Doyle Hamilton oral history interview, 2011-02-25

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
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SUZANNE DEGNATS: Okay I'm Suzanne Degnats, and we are doing a religious lives interview on February 25 2011 and I am here with Doug to do the interview in Atlanta, Georgia. Okay, um -- we're going to first talk about your faith in your childhood and really what we're wanting here is stories. So if you have a nice -- you know, you'll talk to people sometimes and you'll go "Oh, well that's a long story," that's the story we want. So. So we really want some stories. So if you could talk about what your earliest memories were concerning your faith in childhood.

DOYLE HAMILTON: Sure. Well, one of the first memories that I have as a child was my introduction to faith. Faith was always a part of my family life growing up, it was -- we attended worship services on a regular basis in the small town that 1:00I grew up in North Louisiana. And faith has been a part of our family heritage. Back to my great grandfather. I remember stories and histories -- my great grandfather was well known in our denomination, and for me as a child growing up, he was kind of a hero, a faith hero. My great grandfather. And one of my first memories as a child was my baptism. I grew up in a Christian home, and when I was about eight years old I was baptized. And for people that are -- from a Christian perspective, the baptism is an outward expression of an inner experience. So when I was eight, I was baptized along with my sister. I'll give you a visual (shows a picture of his sister).This is my sister, that was eighteen months older than I am, and my other sister who was three years older 2:00than I am.

DEGNATS: Cute picture.

HAMILTON: Thank you. My parents had three children in thirty-six months, and my mom had a miscarriage in between Brenda, my middle, the middle child, and myself. This was of course - -- we're talking about the early fifties. My parents married in 1951, and Debbie, my sister, was born in '52 and Brenda was born in '54 and I was born in '55. So, one of my first experiences, back to your question, was my baptism. And Brenda, my middle sister, and I were baptized at the same time. And I remember that just as well as if it were yesterday. In fact, I went back home -- been back home several times in Louisiana -- but I went back home a couple years ago for Debbie's funeral, and it was in that same 3:00congregation. Yeah -- the baptismal where Brenda and I were baptized was behind me, and I was asked to speak at my sister Debbie's funeral. It was a faith crisis. It was a crisis of faith because Debbie, at about age 55, had a tumor in her leg, she was being treated at MD Anderson, and the tumor eventually went to her brain, and we just watched her slowly decline.

DEGNATS: I'm sorry.

HAMILTON: Yeah, it was quite an experience. And for me, it was a grief experience. Of course, I work, I didn't mention this, but I work as a pastoral counselor, and I'm also licensed as marriage and family therapist. So when I am doing good work, I'm able to integrate both faith and practice. So I take 4:00spirituality, faith I take it very seriously. And I'm always interested as I get to know folks, and most of the people that I see are people of faith, I get most of my referrals from clergy. And that was kind of my entree into the field of mental health. My father was a physician, I mentioned that earlier. And it was kind of the expectation in my family that I would be a physician. But I decided my freshman year in college that I wanted to do something that was faith related in my work. So, I went to seminary, I didn't know exactly what that was, I thought that I would work in a local parish, but I went to seminary and then I worked as a chaplain at a hospital in Dallas, and it was while I was working as 5:00a chaplain, and then also I worked in a parish for a little while as an associate. And I began working with single adults, and I had the theological education but I really didn't have the clinical training. So I went back to a pastoral training center there, in Dallas-

DEGNATS: Excuse me, but can we just go back a little bit to your childhood? This is great, I just-

HAMILTON: Oh, yeah, of course, sure. You wanted specifics about my childhood-

DEGNATS: Yes. About the baptism, was it a full immersion baptism?

HAMILTON: Oh, that's a good question. It was, yes, it was.

DEGNATS: And do you remember what you were wearing, or who immersed you, or what you felt?

HAMILTON: I do, I do. I remember that James Edward was the pastor that baptized me; I do not remember what I wore, what people wear -- what they currently wear is some kind of robe, so I'm assuming I wore the same type of garment. But it's 6:00a baptismal pool-I don't know if you have ever been in a Baptist church-but it's actually, water. And the symbolism of the baptism is we're buried with Christ in baptism, and then when they bring you up, the minister says raised to walk in newness of life. So that's what happened to me. But, you know, I was eight, so it was a, it was faith of an eight year old. And, wow! My faith has just transpired so much through the years, it's amazing. But it was a beginning point.

DEGNATS: What denomination was this?

HAMILTON: Baptist. And, keep in mind, both my Mom and my Dad came from Baptist traditions, and the great grandfather I mentioned to you earlier, he was Baptist. So, Baptist is a part of our experience growing up.


DEGNATS: What was it about your grandfather that was such an influence on you?

HAMILTON: Well, he was a wise person, he was a well-educated man, he had a doctorate in theology, he was also a leader. And in our denomination, he was the, he was the president of the convention. In the United States, he was the number one person. (laughs). To me, as a child, that was just so cool, to see that and he was educated, he was a leader, he was a spiritual man -- I have -- that's his academic hood I have right here in my office.

DEGNATS: Wow -- still looks new.

HAMILTON: Yeah (laughs) and that's my academic hood. I wear that occasionally. 8:00And in my home I also have some belongings of his that I still treasure. So, I guess that -- I don't know if that answers your question. You know, when he died -- what year did he die? He died -- probably in '62 or so -- I don't know when he died-it was probably before '62 so I was six or seven. So, the only thing I remember about that experience is that we were in our back yard, sodding our back yard, and my dad was -- he was in his early thirties-and he came and told us that great grandfather had died. And that's about my only memory. So I don't 9:00really even remember him. But his image -- his presence is very powerful in my life.

