking everyday about Nixon with my father’s partner, Norm Baker, who believed in Nixon but finally said, “You know that son of a ****** really did it”. He was angry with the deception and felt betrayed. I enjoyed these years.

1975 -1979.

My college years. I attended a small Christian college named Nyack College in 1975. I hated it as I didn’t know anyone and it was difficult to meet and become friends with students because I commuted from NJ while they lived on campus. I decided on my own to transfer to Montclair State College and major in Political Science which had become an increasing interest of mine. I continued to live at home and worked other jobs to pay for college including at various restaurants (Clixes, the Hot Grill, Steaks and Stuff). Then I began work driving a limousine in the NYC area for Executive Limousine, owned by Billy Wendelaar’s father. I loved that job. I met many interesting people during this time including Mohammed Ali, George McGovern, Daniel Berrigan and Jimmy Carter. Bruce Willis was a classmate at Montclair St.

Most importantly, I met the love of my life, Eileen Kunis. We met through her brother, Dave.  Dave was in Clixes with this fine looking girl and I asked him if she was his girlfriend. He grimaced and said, “No, my sister.  Do you want to meet her?” I did and we went out.  Our first date was to see the NY Yankees. These were really good and fun years.

I sometimes look back and think that 1978 was the very best year of my life. In the summer of 78, my cousin and friend Tim Vanderweert and I drove into Manhattan together every evening. He was attending a photography school while I studied for the Law School Admission Test. The NY Yankees were surging in the standings over the summer. They began their assault on the division-leading Red Sox who were a full 14 games ahead of the Yankees in late July and the Yankees fought on until they caught them on the last day of the season. They were led by pitcher Ron Guidry who finished that year 25-3! Usually, Tim and I wound up at McSorley’s Old Ale House – the oldest bar in the United States. After class, we’d watch the end of the Yankee games. One night that summer, the Yankees were playing the Boston Red Sox in NY and the race for the pennant was very close. As Tim and I drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, I said, “I really would love to see the game tonight.” We discussed it and drove straight across Manhattan into the Bronx and bought seats in the bleachers. There were fights between drunken Red Sox fans and Yankee fans. We saw Ron Guidry beat the Sox in a great game. When I got home, my father was still up and said to me, “You missed a great game.” He was so proud of me for studying so hard over the summer. He paid for the course as well. I could not bring myself to tell him that I did not miss the game at all. The Yankees beat the Sox in Fenway in a one game playoff with Bucky ****Dent, hitting a home run that sealed it. They went on to win the World Series over the Dodgers again. It was in the summer of 1978 that I saw for the first time a man whose music became very important to me over the rest of my life – Bruce Springsteen. His music is the soundtrack for my life. From this time on, I associate his music with where I was at the time and what I was doing. He is very important to me. I saw him twice that summer. The first time was in Madison Square Garden and then the Palladium Theater. Both shows were amazing. Also In 1978, I sought and gained admission to Rutgers University Law School. That was an incredibly thrilling day for me and Eileen. I knew that my life was going to turn out all right.

On July 6, 1979 Eileen and I married and we moved to Lindenwald NJ. I began law school at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden NJ that August. (It is not the end of the world but you can see it from there.) I was grateful to God as it appeared to me I was living a charmed life. I wanted my marriage to be blessed of Him but slowly, my pride grew and I became more and more independent of all that went before. This was my first time away from my home, my church and friends. Life changed dramatically. I became my own authority figure.

1979 – 1982.

Law School years. Eileen and I lived in an apartment in Camden county NJ about 100 miles from home. She was the key relationship in my life although we made friends with other students and even some people from the church we attended. Law school is a very intense experience and it became my focus, clearly to the detriment of my life with Eileen. Jimmy Carter, our president lost to Ronald Reagan in large part I think due to the hostage situation in Iran. Apart from a community to hold me accountable, I drifted away from God and took Eileen with me. We began to be indistinguishable from any other students and enjoyed our times and parties with them. We partied well and I felt that I deserved it because I was under the stress of Law School. My friends included Sal Delello and Phil Lembo. The three of us spent a great deal of time together and we helped each other through the experience.

