Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Year in Review (2019)

And so another decade comes to an end.

1. What a decade! Ten years ago, Obama was president. Ten years later, Trump is president.

Ten years ago I was the founding Dean of Wesley Seminary, on one of the most thrilling ventures of my life. Today I am at Houghton College, on the next thrilling adventure of my life. Ten years ago my father was alive and I was a son. Today I am a father and my two youngest are in college. Ten years ago I was in my forties and was young. Today I am in my fifties and feel... mature.

2. This past year brought the most change I've had since I was married. My youngest Sophie went to college at Pepperdine. She always favored it, but I didn't think we could afford it. She visited a number of schools without peace. We tried for the tuition exchange at Seattle Pacific but didn't get it. We visited Seattle in high hopes but were disappointed.

Then she received a postcard from Pepperdine. It quoted her application back to herself, how she thought she might grow spiritually as a student there. Then we knew we needed to visit, and the rest is history.

Thomas is in his second year doing ROTC at Purdue. He has committed the next eight years of his life to the Army. He has decided on a criminal justice major.

Stefanie and Stacy also left Indiana this year. Early in the year, Stefanie headed to Miami and Stacy to California. Everything was perfectly aligned for a transition.

3. I had one academic book published this year. My new role as VP of Planning and Innovation at Houghton College has kept me very busy this fall, so I have not had too much time to work on scholarly things. But I did present at SBL and have a dictionary article in process. I do hope to write at least one academic book this year.

4. I believe my transition from IWU to Houghton was a God thing. Houghton opened a door for me to innovate again on a new level. I was now empty nest. I was at a point where I felt I should either return to teaching or venture deeper into educational leadership. A number of things came together. It is a great opportunity for us, and we love Houghton!

As of January I am giving some leadership to Houghton Online. We have several initiatives in the works. I have been delighted at how open the faculty have been to these sorts of things:
  • The Associate of Applied Science in Christian Ministries is going online. You can start with philosophy January 13 if you wish (email me at ken.schenck@houghton.edu), but the official start is in March with Michael Jordan teaching Intro to Ministry.
  • These courses will largely involve live sessions once a week on Zoom. You can even audit them and work toward ordination. The degree meets the educational requirements for ordination in the Wesleyan Church.
  • We are doing this in conjunction with Watermark Church. If you have a few people at a church who want to be a ministry study cell, we can make an arrangement for your church to have a local church mentor.
  • We also have a series of courses that might be of interest to homeschoolers with a bent toward a classical approach. I will be teaching Latin, for example, in March online.
  • With the new possibility of auditing online classes, especially the ones with live sessions, we will be highlighting Houghton as a place for lifelong learning.
  • If you are interested in Linguistics, you can audit Steve Doty's intro to linguistics class this spring (email me) or even take it for credit.
  • Other online options on the way include the AAS in Music Industry, minors that you can take as a package in Art Business, Linguistics, and Business.
5. I've continued my work on Patreon. On YouTube you can find a host of videos I've done this year in Greek and Hebrew Bible. I'm currently doing a verse from Genesis in Hebrew a week. I've also been doing a podcast on Sundays called, "Through the Bible in Ten Years," looking at a chapter of the Bible a week. Right now I'm in Acts.

A group of pastors have expressed interest in learning or refreshing their knowledge of Greek. So I've started a Facebook group and will be posting a chapter of my Greek textbook for them a week while making videos to go along with it. We will meet via Zoom every other week.

6. I've preached a few times this year. I spoke in chapel at Houghton for the first time in October. I was the Bible teacher at Silver Lake Camp in Canada and will be going back again this year. I spoke at Lakeview in Marion on Father's Day. I was at Three Rivers in Fort Wayne in March, in IWU chapel in February. I did another 8 week Bible study with Light and Life Wesleyan Church in the spring.

7. Finally, I've read/skimmed a number of books this year. They include:
  • Prisoners of Geography
  • Range
  • Ask
  • The Language of God
  • The Lost World of Genesis 1
  • The Lost World of Adam and Eve
  • When Science Meets Religion
  • Higgs: The Invention and Discovery of the God Particle
There are others I have bought, but they'll have to go on my resolutions list.

Goodbye 2019. Goodbye teens of the twenty-first century. May the next decade resume its course toward peace, equity, knowledge, and the empowerment of the marginalized.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Call to Ministry 5

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15. At some point late in my first semester of college, I began to feel that God was calling me into ministry. It wasn't that I had stopped liking science. In fact, I still wanted to finish my chemistry major, even add a math and physics major. It was a mystical thing, like my sense that God wanted me to go to Central.

I told my parents over Christmas break. My mother indicated that she never thought I was called to be a doctor. It fit with their sense of things and their sense of me. I think my sister had even had a premonition that I would be called to be a minister.

They wisely suggested I finish out my first year as a chemistry major. If I still felt the same way at the end of the semester, I would change my major to religion then. So I kept the same spring schedule.

As you look back, there are certain decisions that are life-altering. Most aren't. The decision to put your faith in Christ is the most momentous, of course. But that decision was not really a question growing up. It was the trajectory I was on from birth.

The decision to go to Central was quite substantial. Would I have received a call to ministry at the University of Miami? It would have been harder to hear, I believe. It is an argument for studying at a Christian college. There may be directions for Christ that you won't see or hear as well in a secular environment.

Alongside my decision to marry Angie, the change of direction to ministry is one of the two most consequential decisions of my life. It was one of a small handful of mystical decisions I have made, along with leaving the seminary and coming to Houghton. I have never looked back after these decisions. I cannot explain the confidence I've had to make these decisions, especially given the tendency of my personality to doubt, introspect, and second guess myself.

16. If the fall semester was difficult, the spring was delightful. I always found spring semesters so much more delightful than the fall. The fall was a journey into cold and darkness. The leaves fell and the rains came. It was a dying.

The spring was resurrection. The leaves and flowers of spring were something I had not grown up with. There was always a point in the spring semester when the flowers at Clemson were beyond beautiful. The temperature warmed. I loved the spring, especially late spring. It was my favorite season.

I finished my science path that spring. I took Zoology and Differential Equations. I got back at chemistry with an A in organic analytical chemistry. I'm not sure how. There was one sample I couldn't figure out. I went around the stock room sniffing chemicals to try to find a match--not a preferred technique. Micah and Rodney seemed to think they were giving me a hint by pointing out a similarity to the smell of a Moon Pie. It didn't help.

One aspect of the spring I enjoyed was taking a Physics course at Clemson, Physics II. They didn't offer physics at Central. It was a very large class, probably a couple hundred. The professor swore he wasn't going to curve this semester but he did. I didn't have to take the final because I had an A up to that point in the course. Good thing for me. I got straight As that spring somehow.

I forgot to mention that the first semester I had taken a one hour freshman seminar. It was about study habits and being ready to survive college. The only principle I remember from it was "Be here now."

It seems to me that I went to Clemson at one point to do some "soul-winning." The idea was to share the gospel with anyone we might happen to run into. I don't remember running into anyone.

I do remember on one occasion going for pizza at Clemson and being followed by some people reading the Bible. They never asked me if I was a Christian. They just assumed we weren't. I suspect that reading verses behind a person isn't a very effective evangelistic technique. In fact, it is annoying to both Christians and non-believers alike. I wondered if they were basing their approach on Isaiah 55:11--"My word will not return to me empty."

17. I spent the first part of the summer in a trailer with Micah and Rodney. That was probably the May that I took developmental psychology. I believe that was also the summer that I did construction with Casey Walker in Fort Lauderdale to earn a little money. Being a theoretical person, construction was a challenge.

The foreman thought for sure I would quit. But I made it the full five weeks I had planned. I was getting the hang of it by the time it ended. I do remember the first time I tried to tie steel on a commercial site. I couldn't quite get the twist to get it right. The foreman was so ticked. He ripped out all the ties and had me do it again. I did get the hang of it.

I believe the first sermon I ever preached was at the Fort Lauderdale church that spring. I don't remember what I preached on. It seems ridiculous but I believe I spent the last part of the summer preaching at Zephyrhills, Florida while my brother-in-law Eddie was out of the country. Mind you, I had not had a single ministry course yet.

That was in keeping with the flavor of the holiness movement. God called you to preach and you preached. You didn't need training. You just needed the Holy Spirit. I had the theological training of my church and camp meeting. I had models to emulate.

So I did preaching and some visitation. It was mostly an older congregation. Such congregations love young single (male) preachers. Visitation was somewhat torturous. Being of short attention span it was hard to pay attention to someone for over an hour. And they were lonely people. They were happy for me to stay infinitely. It was hard to get away.

I would later learn to say you only have x amount of time up front or to make an appointment so you needed to go in an hour. Of course pastoral visitation is done less and less these days. As part of my ministerial training, I would do regular visitation in Central with Jim Wiggins. His philosophy was not to make an appointment but just to show up. He wanted people to be as they were, not to prepare because he was coming.

Don't Procrastinate! 4

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12. As a chemistry (pre-med) major, I took chemistry, calculus, and biology my first semester of college. I had biology with Walt Sinnamon, whom I would also have for zoology my second semester. I really appreciated Dr. Sinnamon. Biology is a sensitive subject at an evangelical college. I was completely open to hearing arguments for evolution, but I was firmly in the seven literal 24 hour days camp at the time. [1]

It was never clear to me what Dr. Sinnamon's actual position on evolution was. He seemed to play it neutral. He did teach a distinction between macro- and micro-evolution. He introduced me to the concept of speciation, the point where two organisms are sufficiently different to be considered different species.