DEGNATS: What were some of the practices at home? I'm assuming you went to church?

HAMILTON: We did go to church, regularly. Giving was very important in my family growing up. Tithing -- I don't know if you know the word tithing or not, but it was - -- I grew up in a family where money was not something that we worried about. Provisions were made, provisions were given. So I always had money to give because my physical needs were always being met. And so as a child I always enjoyed giving. I've had a lot of blessing. You know, the scripture says it's more blessed to give than to receive. And I experienced that. Now, you know, my food was taken care of, and my education was taken care of so I didn't have to worry about my necessities. So I was blessed in the sense that I was able to 10:00give. Now, I know that sometimes people don't have food, and people have to pay for education, now, all of that was provided for me. So, giving has always been -- we went to church regularly, we gave -- we prayed, at home. I remember sitting in my dad's lap and reading my Sunday school lesson. And then, two faith people who were really instrumental in my life were my mother's mother who we called granny, and then Mary, whose picture I showed you a minute ago. She was a very committed Christian, and she in some ways-

DEGNATS: She was your nanny-

HAMILTON: Yes, and I called her nanny. Oh, she was -- She didn't have any children of her own. And, oh, she was so proud of me and used to call me her 11:00baby, she would carry a picture of me in her wallet-

DEGNATS: How sweet.

HAMILTON: Yeah -- she would ride the bus -- when I was fifteen, I learned how to drive. In Louisiana you could drive at fifteen. Well, she was so determined by seeing me drive, that she wanted to learn how to drive. So, when I got my license at fifteen, soon after that she got her license. And she got a car, and she was really proud of that. But I grew up in the south --

DEGNATS: Private or public school?

HAMILTON: No, I went to -- very intentional about going to public school. I was right in the middle of integration -- segregation-integration -- all that, it was a mess. Oh, wow. I remember in elem- in middle school, we had a black girl. It was the first black student I had ever seen when I was in the seventh grade. 12:00Here name was Dorothy. Then Dexter came, and that was in middle school, junior high, and by the time we were in high school we were fully integrated. But it was -- and there was a private school there. And I got pressured to go to private school, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to stay at a public school.

DEGNATS: Do you remember when you were young if, at your public school, they said prayers? If there was any reference to the bible?

HAMILTON: We did. I do remember -- that's a good question. The Gideons used to come to our school in elementary school and give us bibles -- remember the little bibles? (laughs)

DEGNATS: I do. Those tiny little bibles, yeah.

HAMILTON: I do remember that. In high school, we paused for a moment of silence. They didn't call it prayer, but people could pray if they wanted to. That's an 13:00interesting question. It was not really public -- See, I come from a faith tradition that believes very strongly about the separation of church and state.

DEGNATS: You do?

HAMILTON: I do. And we really -- that's one of my -- a strong belief in my denomination and in my perspective is that there needs to be a strong separation of church and state. And the reason I belief that is -- you know, my preference is to pray in Christ's name. So I wouldn't want someone from another faith perspective to force their prayer on me, so I want -my preference is the separation of church and state. And let the church be the church, and let the state do what it needs to do. But, anyway, that's -- I did go to a private college, I went to Baylor University, in Texas, and went to Baptist seminaries.

DEGNATS: And when you were a child, did you think about religion, or was it more 14:00something that you participated in because it was normal, because of your family --

HAMILTON: I really thought about it. And I was kind of a -- I had a faith bent or a spiritual bent as a child. And I don't know how to describe that. I just had a leaning or a bent toward matters of faith or matters of spirituality, even at a young age. And I'm sure my family system impacted that to some degree. And I will say this. The church, as a high school student, was very meaningful to me. The church was, to me, like a surrogate family. And I got a lot -- which had a lot to do with my decision to study for the ministry because I got a lot of affirmation and validation from this family of families, which is my way of 15:00thinking about the church. They saw in me some leadership gifts and also some spiritual gifts, I think, that they affirmed, and so it seemed natural for me -- although I will say this. My father, being a physician, he had a hard time with my decision to go into the ministry. It was a shoo-in for me to practice medicine. He had an office, he had a -- he inherited a practice, a medical practice from his uncle, that died when my dad was in his thirties and he just inherited the practice, as well as the patients as well as the -- so it was just a shoo-in. But I felt a call -- I felt a call to do ministry, and I still really 16:00do feel a call to do the work. People that sit where you sit...I work as a pastoral counselor. And the depth to what people talk about with me is very sacred and there is richness about that. But I will say this. It can be very dark at times. But that's more of an adult (laughs) . You want to stay with the child (laughs). But what I do believe, Suzanne, it is the childhood experience impacts the adult experience.

DEGNATS: Tell me about your-you've already touched on it -- tell me just a little bit about your adolescence and teenage years -- because some people go through a lot, so just tell me how it was for you during those years in relation to your faith.

HAMILTON: Okay, my adolescent and teenage years. I guess I would have to say 17:00part of my challenge was -- the psychobabble word would be individuation. Where I was trying to figure out who I was separate and apart from the family. So I manifested a lot of anger -- I didn't know this at the time -- I manifested a lot of anger and resentment for several things. But as I look back on it, it was kind of my way to become my own person that was connected to my family but also separate. I grew up on the wealthier side of the tracks. And there were times in my adolescence that I felt very guilty about that. And which probably impacted my motivation to give. So, part of my individuation was trying to -- and since I 18:00have been able to affirm that, and I don't feel the anger that I did, but the anger helped me to become myself, if that makes sense. It gave me some distance. Because my family -- we did grow up with what I would consider a lot of excess -- a lot of none essential fluff. So, as an adolescent, I had a lot of interest in people who didn't have fluff or excess.

