By David Osielski | August 27, 2013
I am composing these words at an altitude of 31,000 feet. After attending a four-day conference on teaching writing to undergraduates, I’m flying home. My mind feels like a suitcase packed full of new clothes; many fresh and colorful ideas are returning with me as a result of my participation in various lectures, workshops, and discussions.
Of all the subjects in English that I teach at Wheaton, courses in writing thrill me most. Yet, I must admit that my calling to the composition classroom exhibits a bit of God’s ironic humor: when I was an undergraduate, I loathed writing papers. Breaking a bone or catching a virus seemed like more tolerable experiences at the time. The task of putting words onto a page usually filled me with intense anxiety.
My frustration had little to do with the fact that I lacked a computer with a spell-checker; somehow I managed to type all of my college papers on a manual Smith-Corona, with a well-worn edition of Webster’s dictionary nearby (though I’m certainly grateful for my PC today). Nor did my travail result from a lack of scholastic interest or effort; as a new convert to Christ, I truly believed that the world–in all of its sadness and splendor–should he seriously studied because God made it.
My struggle, I now realize, came from my incomplete understanding of the purpose and practice of writing. As I then perceived it, the main reason I wrote papers was to show my professors two things: first, that I understood the subject matter of their courses, and second, that I understood how to craft my thoughts into grammatical sentences. Consequently, I tended to see writing as a skill primarily concerned with correctness. With each sentence, typically written at a snail’s pace, I asked myself, “Is this right?” And often, a voice inside my head would shout back, “No!” So, I would scratch out the sentence I had just written, and try to write a new one. My preoccupation with correctness paralyzed me.
In her essay, “The Watcher at the Gate,” Gail Godwin explains that most writers have an internal critic, an unrestrained negative voice committed to one goal: “rejecting too soon and discriminating too severely.” In describing her own Watcher, Godwin reveals one of her characteristic messages: “‘What’s the good of writing out a whole page,’ he whispers begrudgingly, ‘if you just have to write it over again later? Get it perfect the first time!’”
Now, as I teach my students how to write, I try to disabuse them of the myth that good writers get it perfect the first time. A great writer becomes great not because of inspiration, but because of dedication and perspiration. For example, I remind them that Thomas Jefferson carefully drafted the Declaration of Independence several times before it was finished, an accomplishment which he was prouder of than being the third President of the United States. Jefferson didn’t get his writing perfect the first time.
Instead of primarily focusing on the product of writing, I encourage students to consider the process of writing. Serious writers, more often than not, develop good habits that naturally foster good writing. They learn to observe, and to wait, and to receive; this approach requires a certain degree of humility.
Serious writers learn how to write when they don’t feel like writing, becoming obedient to the task at hand. They care about words as they think in ink. The novelist E.M. Forster explains, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” And after they have written something, they let other—those whom they trust—examine their work, and they actually welcome constructive criticism.
What’s more, they learn how to revise, which literally means to see again with new eyes; they accept the necessity of change.
In a real sense, the process of writing is analogous to the process of spiritual growth. Working with words demands discipline, which paradoxically sets us free to write well. So, too, living for the Word requires us to let go of our inclination to strive for our own perfection, which inevitably brings paralysis. We are asked, instead, to develop a habit of the heart, wherein we welcome the Word to dwell more fully in us. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”
Twenty years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles, titled “On My Mind”, in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Current Associate Professor of English, Jeffry Davis (on faculty since 1990) was featured in the Spring 1997 issue.
The following statement was included at the time of publication:
Dr. Jeffry C. Davis ’83 (Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center) has taught writing at Wheaton for more than a decade. He earned his M.A. in English from Northern Illinois University. Presently he is working to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His dissertation focuses on Quintilian, a first-century teacher of writing. In his spare time he gardens and listens to country music.
By Keith Call | August 23, 2013
It isn’t often that a professor of history is allowed to participate in history, if only fleetingly, but Dr. S. Richey Kamm, Professor of History, Political Science and Social Science at Wheaton College, sat very close to William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic candidate for President of the United States and one of most flamboyant and influential figures of the day.
Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” championed causes like prohibition and women’s suffrage. In 1921 he visited Wheaton College, lecturing forcefully to faculty and students against the theory of evolution, later using those very arguments in his seminal debate with attorney Clarence Darrow during the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Ironically, theistic evolution eventually won the day at Wheaton College. Bryan was famous for his “Cross of Gold” speech, which responded to those demanding a currency based upon a gold standard. He shouted, “We will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
In 1924 young Kamm heard Bryan speak in Greenville, Illinois. He writes on the back of the photo:
You will find me seated on the table at the left of the picture. This shows only a part of the crowd. It stretched out for a long way on each side. They had quite a time with the old fellow with the ear trumpet. He got up on the platform and got his trumpet so close to Bryan’s mouth that Bryan had to stop and get the old fellow a chair.
By Keith Call | August 12, 2013
Malcolm Muggeridge (SC-04), British journalist, responded with keen sensitivity to pious thought couched in beautiful language, especially as he embraced the Christian faith in his later years. In 1974 he hosted a documentary series highlighting the spiritual contributions of six world-class authors: St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, William Blake, Soren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Describing their work as a “third testament” (after the Old and New Testaments) testifying to the reality of God and the resurrected Christ, Muggeridge visited their countries, homes and haunts, attempting to capture something of the environment in which they flourished. Two years later he adapted the series into a book, each chapter profiling one of the featured authors.
Unavailable for many years, A Third Testament, a two-disc DVD containing six 55-minute episodes, is now available from Ignatius Press, http://www.ignatius.com or 1-800-651-1531.
By Keith Call | August 7, 2013
The matter of casual consumption of alcohol is increasingly accepted among Christians, but in previous generations “the drink” was considered an insufferable evil — a quick, sure agent for destroying the family and the community. One tract from 1922 notes, “The children of this generation must be taught that alcohol is present in beer, wine and home-brew, and that alcohol, wherever found, is a poison.” Evangelists such as Billy Sunday continuously railed against the dangers of booze, preaching with such aggression that saloons and bootleg operations shut down all across the country.
Assisting in the battle for temperence, Wheaton College established the Prohibition Club, which eventually aligned itself with the Intercollegiate Prohibition Association. Students, traveling to schools and churches, performed oratories and wrote contest essays with such themes as “The World Movement Against Alcoholism. Charles Blanchard, second president of Wheaton College, delivered the keynote address for the third annual convention of the Intercollegiate Prohibition Association of Illinois in 1895, hosted at Wheaton College.
Modern sensibilities might disagree, but voices from the past proclaim their opposition with conviction.
By David Osielski | August 1, 2013
Scripture speaks so eloquently of God’s passion for the poor and the outcast. Throughout my adulthood, I too have had a passion for seeking justice for the poor. Prior to coming to Wheaton, I had worked as a community organizer in an all-black neighborhood in Chicago, as an advocate for stronger civil rights legislation and job training programs for the poor, and as an organizer for several local reform politicians. I saw coming to Wheaton as a continuation of my calling to a ministry of justice because it was my hope that through teaching and writing I would be able to impart those passions to my students.
Every year I have new students in my classes who have been inspired by a church missions trip or an urban immersion experience and are now eager to learn more. They understand that Christian leadership means service, and they want to know how they can best live that out in what they choose to do as adults.
A growing number of Wheaton students are wrestling with a sense of calling to some form of urban ministry as they prepare for adulthood. For them, urban studies can serve as a window into what in most cases is a very different environment, while also serving as a window into their own souls.
As director of urban studies, I see it as my calling to broaden and deepen my students’ thinking about poverty so they can clearly see the impact of societal evils in creating and perpetuating poverty and hunger in the world. Unlike the students I taught at the University of Chicago when I was in graduate school, Wheaton students’ faith serves as a common foundation. They come into the classroom knowing that God expects them to serve the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the needy, because “when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matt. 25:40). I seek to present them new perspectives on Scripture, often drawing on the prophets of the Old Testament such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, as well as Jesus’s own ministry among the outcasts of Jewish society.
I seek to challenge many of my students’ assumptions about the life conditions and hardships that confront people who live in the poorer communities of our nation’s big cities. They are accustomed to thinking about poverty as an individual problem, yet the growth of large poor neighborhoods in central cities is also the legacy of housing and school segregation, the loss of industrial employment, and flight of financial capital.
For young Christians to seriously engage in ministry among the poor, they have to recognize that there can be no genuine solution to poverty in America unless those most hurt by it become actively engaged in the search for solutions.
Young Christians trained in Christian colleges like Wheaton who are seeking to do urban ministry will have to form partnerships and share skills and experiences with Christians who have grown up in these communities. For many students, their urban experience will be life-transforming because they learn that to be a light in this world requires that they give of themselves. They have to empty themselves in order to serve others. They learn that there are no easy solutions to renewing poor communities and that any change requires great love, hard work, and deep commitments.