Man, those were days when my memory seemed to be at a peak. Oh, to have the brain I had then. If I could just take the knowledge I have now and put it in my youthful brain. It was like a sponge. I remember Allen Payne and me cramming for Zoology quizzes right before class at lunch and then getting perfect scores. Obviously that's not the way to learn something long term, but back then I could get by with it.

13. Because of my AP scores, I was given credit for calculus 1 and 2. I went straight into calculus III with Micky Rickman. Mr. Pickett from high school didn't fail me. I think there were only four of us in the class, Allen, Micah, maybe Rodney. I would go on to take Differential Equations in the spring too.

As one might have predicted, I found myself with far more work to do during finals week my first semester than seemed humanly possible. I've already mentioned needing to finish reading the Old Testament. There was no final exam in Calculus III but I went to the last class after trying to pull two all nighters in a row.

I fell asleep in class, to say the least. When I woke up, the lights were out and I was mouth gaping wide on my desk. They said that they asked Mr. Rickman if they should wake me up. He replied that I obviously needed sleep more than the lecture for that final day.

14. However, I was not ready to skip Chem 1 and 2. I only got a 3 on the Chem AP exam. I went straight into Inorganic Analytical Chemistry out of my depth. I have sometimes joked that Analytical Chemistry called me into ministry. It's a joke but God does use such things to get us where we need to go.

By the way, in general I wouldn't recommend someone skipping college intro classes like that in a field you plan to go into. For example, even though I got a 5 on my AP calculus exam, a math major would need to know the "epsilon-delta confusion." No matter how great your high school might be, a dual credit high school class just isn't a college class in the vast majority of cases.

I am now a pragmatist. I know dual credit and AP are the name of the game. A college just can't afford not to accept such things. But in most cases it's not the same. In our current situation, most above average students will come to college as sophomores, like I did. It is what it is. But there is almost certainly a loss here for future leaders. It is a loss in being able to see a bigger picture. It means a narrower society less equipped to face the future and more prone to make bad decisions.

Dr. Schmutz set up the course to involve ten experiments. There were some lectures and a couple tests, but the heart of the course involved determining the nature of the ten samples he would give us. There was no deadline for the experiments, save the end of the semester. Given my tendency to procrastinate--and the fact that I was much more theoretical than experimental--this was a disaster waiting to happen.

The last couple weeks of the semester were great fun but not particularly successful. My uncertainty reading the weight of samples could go on so neurotically that one I believe gained moisture while I was sitting there. For the first time in the history of the universe, I created mass out of nothing. My resulting precipitate weighed more than the combined ingredients with which I started.

Micah and I spent one of my two all-nighters in the chem office. Rodney joined us for some of it. We signed out of the dorm for the night and did experiments most of the night. I stirred instant tea in a beaker with a magnetic stirrer, and we had macaroni and cheese on Petri dishes.

Inexperienced in the ways of finals weeks, my plane was scheduled before I had finished writing up all my labs. I gathered all the data I could and headed for the airport. I was asleep before the plane's wheels left the runway.

Dr. Schmutz was very merciful. He let me call in the results of my final experiment from Florida. The numbers weren't right. I knew it. It was awful. I still believe that the B- he gave me for the class was an act of mercy. Thus ended my first semester of college.

That B- would later haunt me. Although I graduated from Central with the highest GPA in my class, there was a rule that said the valedictorian couldn't have a grade lower than a B. Amy Smith, the second highest GPA, found herself in the same situation. They did make an exception to the rule so that we could both be summa cum laude.

[1] I was often bored in church as a child--except when my sister preached. You never knew what she was going to say. It kept you on the edge of your seat. At other times, the Pix fliers from Sunday School often sustained me through a service, with its cartoon excerpts from the biblical story.

One day in church I added up the numbers of the from the genealogies in Genesis to see when in the history of the world each person died. It was then I realized that, if the numbers are taken literally without any gaps, Methuselah died the year of the flood!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

First Semester 3

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8. I'm embarrassed to say that I did not particularly grow up thinking of my school friends as Christians. I'm sure my family would have been agnostic on their eternal state, but we certainly didn't think they were living or believing the right way. Early on, I felt the pressure to witness. I remember John Maxwell talking about how he witnessed to cashiers in check out lines. I remember him talking about witnessing to the people who sat next to him on planes.

So I began to feel very guilty about not sharing my faith with any and everybody around me. Of course, Maxwell is a mega-extrovert. He's going to talk to everyone in the world anyway. Real virtue is when you do the right things that come hard to you, not as much when you just happen to enjoy doing the right thing--although that's a good thing too. I was excruciatingly shy in those days.

But I began carrying my black Thompson Chain Reference KJV to school for a time. Under an immense feeling of guilt, I placed it strategically on my desk so that others could see. Maybe they'll ask me about it. When I flew, I sometimes read my Bible too just in case it might prompt a conversation. I did awkwardly get a friend to pray in our driveway once.

Like I said, about ten years of my life from about 1977-87 were quite torturous. Guilt was my middle name. Doubt was my first name. When I played Thomas in a church Easter play in 1987, a former girlfriend joked that I had been typecast.

I might mention that many of my friends from high school are quite serious Christians. The way that I thought of who might or might not be a Christian in high school was seriously defective. There was no animus to my perspective, but it was the consequence of the worldview with which I was raised. Accordingly, in addition to my intense shyness, dating anyone in high school was not a possibility because they "weren't Christians," at least not my kind.

9. But Central was completely different. I was still excruciatingly backward, but there were no faith barriers to asking someone out there. One shouldn't speak much of past relationships, so I'll simply say that over the course of the first semester I finally did muster the courage to ask someone on a date. I felt like an idiot going out of my way to be friendly. I said stupid things at church. I am quite convinced that the person only said yes because they felt sorry for me.

As an aside, I remember Dr. Schmutz, my chemistry professor, seeing me agonize waiting on an answer. He remarked, "Man, I'm glad that's over." :-)

I feel bad that the next year was a time of great emotional turmoil and transition for me. In general, I didn't care much about what others did or didn't do with regard to old holiness issues like make-up or whether women wore pants or skirts or whether women cut their hair or not or whether women wore jewelry. I had never really cared about these things. You'll notice, by the way, that hardly any of the benchmark holiness standards affect men.

I had some friends my senior year at Central who had come out of a holiness church in Kentucky. At that church, they were called the "Hollywood girls" because they wore a little make-up. They always felt like the pastor's daughter got brownie holiness points for rolling out of bed and coming to church without combing her hair or showering. Of course I only had their side of the story.

For those of you who are saying, "None of that is really about holiness!" you are of course right. Holiness is about belonging to God and living a life appropriate for those who image him. Jesus was quite clear that the way we do that is by loving our neighbors and enemies. The fruit of the Spirit is love, accompanied by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. John Wesley primarily understood holiness in terms of perfect love.

But at some point holiness degenerated in some circles to "standards," how you dress, where you go, and in general what you don't do. In this degenerated form, there seemed to be little joy, peace, or patience. Kindness and gentleness certainly would not have been typical in my view. I was once kicked off a playground as a child at a holiness camp on Sunday because you don't work on Sunday. I would later muse to myself, so is playing work for children?

10. When I started dating, my conscience began to worry about such "standards." I didn't care in general if other people didn't follow the holiness standards. That was between them and God. But should I date someone who doesn't follow those rules. Would I then be sinning? It wasn't really so much about the other person, but my fear of going to hell myself.

Eventually the poor saint rightly broke up with me, a roller coaster of introspective torture. At that time Judy Huffman was the RD for Stuart Bennett, the girl's dorm. I met with her in the aftermath, and she painfully asked me if I had ever considered going to a place like Kentucky Mountain Bible Institute. In my mind, that was way too conservative. It hurt my pride.

I prayed with Judy, I suspect in the spring of 1986. I said, "Lord, if I'm wrong on these things, please show me." I of course thought I was right. Even though I said the words and meant them, I had no expectation of any of my understandings changing. By the way, my mother had urged me to be reasonable, to let God take care of such things. But I was an idealist. If something was right it was right.

To be continued.

11. The college church was not the style of worship familiar to me in those days. It was where most of the professors went. It was a little more liturgical. It was a little more proper and had more of a Methodist feel. I never even tried it.

The professors at Central were an interesting group. At one point I thought of them as Jimmy Carter Democrats. I don't know if they were. I will say this. They had the right values. They were in favor of civil rights. Central had students of color attend from its earliest days. While Bob Jones up the road kicked Jim Lo out for interracial dating, there were interracial couples at Central. [1]

Some time after I graduated they moved Freedom's Hill Church to campus, the church where Adam Crooks preached abolition in North Carolina before the Civil War. You can still see the bullet holes in it. My professors at Central were, in the proper sense, holy people, spiritual people. In church this morning at Houghton Wesleyan, Mike Walters preached. He reminds me of my professors at Central. The professors of that generation had the right values. Keith Drury is another one.

At Central I went to what was then still "Central Second Wesleyan." Pastor Jim Wiggins was much more the kind of preacher I was used to and the services were much less formal. I remember the sanctuary being completely packed. It is no wonder they started a building program.

Pastor Wiggins would be my primary mentor in my ministerial training at Central. I would go on visitation with him often, but more on that later.