DEGNATS: And this was in the sixties --

HAMILTON: Yeah, late sixties. I was in high school starting in '69 and I graduated in '73. So high school for me-yeah, you're right; late sixties -- early seventies. So I remember in college I had real mission and energy in the 19:00ministry to people in Bangladesh and people that were hungry-

DEGNATS: Physically hungry?

HAMILTON: Yeah, physically hungry. Good question. And in my adolescence I had real interest for people -- in my home church we had a care and share clothes closet and I had an interest and investment in people that didn't have clothes. So, part of my faith was, I guess it was unique in a sense that I had a heart -- and I still have this heart -- for people that didn't have some of the necessities of life. And now I find myself being attuned and invested in people that are dealing with spiritual issues. But that's more the adult, though (laughs).


DEGNATS: So, did you ever, did you keep going to church regularly, did you keep praying, is your family still involved in church-

HAMILTON: No, they're not, actually. That's interesting. That's a good question.

DEGNATS: Or in high school-

HAMILTON: There has been a lot of changes in my congregation; I just grieve this very much. This congregation that I mentioned where Brenda and Debbie and I were baptized, and my two sisters were married in that congregation, and I was ordained in that congregation; it has been -- they just asked the pastor to leave, it has dwindled done to nothing. And I just grieve that so much. So, my sister died in '08, and my other sister lives in that small town in north Louisiana, and she worships at another congregation, and my parents don't worship there. My parents are both in their eighties, and they don't worship anywhere. They -- even as that as recent as this last visit, they have really 21:00come to the place where they feel they don't identify with what is more typically known as the Baptist tradition. Yeah. And they're, you know, Baptists have gone through so much through the years-

DEGNATS: We're going to come back to your adolescence, but this is very interesting. Since they are in their eighties; when did they first start feeling like this?

HAMILTON: Umm, I would say, in the last dozen years or so. Baptists have gone through significant identity changes, and it has evolved around a lot of different topics and issues, and some of it has evolved around the issue of sexual identity, gay type questions; heterosexual and homosexual issues. For 22:00some it's around the issue of authority, and particularly women, there are some Baptists that don't believe in the ordination of women, and so they really haven't felt any sense of community. And it's kind of sad for me because they are in their aging years of life. They have significant health issues and they really don't have any community, regular community of faith.

DEGNATS: Now, when you were a teenager, they were still going to church?

HAMILTON: Yeah, oh yeah. My dad was actually a deacon. And he was chairman of the deacons at one time, and my dad was very civic minded too. He was the physician for the local children's home. And it was a home where -- a Baptist 23:00home -a home for children who don't have -- they aren't orphans; they don't have parents who can take care of them. So they live in this home. So, for fifty-five years he was the physician. And I remember -- it's interesting, and I've said this to my dad before, but in some ways he was a minister, he was a physician, and he was also a minister. He served people. And so I got -- I used to work at his office, and I got educated about what I call ministry from a very early age, because I worked for him in his office on Saturdays as a child, and then as a middle-schooler and as a high schooler. He would pay me, and so I watched him 24:00work and I watched him minister to people and families, and he was very skilled at that. I admire him very much.

DEGNATS: Well, tell me a little about going to college -- you said there was an issue when you went to Baylor?

HAMILTON: I did. I went to a Methodist school in Texas and I got terribly homesick. So I went back home, and went to school at a state university for a couple of years, and went to Baylor, I had a great experience there. I majored in sociology, but I knew when I was in sociology that I eventually wanted to go to seminary. It was hard for me to leave home. It was hard because -- I don't 25:00know, it was hard -- my individuation process is a part of my learning experience, and, uh, fortunately I was able to navigate that, but faith continued to be a very important part of my experience. Even in college I was very active in my local church and had a mind for ministry and did mission trips and all that kind of thing.

DEGNATS: Were your thoughts about religion changing? Had they changed a lot since you were a child or an adolescent?

HAMILTON: Well, I'll tell you when it changed particularly. It changed particularly, Suzanne, when my wife and I went through infertility. And it changed particularly as I watched my sister die. And Sally and I were married and we wanted a child and we prayed for a child, and our prayers just didn't go 26:00ans- -- just went unanswered. And, as a pastor, as a young student, I was in my early thirties; I had a hard time making sense out of that. So, my way of dealing with my grief is that I went back to school, and got another degree and my emphasis was on pastoral counseling with couples dealing with infertility. So what I was interested in studying was what are churches saying to the one in six couples that deal with infertility. One in six. That's pretty high. And many congregations don't voice the word. So I was interested in what churches were doing to minister to the one in six couples, and I was also interested in how the infertility grief experience impacted the marital relationship. How couples, 27:00as male and female, dealt with grief and loss, and the spiritual faith issues. It's a developmental life cycle crisis but it's also a faith crisis. So in my own journey, my faith has been enriched and broadened and deepened in the darkest moments of my life. And it's in the infertility, and also in the experience of the death of my sister, as I tried as best I could to make sense out of that experience that really in many ways was hard to make sense out of. So, it was in those moments that faith was strengthened.

DEGNATS: Can you, can you explain that? Is it that you felt a comfort, a surrender-

HAMILTON: Comfort-

DEGNATS: An answer, what?