Twenty years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles, titled “On My Mind”, in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Former Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Urban Studies Program, Helene Slessarev (who taught at Wheaton from 1991-2006) was featured in the Summer 1999 issue.
By Keith Call | July 29, 2013
All editions of Pilgrim’s Progress describe a thrilling scene in which Christian is directed to the heavenly city by Evangelist. However, the 1931 Wheaton College Tower front flyleaf illustration slightly tweaks the old story, instead upholding Blanchard Hall as the celestial destination. Other such images are featured throughout the volume. Using the theme of pilgrimage, editors from the Junior Class write:
As Christian travelled his way full of difficulties and temptations toward the Light, we as students are wending our way to the same Light. Thus realizing these few years at Wheaton are but a milestone on our way, the Tower ’31 portrays our Pilgrimage.
By Keith Call | July 18, 2013
One could hardly imagine two more disparate Presbyterian ministers than Fred Rogers, best known as beloved children’s show host “Mister Rogers,” and Pulitzer Prize-nominated novelist Frederick Buechner. One man, wearing a zippered cardigan, sings “Won’t you be my neighbor?” before placidly discoursing on themes such as courtesy, personal hygiene or regular school attendance; the other writes decidedly “grown-up” fiction and non-fiction, frankly discussing the crippling tensions he has felt between faith and doubt. One man’s pulpit is television; the other’s pulpit is his desk. Both are influential in vastly different spheres.
Nonetheless, the two Freds interacted during the early 1980s. Among the papers of Frederick Buechner (SC-05) are three notes from Mr. Rogers. For the first two, dated July 14, 1981, Rogers thanks Buechner for a phoned chat, and for “…what you called out of me.” Rogers then invites Buechner to visit him during August if he is near Pittsburgh or his summer home in Nantucket. On the other note he writes his address. On the third, dated August 27, 1981, Rogers thanks Buechner for sending a gracious letter which welcomed his return to Nantucket. He also thanks Buechner “…for you and your superb work.”
(Researchers desiring access to those portions of the collection classified as Private Materials or Special Private Materials must obtain written permission from the Buechner Literary Trust.)
By Keith Call | July 13, 2013
Before publishing Marching to the Drumbeat of Abolitionism: Wheaton College in the Civil War (2010), Dr. David Maas, retired professor of history, released Wheaton College Awakenings: 1853-1873 (1996), comprising 266 entries excerpted from correspondence, diaries, newspapers and other printed matter, chronicling early campus life.
A few examples:
#18. Discipline of studying, 1857. And if the discipline of study ever accomplishes anything it must be self-imposed. The student who needs a police force to exact obedience to academic law deserves no place in a respectable literary institution.
#37. Student attacks novel as trashy literature, 1857. The country is flooded with books and papers which have a tendency to excite and intoxicate the mind; consequently the mind becomes poisoned and the desire for useful information is destroyed and all the noble powers of the intellect die of starvation or from the want of wholesome intellectual food…[too many read] worthless nonsensical trash which has a tendency to destroy the virtue and morality of the consumer. [Great men of the past] Webster, Clay, Washington and Sumner…[did not] rise to the highest pinnacle of fame by spending their time novel reading…Young man, beware, beware of that young lady who spends most of her time in reading novels, talking nonsense and laughing at others…
#97. Professor critical of the architectural style of central section of Blanchard Hall, 1868. [Professor John Calvin Webster in address dedicating the cornerstone of the west wing of Blanchard Hall refers to the original center section as] the semblance of an old-fashioned New England cotton mill.
#106. Complaint of high costs of Wheaton, 1857. Although the world seems to frown on you now and by every means possible to take the last dollar you possess, particularly so if you are a student at Wheaton College.
#252. Student concerned about Civil War, 1861. It [imagination] sees the dark cloud which now overhangs our country roll away; and our nation purified by fire and blood – rising up with a halo of glory around.
By David Osielski | June 28, 2013
During our first year of marriage, Joyce was finishing her work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and I was teaching high school in nearby Euclid. One of my responsibilities was to supervise a study hall in the school’s cafeteria where the students typically spread out around the spacious room, some of them taking up a whole table.