[1] As a side-note, my sister Juanita married Eduardo Garcia in 1982, son of the general superintendent of the Philippines. I heard some verses invoked from Ezra in those days completely out of context. Ezra of course had Israel divorce their non-Israelite wives. This was then completely twisted out of context to suggest that different races shouldn't marry. It is a good example of how the Bible in the hands of misinterpretation can be used to make evil into a divine command.

First Semester Adjustments 2

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4. I started college as an idealist. I had always been a goal-setter. Growing up I often made schedules for myself for my days. I might plan out a summer. I always had a daily planner, like my father. He always had a pen and a "pocket secretary" on hand. [1]

However, unlike my dad, my goals were often unrealistic. I often felt like a failure. I was good with setting goals, not as good with reaching them. Over time, I have learned that "something is better than nothing" and "the perfect is the enemy of the good." "A page a day and you'll be done before you know it." Set realistic goals and, if you don't reach them today, hit reset and keep moving from there tomorrow.

I did not form my current organizational habits until I was dean of Wesley Seminary. These days I always have a pen in my right pocket and a small Moleskin notebook in my left. Before, my dad used to puzzle: "I don't understand how a guy as smart as you never has a pen on him." These days I almost always do.

Of course now we hardly need paper and pen. We have electronic notebooks on our phones. We have iPads. Still, after taking so long to get organized, I refuse to stop carrying them now.

5. I was still idealistic when I started college. I wanted to be perfect at everything. I signed up for Mrs. Bross' 7:50am art appreciation class. I had a horrible time getting up. I did get up. I didn't skip classes. I just had a horrible time staying awake.

Getting up early always sounded like such a good plan the night before. But I think I only made it to breakfast a handful of times. The few times I did I went back to sleep afterwards. I was not a morning person at all in those days. It would take children and a Labrador Retriever to make me into a morning person. Now I love my quiet mornings before everyone gets up. I'm having one right now with coffee at my side.

I didn't drink coffee in those days. I bet it would have really helped me focus and get up. I wanted to drink coffee because my dad drank coffee like a sailor... er, like an infantryman. I remember the first time I went to the Wesleyan men's zone meeting on a Saturday morning with my dad. It was on the beach at what used to be Lloyd State park. I tried coffee. It tasted horrible.

I wouldn't learn to drink coffee until I lived in England, where they put pure cream in it. Now I drink coffee like an infantryman too.

So let's just say I always disagreed with a bit of advising a colleague always gave to new students. He always tried to get new freshman to sign up for a 7:50 class. But there's no point in setting yourself up for failure. People should do what works for them so that they can succeed. Diogenes the Cynic wasn't completely wrong when he argued that a whole lot of human rules are really just made up.

The form of things, the appearance of things, the norms of culture are not insignificant because people don't treat them as insignificant. "Perception is a reality." All the financials can be sound, but if the market perceives a problem, there's a problem.

So I pay attention to form because people do. Society thinks more highly of an early riser than someone who sleeps in. Society thinks more highly of someone with nice clothes than someone who looks scruffy. These things aren't important at all on substance. They matter because of perception.

In my heart of hearts, I hate the need to focus on form. But it is a real need because of people. In my heart of hearts, though, I only care about substance. I'd rather read a paper with brilliant thoughts and lots of spelling errors than a perfect piece of grammar with not an interesting thought to be found.

We had to listen to music in the library for Mrs. Bross' class. It was here that I realized the disconnect between my musical ability and my "naming" ability. I could repeat a piece of music by voice in intricate detail, almost like I had a "phonographic" memory of sorts (although not perfect pitch). But I often had difficulty telling you the name of the author or the name of the piece.

I had trouble with random memory. I needed to connect the name with something in the music. To this day, my wife Angela is eternally frustrated with my inability to identify whether a 70s song is from Little River Band, the Eagles, America, or the Doobie Brothers. I can hum every intricacy of the songs musically. I just mess up the words and can't quite get the name of the group right.

At one point in the class Dr. Bross put a quote up: "Man is most like God when he creates." The quote stuck with me. It would later help me formulate an understanding of free will. There is no accounting for true free will in the flow of cause and effect. Free will, as it were, is the possibility of creating a decision ex nihilo, as it were. Free will, assuming it truly exists, is a creative act like God's creative action.

6. I also took Herb Dongell for Old Testament Survey as a freshman. I hate to say that I tended to procrastinate in college. I did my fair share of all-nighters. Every time at 4am I would kick myself saying, "Why did I do this to myself?! Never again!"

The psychology of my procrastination was the dread of the mental energy it would take to start. "A journey begun is a journey half done." Often after beginning I would say to myself, "This is so easy. I could have done this a long time ago." But there is the dread of beginning.

Beginning requires a creative act. It requires a threshold energy. It requires creatio ex nihilo.

Part of our grade in OT Survey was checking off that we had read the whole Old Testament that fall. I had already read the Old Testament, but I didn't space out my reading well that fall. I found myself scrambling to get through as much as I could at the last minute.

I would have Dongell for a number of classes after I changed to a ministry major. What's interesting is that Keith Drury also had Dr. Dongell as a teacher at United Wesleyan. He was an old fashioned holiness guy, although not without common sense. When I started dating, I once asked him what he thought about girls wearing slacks instead of dresses. He commented that male and female clothing in biblical time was pretty much the same. It was an unexpected and sensible answer.

I crammed and tested out of New Testament Survey the summer after my first year. It was interesting to realize how much of the preaching of my childhood must have been from the Old Testament rather than the New. I knew most of the stories from the OT. I didn't know as much about the life of Jesus! That fits with my later assessment that the holiness movement of my background was more law than grace.

I grew up with a certain hermeneutical flatness that didn't process the legislation of the Old Testament through the lens of the new covenant in the New Testament. It also had a penchant for non-literal interpretation of Old Testament stories. It was a gold mine of hermeneutical insight once I began to read the Bible reflectively in seminary.

7. My first year roomate was a Wesleyan pastor's son from North Carolina. As is often the case with first year roommates, we were cordial but not close. He did his thing and I did mine. I was usually asleep by the time he would come to the room.

It's usually in your second year that you begin to room with people who are your actual friends. Even that can be a problem. Proximity isn't always good for some friendships. Some of us can pretty much get along with anyone. Others of us need to be taken in doses.

I roomed with Scott Sylvester my second year and Henry Cavanaugh my third. They were both friends and roomates by choice. Scott introduced me to the dot matrix printer. He actually knew how to use his computer for something more than silly tricks in BASIC.

Henry was a southerner's southerner from eastern North Carolina. It was not uncommon to find him playing ping pong barefoot in the student center. His work study was trash pick up and I have fond memories of his language after missing the trash truck, throwing bags out of the third floor of Childs Hall.

In the summers I roomed with chemistry buddies Micah Travis and Rodney Clark. We found trailers and little holes in the wall off campus. In terms of pranks, I just wanted everyone to be happy. Micah just wanted to get even. Rodney wanted to get ahead.

The best prank I remember from college was when Rodney was ticked at someone whose room was right below his in Childs Hall, maybe Allen Payne. As a chemistry major with keys to the stockroom, there were certain possibilities not afforded to the rest of the campus. Childs also was a pretty old school dorm. You could see the light from the room below around the heating pipes.

So Rodney took some drops of pyradine and let them roll down the pipe from his room into the one below. Pyradine smells a little like vomit. Unfortunately for him, Micah was the RA of the second floor and, being a rather clever fellow, soon figured out what Rodney had done. I forget what Rodney had to do as a punishment.

Thinking of my dating life, I think, Micah once remarked of me in those days that, "Ken, sometimes you look. Sometimes you leap. But you never do them at the same time."

[1] Although I still have questions about Brett Kavanaugh, I completely believe that someone might have their day-planners from high school. In my recent move to Houghton, I found several of mine.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Finding a Calling 1

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1. Life gets serious after high school. Up to that point, one often has little control over the formative influences on his or her life. You usually do not get to pick where you go to high school and you certainly do not get to pick your parents.

If you are privileged, as I was, you have a say in where you go to college. If you are on the college route, you get to decide what you want to major in and what job you plan to take. Some of these choices boil down to ability but there is often a good deal of freedom. Eventually, you will likely choose a marriage partner.

I grew up with an interesting sense of God's will. Although we were Wesleyans, we had a strong sense of seeking God's will. God had a will for you. The free will came in whether you obeyed God's will or not.

I do believe God sometimes has a specific will for a person. But I have come to believe that God has a lot more options for us than dictates on such things. It makes life easier when you think it's all about "praying down" the one, single option God has for you. Who is the specific person he wants you to marry? What is the specific job he wants you to take?

Again, I do believe God sometimes has a specific will for a specific moment. But there are so many variables that, if God does give us the freedom to disobey him, then it is impossible that we are still on the preferred track of history. I don't believe in a literal multiverse, but you can think of the multiverse as a model for all the different possible worlds that might exist depending on the choices each individual makes.

It is simply absurd to think that, if God gives any freedom to the creation at all, that we are on the one preferred course of our lives, let alone of history in general.

John Paul Sartre once said, "Man is condemned to be free. After being thrown into the world, we are responsible for everything that we do." Of course he was an existentialist atheist. We have the Spirit as a helper. But he was at least right that we need to take responsibility for our lives. Some use God as a crutch so that they don't have to face the weight of personal responsibility.

2. I mentioned that I was accepted at several colleges. In the fall of my senior year (1983), I went with my parents to the board of trustees meeting at Central Wesleyan College, in South Carolina. Stacey Bodenhorn had been joking with me about going there. She planned to go there, although she was a year behind me.