HAMILTON: Well, I'll tell you, one of the most helpful -- this might sound preachy, but it's been helpful to me. What's the most helpful way of thinking about the way God works in our lives has been by a minister, theologian, pastor, and professor named John Claiborn. He talks about the way God works in our life, and he talks about three ways. And I'll be very quick.

DEGNATS: Take your time.

HAMILTON: God sometimes creates a miracle, so he does the out of the ordinary. Sometimes he collaborates with the oncologist, he collaborates with the reproductive endocrinologist or he collaborates with the cardiologist. Or whatever. There are other ways he collaborates in our lives. And so the third way, which is so helpful to me, is that he gives us sufficient grace to live by 29:00faith. Which means that he could create a miracle, but for whatever reason he -- no miracle happens; he could collaborate, but for whatever reason collaboration doesn't happen, but he gives us faith-he gives us sufficient grace -- you know, Paul said my grace is sufficient. You know, Paul said -- this is a biblical image and very powerful for me and very important to my own journey. Is that Paul prayed for something that irritated him; what scripture says is that it is a thorn in the flesh. And he prayed three times, the scripture says, and the answer was: my grace is sufficient. So, part of my experience in my own life, and part of my experience which is so rich, with couples and families and 30:00individuals that I work with, is how do we walk by faith, in a way that we can live life by faith, when life doesn't really make sense.

DEGNATS: Are you saying, I'm just trying to clarify, are you saying the having faith that this is the will of God, or just having faith that for whatever reason you are infertile, you will be able to go on. Do you see a distinction there?

HAMILTON: Yes. That's a good question. I would say, well I don't know if this answers your question, but I think sometimes about the tears of God. Which is to say that if the scripture from the Old Testament says be fruitful and multiply, 31:00for whatever reason the body is not working the way it was created to work. So, sometimes it's a genetic disposition, and about a third of the time, we know it's male factor and a third it's female factor, and then about a third are what they call unexplained. Sometimes they don't even know. So when I'm sitting here with couples trying to get pregnant -- I had a group here Wednesday night, thirteen people here. There were seven different couples. They all want a child, and they are not pregnant. So, I was sitting with them and I was saying some of the things that I am saying to you here, as they are trying to make sense-and, one-anyway, I won't go on. But I have a heart for people. I guess it's because of my medical background of my father, but I do a lot of work with families 32:00dealing with aging, I have a heart for ministry to families impacted by cancer, I have a heart for couples dealing with infertility, and it's what I think of as the practical theology or the applied theology of pastoral care. I feel called to do that. And my spirituality of my own experience, as I tell my story, it's my own experience that has impacted my ministry that I offer to couples and families. (laughs) Was that too preachy?

DEGNATS: No, I don't think it was preachy at all. I have this thought. Do you think, you were talking about the three ways that God answers-

HAMILTON: Now to me that's been so helpful. Because you see, the first one is 33:00the exciting way, where a miracle happens. The second one is great too; and praise God the oncologist is able to help us out. The third way is a less traveled way.

DEGNATS: Well, do you think there have to be different levels of faith to accept each one of these ways? Like -- I'll put this in a really gross level. Do you think God gives the miracles to people whose faith is not deep enough to accept it? Have you ever thought about it that way -- as a striated way of understanding?

HAMILTON: Wow. I would think that the provisions of God's grace is available for all. That's the way I would think about it. Now, some access it more adequate-more readily. That's interesting because Sally and I were eventually able to conceive on our own.


DEGNATS: Yeah, I see the pictures of your family.

HAMILTON: Ha! Just a brief story about how that happened. We were working with a gynecologist here in Atlanta and we took a break from our medical treatment. And she said you can't' get pregnant for six months; come back in six months. And it was during that break that we, on our own, we conceived my daughter who is a junior in college right now. So that was, that was. Oh. In my bible, I don't have my bible with me, in my bible I still have a picture of my wife and my daughter on the day that she was born. Because that was such a powerful manifestation of the goodness of God and I say that with reluctance, because what do you say to the couple that prayed for a child and doesn't have a child? 35:00So, I think of it as a blessing of God, but then I am reluctant to say that because does that mean that the couple that does not have a child -- that they are cursed by God? I don't think that. But that's what the couple feels. The Old Testament way of thinking about sterility -- barrenness -- the Old Testament talks about barrenness; but a lot of times the Old Testament notion was that it was a curse of God. Which I think is common with our culture. That a lot of time these couples that I sit with, they feel cursed by God. And I don't' think of it like that, I don't think of barrenness as a curse of God, particularly in light of the fact that the scripture says be fruitful and multiply. So anyway, how do you integrate faith, relational health, all of that? To me, it's very fascinating. And very complicated-


DEGNATS: How do you, as an adult -- you said these things really changed your faith and the way that you think about God. Can you talk about that?

HAMILTON: Well, yeah, let's see. I think I used to be more idealistic -- but maybe just about life in general. And as I have sat with hundreds of folks; life is -- painful, at times it's dark. Maybe my population that I see is skewed; people that come into my office, I often say, Suzanne, people don't come here when things are going well. You know, divorce, or internet pornography, or 37:00addiction, or death in the family, or death of a child or whatever. That's usually the entree for people that come to talk to me. I have a minister friend, he always jokes with me. He says, you know, no one ever comes to you when things are going well. And you know, there is truth in that; usually something that precipitates that. And you know, as an adult, how my faith has changed is; I think I am much more realistic. And as I sit with married couples, I find myself saying this often, and the research from John Gottman would validate what I am saying, is that some things just don't change. That all married couples have what we call unsolvable differences. Things that just don't change.

DEGNATS: That's nice to know.