One kid drew my attention. He was at a table by himself and was moving books and notebooks around, scribbling a note here and there. I noticed he was smiling, and I thought I could hear him humming, too. Now, when a teacher observes a kid smiling in a high school study hall, there are several possibilities–Is this kid concealing a frog or snake in his shirt and is he is planning to let it loose to test out this new teacher’s skill at riot control? And that smile–was it a smirk or a impious grin? Trying to appear authoritative, I wandered over toward his table. He was underlining in a book and sure enough, he was humming a bouncy tune, When our eyes met, I said, “You’re Brian, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, And you’re new here, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m new this year. Brian, you seem to be enjoying yourself this morning. You’re smiling a lot, and I heard you humming a song. What gives? Why do you look so happy?”
Brian’s response was instantaneous and genuine. “O, that? That’s just the Lord shining through.”
Obviously, Brian had not been admonished sternly enough to keep God out of his life as a public high school student. The spontaneity and brightness of his faith–what was inside him–showed on his face and was evident in his voice.
Often many of us portray a positive appearance that does not nicely dovetail with the “stuff” inside ourselves. Which means that sometimes we force an appearance, and we deliberately, some would say dishonestly, act in such a way to appear to he something we really aren’t.
What is in the core of our being? When anyone is “in Christ,” that person becomes a new creation. Christ profoundly changes our core. With that transformation we become capable of absorbing and transmitting the qualities of His Spirit–love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.
This is the “good stuff” that presumably becomes integrated into the essence of who we are. If all that “good stuff” is an authentic part of me, then why doesn’t it bubble out more? Sometimes, I think it’s because we believe our Christian faith is a very private experience. But when we contemplate what Christ has done in us, how can we really keep it for ourselves? The “good stuff” is too good to be kept private. It is natural to spread the Good News everywhere. Another reason we don’t express what Christ has implanted in us is that we have not tended the garden inside adequately. Inside we are empty and sick and cannot bring ourselves to admit candidly how little of the “good stuff” we have. We need resuscitation, a new commitment to the Lord, or a refilling with His Spirit.
I struggle with dissonance between the realities of who I am and how I present myself. But I have learned from times like this that it’s okay, deeply okay, to let my core–even when my core is in a state of disrepair–to be revealed among caring people who love me in my brokenness; these people hold me up, and they send me on my way. That’s what Christian community life does for each of us who is needy. The personal and social toxins all around are minimized when caring people blow in spiritually pure air and offer us cool, refreshing cups of water. So even when we are less than the ideal, each of us has power to minister to one another with Christ’s Spirit and to overcome these toxins.
Because Jesus taught that every disciple when fully taught will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40), it is fair to ask who our teachers are. Cultural ways of doing things, religiously sanctioned beliefs, and focus on people’s physical appearances can distort the reality underneath. Our preconceptions about poorly clothed people, or someone illiterate or socially crude, can keep us from understanding the essence of who these children of God really are.
How well-rooted at our core are we in Christ-centered values? And does this “root system” function adequately when others need to see the authentic Jesus shining through? Does the Lord Jesus inside us make a difference in the way we appear to others? Does He come through spontaneously and joyously? Does He attract others to Himself?
I don’t know what is best for stirring us to deal with the incongruity of our inward reality with our outward behavior. Gentle persuasion and cogent argument work for some. A direct in-your-face approach works for others. It doesn’t matter. We must come to terms with a process of living before others in a way that draws upon the qualities God’s Spirit has imbedded in our inner core. Then we may be in the position where the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45).
Twenty years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles, titled “On My Mind”, in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Former Professor of Sociology Emeritus, Ivan Fahs ’54 (who taught at Wheaton from 1981-2001) was featured in the Autumn 1997 issue.
By Keith Call | June 25, 2013
During its early decades, the Wheaton College Record, the student newspaper, published verse written by faculty and students. However, as the editors, Raymond Horton and Charles Seidenspinner, observe in their introduction, “to publish a poem in a newspaper is to bury it.” Seeking to rectify this, they scoured thousands of pages, seeking “…the best representatives of the literary talent which has appeared on the Wheaton campus.” Compiling the best of the best, they collect their choices into a book called The Wheaton Anthology, published in 1932. Brief in pages, the anthology contains a number of interesting pieces, including a poem by Jonathan Blanchard, first president of Wheaton College. Also included are poems by Elliot Coleman, who later gained renown as a poet and professor at Johns Hopkins, and Royal T. Morgan, professor of natural sciences.
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