My dad was on the board of trustees at Central, on the finance committee. After I graduated, he would finish out his time with GMAC flying to Atlanta every week to work out of the home office there. My father was a generous, selfless man. I never thought of us as having money and my mother sometimes said that he gave all his money away. As a board member, I'm sure he felt like it was his duty at least to take me to Central to visit.

I had no interest in going there. I had become a bit of an academic snob about such things. I did not look at Central or Marion College with any interest at all. The Bostics put Tom Sloan on to me at Marion College, but it was never a serious thought. Houghton wasn't on my radar at all, although it would have fit my academic temperament the best of the colleges. I probably would have considered it too liberal at the time. A secular university would be ok because I didn't expect it to be spiritual. I could make my own spiritual way at a secular university.

But something mystical happened at Central. As we left the campus, I felt like God wanted me to go there. I didn't feel any differently about it academically. I just felt like it was where I was supposed to go. I already mentioned how hard it was for me to tell Mr. Atkinson this.

I took the SAT twice. The first time my score was blase, but the second time I got a 1410. This qualified me for a full tuition scholarship at Central. They also gave me about 27 hours of credit for my AP tests: 12 hours of history, 6 hours of calculus, 6 hours of chemistry, 3 hours of physics. Full tuition was no doubt a significant factor in my going there as well.

3. The campus felt cozy to me. It was small. I don't know if the student body was even 500 at the time. It was Wesleyan. There was no way I would have gone to a Hobe Sound. It was the right kind of "liberal" for me, that is, liberal Wesleyan. That amounts to freekishly conservative to the rest of the world. It was friendly to my type of person but still obviously full of faith.

I would turn out to be one of three chemistry majors that first year. We all had keys to the lab. During finals week there was one night when we all pulled all nighters in the science building. Central had an arrangement with Clemson to where, if I wanted, I could also complete math and physics majors from there as well.

There was an independence to it all. I sensed that I would not feel lonely at Central. I would be among Christians like me. It's hard to express how fantastic the prospect of freedom there was to me. I would be able to set my own schedule. I could get up and go to sleep when I wanted.

I was hardly ready for all that responsibility, but it thrilled me. Whenever I returned to campus from a break, I would get more and more excited the closer I came to campus. In fact, I hurt my mother's feelings sometimes when I forgot to call and tell her I had arrived safely. It was largely out of sight out of mind.

My parents were no doubt sad when they left me there on the soccer field that August, 1984. But I couldn't have been more thrilled, no offense to them at all. I'm sure that one emotional factor against going to the University of Miami was the proximity to home. I wanted to get away. I wanted to be my own person.

Central would be a wonderful place for me to mature a little. It was solid academically but, on the whole, did not stretch me (with one major exception). But it was a good place for me to grow up a little. What would have happened to me at an RPI? I fear I would have crashed and burned at an MIT. Central was a nurturing place. It was what I needed at the ripe young age of 17 when I darkened its doors.

Knowledge 5

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27. During much of high school, my sister Sharon was the assistant pastor of my church. Everett Putney was the senior pastor, although part time. He was a public middle school principal from the Cooper City area. They made an interesting pastoral team. He was very open-minded and, I suspect, would have felt more comfortable in a United Methodist setting than in many Wesleyan churches. My sister started at Frankfort and finished at Hobe Sound. She brought the older holiness tradition to the table.

It worked because, as a true liberal would, he believed we should respect all people and all positions. My sister represented the holiness traditions of his youth in Indiana. So he could respect her and her positions in areas they might disagree.

My sister brought with her attention to some old holiness issues. Should I wear shorts to track and cross-country? I wore sweats for about a week then decided it wasn't necessary. My mother was always very practical about such things, having gone through her own wrestling in the 50s.

Should my mother dress my sisters in knee-socks? I'm not sure I have the issue straight. Did people in the church think they were showy and prideful? Did they think they should wear long dresses instead? But it can get cold in Indiana in shorter skirts, which I think were the style of the day.

The Lord gave her a verse, Philippians 2:12--"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." She took the verse to mean that she needed to do what she felt God required of her, not what other people required of her. This isn't exactly what the verse meant originally, but it works. The Spirit meets us where we are because we certainly cannot get up to his level. And we will inevitably often not know what the original meaning of the Bible was.

So my mother was often very practical about these "standards," even when I was not. I was at that time an idealist. If I'm not supposed to wear shorts then I shouldn't wear shorts. She was much more, "God will work all these things out. Don't stress too much about them."

28. I did not go to prom. My parents let me decide. Dancing was a no-no still, technically, for Wesleyans. Most Wesleyans, I suspect, couldn't care less. Frankly, I couldn't make a good argument against it. It was just something we didn't do. Genni Clements tried to get me to dance at her 16th birthday party. I would have very much enjoyed to but didn't.

Still, I could have gone to prom and stood on the sidelines. It would have been ok. Of course now I wish I had gone, to be part of the experience. But as a good introvert, I didn't mind not going. A junior girl volunteered to go with me. She made me a nice mug of a sort as a graduation gift. I still have it. But I didn't go.

29. Those years of the 80s were the time when the culture wars began to rise. My mother began to pay quite a bit of attention to them. I wondered later if it was because she saw the empty nest coming and was finding something else to occupy her mind. But she didn't think so.

Living in the shadow of Coral Ridge, we were aware of the leading edge of the wave. We listened to Marlin Maddoux's radio show, Point of View. This is what we might now consider classic fundamentalist fare. There was also a bit of Reformed thinking hiding in there. So my mother was exposed to Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? 

Then there was a lot of rhetoric against the new age movement. When I began to study for ministry, mom funneled some material defending the King James Version my way. I remember when a speaker at Frankfort camp made arguments to the people to switch to the NIV. It might have been Paul Sebree Sr, who actually came for a slightly rocky time at my church in Fort Lauderdale. He adjuncted at IWU in the religion department a little before I got there.

Whoever the person was, he told the people at the morning service that they were hindering the salvation of their children by having them read the KJV. I did read the KJV. I tried to read a chapter a day. It usually went well until I got to Exodus 21. Then I would fail at my reading for a couple months. Eventually I would get through Leviticus and everything would continue a pace.

At some point in my teens I did a reading with an orange highlighter for all the holiness words--holiness, holy, sanctification, sanctify. I defined them all in terms of a "second definite work of grace whereby the heart is cleansed of inbred sin." More on this question to come.

30. I was completely on board with these currents at the time. We were riding the wave of the culture wars on the fundamentalist side. My mom would buy me Harold Lindsell's The Battle for the Bible when I began to study for ministry. When I later began to take the other side of these books, she interpreted it as rebellion, but that was not the case. It's just that sometimes your starting position doesn't turn out to be the right one. Those who are really interested in the truth are willing to change their positions if the evidence and logic doesn't support their initial position.

My high school years coincided with Ronald Reagan's first term. I was walking home from the high school the day and time he was shot. We were of course great Reagan fans. I voted for Reagan my first time to vote in a national election in November 1984.

I take from Reagan a principle I have seen play out over and over again in politics and pretty much everywhere. Again, Jonathan Haidt has given words to the intuition. People do not make decisions primarily on the basis of logic or reason. If a politician is a good speaker who makes them feel good, that person is far more likely to get elected than someone who is boring but has great arguments and policies. The same goes for preaching.

People are not really rational animals. We are herd animals who are primarily driven by our emotions. This is true of the academy as well, although we do a better job pretending that it is all about the logic. Those who expect people to behave rationally are bound for frequent disappointment. Those of us committed to the quest for true objectivity are few and far between.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Light of the Withered Rose (high school short story)

My first short story, written in the spring of 1984 for my senior high school English class.
Looking back, I can't remember a day when the three of us had not known each other and weren't just as close as any three neighborhood kids can be. In those days we did everything together. We used to crawl under the elementary school from one side to the other. Then, in the next breath, we would climb up on the roof and hide behind the air conditioners. In class we used to hide notes in reading books and then put the books back on the shelf for the next person to find. Once in awhile we would get caught but not often.

I was brought up in a sincere, Christian home; so when I grew older and became a Christian too, I had no desire to go to some of the places and do many of the things the others wanted to do. Other than that fact, I was just like any other boy, except that I loved books and would read them whenever I could. Once in a while a thought would strike me, and I would run to my room and write it down.

The second one of our trio was Rudcus. Rudcus had a strange metabolism that made him stronger than anyone I have ever known. He could have beaten up almost anyone in our neighborhood, but he wouldn't have because it was against his nature. Besides that, he was just as clumsy as he was strong. I didn't see Rudcus too often after his father died and he had to go to work. He had it real hard, and the fact that he had trouble keeping a job didn't help.

My best friend of all, though, was Vince. Vince wasn't like Rudcus or me. Vince was in a class all by himself. It was a very rare occurrence when someone could beat Vince at anything. Vince was a genius, but he was more than a genius. He was an athlete, a musician, a scholar, a working man; you name it, he could do it, and he could do it well. I always looked up to Vince.

As the years passed by, we all began to follow those lines that suited us best. Rudcus had to drop out of high school because he was the sustaining force in his family. I began to write in my high school years, and it was then that I decided that I wanted to write for a living. Vince, meanwhile, continued to excel. He held all the status positions a person could think of holding. He was a star football player, the valedictorian, captain of the debate team; in everything he excelled. In all his splendor I was his most devoted fan. I must confess that I was blinded by his brilliance.

