Friday, November 29, 2019

Blissful Ignorance 2

previous post

I was born at a very young age. And before I did anything else, I was born.

1. Of course God had been quite busy for quite an eternity before I emerged into the world. My existence is contingent. God's is necessary.

This is one of Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God that I like quite a bit. It makes sense to me although I don't consider it definitive from where I sit in the peanut galleries. It actually reminds me a little of Anselm's ontological argument for God, although in a more plausible form.

All that exists around me has a contingent existence. I know of nothing in my sense experience that has to be. But if the existence of all real things was only contingent, then it would be possible that nothing would exist. But if it were possible for nothing to exist, then nothing could ever come into being. Therefore, at least one thing must exist whose existence is necessary. And this, we call God.

Of course a cosmologist might respond that matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed. Does that make the existence of matter/energy necessary? I would respond that God created it. Then I am affirming by faith that it is not necessary even though it appears so.

Then there is the idea that particles can briefly appear and disappear as a function of quantum vacuum fluctuations. Some suggest that perhaps the universe is the result of one such fluctuation on the smallest of scales before the great expansion. Seems rather far fetched to me.

2. So I am a contingent being. What if my father had died in World War II? What if he and my mother had never met? The world would have gone on just fine.

I come from solid Hoosier stock. My mother and father were born and lived the early half of their lives in Indiana. Both sets of their parents were born and died in Indiana.

My mother's nineteenth century ancestors were Hoosiers, from the Sullivan area. Whether Shepherd,  Rich, Wall, Shelburn, or Wright, they were in Indiana by 1850. The Shelburns went back to a man who was in Jamestown by 1640. Family tradition is that he came over with Captain John Smith, although he is not found on any manifest.

The Shepherds were my mother's maiden namesake. They would seem to be Scots-Irish Quakers who came over from northern Ireland in the early 1700s. Family tradition is that they made their way to southern Indiana by way of North Carolina, I would guess from the Guilford County area.

My Grandfather Shepherd was a teacher at Frankfort Pilgrim College, a graduate of Wabash College in 1907. He was an orphan at 14 when his father died. His mother had died when he was six, in 1889. His father had been injured in the Civil War escorting an unruly soldier to the brig. A horse had stepped on him in a ruckus.

My father's family were also Hoosier settlers. His mother's family on all sides were Old German Baptists from Carroll County in the Camden area. They migrated from Germany in the 1700s. His father was of Dutch descent, coming over to New Amsterdam in the 1600s before the British took over and made it New York. You can still see the name Schenck in that part of Brooklyn.

My inherited pronunciation, by the way, is SKANK. I have since gone by SHANK to protect my wife and children. But my Dad used to tell people it was pronounced like "skunk" with an A.

3. Both my parents' family were deeply religious, deeply Christian, deeply holiness. One of my best friends in early high school was Derek Heinemann. He wrote in my yearbook that I was the most religious person he knew.

Both my grandfathers were preachers in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, a Wesleyan denomination birthed in the early 1920s out of a snowball of small holiness groups that grew out of revivals around the turn of the century. My father's dad was a church planter, an entrepreneur of sorts. He wasn't book smart by any means, and I remember him as a gruff, no-nonsense man. He was a firebrand, a man of law rather than grace.

My other grandfather pastored a number of churches during the Depression, when the college was closed. He was a teacher of end times prophecy, a thorough dispensationalist. A soft, humble man who was generally the last to get paid. He apparently only believed sex was for procreation.

Not Quite a Genius 1

1. I can have a somewhat morbid personality, with a tinge of hypochondria. It is a little joke in my family. It's not that I am surprised to have lived past fifty years. It's just that I have been preparing for death for a couple decades.

I have written a lot about myself in various places--blogs, Facebook, and such. Not that there is anything significant about my life. One possible title for my autobiography might be, "The Life of No One in Particular." I am just an intellectual hoarder. I want to preserve as many memories of the past as possible. One of the greatest losses in a person's death, at least to me, is the loss of their memories. A little history dies with each person. Frankly, a lot of history dies with each person. It can never be recovered, at least not on earth. This saddens me.