HAMILTON: Ha! Yes, it is nice to know! But what differentiates -- this is John 38:00Gottman's research -- what differentiates the healthy couples from the unhealthy couples is that the unhealthy couples argue and bicker and complain and gripe about the unsolvable differences; the healthy couples seem to be able to live at peace with those things that don't change. Does that make sense? So, that is pretty significant research that John Gottman, who is a fantastic researcher and who is Jewish in his faith, has helped me as I work with couples in their relationships and in their faith to help couples see that some things just don't change. And, by the way, theologically and faith related, that whole principal for me is encapsulated in the serenity prayer. God grant me the serenity -- you 39:00know that prayer? Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote that prayer, which is the prayer of AA and any twelve step program, is that God will help me to change the things that I can do something about, and the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can't do anything about and the things that I can. I love that prayer because it talks about living by faith. I love that. That means so much to me. And I don't know if you know much about people that are in alcoholic families, but, oh man, I see that so much, and it is just so painful to see that. To witness that. And I find myself holding onto that truth; that spiritual truth as well as relational truth as well as theological -- solid theological thinking 40:00that God would help me to focus on the things that I can do something about, because, honestly, there are some things I can't do a thing about. And walking by faith, to me, is learning to live with that reality. And that tension.

DEGNATS: You speak a lot about God helping you, but there is a lot of individuation -- I think you made it, I think you did it --

HAMILTON: I'm still doing it! I'm still doing it-

DEGNATS: But there is a lot of responsibility.


DEGNATS: Like, you are responsible and it sounds like you are not just depending on God to solve all of your problems.

HAMILTON: I like the prayer that says God, that I pray as if everything depends upon me, and I trust God and pray as if everything depends upon him. So, I think 41:00that is helpful to think about. In other words, it is an active faith. I think it is an active, applied faith. And I tell these couples who are going through infertility; it is your job to do the best you can and sometimes couples don't even want to talk to the reproductive endocrinologist. I have several couples, and they think that's meddling with God. Well, my thought is that God can use the reproductive endocrinologist.

DEGNATS: And were you raised with that thought?

HAMILTON: Well, you see, I grew up with a family where medical -access of medical care was just kind of a given. So that kind of, yeah, and I worked in a 42:00hospital setting. As a young pastor and young chaplain. I was born in a Catholic hospital in Louisiana, and that's where my dad worked all f his medical career. That's a fantastic Catholic hospital.

DEGNATS: What today, and through your adulthood, are the religious practices that sustain you? Do you still go to church?

HAMILTON: Yeah. Worship. Prayer --

DEGNATS: How do you pray, if you don't mind me asking?

HAMILTON: No, I don't mind. I -- to me it's just an ongoing dialogue. It's not real formal. It's very experiential and in the moment. And I find myself praying 43:00when I'm with -- in my work. Sometimes people want me to do a formal prayer, and sometimes I do that. But as I'm talking with people I'm aware of the presence of God. And so, how do I pray? I just pray that God would help me to be attentive to His presence as I -- the gift that I offer, I'm doing most of the talking today, but the gift that I offer, the ministry that I offer is in the pastoral care -- the listening, the caring, the respecting, as I sit with folks and try to help them make sense of their life in a way that works for them. I like to 44:00give, too. I still like to give. We had this ministry at the church across the street, which I think was so cool. It was called soles for souls. And it was a collection of shoes called soles for souls. And I got so fired up about it, I got so excited. When I went back home to Louisiana, I wrote my parents and my nieces and my sister, and I brought back four bags of shoes. I got so fired up about it, I got so excited about that. To me that's like applied theology. We're -- I have plenty of shoes, so I'm giving to others that don't have shoes.

DEGNATS: Have you had any particularly powerful religious or spiritual 45:00experiences that we haven't discussed yet, anything cosmic? Experiential type things.

HAMILTON: Yeah. Let's see. Any spiritual experiences. I find I have those in my work-

DEGNATS: Powerful, religious experiences. (pause as he is thinking) Some people might call them miracles.

HAMILTON: Some people might call them miracles?


HAMILTON: Well, I don't know why I'm thinking about this one couple that I.. they live in Mississippi, and I helped them a few years ago, and this one couple 46:00sends me a Christmas card every advent. And it's moments like that that are -- and they say -- she says, periodically through these years, that it was me being with them that was so formidable in their own experience. They were on the brink of divorce. Let's see -- Let me come back that.

DEGNATS: Okay. When was your first interaction with someone of a different faith, and did this have an impact on you?

HAMILTON: I grew up with a lot of folks of a variety of faiths. I grew up in a 47:00small Louisiana town where there were a lot of Jewish people. And a lot of my friends in high school were Presbyterian. And of course I was active in my youth group, and they were very similar to me. A lot of my friends growing up were Presbyterian, and then at my college I was at a Baptist college. So I'd say Jewish, and I don't have a lot of interaction with people of other faiths. And I guess that part of that is that I am a minister of a Christian denomination, so a lot of my associations are with like-minded. So I don't have -- now, I'm on 48:00the panel of providers for this large reproductive practice, and the couples have to come to a social worker, marriage/family therapist, licensed professional counselor, to do IBF. So I am on that panel so sometimes I -- most of the time people that I get are of similar faith. But sometimes I do get people that are Hindu or Buddhist -- come, but I don't -- it's only that interview, it's just that one shot. So, to answer your question, I really don't have a lot of interaction with people of other faiths.

DEGNATS: When you were in college, did you take any courses on any other religions?