During my high school years I had been dating a girl whom I met through my church. Her name was April, and she was the sweetest and most beautiful girl in all the world to me. After we graduated from high school, I'd finally decided that I was going to ask her to marry me. It would be a rough life, being married to a writer; but I was a hard worker, so we would survive. I have the night all planned, and I'd asked her father for permission to have her hand in marriage. Everything was set. The restaurant was the best in town, and I had bought her a beautiful rose. I was in a state of euphoria, and all I seemed to see was the bright reflection of the chandelier in her eyes.

When the time was right, I asked her. The answer was one that I had never anticipated. “I’m so sorry Dan. I thought you knew. Vincent and I have been seeing each other for quite a while,” she said. I had been totally blinded by the light of her smile and by what I thought was another one of Vince's many friendships. I begged and pleaded with her. I told her that her parents wouldn't be pleased. All was to no avail. She also was blinded by the incessant beaming of Vince. I don't know what else transpired that night. All I remember is thinking that my rose had withered and that I would never marry anyone if I could not marry her.

Vince and April were married the next spring; and, strangely enough, I was the best man. After all that had happened, Vince was still a good friend. He was going to college at this time and was majoring in business and finance. As usual he was a success. I often dreamed of how happy Vince and April must have been together. They really did make a glowing couple.

I too was happy. I continued to write and occasionally would compose something worth publishing. In the meantime I taught at the neighborhood middle school. It was within walking distance of my apartment. Each day I would walk home through the nearby park and enjoy the beautiful colors of the seasons and especially the fall. I then had only to walk a few blocks down to the corner where my apartment stood.

Around this time Rudcus ended up staying in the local firehouse where he was a volunteer. The official firehouse was on the other side of the city, so a volunteer system had been set up on this side of town. From what I could tell, he, too, was happy. Occasionally he would go to church with me on a Sunday morning. He would tell me how is work was going, whatever it was at that time. He had found a wife who lived with him in the fire station. As I said, he had it hard.

Several years later Vince and April had a daughter. She was a bright young girl and learned very quickly. I looked forward to the day that I would have a chance to teach her. Vince, meanwhile, had begun a new business deal, one which would give him more money than anyone could ever ask to have. It would be a modern resort complex that would be built by the lake of our section of town. In winter the lake would freeze over and the nearby hills would make for great skiing. Townhouses were to be built nearby out of all natural materials. Since the lake was separated from the town by a series of hills, the resort would be totally isolated from the town and, therefore, vacationers would feel totally isolated from the world if they were brought in from the right direction. Ski lift, security, sprinkler, and emergency telephone systems would all be controlled by the most modern computer system, hidden of course from families at the resort.

The concept took off as soon as it had been presented. The local economy was badly depressed at that time, so the city's merchants thought that it was a great idea. A few enlightened townsmen would be given an opportunity to buy a certain percentage of the deal. Vince even asked me if I wanted to become a part of this brilliant plan. The project was approved almost immediately, and planning began for building.

The project first ran into trouble on the third year after its initiation. The computers cost much more than Vince and the engineers had planned. It appeared as if this extra expenditure and an unexpected rise in inflation had drained the project's capital. Most of the townhouses had been finished already, all except for the massive cooling systems of the hidden computer room. The importance of these systems was tremendous. The computer room was to be placed in the side of a hill, so it would be hard to cool. If the computer blew, then the whole system would be out of commission. It was plain to all that this project would fail if more money couldn't be obtained in the near future; as for now there was no money.

Vince was under extreme pressure. Millions of dollars had been staked on his judgment. If he couldn't solve this problem, he would lose almost everything. A meeting was called for all those who had some part in the deal. I too was there. Several angry businessman cursed at Vince and told him that he was a failure. I'll never be able to forget all the hatred and anger that flew across that room. I was also at a loss. Vince had never failed before. I always thought Vince could do anything. Vince had always been a superman to everyone. Nobody ever thought he was capable of a failure this great.

I don't believe that even Vince thought he had really failed, for the next day he had a plan. It would make it hard for the resort to operate at first, but eventually the resort would pay for itself, and the loss would be eliminated. The plan was to postpone indefinitely the shipment of security devices. The amount of money left, then, would be used to account for the cooling systems. A few shortcuts would be made on the efficiency of the system, and there would only be one access to the computer room, thus, saving the money of dynamiting out further space for a safety access. The dynamiting process was scheduled to begin the next week, just before the computers arrived, so the plan could work.

Everybody thought it was a brilliant vision. Vince had come through for everyone, and everyone was again lost in Vince's radiance. For a moment I also was in a wild sense of euphoria, but then I realized the danger of what he was doing. The losses of efficiency and a second access were serious safety hazards. I protested, but my feeble protests for nothing against his brilliant plan. “The winter,” the businessmen argued, “will keep it cool.” It was truly hard for them to kick against the pricks, for he had saved the city. He was the savior. I promptly left the meeting.

The project was completed in time for the next winter, and it was a success. No one even missed the security system, as hundreds of tourists came in over the course of the winter. Vince was a success. He made over a million dollars that winter alone, and I wondered how happy he must have been. Everything did operate well, as Vince had said, until the second winter.

It was on a bright January noon that life hit Vince. It was a Friday; and school had been dismissed early, so I was walking home. Although it was snowing off and on, the sun seemed brighter than normal, and I had to wear my hat to shield my eyes from its blaze. The park was lifeless, as the trees had lost their leaves. As I stepped on the sidewalk, I heard the usual siren that signifies something is on fire. It was customary for me to look to the hills when that happened, and this time I followed the custom and wondered. Rudcus sold hot foods at the factories this time of year in a peddling truck. Suddenly this peddling truck came wheeling around the corner so quickly that two of its wheels went off the ground. It was Rudcus, and he was racing toward the firehouse. When the fire truck came out of the firehouse, I also jumped on it. Rudcus told me what happened. The computers at the resort at overheated due to an overload on the system. A transformer at the entrance had blown so rigorously that the passageway to the tunnel had caught on fire (being made out of all natural materials). Vince and his five-year-old daughter had been inside.

When we arrived, there was hardly any method of getting inside the computer room. Rudcus, wearing the only flame suit, practically ran through the flames in order to save them. Vince had efficiently blocked the entrance, so the fire had not yet reached the innermost part. I don't know exactly how Rudcus made it into the room but he did. The next thing I saw was Rudcus running out of the flames. He had the child in a blanket, and he was on fire. When the fire on him was extinguished, he stood there, badly burned, yet with his muscles just as strong as ever. In his arms was the small, frail girl, unconscious, yet unscathed by the fire.

The fire died down enough for second attempt, Vince was removed from the computer room. He was alive, but in a coma from severe burns and smoke inhalation. He was immediately taken to the hospital. I spent many hours there, trying to comfort April. She was very distressed to think that Vince could not conquer death. I took the time to buy a rose like the one I had bought so long ago, and she placed it at his bedside as a remnant of hope and light. For a while we thought he was going to recover. He seemed to be getting better. It was Sunday night when we heard the doctor being called to Vince’s room. Vince’s body could no longer function and he had died. No special lights, no extra privileges, nothing out of the ordinary accompanied his death. One moment Vince was alive and on the road to recovery. The next moment he was dead. There were no flowers for Algernon. His rose had withered and his lights had all gone out.

It was then that I realized that there are no supermen. There are some men who can do great things, but they are all human. They all make mistakes, and they all die. I was searching for an idealism in Vince that no man could attain. Sooner or later, we all must hit the immovable wall with an irresistible force. With men and life there is no respect of persons. Rudcus hit it early in life, and I had hit it sometime in the middle. Vince had really hit it. He was human. We are all human and are all the same. Real success in life is not measured by how strong one is, how intelligent one is, or how wealthy one is. Success is not even measured by how much position and a claim a person has, but a successful man is he who is most happy. I thought Vince was happy, but he really wasn’t. He had accomplished so much and moved so fast that he neglected to take the time to be happy.

The Monday after Vincent died I went back to school to resume my life. It had been the most shocking weekend of my existence, filled with a horrible realization of what life really was. As long as I had seen exception in Vince, it hadn't meant as much to me, but now I saw that there was no special glitter, no exceptions to life, only the happiness that one could have, that inward satisfaction that comes when one loves life and accepts it as it is. I had that happiness. My life would resume, and it would be a happy life.

The Ubiquitous Dialectic (high school poem)

A poem I wrote for high school, probably spring 1984
Oh why does man in isolation stay,
And many people find themselves alone?
When thousands in the street are crying loud,
And loneliness is there, when millions in
The world are dying so, but loneliness
Is there? What foolishness is this that men
Ignore their fellow man, that when they meet
They act as if the other is not there.
Decrepit men debase themselves, and in
Their loneliness continue on their way!

Oh why do I in isolation stay,
And I myself am found alone again,
When thousands in the streets are crying loud,
And loneliness is here, when millions in
The world are dying so, but loneliness
Is here? What right have I in loneliness
To live and separate myself from that
Which is within my grasp, the will to reach
Its height the only need. Decrepit I
Debase myself, continue on this road!

Yet lonely is this soul, who though it try
To enter in the fellowship of life,
Expires itself because it tries to hard.
What is the ill, that causes a retreat
From life? Is it a lack of courage, shy,
Or is it life's bombardments made us so?
Some yet are lonely with no knowledge of
This love to find its gentle touch, and some
Are lonely for the pride that they sustain.