The electronic age makes possible the preservation of so much more. Papers must be discarded. Old trophies and plaques deteriorate. They become a burden to families for those who preserve them. But no one begrudges the perpetual storage of electronic words.

So I have done the thought experiment. If I were to find out suddenly that I was dying, would I have time to write my reflections on my life? Probably not. I would probably be to preoccupied with the things having to do with dying. And of course many deaths come without warning. I am traveling a good deal later today, as I write these first notes. Stuff happens.

My intention is to capture my thoughts and reflection on life here, particularly on my life. I have had many a pleasant wandering. My life has been full of privilege and joy. Not that I am a happy person. I am a melancholic. I live from emotional highs to emotional lows. I have never been diagnosed with anything. I take no medication for anything. It is simply the case that I have not always felt what is a truly wonderful life.

In high school they told me my IQ was 139, I think. It could have been 138. At times I feel stupid. At times I feel smart. Most of the time I just feel like I'm doing my best to get through life. Growing up I did not feel any smarter than anyone else.

However, I've sometimes joked that I was one point short of a number they've called genius IQ. It's really quite meaningless. But I've joked that they should put on my epitaph, "Not Quite a Genius." It somehow seems to capture something about myself. Sometimes above average. Not quite excellent.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reminiscences: 1975-76, 1978

1. My mother is musically gifted. She plays the piano by ear, although she can also read music. In fact, she met my father because she was helping with the music for a church plant my Dad's father was doing in Indianapolis out of a rented house.

The violin on the left was hers. If I have the story correctly, she bought it off a man in Indy who had played in John Philip Sousa's band. It was my first violin.

I played violin in the fifth grade, as I recall, for Mrs. Stokes at Wilton Manors Elementary School in Florida. I was also in the Florida Singing Sons that year. We sang excerpts from The Sound of Music. Interestingly, I found it difficult to memorize all the words to the songs.

I have sometimes joked that I have a phonographic memory. I do well remembering tunes, harmonies, percussion. My family will attest that I am not so good at getting the lyrics correctly, a source of great irritation to my wife. I can whistle Mozart (as one Houghton student remarked coming upon me on the sidewalk). I can't always get the words quite right to some song I've sung for years.

I had Mrs. Stokes, as I recall, as my Kindergarten music teacher. (Mrs. Giddons was my main teacher for Kindergarten).

2. I took violin lessons along with a couple other students at Sunrise Middle School in the summer of 1978. I don't remember the name of the teacher. I picture him as a somewhat short man with a mustache. I did not practice, I hate to say. My parents got me the slightly larger violin to the right at some point in there.

This was always my difficulty in those days. Short span of attention. A woman in the seat in front of us at a church concert in Vero Beach once asked my mother if I'd been checked for hyperactivity. I suspect I was just being a child and the woman needed to take a chill pill. :-)

My mother's approach was not to force me to learn piano and such. When I expressed interest, she gladly gave me music or a lesson. So to whatever extent I can play the piano (which is not much), I am mostly self-taught. I hated having to follow the fingering of the lessons. Why can't I hit the notes however I can hit the notes?

Of course I agree with the words spoken to me often then--"When you're older you'll wish you had practiced." I knew she was right then and I agree with her now. I have become much more disciplined over the years as my metabolism has slowed down. Youth is, alas, wasted on the young.

3. I think I learned "Turkey in the Straw" in fifth grade (1975-76). I can probably still screech it out. I tried to learn a little vibrato in the seventh grade summer (1978), but I never mastered it.

As for the piano, I was inspired by my brother-in-law, Dalbert Walker. He introduced me to Rondo Capriccioso by Felix Mendelssohn. I got to where I could play quite a bit of the beginning of it just hammering it out on my own. My mother had of course helped me much earlier memorize Fur Elise. Somewhere in there also was Debussy's Claire de Lune. Pieces I aspired to but never attained were Liebestraum by Franz Liszt and Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor.