My first job in Law School was for a professor, Jay Feinman who taught contract law and who clearly liked me.  I worked as his teaching and research assistant. I spent a summer researching “Mechanic’s Liens” in Phildelphia between 1860 and 1890 – very exciting stuff. Jay was very liberal, very short and very smart. I think he liked that I was a “regular guy.” He became dean and then I think for a while was president of the Law School.

1982 – 1986.

After graduation from law school, I took a one year position in the New Jersey Superior Court as a judicial clerk. I worked and we lived in beautiful Cape May County. We rented a small condo a few blocks off the beach in Sea Isle City. Eileen and I struggled due to my neglect of her needs during the previous years. We separated for a short time but by God’s grace, she forgave me and returned. I was totally at fault. I had a very inflated view of myself and enjoyed the respect and attention that others gave to me. I worked for Judge Phillip Gruccio AJSC and he became influential to me, teaching me a respect for our profession. He was in 1982-3, a key person in my life. He showed me the dignity of the profession. I devoted myself to my work.  I spent time at the beach and enjoyed the shore’s social and night life. We joined and became involved in a local Methodist church and made many friends. After my clerkship, I took a position in a law firm in Vineland NJ and then thereafter with friends in a firm in Wildwood NJ. The major news story of this time was the explosion of the Challenger, which I saw live on a TV screen at a 7-11 in Wildwood. The major news story for Eileen and I was the birth of our first child John Edward, a beautiful and happy son. I sought to balance (unsuccessfully) my practice and my family. My peers in the practice were becoming the center of my life and values as we sought to be successful and important. But I found it to be difficult to be successful in an area in which you are not well known and I began to think of returning to North Jersey, especially as my father had gone into the Real Estate profession and was doing very well. I saw opportunity there. In 1986, we moved to Prospect Park NJ, about 5 miles from my parents. In this move, my father became again an authority figure as I sought his counsel and aid in building a practice. I also felt my need again of God. I sought Him, looking for His blessing of us. Perhaps that’s how I viewed Him at that point.

1987 -1996.

Eileen and I bought a home in Midland Park. I was back to where it all began for me. I worked first for William C. Hanse in an office we established in a bank building. Our first home in Midland Park was a 2 family but in 1992, we purchased one of the nicest homes in town. The practice was going quite well generally. I entered into partnership with Russ Teschon and our relationship was a key one during these years. My focus was on our firm and we worked many hours. I also finally explored my political interests and was elected to various positions including town council in 1993. I enjoyed politics. In the world, unbelievable changes occurred as the Berlin wall came down and communism that great threat disappeared from the earth. Eileen was committed to staying with me but wasn’t happy with her life with me. There was emptiness in our marriage. We rejoiced in the birth of our second son, Justin born on July 4, 1989. Eileen would testify with me that the marker event of these years was the Promise Keeper conference held in Washington DC in May of 1994.  God spoke to me at that conference and I fully committed my life to him, repented of my neglect of my family, and determined that they would be the priority for me. I also began to see how I had neglected the interests of the Kingdom of God, his call to righteousness and exchanged his living water for broken cisterns that did not satisfy. I began with Eileen a process of seeking anew God’s will for us. We became involved in Madison Ave. CRC, an inner city congregation in Paterson NJ. Our search resulted in our moving to Michigan for study and preparation for ministry. Key people for us were Rev. John Algera and Ken VanderWall, who helped me understand and discern God’s will. Doing God’s will became important as we understood Him to be sovereign and we sought to make Him the center of our home. Eileen and I became closer as partners in grace and service. We began times of prayer and Bible study together. Together, we made the decision to move to Grand Rapids, MI and pursue a new life.

1996 – 1999.

