Retired Methodist pastor Dr. Michael Dent spent nearly five decades preaching in East Texas and, a little later on, in Denver, Colorado.
“I have fond memories of my time here in Tyler,” Dent said. “Living in Colorado … it helped to expand my awareness, though I always like to say that I was Texas-born and Texas-bred, and when I die I will be Texas-dead.”
Through his experiences both here and there, he’s come to learn that, above all else, to love God is to love thy neighbor, he said. And so he calls himself a progressive Christian – “not exclusive, but inclusive.”
Diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer’s in 2018, Dent was forced into an early retirement from his Denver ministry, and following a house fire that displaced him and his wife for several months, the couple ultimately returned to Tyler, where Dent is now “dealing with a disease that could take my brain,” he said.
But if you flipped through the chapters of “Love Whispers: Reflections of a Seasoned Pastor”, his recently published ministerial memoir, you’d never be able to tell.
“No mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s will ever take away, I pray, the echoes of God’s mercy and the whispers of divine love from my head nor heart,” Dent writes.
Filled with anecdotes that span his lifetime – from his recollections of the Kennedy assassination when he was just 11 years old, to the PG-13 magazines his brother kept hidden in a dresser drawer, to the heartbreaking stories of lives loved and then lost – the memoir offers an in-depth look at the unique path Dent’s life has taken.
“You will meet family members, U.S. presidents, Olympic gold medalists, heroes and sheroes, saints and sinners, teachers and preachers,” Dent said. “And you will experience the privileges and heartbreaks of a pastor.”
Dent believes that its message might be attractive to any person of faith.
“As a pastor, you’re burying someone in the morning and marrying someone in the evening,” Dent said. “You have a variety of human experiences that run the gamut of emotions from joy to sorrow. People might want to know what that’s like.”
During a recent visit with the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Dent sat down to share a few stories contained within the memoir’s pages, and to reflect upon his time writing a weekly column for the paper here in Tyler.
He carried with him a briefcase stuffed with yellowed newspaper clippings of his columns and letters to the editor, laminated passes and faded tickets from presidential rallies and important events he’d attended – ”things I saved not thinking I’d ever write a book, but simply because they were meaningful to me.”
The story told by all his memorabilia, and the anecdotes he shared on that Tuesday morning, paint a picture of devotion and commitment to God, to family, and to always trying to do what is right, even when there’s a steep learning curve involved.
“It was therapeutic for me to write,” Dent admitted. “It took close to a year, off and on.”
Through his writing, Dent tells of beloved family members, a blue 1957 Plymouth, a great grandfather who served in the Confederate Army, military tattoos inked on skin during World War II and then never again discussed, five-cent ice cream cones purchased from the drive-in dairy mart on sunny afternoons, and a relative who became a practicing attorney “without a day of law school.”
Dent also offers up some advice on marriage – things he’s learned firsthand from his more-than-44-year union with the wife he met in 3-year-old Sunday school class, where “she clearly recalls that I was a bully,” he said.
Of togetherness, he writes:
“Forgive one another. We all make mistakes. Pray for one another. We all need help. Whisper love to one another. Love covers a multitude of mistakes. Stay close to the Creator. You will be close to one another.”
He also says, “Master the magic mantra, ‘Let’s eat out tonight.’”
Throughout his memoir, he speaks of the need to shout God’s love from the mountaintop.
“However, we might also do well to let love whisper through our lives in our relationships, service, citizenship, stewardship and discipleship,” Dent explained. “Love whispers, that’s the whole theme.”
The memoir, written in grateful memory of Dent’s father, mother, brother and sister, is available for $15 on Amazon.com. All proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association.