Institutional change in an ecumenical protestant seminary

February 24, 2014

Institutional Change in Theological Education: A History of Brite Divinity School. Mark G. Toulouse, et. al. (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2011).

BriteBrite Divinity School is a graduate level theological seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, historically related to Texas Christian University and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The permutations of this triangulated relationship form the major plot line of Institutional Change in Theological Education: A History of Brite Divinity School.

A second set of relationships also runs through this narrative: cultural changes in American life, especially in Texas, and the evolving consensus of the theological academy (including the professoriate and accrediting agencies).

The university started first. It was founded as Add-Ran College in 1873 by a small group of people who were committed to the religious movement associated with Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone.  In 1902, this little school became Texas Christian University.

From the university’s beginning, the education of ministers for its sponsoring church was a leading purpose. This interest led the university to establish a college of the Bible, which in 1914 was incorporated as a separate institution closely related to the University with the name Brite College of the Bible. In 1963 that name was changed to Brite Divinity School.

One of the notable aspects of the TCU-Brite history is the prominence in each generation of small cadres of leaders whose personal visions for university, seminary, and church were played out in the internal politics of these two institutions. In the early years of the twentieth century, Frederick D. Kershner and L. C. Brite were the central figures.

As university president and a leading Disciples theologian with conservative leanings, Kershner wanted to develop the seminary and protect it from undue influence by the university. He found an ally in Brite, a west Texas cattleman who had been converted at a cowboy camp meeting conducted under the leadership of a preacher sympathetic to the religious movement that supported the university. In addition to making generous financial contributions, Brite participated for many years as a theologically and institutionally conservative trustee and advisor.

Kershner’s later history is an interesting counterpart to the TCU-Brite story. A few years after leaving the Texas schools, Kershner became allied with William G. Irwin, an Indiana industrialist whose family had long supported Disciples-related church and educational enterprises. Together, Kershner and Irwin established an inter-connected university-college of religion system at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Benefiting from his Texas experience, Kershner counseled Irwin to develop the relationship so that the College of Religion would have full control over faculty, curriculum, admissions policies, and financial resources. The Indianapolis seminary, which in 1958 was reincorporated as Christian Theological Seminary, avoided many of the struggles over university-seminary control and freedom that continued to complicate the Brite-TCU partnership until recent times.

While Brite’s institutional history and struggle to attain independence is important to people connected with TCU and Brite, many of the readers of this history will be drawn to other elements of the story. Three are important to note. Read more. . .Brite Divinity School


Wet and not exactly warm: a report on riding in the rain wearing wool

February 19, 2014

By the time I had finished my recent blog on how to dress while riding in the rain, the sun had come out. My brave talk about riding without protective gear when the water’s coming down was for naught.

A week later, the weather man promised me a day when I could find out what happens when a cyclist wears lots of wool, leaving the rain gear behind.

Since the storm with 40-mile wind gusts and heavy rain was forecast to start soon after 10:00 am, I started out at 8:30: light rain and sloppy roads, lots of spray from passing trucks, enough wind to wish that you could have it at your back both ways, which of course did not happen, 47 degrees.

I dressed with four layers of wool on top, wool knickers and over the calf socks below, and feet protected with booties that keep wind out but let the water in. My wool gloves are not waterproof, and I wore a rain cover on my helmet.

My ride was on Lower River Road on the north bank of the Columbia River. I was out for almost an hour, with a steady wind to my back going out and in my face coming back. It was easy to work up a sweat.

My heavy wool jersey was getting wet when I returned, and the front of my legs had absorbed the rain, but except for my feet I was warm enough. My comfort level would have allowed me to continue on for another hour, or so I presumed at the time.

Back home, I cleaned up my Waterford winter bike and made ready to do the second test. If I were to sit around in a warm room with my wet clothes on, would I soon get toasty warm as some of the experienced riders say will happen? I took off my wet shoes, gloves, and helmet and spent nearly an hour sitting at the dining room table talking by phone to various people dealing with our health coverage.

In itself, that’s enough to keep the warm vibes flowing. As the conversations continued, however, my legs and feet kept getting colder. My upper body was not exactly uncomfortable. If I had gone out for another hour’s ride, I would probably have been OK.

As I changed into regular clothes, I noticed that the back of my outer jersey was dry even though the arms and upper chest were wet. The forearms of my long sleeved base layer and the fronts of my shoulders were wet, but the chest of the three inner layers of wool was dry. The small of my back, where perspiration gathers when I wear a rain shell, was dry.

It’s too early to draw conclusions, and in the Pacific Northwest there will be more rainy days for further tests. Next time, I’ll wear better shoe coverings. As for my upper chest and forearms, I’m not sure what to do.

Any suggestions? 

Bike clothes for winter riding (especially when it rains)

February 12, 2014

Dressed for WinterAt 4:30 this morning the temperature in Portland was 51, a little soft rain was coming down, and the gusty wind that had hit the city during the night was dying down. Best of all, the eight inches of snow, sleet, and ice that had shut things down for four days and kept me off my bike for eight were almost gone.