This latter piece was a favorite of the man who lived two houses down west from us in "the woods." He and his wife had so many trees around their house that you could hardly see in. It was intentional. But as they got older they became friends with my family. They gave Dalbert a grand piano. Because of the first three notes, he called the Prelude the "O My God" prelude. They were quite explicitly atheist, the only atheists I knew in those years. But they were very nice people and became somewhat reflective in later life, as I recall.

I still tell myself that I will return to the piano when I am retired.

As a note to myself, the man next to us west was Mr. Pritchard. Tony was across the street. The Wilkersons lived across from the woods. The Hartmans (Jennifer's grandfather) and Verdigams across 6th avenue.

Books I've Read/Skimmed

So that I don't forget in my end of year summary, I wanted to jot down some books I've read or skimmed this year that I haven't mentioned.

1. Prisoners of Geography

2. Range

3. Ask

4. The Language of God

5. The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

6. The Lost World of Adam and Eve

7. When Science Meets Religion

8. Religion and Science

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Reminiscences: Ichthusman (1990-92)

Moving affords you the chance to see items from your past. I'm not quite sure what to do with all of them. But I thought as I sort through things I might catalog snippets of my life.

1. I believe it was during the years I was a teaching fellow at Asbury Seminary that I occasionally played the role of Ichthusman at the summer Ichthus festival at the old campground just east of Wilmore. Ichthus was started by Bob Lyon as a kind of Christian version of Woodstock.

I was not exciting enough as a student to be asked to do something like this, but as a Greek and Hebrew teaching fellow I found my stride for the first time in my life. In fact, I would say those two years were probably the happiest of my life. I don't think I was especially thought of as funny before I started teaching Greek. (although my menu-boards at seminary may be a future post)

I did always have a penchant for superheroes and capes, however. I don't know how the idea emerged. I would come out on stage with the Velcroed white shirt and blue pants to the left, which I bought at some goodwill store of some kind. Then "Lust Boy" or "Sin Man" would come on stage. Then off with the outer clothing and Ichthusman to the rescue.

I found most of the pieces to the outfit in my current move. The toilet cleaning gloves were thrown away several years ago. At one point I had the idea of parachuting into the campground, an idea that was quickly dismissed not least for insurance purposes.

2. Close friends, an opportunity to teach with a little money, a stimulated mind, Lexington nearby, running, the naivete of youth in a sheltered world--these were great years. I started an MA in classics at UK in the spring of my first year as teaching fellow and would finish in 93. I found my master's hood from the University of Kentucky as well.

I actually proposed to my wife Angie under "High Bridge" during Ichthus in 1998, four miles south of Wilmore at the Kentucky River. She was a youth pastor at the time and took the Main Street United Methodist youth of her church to Ichthus. It was a cold and rainy set of days, as I recall. That was near the end of my first year teaching at IWU.

3. My educational path in those days was similar to that of Joe Dongell. He had graduated from Central Wesleyan College before me (now Southern Wesleyan). He had gone to Asbury. He had become a Teaching Fellow. He had gone to the University of Kentucky to do an MA in Classical Languages and Literature. I think I even had the same full tuition scholarship there that he did.

Of course he was superior to me at every step. In those days I always felt like I was playing catch-up. When I finished a degree, I felt like I was finally ready to start.

I adjuncted for Midway College (now Midway University) near Louisville a couple times around 92-93. It was still a college for women at that time. They were mostly nursing students. I followed the textbook and syllabus of Robert Miller, who had been a member of the Jesus Seminar. I thought it interesting at the time that he would have someone from Asbury teach. Another teaching fellow had done it before me, although I don't remember who.

I remember arguing in class for the virgin birth by saying that Paul believed it and he was close enough in time to the situation to know. It later occurred to me that Paul never clearly mentions the virgin birth in his writings :-) Galatians 4:4 is hardly explicit. The paradigmatic lapse indicated to me that I had been viewing the Bible as one book with a single author rather than as a collection of books with different authors.