HAMILTON: That's a good question. No, but in seminary, in graduate school, I 49:00did. We had a class that was on world religions. But it was only one semester. It was not very extensive. So, honestly, I don't know a whole lot. (laughs)

DEGNATS: Are there any traditions or any practices outside of being Baptist that you draw upon for your spiritual or your mental health outside of your primary religion?

HAMILTON: Okay, let's think about that. Well, I look to behavioral, mental health, behavioral sciences. I mentioned John Gottman, I met him time, but his 50:00research influenced me significantly. His faith is Jewish, but the material that he offers from his research is on couples relationships. So I, as a Christian, have incorporated his research in ways that work for me. Does that make sense?


HAMILTON: So, I'm open-minded. I'm for whatever works. Here -- I love this memory. We get consultation from psychiatrists, that's part of my discipline. And there was this well-known psychiatrist, he was an analyst, and he taught at Emory I think. And he at one time taught at the Menninger clinic, which is a 51:00well-known psychiatric clinic in Missouri I believe. But anyway, I remember consulting with him about a client that I had, and she was into herbal teas. And so I took that to the supervision of this psychiatrist, and I never will forget what Dr. Gangerine said. He said, well, I'm for whatever works. Ha! And so, I like that. If it works, more power to you. So, I tend to be more open-minded. (laughs)

DEGNATS: So you're using secular methodologies.

HAMILTON: Yeah, if it works!

DEGNATS: If it works. Can I ask you one more thing about when you and your wife were able to have a child? Was that a miracle to you? A reward? How did you see it?

HAMILTON: I -- that's an interesting question. Because if you substitute the 52:00word miracle with blessing, I'm reluctant-- I struggle with that, because what do we say to the couple that has no response? Now, I felt blessed. I cannot imagine -- I don't know if you have children, but I cannot imagine not having children! We have an older couple in the congregation across the street, and they've been married sixty years and they don't have any children and they're getting older and to me -- I just can't-And then we have another woman in the congregation and she just had a stroke, she's in her fifties, she doesn't have any children. I -- I grieve for those people. I don't know. For me, personally, 53:00the fact that we were able to conceive, I consider it to be a miracle, because my sperm count was next to nothing, and my wife had difficulty ovulating. I know it. And, so I think of it as a miracle. That's why the picture taken on March 5 of my wife and my daughter is in the front of my bible, because I see it as a sacred visualization of the goodness and mercy of God. Now, I am saying that to you, but I say that with reluctance because of my sensitivity to those who...


HAMILTON: Yeah, right. So, it's interesting -- it's an interesting question.

DEGNATS: So, do you think that faith is not having to understand why?


HAMILTON: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes. It's like Paul said, you know, there is a lot of speculation about what the thorn was. Are you familiar with that passage?

DEGNATS: No, I am not.

HAMILTON: He prayed -- you can look it up, just Google 'thorn in the flesh'. He prayed on three different occasions. Some people think it was medical, some people think he was some kind of mental complication, but it is not really clear what the thorn in the flesh -- you've heard the expression thorn in the flesh? Anyway, something bothered or irritated him. And the response was, my grace is sufficient. So, I think part of walking by faith is learning that there are some things that just don't change, and you live life in that tension.


DEGNATS: Okay. How do you see yourself in relation with other people that practice your faith? Do you see similarities, differences? And then, how do you see the Baptist faith as a part of the Atlanta community?

HAMILTON: Well, Baptists have pretty -- a lot of people don't understand Baptists. And I guess you could maybe say that about Catholics, a lot of people don't understand Catholics. But, ah, we are kind of known as being judgmental and conservative, and preachy. I don't see myself as that. So, there are parts about being Baptist that I like; priest to the believer is one tenet that I hold 56:00to. That means, in terms of my faith, and my spirituality, that means that I, as the believer, have access to God; I don't have to go through someone else, through clergy or anybody else. So, the tenet, priest to the believer, that's very important because it's an individual relationship, it's an individual process. So, in terms of -by the way, sometimes I'm embarrassed to say that I'm Baptist. Because of the stereotypical way that we are portrayed. But I don't see myself as a Baptist Christian; I don't see myself as fitting into that. A lot of people don't want to come to talk to me because they are concerned that I am going to preach to them or tell them what to do, and that's not my way of 57:00working with people. I don't do that. That's just not -- I don't think it's sound clinically, and I don't think it's sound theologically, either. So, in some ways I tend to be different than some. Some would say that I am more liberal, and yet my roots are from a conservative tradition. So, it's interesting when you think about individuation, I think of that not only in terms of family but also in terms of faith. And I have a book on my shelf called 'Growing Up to God'. And I see that as a developmental journey. That ebbs and flows throughout the life cycle of life, and, I don't know, it's interesting how 58:00-- and this is the way my brain works -- faith, mental health, relational health, spirituality, to me they are all parts of the fabric of the same cloth. And that's what I value in my work, is the integration of all of those. And as a person of faith; you know, some therapists or psychologists, social workers, would not want to integrate faith in their work; they would choose to separate faith from their work. I don't impose my faith on people that I see; but if that's something that they want to talk about, I welcome that, because to me 59:00it's richer and deeper. So, it's interesting, I think in some ways I'm different from those that call themselves Baptists, but yet, that's my home, and that's my family of origin in terms of my faith. Most of the people that I see are because of my pastoral identity. I am a member of the AAPC -- the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, which means that we in our organization have theological education and we also have clinical training. So, mine is as an ordained Baptist minister, and I'm also licensed as a marriage and family therapist. So, I'm an LMFT, as well as a Pastoral Counselor.