E'en though a man bestride the world he may
Not be Colossus strong, for he who stands
Between two worlds no grasp in either has.
Two masters doth he try to keep, yet he
Cannot do so. When man mistaken sets
Himself above all else, he puts himself
Beyond the need of love from anyone.
True satisfaction in this life is not
On basis in exception from the rule,
But loneliness departs when man the rule
In general keeps, and love's true need upholds.

Now when a soul in loneliness is found,
The world he sees through different eyes, which know
The things of life before unseen. The trees
That he had never known, the sky so blue
Which never had stood out in boldness there.
Inside he looks, within, to find the cause;
So he can from this loneliness be purged,
So that which separates from unity
Of life be gone, and with withdrawal comes
The thrust which conscientious search will bring!

And all the love that man has seen from naught
Cannot be come, and its true Source is like
A magnet strong whose forces form closed loops.
True magnetism draws us toward the Source.
When it is sent to men, some don't respond;
But when a man responds, the loop has closed.
A magnet artificial doth he be!
You then become a source of love to man,
And send out lines which others send you back.
But when the lines aren't sent or aren't by men
Received, a man becomes a lonely soul.

When life's immortal time continues on,
Withdrawal from the world will once more come,
But if sincere a thrust will also forth,
And with each thrusting forth, a moment of
Reality from introspection reigns,
And understanding calms the raging seas
Of loneliness, a dialectic surge.

Knowledge 4

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19. I continue to marvel at what a great high school education I had. I've already indicated how wonderful my math and science teachers were. My English/literature professors were of the same quality. My college literature class was a breeze because I had already read half of the books in high school.

I will look up the name of my tenth grade English teacher, but I was remembering yesterday that we had a collection of short stories in a book called Point of View. In keeping with my personality, I was fascinated at the classification of fiction on the basis of point of view. First person subjective narration, third person omniscient objective narration.

A couple stories really struck me. One was called something like, "Going to Run All Night." The character, a former runner who finds himself as part of a company in a really bad spot, is asked to run forty miles in the middle of the night to inform another battalion that his company is surrounded and their communications are out. The short story is about him running, running, running to get help before dawn.

I loved the idea of being called upon to save everyone. This was a scenario I have always loved and, indeed, that I have to watch. When you grow up feeling like an unnoticed nobody, the idea of being called upon to step in and sacrifice yourself to be a hero has a certain appeal. The danger is that you come to like emergencies. You are less motivated to fix things for the long term or to build infrastructure because you find meaning in needing to be the hero.

The story also tapped into my increased love of running and my identification of myself as a runner. I would go on to run a couple marathons. I remember the first time I ran ten miles. It was about a mile from my house to the end of the elementary school to 26th street back down to sixth ave to my house. One summer I think in late high school I ran the loop 10 times. I saw it as quite a feat at the time.

20. There was another short story about a man who kidnapped people and hunted them for sport on an island. [1] If I find the book as I unpack I'll get the title. This would inspire one of my early novel ideas. In the novel, people are put into an internet world and hunted. My novel title was Domain of Consciousness. The kidnapped people realize that they can do all sorts of superpowered things if they only believe enough. Meanwhile, those who cannot imagine enough beyond what seems to be die in that world.

The hero wins by tapping into the subconscious of the hunter and arousing the God of his childhood, who destroys him. I never decided whether the novel would end with them stuck in that world, their bodies hooked up to machines, or whether someone would eventually find them in the real world and let them out. By the way, I had this idea a few years before The Matrix.

21. In the eleventh grade I had Mr. Hatley for what amounted to an American Literature course. He was spectacular, although I was annoyed with him on a test when he took off a point every time I misspelled the word versus. My Christian upbringing led me to spell it verses. Suffice it to say, I have never misspelled that word again... ever. It does highlight that I think phonetically. I often type homophones and have to correct myself.

That class had what had become my people, my closest circle of high school friends. Facebook came out right at the juncture when memory might have threatened to lose high school. I enjoy being Facebook friends with many of those from those years. We are all now in our early fifties. I think it was my junior year that Mary Jo Hamil found out my parents were out of town and came over with a boom box playing Adam Ant's, Goodie Two-Shoes.

In Mr. Hatley's class we read Emerson, Thoreau, Whitfield, Melville, Cooper. He was a gentle, soft-spoken man. I remember him as a quietly devout Presbyterian. At least he had the demeanor of a Presbyterian. :-) As I remember other things I read in high school I'll add them here.

21. Senior year was the epilog. As valedictorian I received a number of awards. I mentioned the RPI award for science. I won the Voice of Democracy contest with an essay. I was surprised to be nominated for the Mr. FLHS contest, although I didn't come close to winning. I was an officer in the Key Club and we went to a Key Club convention in south Florida that year. I would get a scholarship from them that helped in college and even beyond.

I was president of the National Honor Society and was officer in several clubs. There was "Night of Joy" at Disney World, where high school students spend the whole night there having fun. Casey Walker and I, who had perhaps become my best friend, went on an academic trip to Washington DC. I remember meeting him the summer after graduation and him saying, "Just think of how much smarter than us the people will be that we are about to meet at college." I wasn't real keen on the comment. :-) Of course life has nicely pointed out my place in the scheme of things to me.

I have a certain selective stupidity. In some ways I seem very smart. In other ways very stupid. In my youth, my frequent stupidity did not allow for much pride. I didn't really realize how much easier many things are for me than others. But of course they see the reverse on other things.

One obvious thing that didn't really dawn on my in my early days is the fact that being smart isn't just about being able to understand something eventually. Real geniuses understand things with which I struggle immediately. I might be able to understand about anything if I work hard enough at it. Geniuses understand so many things immediately without any effort or explanation.

22. Cathy Edwards and I had some strange thing going with the names of Russian leaders. She called me Yuri; I called her Andropov. Then she called me Konstantin and I called her Chernenko. We lost touch with each other soon after Mikhail... Gorbachev.

Perhaps it was Modern European History that inspired that exchange. We had a teacher just out of college. She was a nice lady but at times we felt like we knew more than she did. As I would later be my first year teaching, she was quite manipulable. I think I got a 4 on that AP exam, surprisingly. Central probably shouldn't have, but between my 4 on the American History AP exam and my grade on this one, they gave me something like 12 credit hours of history. I didn't have to take any history in college.

23. My twelfth grade English teacher was Mrs. VanRoo. It was hard to follow Mr. Hatley, but she did a good job. If his course was oriented toward early American literature, hers was more like a course in British literature. I seem to remember reading Shakespeare and Jane Austen. I was not culturally aware enough at the time to realize fully how little differences between the United States and England made some of these works hard for me to understand. And what exactly is a marsh?

I wrote my first fiction in her class, a short story titled, "The Light of the Withered Rose." I'll slip it into this series if I find the time. I was quite proud of it. It made me want to write a novel some day. I've started well over fifty. The first one I finished wasn't until about two years ago. I also wrote some poetry I was proud of that year. My grandfather Shepherd wrote poetry.

24. One of the highlights of my senior year was Mr. Stock's Humanities class. He said at the beginning of the year that he regularly had students come back and tell him how much his class helped them when they traveled Europe. I had the same experience. At the time, I never imagined that I would live and travel in Europe the way I did.

His course was a mixture of history, world literature, art, and philosophy. We read The Republic and Machiavelli's The Prince. we saw pictures of the Mona Lisa and flying buttresses. I would later live three years in Durham under the shadow of a cathedral that started construction with Romanesque style but ended in the Gothic period. What a spectacular high school education I had! I have ridden those fumes to today.

25. For science, I had Chem 3AP and Physics my senior year. The physics teacher was Ms. McGuire, a former nun as I recall. I enjoyed her very much. I would get a 4 on the physics AP exam and 4 hours of college credit from it. The fact that I had gone through most of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics course with Mr. Brandt certainly helped. And we had Mr. Pickett for Calculus at the same time as well. So even though Ms. McGuire did not assume calculus, we were looking at some of the same material from two different perspectives.

I don't know exactly how my interest in quantum physics started. I ended high school thinking I was going to become a chest surgeon of some sort. But it wasn't real. I wasn't practical enough to succeed at something like that. It was an idea. I did get a full tuition scholarship to the University of Miami into their 5 year honors med school program. The Isaac Bashevis Singer Scholarship.

Before the doctor idea, though, I had thought of becoming a nuclear physicist, which must have been either late middle or early high school. To this day I love physics and have on my bucket list finally understanding quantum physics. I am not far from understanding Schrödinger's equation. One of my unfinished novels is about a quantum physicist who is in a bad car accident and forgets almost all of his past knowledge. One of his goals in the novel is to understand this equation again. He fails.

I think it was my friend Paul Herman who introduced me to a book called Gödel, Escher, Bach my senior year. I still haven't finished it. I bought a number of books in those years, some of which I finished much later. Thirty Years That Shook Physics, Einstein's Relativity. Sometimes I absorbed the key ideas of these sorts of works without fully finishing them.

Gödel's incompleteness theorem would later be of interest to me from the standpoint of hermeneutics. It basically states that no set can completely describe itself. There has to be at least one key outside a set to identify a structure to the set. I'm probably massacring the concept. Gödel pretty much undermined the life work of Bertrand Russell in trying to reduce all mathematics to a set of self-contained axioms, as I understand it.

But it relates, I believe, to the notion of sola scriptura. As a set of books from varying time periods and authors, the Bible cannot cohere as a set without bringing to bear on it some organizing principle or principles from the outside. In other words, something outside the Bible has to make it a canon. All of this of course fits with history, as the early church collected the Bible as a canon and, as it were, provided organizing principles for its coherency by way of orthodoxy.