We are living in Grand Rapids Michigan. It is almost impossible to believe at times. Key relationships in my life begin with Eileen but now include Jerry Zandstra, my friend and pastor, Rev. Dante Veneges and others. We remain somewhat unsure of the Lord’s plans for us and are actively seeking his will. We are committed to our sons’ growth and development as children of God. We moved into a new home, sold to us by friends here in GR who raised their children there and now are experiencing an empty nest. It is a great home – warm and charming. It is a blessing for our family. We are witnessing strange times in our country – Clinton’s impeachment and Columbine to name just 2. However, God is sovereign and real in our lives. It is our desire to live in communion with him, find a community in which we are at home and know His purposes for us and fulfill them. I resist the authoritative nature of Seminary administration. Looking back, those were difficult years. I hated that the seminary treated all its students as if they were 20 years old. I hated the process of psychological evaluation of the seminary, which was troubling if not downright unlawful. I did not have the number of friends as I did in my Law School days. We find ourselves living somewhat more autonomously than we would like due to Grand Rapids being so new to us. We are centered in our family life. Nonetheless, seminary study is time consuming and an important part of my life at this time. I considered various opportunities of service during the last year of seminary for me. I even considered an opportunity to practice law here in Grand Rapids with a fellow seminarian, who has maintained his active practice. What has changed may not be so much what we do as who we are before God. We want now to know what God desires for us and are available for His purposes.

2000 – 2007.

These 7 years have probably been the most interesting of my life. Much has happened. Let’s begin with January 1, 2000 at about 3 minutes past midnight. Eileen and I threw a big New Years Eve party.  There were lots of Grand Rapidians.  At a couple of minutes before midnight, I played the song “1999” by Prince. The song finished, I watched the ball fall and then went outside to participate in our neighborhood celebration. I was stooping down to light off a bottle rocked when I was knocked backwards on my ass in the snow. My head felt like it was on fire. I put my hand up to my head and it was immediately covered in blood. I had no idea what had happened. I was driven to St. Mary’s Hospital and met there by waiting staff who took me in immediately. I was treated by a physician, who they had called out of a party. He was dressed in a tux. He examined me and said, “I trained in Detroit. You have an entrance wound and exit wound. You have been shot.” I make the claim that I was the first shooting victim of the new millennium. It turned out that I was struck by a stray bullet fired from a 38 caliber handgun. I have the bullet. No arrests were made.

Over these years, I developed a friendship with Dr. John Perkins. Grace CRC has become John Perkin’s favorite church – his “home away from home.” I consider it the greatest honor of my life that this influential Christian leader considers me to be his friend and has become a mentor to me. Charles Marsh, in his fine book on the civil rights movement entitled “The Beloved Community” names Perkins the most influential African American Christian leader, since Martin Luther King, Jr. I was aware of Perkin’s life and work. I had read his books and agreed with his outlook on racial reconciliation, forgiveness and urban community development. He influenced me through his writings and I admired him. I began working at Church of the Servant (COS) in 2000. That year, my friend Noel Castellanos, now Executive Director of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) invited me, as his guest to their annual conference. CCDA was founded by Dr. Perkins. At the conference I introduced myself to John and we spoke briefly. Shortly after I returned to Grand Rapids, Nate Bradford a college student attending COS, informed me that he was hoping to do a one year internship with John Perkins in Mississippi and asked me to help him raise funds for that internship. Nate worked with Perkins for a couple of years and on each of those years I took members of COS to Jackson MS. It was on those trips that Perkins and I spoke together and began a close relationship. In May of 2003, John Perkins gave the commencement address at Calvin College. On that Sunday, he preached at my invitation at COS and had dinner at my home. After dinner, my son John (a high school senior) and Dr. Perkins spoke privately. My son decided to move to Jackson to begin work with Dr. Perkins. (Perkins can be persuasive.) That move provided opportunity for John Perkins and I to speak even more often. In 2004, I received a call to become pastor of Grace CRC. I went to Jackson to talk it over with my friend. We talked about the options that I had before me and I decided while in Jackson to accept your call to serve here. In a moment of boldness, I said to Perkins, “If I accept the call to Grace, would you come and preach at my installation?” To my surprise, he agreed immediately. He preached at Grace Church at my installation on August 22, 2004 and has preached 3 times since then. To be continued


 
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