DEGNATS: That's a lot of letters!

HAMILTON: Ha! Yeah, that's a lot of letters, and a long of time to get all those letters too. How much more time, because I -- can I take a bathroom break?

DEGNATS: Yes, please do.

(Short break. When they return SD asks HD about a flyer on his wall)


HAMILTON: -- and it's for families that have been impacted by death. And we offer a group, group here for -- and I work with the adults, and I have a social worker who works with the children and we provide art and different venues for the expression of their grief. So, it's those kinds of experiences -- and I also offer a group that is called the unwanted gift of grief.

DEGNATS: I saw the poster.

HAMILTON: Yeah, and it's a group that fits in with my own theology, because the gift is in walking through the valley that most people want to avoid.

DEGNATS: And what do you think that does, to actually go through that process?

HAMILTON: I think it opens windows of the soul that if you had not gone through 61:00that process you would not have experienced. I've heard cancer patients say -- this is hard to imagine...that they were thankful for that experience. By the way, cancer is all over my family. My sister died of sarcoma. Brenda, the middle child, had a double mastectomy. And my dad is a prostate cancer survivor, and my mom had a double mastectomy. So of the five people in my nuclear family, I'm the only one that doesn't have cancer! (laughs) I have my PSA checked regularly, and I go to my doctor on a regular basis. But what's interesting is when I talk to my internist about cancer in my family, he says my daughter is actually more at 62:00risk for cancer.


HAMILTON: Because of my sister's cancer, and my mother; it's because my daughter's aunt and grandmother, she is actually more at risk than I am.

DEGNATS: So, now that we're on the subject, your own feelings about mortality and your own feelings about death and afterlife. If you could just give me a Reader's Digest version of what your church teaches, and let me know if that's cognizant with what your belief.

HAMILTON: Okay. Well, that's really a deep, deep question. Did you come up with that question?

DEGNATS: Yeah, just now.

HAMILTON: (laughs) I really like that. I believe in life after death. I believe 63:00that -- I believe that -- I believe in life after this life. And what that means is that the spiritual part of our being lives after the physical body dies. About three or four weeks ago, I preached at the funeral of my brother in law. And that was one of the things that I said at the funeral, which is a part of my belief system. That I felt comfort in knowing that Scott, who died, was at peace 64:00because he had a relationship with God and I felt comfort in knowing two things. One is that he is not in any pain or sorrow, because he went through a lot of pain with his prostate cancer. And two, that his soul is at peace and at rest. And one of the things that I said at that funeral, and I really do believe that, is that every one of us in this room will eventually die. And I'm attentive to that because I work with couples who are diagnosed with cancer, and I work a lot with people who are aging, and one of the things the ritual of worship experience can do is help us re-evaluate and re-assess our own lives, and remind us of our own mortality. So, I do believe in life after this life.


DEGNATS: Do you think that specifics of the life after this life are in line with what your church teaches? And what does your church teach?

HAMILTON: Yeah, I'd say they are pretty much in line. Now, here is what might be a fine line. I think probably I am a little bit more open -- minded than the average within my denomination. I think there are some in my denomination that are pretty narrow and selective in how they think about what that would look like. It's a very complex question. Because, what would you say to the Buddhist, or what would you say to the Hindu that has their own tradition? Now, you've 66:00probably interviewed people from that tradition. By the way, can I have a copy of what you research and what you write up?

DEGNATS: Yes. Oh, definitely. Thank you.

HAMILTON: Yeah, I want to. I want to have a copy.

DEGNATS: And do you want a copy of this now?

HAMILTON: Oh, that'd be great. Are you going to have someone transcribe this?

DEGNATS: Some poor person's going to have to do it. (laughter)

HAMILTON: There's not a program that does that, is there?

DEGNATS: There is, but very primitive at this point, so, yeah.

HAMILTON: So, to answer your question, there are some that are pretty dogmatic and more conservative. But of course, you have to take seriously the words of Christ who said 'I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the father but by me.' So, I wrestle with that as a Christian. What does the Hindu 67:00believe, or the Jewish faith would say the Messiah is yet to come? So, I don't know. Quite honestly, there is a lot of that that I just don't know.

DEGNATS: Have you ever had any experiences yourself with -- where people that you know have had any near-death experiences?

HAMILTON: No. Now, I've heard stories of people that have seen a light, that kind of thing.

DEGNATS: I was just wondering because of your grief counseling, if that ever comes up?

HAMILTON: No, not that I'm recalling right now.

DEGNATS: Where do you see the future of the Baptist denomination heading?

HAMILTON: Oh, that's a wonderful question. I have no idea. I think folks today 68:00are -- they have no -- these younger people have no loyalty to any kind of denomination whatsoever. Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist -- these younger folks could care less. And so I don't know what's going --

DEGNATS: How do you feel about that?

HAMILTON: Well, there's a part of that that I don't like. They find themselves drawn to a style of worship or a body of believers and I have mixed feelings about that, because what does that say about the theology of that particular group? And there's a value in the traditions, the faith traditions; there's a 69:00value in that. So, I don't know. I know some in the Baptist tradition, when they are marketing their congregation, they leave out the word Baptist.

DEGNATS: Really?

HAMILTON: Uh huh. As a way to appeal to more people, and some of that might be because of the bad connotation that some have of the word Baptist.

DEGNATS: What do you think of the prosperity gospel?

HAMILTON: Oh my gosh. I can't stand it. (laughs) I can't stand it. You thought I say that, didn't you? It just grieves me. How can someone think like that? But it's out there.

DEGNATS: Yeah, it's a big one nowadays.