Clearly, I had to get out, but the challenge of how to dress needed to be resolved.

Knowing that there was no need to be presentable at some meeting made it easier. All that I had to do was wear an outfit that would keep me comfortable for twenty-five miles even it if rained along the way.

During the snowy days I had read Jan Heine’s column on how to dress for rain. As a Seattle-based randonneur cyclist, who rides most of the year in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of roads, his opinion is based on thousands of miles of experience.

His recommendations can be summarized easily.

First, equip your bike with full fenders and mudflaps. This protects you from road spray and the drenching streak of water that unprotected wheels throw up.

Second, wear wool. In chilly, wet weather Jan wears four layers on top and one below the waist. He finds that the heavy outer jersey absorbs wetness but that it doesn’t soak through because perspiration caused by his vigorous cycling is working its way to the surface and thus repels the water coming in. He wears water protective booties over his cycling shoes.

I too have long been a devotee of wool cycling clothes. In addition to the four layers that Jan recommends, I add a wool scarf that adds more protection to shoulders and chest. It can be removed or put on easily. After a hard climb without a scarf, this simply garment can transform the comfort level on a fast down hill.

What about a rain shell and rain pants? Jan doesn’t wear them because, he reports, when cyclists ride hard the sweat builds up inside. Riders are more comfortable, he believes when they wear only wool and allow themselves to get a little wet.

My practice has been to wear a rain shell on top, especially if I’m riding in the dark. If the rain is coming down at a steady rate, I usually put on Rainlegs, water repellant chaps that cover the part of my legs that are most exposed to the rain.

At the end of the ride, both garments are wet inside and out, and my four layers of wool are damp from perspiration. Maybe Jan is right and I should leave the rain gear at home.

For twenty-five years, one of my most versatile garments has been a light weight, long sleeved, vented wind breaker that I wear over however many layers of wool the temperature requires. Perspiration doesn’t build up. It doesn’t keep the rain out. When I get hot, it rolls up and slips into a water bottle cage. I was going to wear it today, but at 54 degrees, the temperature when I got started, four layers of wool was plenty warm.

The point of it all, of course, is not sartorial elegance. Rather, it is maintaining the consistent practice of cycling all of the time, rain or shine, hot or cold, windy or calm. The clothes we wear help us deal with the vagaries of weather, which for someone in the Pacific Northwest means riding in the rain.

So off I went into a surprising winter day. No wind, no snow or ice, no rain, not even a sprinkle. Fleeting glimpses of blue sky lightened my spirits during the ride, and as I crossed the Columbia River on the ancient I-5 bridge near home a bright flash of real sun brightened my way and warmed my shoulders.

That’s a lot better than riding (singing) in the rain.



The Tension between Sound and Silence

February 7, 2014

Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch (New York: Viking, 2013)

MacCullochThis book is based on the author’s 2006 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburg. Its format and subject matter parallel his earlier book, Christianity, The First Three Thousand Years, in that it begins with a thousand-year prehistory and then offers a sweeping presentation of the history of Christianity. Since I have not read the earlier book, I can only assume that Silence differs from the earlier book by focusing attention upon a specific topic rather than the larger story.

The new book concentrates upon the intersecting and often conflicted intertwining of sound and silence in the theological, political, and liturgical life of Christians, their churches, and other religions institutions. I became aware of the book because of a positive reference to it by Dean Jane Shaw in a sermon preached at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, late in 2013.

I have two reasons for reading and reviewing this book. First, Silence provides a succinct, constructive, and readable narrative of the Christian story, from its beginnings in Judaism a thousand years before Jesus until now.  This narrative can be useful both to people with little previous knowledge of the narrative and to others (like me) who are familiar with the story but would benefit from hearing it told in a new way.

Second, MacCulloch offers a distinctive set of criteria for interpreting the Christian story and deciding how Christians can move forward in an era when cultural and religious conditions are perplexing, therefore making it difficult for people to develop helpful patterns of faith and piety.

MacCulloch’s detailed Table of Contents provides a synopsis of the narrative that he offers in this book. The titles of the four parts and nine chapters suggest the range of his survey and give hints of the stimulating expository style of the book. Part One, The Bible: 1. Silence in Christian Prehistory: The Tanakh; 2. The Earliest Christian Silences: The New Testament; Part Two, The Triumph of Monastic Silence: 3. Forming and Breaking a Church: 100–451 CE; 4. The Monastic Age in East and West: 451–1100. Part Three, Silence through Three Reformations: 5. From Iconoclasm to Erasmus: 700–1500; 6. The Protestant Reformation: 1500–1700. Part Four, Reaching behind Noise in Christian History: 7. Silence for Survival; 8. Things Not Remembered; 9. Silence in Present and Future Christianities.

A few lines from the final pages of the book provide a partial statement of two themes that MacCulloch weaves together as the plot line of this narrative and that suggest the author’s mood. “My message in this book might charitably be seen as standing alongside the classic negative theologies of silence devised in the early Church: that apophatic approach to divinity which portrays what God is not, rather than what he is. Another way of viewing my report on silence within Christian history is as a necessary penitential work of stripping the altars, or, more cheerfully, the anticipatory clearance of the house before the party begins” (234).

