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Preacher cuts right to the heart

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When I first heard Bruce Calahan, I knew he'd never make television's "Great Preachers" series.

He was too rough around the edges.When he preached from a script, the sermon sounded canned ("The devil will make you bitter, but Jesus will make you better!").

When he tried to wing it, he lapsed into "Spoonerisms" - jumbled words. (The Rev. Spooner would say things like "tons of soil" for "sons of toil.")

No, Bruce Calahan was a far cry from Billy Graham.

But I soon learned the man had a gift. And the gift was this:

He knew how to speak from the heart, to the heart, about matters of the heart.

And his gift has changed the way I look at the world.

Here's my story:

Several months ago, the little Potter's House Church in Salt Lake City placed an ad in the paper announcing the visit of a traveling evangelist. Since itinerant ministers fascinate me, I decided to go. Just out of curiosity.

And for a low-key, Western boy like me, what I found was curious indeed.

I ended up in the middle of a classic camp meeting - a hot-house revival complete with people speaking in tongues, performing healings and waving their arms as they sang hymn after hymn after hymn.

It was "old-time religion" on wheels. As the enthusiasm grew, the traveling preacher grabbed the mike and went to work. Bruce Calahan was a small, bald man who spoke often of his shady past and his sunny future. He told stories and quoted scripture. And as he spoke, he seemed to emit a steady hum - like a tuning fork.

Almost by second nature, the theater critic in me began to "review" the performance. But just when I thought I had him pegged, he startled me.

Bruce Calahan began speaking to me personally.

I listened.

He told me my secrets. He told me about pride. Then he let me know what I longed for and told me where I could find it.

I was amazed. Sheepishly I looked around.

That's when I knew. He'd been speaking to everyone there - personally.

Bruce Calahan knew the ins and outs of the human heart like a surgeon. He knew its hidden chambers and its rhythms. And he knew its purpose.

As the meeting closed and I headed for my car, I thought of the day I stood in St. Paul's Cathedral in London. I'd felt awe then, but I'd never felt what I'd felt in that little strip-mall church.

I thought about the way truth often comes into our lives from a manger, not from a mansion.

I thought of the way our flaws simply enhance its beauty.

And I thought of my own religion, and how it cradles that truth the way Mary cradled her baby.

Today, I'm not sure where Bruce Calahan ended up. I understand he headed to the coast to do more whistle-stop preaching. I didn't speak with him afterward. I'll probably never see him again.

But I do know this, however: He spoke the truth to me. And in my troubled world, there's always room for people who tell me the truth.

And what was the marvelous truth he shared?

You already know.

It was the truth of all religion. It's in the message every Methodist minister delivered just last Sunday. It was among the words heard at the local LDS ward and in the notes chanted at the Muslim mosque.

It is Augustine's message - the words he jotted down 1,500 years ago as he sat down to write his "Confessions."

"Thou made us for thyself, and our hearts find no rest until they rest in Thee."