HAMILTON: Oh, it is big, it is big. Did you just come up with that question?


DEGNATS: I was just thinking about it, because I know when you said when you were younger, how your family had a lot of excess, and I know that the prosperity gospel now is huge.

HAMILTON: It is big.

DEGNATS: So, let me ask you this. Tithing -- after taxes or before taxes?

HAMILTON: (laughs) I believe that it is all God's. All we have is of God's. And we're just stewards. That's the way I believe.

DEGNATS: What would you most want others to understand about your faith and about yourself in the relation to your faith?

HAMILTON: I guess I would want them to know that there is a sincerity about it, and that there is an openness about it. I value openness and sincerity. And it 71:00is also applied, it wasn't just words, it had feet to it.

DEGNATS: In regards to your parents, are they both still living?

HAMILTON: Yes. And they both have significant aging issues and medical issues. And in regard to my mother in law, we're going to visit her this afternoon in South Carolina. And she is eighty-nine, and she has significant aging issues. So we have three aging parents, two in Louisiana and one is South Carolina, all of 72:00whom we're very attentive to. The one in South Carolina more, my wife is probably there every three weeks or so.

DEGNATS: And does she have a faith community there?

HAMILTON: Yes, and she's very active in her faith community.

DEGNATS: In terms of your parents, do you worry about their salvation, or do you think they are good to go?

HAMILTON: Oh yeah. I don't worry about that.

DEGNATS: One other thing, I don't think we touched upon this. In your faith, was being baptized the big formality? Did you say any other prayers, such as giving your heart to Jesus?

HAMILTON: I don't know if that was part -- have you ever seen a baptism? Sometimes the minister will say, who do you believe is your eternal redeemer and then the person who is baptized will say Jesus Christ, but I don't remember 73:00anything like that.

DEGNATS: Okay. So, is there anything else you would like to say?

HAMILTON: This is fascinating. I'd be curious what other people -- How is the interview with me similar to and different than others that you have interviewed?

DEGNATS: Well, most of the people I have interviewed have come from big communities. So, I'm not talking about getting people off the street. So, these are people that have been raised in particular communities and as they got older stayed in faith communities. And that's been very interesting to me.

HAMILTON: They didn't leave the faith?

DEGNATS: I actually interviewed some people that converted from Christianity to Islam. And those were all -- what surprised me the most about those was the 74:00seamlessness of their conversion and their continuing respect and love for Christianity. I think that's a lot of things -- that's is one of the things that is very misunderstood about Islam. They do consider Jesus a prophet, just not the last prophet, and that they have great respect for him. One of the things that has been fascinating to me, one of the similarities, is a focus on doing, a focus on personal responsibility as opposed just wanting God to come and tell them what to do -- a real focus on personal responsibility. Especially -- I had a Hindu man and a Muslim man and it was almost verbatim, exactly the same thing. Where they each said to me, much of their faith was taking responsibility for your actions and doing something with this life, doing something with this brain 75:00that God gave you. And the other thing is how you cannot separate life from faith, how everyone interweaves these stories with their personal experiences, and how their personal experiences have, they go hand in hand with their faith journey and how they're completely wrapped up together. So, for some people it may have been the civil rights movement. For you, it was the experience of infertility, and how these influence the trajectory of someone's religious faith. The other thing too, and you wonderfully actually answered this being asked is we ask about people who are influential in their life. It comes up time and time again that these influential people you see, as people get older, they end up being so much like the influential people in their life. To tell you the 76:00truth, I'm seeing more similarities than differences. And I think a lot of it that has been really wonderful for me is everyone has been open and heartfelt and sincere.

HAMILTON: That's nice, isn't it?

DEGNATS: Yeah, it's very very nice.

HAMILTON: And have you remained Catholic?


HAMILTON: Bless you. But you know, talking about infertility, some of the couples that have had the most challenge are from a Catholic tradition. Because you know, there's shame and well, some priests would not encourage any kind of reproductive technology, where some are more open. And then, I know we had a seminar here and this was several years ago and we had different clergy come in, 77:00and it was the Catholic group that was most unsettling. The Catholic couples that participated were very upset because of what that particular priest had to say about reproductive technology. So, it's an interesting topic among the different denominations in terms of how people think about it.

DEGNATS: Well, I think it is interesting too because you have more of a hierarchy than you do in some of the other faiths. The priests and the bishops and the cardinals and the Pope -- they carry a lot more wait.

HAMILTON: See, that would be, when I speak of the priest to the believer that is part of the Protestant -- the protesting -- that is a part of my tradition -- that the priest to the believer would shift, would protest, as a Protestant against the hierarchy. Which me, as a believer, I value the priest to the 78:00believer because I have access. That is something that I value. Yeah, yeah.

DEGNATS: That's wonderful. Well, I just have to get a little demographic information.

HAMILTON: Yeah, let me give you my card too.

DEGNATS: Some of this we have already gone over, so just bear with me. I have to put this at the end of the interview. Your current occupation?

HAMILTON: I am a pastoral counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist.

DEGNATS: And how would you describe your ethnicity?

HAMILTON: Caucasian.

DEGNATS: And your educational background?

HAMILTON: I have a doctorate in pastoral counseling and I'm licensed as a marriage and family therapist.

DEGNATS: And you are married?


DEGNATS: And you have one daughter?

HAMILTON: One daughter.

DEGNATS: And what is your current religious affiliation?

HAMILTON: Baptist.

DEGNATS: Okay, great. Well thank you very much, this was great.

HAMILTON: Thank you for your time.