In short, sola scriptura, taken in its most restrictive sense, is incoherent. The Wesleyan quadrilateral and the notion of prima scriptura is thus a far superior hermeneutical model.

26. I did not want people outside my group to know I was a nerd. In a discussion with David Riggs at IWU in recent years, I mentioned that I realized back in middle school that most people just weren't interested in the same things I was. I would later resonate with Juvenal's sense that what most people want is, "bread and circuses." We read Tale of Two Cities in Mr. Hatley's class. I understood what happens when the majority turns on the so called intelligensia.

This pessimistic sense of real human interest in truth has only been confirmed through life. Haidt's The Righteous Mind fit very well with my sense that, although we humans play intellect games, we are by and large not really interested in truth. Ideas and intellect are games we play to make ourselves feel justified to be who we are by invoking something greater than ourselves. Religion largely has functioned this way in human culture on the highest scale. We use God to justify what our tribe thinks and wants to do.

I hope it's obvious that I don't think true religion or intellect is like that. It is just the way of most humanity. Indeed, there are many people far smarter than I am in many ways who, nevertheless, only use their intellect to reinforce what they already want to think. My advantage is that I am a true truth seeker, not someone using the "truth" as a tool of their tribe.

If you are not willing to change your position based upon the evidence--or at least aren't willing to admit to yourself that you are taking a leap of faith in the face of current evidence, then you really aren't interested in the truth. You're just a tribalist, maybe a very smart one.

So, as a former VPAA at IWU once said, "Students don't come to IWU to learn the liberal arts. They come hoping for a career that will give them a job. We have to trick them into the benefit of the liberal arts." For most colleges and most students, I fear this is the case. You won't attract most students by advertising yourselves as a liberal arts school.

A good education has a bit of subversion in it. The person enlightened from the journey is glad they took it. But they might not have chosen the path of knowledge if they had known what it would mean from the front end. All education involves some unlearning of our unreflective starting point.

I was quite happy one time when a fellow track athlete asked me if I had passed all my classes. He had no idea I was a nerd.

[1] Diana (Fernandez) Baker remembered that the short story was "The Most Dangerous Game." Another story that resonated strongly personally for me was "Flowers for Algernon." For some reason I resonated with this poor soul who, for a time, went from very low intelligence to very high intelligence and then back again to little.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Knowledge 3

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10. In my sophomore year I had Mr. Atkinson for chemistry--Uncle Mel as they called him. He would become my favorite high school teacher, although he was almost everyone's favorite teacher. As a teacher he was ok. Mr. Pickett, who taught upper math, was actually a much better teacher, I thought, and I was very fond of him too. But Mr. Atkinson was the one who inspired so many students, including those who couldn't get chemistry.

He spent a fair amount of time in class, as I recall, talking about life. "Uncle Mel's story time." He had a dry sense of humor. One time he found amusing the question, "Can Ken come out to play?" He said it from the podium while giving me an award. I still don't get it. Maybe he thought I was too serious?

I remember once when a brilliant classmate of mind lost his temper because he was being razzed by some other student. He exclaimed in a loud voice, "Silence, all of you!" Mr. Atkinson replied in a calm voice, "Now, x, I'm disappointed in you."

He told once that he used to put a hot dog into a rubber glove and stick it into liquid nitrogen and then pretend to break his finger off. But apparently a girl on the front row fainted once and he stopped doing that.

One fun thing was that some Chem 2 students occasionally were doing experiments on the sides of the room while we first years were in the middle learning the basics. I thought a lot of the classes ahead of me. A number of really cool girls. :-)

11. I would take three years of Chemistry, but only get a 3 on the AP exam. The second year was a lot of experimentation. I remember a fun experiment where we somehow got oxygen trapped in a flask upside down under water. Then we put magnesium in the oxygen and watched it flash as it became magnesium oxide. Really bright reaction.

That reminds me of Mr. Atkinson helping us remember the name of a Florence flask by comparing its shape to a girl named Florence he once knew. We did titrations, the whole nine yards. I remember being annoyed that the state had required him to stop doing experiments with benzene because it was a carcinogen.

Those were the days where I thought government rules like that were stupid. No doubt my family poo-pooed the Democrats' attempts to stop us from using lead in our paint and gas too. Of course the studies had long been conclusive. There are interesting documentaries now about how businesses--especially big oil--used their money to prolong the use of lead for decades even though it was a proven health hazard, especially to young children.


12 It was because of Mr. Atkinson that I started out college as a chemistry major. Frankly, I was more interested in physics. But I had a really hard time saying no. I was so embarrassed to tell Mr. Atkinson that I was going to Central Wesleyan College when I had the offer of full tuition to the University of Miami honors med school program. I was also accepted at Florida State, Rose Hulman in Indiana, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. I had an award in fact from RPI and at least some scholarship to these other universities.

He was so disappointed. I tried to tell him that I would have full access to everything at Central. I felt less comfortable telling him that it was where I felt God wanted me to go. It was one of those moments where my religion and the outside world came into sharp tension.

When it came to the science project I did my senior year, once again I let him talk me into a chemistry oriented experiment. I wanted to do something with quantum physics. I don't know what I would have been able to do. Instead, I did an experiment meant to contribute something relating to Alzheimer's disease.

It was a ridiculous experiment. I had three aquariums full of leeches (my poor dad). The water in one was normal. The other two had varying concentrations of aluminum sulfate in the water (just got rid of the AlSO4 in this move). We had snails in the water for them to eat.

The idea was that I would eventually dissect the leech brains and see if they had any neurofibrillary  tangles. But of course, without assistance and a much better microscope, I wasn't able to find squat. I wasn't even sure I found any of their brains at all, let alone being able to see on the level of tangles. All I could say is that the leeches in the aluminum water didn't like it.

I think I got an honorable mention. Didn't hardly deserve that.

Chemistry is an interesting subject. It seems to me both harder and easier than math/physics in some respects. I think it's because it involves a lot of memorization of what seem to be arbitrary details until you get really deep into it. Ultimately the details follow from the quantum physics, but they seem more random as you start into the subject.

Another Christmas gift--the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics.

13. My sophomore year I also had Mr. Atchison for Algebra 2. He was a little gruff, as I recall. We did the deed. We learned the stuff. By now Christina and I were back with the advanced group and would travel with them through to Calculus.

At the moment I can't remember the name of the English teacher for my sophomore year. I remember that we studied a lot of etymology and learned a lot of words with a view to the SAT. I also remember that she had us bring in a favorite record. We only had classical and gospel records, so I brought in Peer Gynt by Edward Grieg. Not that it was a favorite. It was just available.


14. Without question, my junior year was my favorite. I was in Latin 3 and Electronics 3, my final years in these. I was in Chem 2 where we did a lot of experiments. I was never great at experiments, although I got As. My natural giftings were always toward the theoretical side, not toward those of an experimentalist.

For Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry I had Mr. Pickett. He was a spectacular teacher, the best perhaps I have ever had. He was a devout Protestant, although he did not talk about his faith in class. His foundations were so good that I was able to ride them into college math. I would get a 5 on the calculus AP exam, and Central would give me 8 hours of calculus for it.

We got through enough material my junior year that he spent a little time at the end of the year dabbling into number theory. At least one of my compatriots, David Alyea, would go on to study math in college (at Davidson). At one point I hoped to add a math major in college to a chemistry major. I remember one breakfast at Dennys at 4am with David finishing up something for some math contest my senior year.

I remember him talking about the asymptotes I think of the tangent graph. I remember him musing that perhaps if you go to a positive infinity you find yourself then coming back up from a negative infinity, a little like if you were to head east long enough you would eventually find yourself coming back from the west.

15. At some point in these years I began to develop a line of thinking I have used in philosophy and other contexts ever since. I was always intrigued by the fact that you cannot divide by zero. God, I wanted to say, can divide by zero. God can get something out of nothing.

In a couple novels I never finished, there is an omega button an angel presses that gets one out of zero. 1/0 = Ω. If you can invent i for the square root of negative one, why can't I invent omega as the solution to the problem of 1/0?

I was also intrigued by the notion of empty set being different from 0. At some point it occurred to me that creation ex nihilo is not really creation out of zero. It is creation out of empty set. The line of thinking here relates to Einstein's theory of general relativity, where space itself can expand and contract. That means that there is something more empty than emptiness.

I have used this notion often in talking about creation. God does not simply put stuff into empty space. God creates the empty space itself. God does not merely work within the rules of the universe that already exist. God creates the rules themselves. This is in part why, when I first taught ethics in college, I was drawn to Divine Command Theory (DCT). Good is good because God says so in this universe. We have no point of reference to know what God says in other universes.

Some of this line of thinking was also sparked by Henry Morris' book Scientific Creationism. In it he connects God's omnipotence to the fact that he has to have all power if he is to create all the power of the world. God must have all knowledge to design all the laws and aspects of our existence. Perhaps I will have occasion to talk more about this later.

16. I had Mr. Pickett my senior year for Calculus as well. I remember him telling us not to worry about the "epsilon-delta confusion" at the beginning of the book. He said the only person he knew who actually understood it was a fellow math major at Florida State who was always falling down the stairs. They'd yell, "You alright, x?" And he would respond back that he was.

