Rev. Tom Davis, Ph.D.
Commissioned Interfaith Peacemaker of New Castle Presbytery
My Early Upbringing.
I was raised first in a Lutheran church. I remember being welcomed at age four or so into the children’s choir. I loved to sing, so I had a good first feeling about church. When I was in third grade my parents joined Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. I was very active in the youth group there. I remember listening to sermons very critically. From an early age I had a curiosity and an affinity for non-Christians. I asked my Sunday school teacher whether God would condemn Buddhists simply because they had never heard about Jesus. He said that he knew little about Buddhism, but he encouraged me to do research in the public library. I was pleased with that response because I considered it honest, and respectful of my sincere will to learn. I have always cherished that open minded attitude in the church which raised me. And I am so grateful that upon my request presbytery commissioned me as an Interfaith Peacemaker, because I have always, since childhood, had an interfaith soul.
Tom Davis driving a 17-foot patrol boat on the Ham Luong River in the Mekong Delta, 1970.
A Crucible Experience and Spiritual Awakening
In 1970 I served as a military adviser to the South Vietnamese Navy, patrolling rivers and canals in the Mekong Delta. From time to time I did the infantry thing, walking ashore in enemy territory. I was scared of being captured or dying. And I felt terrible about setting ambushes. That felt like murder. One day in April when my adviser buddies were upriver getting supplies, I was back at base monitoring the radio. My fundamentalist cousin had sent me some paperbacks, one of which was authored by Catherine Marshall. She wrote, “Just talk to Jesus like he is sitting next to you. No fancy prayer is necessary. Just speak your need. What have you got to lose?” So, I did. I said, “Jesus, are you for real? If you’re for real and are listening, I need some help here. I’m scared, and I’m sick and tired of what I’m doing.” I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t see anything. But in a matter of seconds I had the most profound sense of peace and joy. It’s hard to describe, this meeting with the spirit of Jesus. I wrote home that if I lived, I was going to drop philosophy and study religion. I wanted to teach religion. That’s as much as I knew at the time. It was a momentous first step in a long journey.
“Just talk to Jesus like he is sitting next to you. No fancy prayer is necessary. Just speak your need. What have you got to lose?” So, I did. I said, “Jesus, are you for real?
Recognizing That the Family of God is Very, Very Wide.
I have come to understand Jesus as someone who shows the way, and as someone who is in communion with God all the time. I am not, but I try to follow in the way of living that he exemplified. Especially I try to be compassionate, and to forgive others and myself.
I see the spirit of Jesus in other Christians, and also in others who are not Christian, and even sometimes in atheists. My experience of Jesus is very precious to me, and I of course would want others to experience the same peace and joy that I have felt. But I discover more and more that this experience of the divine, this oceanic awareness, is not confined to the Christian fold. So, when I recognize it in spiritual cousins, I say amen and join with them in aspiring to a holy life.
More Faith Stories
This past year I found a black dot on my thumbnail that looked like a pencil point. Nothing much to it. Then it became an abrasion at the end of my nail. My doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who found it to be malignant skin cancer.
At that point I said, “I can’t do this myself. It’s in your hands, God.” That part I remember clearly. It turns out that it was really, really was up to Him (and a good surgeon).
So when drugs and alcohol came around, it was easy for me to say “yes,” because I didn’t have anything in me saying “no” anymore. As I got more involved with drugs, I got into more crime. I started committing violent crimes, selling drugs, abusing drugs ended up back up in prison.
Losing my eyesight when I was nine years old was a difficult diagnosis to accept. My eyes welled up in tears and I became apprehensive for my future.
But God has taken the mess of my life, all my heartache, all my troubles with everything I’m going through now, and He’s got it. I’m not worried. I have learned that through this you have to take baby steps. What I would tell someone is you do your best fighting and talking on your knees.
When it was all added up, my life was going nowhere. Had trouble even deciding what I wanted to study at school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. “Nada.”