When presenting the theological aspects of his subject, MacCulloch appears generally to be favorable toward the silence side of the tension. When discussing the darker side of silence, he seems ready to shout out the reports in order to reveal shameful facts and bring about change.

As he draws to a conclusion, MacCulloch celebrates whistle-blowing as version of the modern breaking of silence. He describes the importance of historians who follow “the Enlightenment practice of history, part science, part story-telling and pragmatic observation of human nature.”

These factors have enabled the church to develop a new frankness concerning sex, including homosexuality, slavery, and anti-Semitism (226). The “travails about sex” reveal that Christianity has always had problems with authority: “Historically, Church leaders have loved to claim a particular authority to make pronouncements on society, doctrine and the Church, and they have done so by reference to another sort of authority, that of the biblical text” (226).

The problem is that when historians study earlier periods, especially the origins of a movement, they are likely to find that the facts differ from the remembered past, which creates strong emotions and tends to bring out claims by authorities as to what has to be accepted.  Read more . . . Tension

Taking a break from life halfway through

February 1, 2014


Bicycling beyond the Divide: Two Journeys into the West, by Daryl Famer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008)

At age 20, Daryl Farmer writes twenty years later, “I felt an anxiety I didn’t understand, a longing for something I couldn’t define. So I did what countless other lost young men have done in this country, I headed west.”

On his Trek 520 touring bike, loaded with more gear that he could easily manage, he cycled from his family home in Colorado Springs “through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Idaho, across Washington, into Vancouver, before returning down the coast through Oregon and half of California, east across Nevada, Utah, Arizona,” and back home again (xii, xiii).

After his return, the anxiety was relieved enough that he could get on with schooling, marriage, and a career in academia. At the age of 40, however, seventy pounds heavier than when he had made his youthful journey, Farmer realized that he needed to recover his sense of self.

“I have fallen increasingly into a life that moves me away not only from good health but also from a relationship with that land of the West, the day-to-day connection of a life lived outside, in physical exertion, among the elements. What I fear is that all I learned on that journey is lost. I’m a different person now, thank God, but I want to feel the road beneath my tires again” (xv).

On the same Trek bicycle, Farmer traced the route that he rode the first time around, revisiting many of the sites that had been important in his earlier journey and in a few instances seeing people again whom he had met before. The second journey, however, delivered its own challenges that caused Farmer to alter the route, and as he moved back toward Colorado Springs terminate his cycling at Jacob Lake, Arizona.

At the end of the second trip, standing in the driveway of his parents’ home in Colorado Springs, he mused: “It was good…to take a break from life halfway through and reacquaint oneself with the natural world, with physical and spiritual health, with one’s own past. Now this journey, too, was a part of that past” (311).

The plotline of this book is the journey itself, as Farmer traces his bold, triangular route. He gives readers just enough information that they can keep track of his progress through each state as he rides along. Most of the detail, however, is left out; readers rarely are faced with reports of how many miles he rode, how fast (or slowly) he traveled, and the minutiae of his daily activities. When he does report these matters, it is for the sake of his larger story about the region, its people, and his own interior life.

Although Farmer camped most nights on both trips, he spent a lot of time talking with people in cafes and bars. He uses these conversations to bring out the character of the people themselves and of the village or section of the country where they lived. As I read these conversations, I realized how much Farmer’s gregarious habits differ from my own mode of traveling, which tends to be solitary and with little opportunity of extended discourse.

Farmer has great skill in depicting the character of the terrain and communities through which he traveled. “Nevada was a peculiar place,” he writes. “Strange seemed a fair word to describe it, though it was a strangeness imbued with quirkiness and magic. Whatever fear I felt was not driven by rational thought, but Nevada was a place where rational had limited bearing” (284).

Describing his second trip  through the state, he wrote: “By early evening there was a skew to the light, a magnificent glow that seemed to be a cross between the blue of day and the golden hue of dusk. There was no accounting for that light…I removed my prescription sunglasses and realized that even without them, I could see clearly. Large boulders, the size of tool sheds, lay haphazardly over the desert floor, as if they’d been dropped like marbles from the sky” (286).

Throughout the book, Farmer’s introspective nature shows through as he notes his insights into travel, self-understanding, ecstatic moments of experience, and religious understandings. Reflecting upon his marriage, he writes: “Whatever I was feeling about never settling down, it wasn’t regret but yearning. Regret was a word that implied an emptiness, while yearning was an avenue toward fullness, a form of dreaming, of longing for all that we’d yet to do” (177).

Although I like this book very much, some of Farmer’s approach to bicycle travel is troublesome. He started both trips with virtually no physical conditioning, which caused some of his difficulties. He seemed unprepared for equipment failures, even something as basic as tires and tubes. Despite the passing of the years, the twenty-year-old and the forty-year-old were much the same person.

At first, I was surprised that a university press would publish a book about bike trips. Now that I have read Bicycling Beyond the Divide, I understand. Not only is this book a good story, but it is a serious reflection on life.