The summer after high school I read through those sections of a calculus textbook. They weren't really important to people who aren't math professionals, but I understood it. I came to believe that Mr. Pickett must have actually understood it. He was just making us feel good and helping us focus on what was more important.

17. I learned to think like a scientist. Maybe I always had. When I was Dean of the School of Theology at Indiana Wesleyan University, John Lakanen (a chemist) used to say that I didn't think like a theologian, but like a scientist. John Drury once likened me to Friedrich Schleiermacher, who saved theology in the universities in Germany by treating it like a kind of science.

[I will return to this issue later. There are two different ways of thinking, both of which are valid, I believe. It is similar to the question of how analytical and phenomenological philosophy might fit together.]

But math and science are incredibly reliable. There are edges, of course. After years of assuming that parallel lines never meet (although it was always acknowledged that it was not proven), suddenly we had the rise of non-Euclidean geometry. But that development did not prove that prior geometry was wrong. It really just supplemented it.

There are aspects of science that are changing as we get more information. I will talk about Thomas Kuhn soon enough. But the rules of physics and chemistry have pretty much remained the same on the macro-level. The edges are in flux, but these are the edges or the underlying dynamics.

Religion has not been as reliable as science. Christianity as an institution has not been as reliable as math and science. Obviously I believe Christ is absolutely reliable, but the people who believe in Christ and the systems of which they are a part are frequently unreliable. Churches are regularly unreliable. Interpretations of the Bible are countless and varied.

What I am saying is that math and science are God's natural revelation. They are revelation of a sort. They should be respected and should be dialog partners as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Those who reject science might as well turn in their cell phones, labtops, and automobiles.

18. The summer after my junior year was spectacular. I went to Boy's State in Tallahassee. I touched the door of the magisterial theoretical physicist P.A.M. Dirac (he would die the next year in 1984). I was elected as a representative, coming out of "Coast Guard County."

I went to Rose Hulman for a 10 day laser camp. For solving a problem I was given a Physics textbook from Harvard that I still have. I have always been struck by the fact that it taught calculus as it was needed to do physics. This model of teaching has stuck with me and even impacted the original design of Wesley Seminary. We learn things best when we need to know them to do things, not as far removed theoretical prolegomena. Or as John Dewey said, "We learn by doing."

When I taught New Testament Survey at IWU, I always did flashbacks to New Testament background. I did minimal introduction so we could get into the material as soon as possible. My New Testament introduction is laid out this way. So many teachers want to cover all the background first because that seems logical. Sometimes it seems like the course is a third (or more) over before you ever look at the actual subject of the class! Drives me crazy!

There is a spectacular introduction to relativity that uses this principle--A Most Incomprehensible Thing. I want to do one on quantum mechanics but I don't know enough yet. I believe there is a way to teach math and science in the inner city using an integrated approach something like this. I would love to try it in Buffalo for Houghton. But there are so many things to do in the world, and most people can't see what I see.

I was also a camp counselor for junior camp that summer, with Stacey and Stephanie Bodenhorn. Along with God, Stacey played a role in me going to Central Wesleyan College as well. I slept very soundly and the first night some of my kids snuck out of the cabin. The next night I slept in front of the door.

One evening a boy decided to walk home because someone had made fun of his weight. We found him, stopped him. As we hugged him, it was clear to me that he really didn't want to run away. He just wanted to be loved. He pretended to resist us, but it was an act. I felt God's presence in a way I had rarely felt in my life. It was a special moment.

I also remember running across the camp running an errand. I was running so fast. I never remember ever feeling such speed at any other time in my life. I caught a glimpse of what it must be to be so good at something. How exhilarating it must be to be an Olympic runner or swimmer, to be so awesome at something! How fantastic it must be to be an artist who can create a masterpiece.

I have felt this at times with writing or singing. There are times that I have sung in a certain acoustic situation where the sound is exhilarating. There are times I have cried at my own writing or poetry. Perhaps no one else would feel that way. :-)

Monday, December 23, 2019

Knowledge 2

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6. There were the assorted PE classes. I seem to remember taking swimming the first semester of my freshman year. FLHS had a great swim team that year. Went to state, as I recall. We would go to state in track that year I believe as well. The valedictorian that year was one of the swimmers that went to state.

So I learned CPR and how to fill your clothes with air if you are stuck out at sea.

It must have been second semester that I had Coach Hurley, a muscular black man who was also the track and cross country coach. Although I had planned to go out for the baseball team, he talked me into track. I had a hard time saying no to anyone unless it had to do with religion. This is a problem I would struggle with even until after I was married. My answer to anyone was almost always yes, even if I didn't want to, unless it had to do with a point of religion where I feared hell if I gave in.

So I ended up running track. Coach Hurley needed a hurdler, so a hurdler I became. Coach used to call me "the great white hope." But there wasn't much hope for me. When you put me next to the other runners, I was just average. Although I was lean by normal standards (especially compared to now!) I believe Coach used to refer to my "jelly belly," trying to motivate me to lose some weight.

I seem to remember being 128 when I started high school, but I had a spurt and was, I think, 165 at least by the end of my freshman year. About 180 when I finished high school, I think.

In my first meet, I ran the 120 and 330 hurdles. In my second race, the 330, I false started and was disqualified. From then on, my nickname was FS. :-) As I write some of this it sounds a little mean, but I remember it all with fondness.

I would run track all four years of high school. I mainly did hurdles, but coach stuck me into the two mile occasionally to help me lose weight. It didn't really work. I didn't have the killer attitude some other runners had.

Of course they could see their potential. Although I forget their names, I remember the four runners who went to state in the 400 that first year. They were spectacular runners. They could see a kind of greatness within their grasp. It drove them to push to a higher level that I could never have reached.

I remember in my second year, I think, coach had me train a new guy on the hurdles. Even with him knocking them all down, he was faster than me from the start. You really can't do anything you put your mind to. Ultimately, it comes down to the ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch fibers in your muscle and a whole lot more that is simply genetic. Anyone can improve, but in athletics you can only be born into greatness.

7. Having said that I was way faster than your average Joe. It was easy to run a quarter mile in under a minute and we ran them multiple times in a practice. The fastest mile I ever clocked was in a practice, 5.29. A life goal was to run one under 5 minutes but that was left behind about twenty-five years ago.

By the way, I forgot to mention with baseball that my dad bought me a "pitch-back" my first year playing farm league. I was a net with springs that, if you hit the target, it would bounce the ball back at you to catch. At some point, I decided that I would have to catch one more in a row than the day before. I don't know how far I got, but I spent every night in my back yard with that thing. If I missed, I had to start over.

I also had a book that was the Air Force fitness guide. Still have it somewhere. I tried to follow its regiment too with different kinds of exercises. Every day you stretched yourself a little bit further.

I remember watching the James Bond movie Skyfall at the beginning, where he is running and jumping across the rooftops of Istanbul. At any earlier point in my life I would have thought, "Man, that looks fun." But in 2012 it looked like too much for me. It's sad getting old.

I used to be able to run under 7 minute miles with no effort whatsoever. In seminary I would take the whole winter off and then jump straight into the Lexington 5K in the spring. But these last five years its been my goal to run three miles at least once each year under 30 minutes. Looks like I've failed 2019.

It seems like I have pulled something every year in the last four years. In 2016 I felt like I ripped my calf running some steep hills in Ohio at a camp meeting. In 2017 I felt like I had a minor hernia in my lower abdomen. In 2018 I pulled my calf again trying to run up a hill at my son's ROTC nationals. Then I ripped my knee this year the second week I was in Houghton. VERY annoying!

8. Coach Hurley talked me into running cross-country my sophomore year. I would run it the next three years. Again, I was not particularly competitive. I think I ran three miles in 17.39 once.

For warm ups, we would run 5 miles. We would run out to Oakland Boulevard to Federal Highway to Sunrise then back to the high school. I just remembered that my first Gatorade was a practice where, I think, we ran to Holiday Park. My first year in cross-country I think. There was a train there you could climb on that I loved as a boy. The church had a picnic there occasionally in the early days.

When it was raining outside, we trained in the high school auditorium. Coach would play Neil Diamond, "We Come to America." 1982 was the year that I really learned a lot of secular music. Chicago was my favorite, "Hard to Say I'm Sorry." But riding to meets I also learned "Eye of the Tiger," "Rio," and many other songs.

I am a child of the 80s when it comes to music. The 90s were torture as things turned lyrical. Give me a driving beat any time--"All I Need Is a Miracle," "Wang Chung." The slow, lyrical, guitar worship music that is so common right now in church kills me. Boring. I don't know how anyone with ADHD can stand most churches today.

9. While I'm on music, we had a special song in every church service in those days. From early on, I was in the rotation for special singing. My mother played the piano for me. My sisters had been the "Schenck Trio" before I was even born, singing in three part harmony as was common even in secular music in the fifties and sixties.

Over the years I did my share of duets, trios, and quartets with my family. Duet with my dad, trio with my sister Patricia or Sharon and others. My sister Sharon would be assistant pastor at Fort Lauderdale First Wesleyan for some of my high school. The pastor was Everett Putney, a school superintendent who agreed to pastor the church part time.

I'll confess that I often didn't pay attention to the words of the hymns and songs we sang in church because I was trying to sing the parts. If a hymn had four verses, I would try to sing a different part for each verse. I would develop a pretty good ear for music, although I do not have perfect pitch.

When accompaniment tapes came out, I found myself singing a lot with them. In college Steve Green was my man. I would do my best in my dorm room to hit those high notes. But I couldn't because I was a bass.