Michener on Buechner

James A. Michener authored more than 40 books, mostly massive historical sagas set in a particular geographic location, such as Hawaii, Poland and Texas. He published his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, at 40 and continued writing until his death at 90 in 1997. His literary career is  noted for constant worldwide traveling and meticulous research, often incorporating history into his fictional narratives. MichenerIn his memoir, The World is My Home (1992), he reflects on certain novelists he admires and supports, including, somewhat surprisingly, Frederick Buechner.

In the lecture on the literary scene I reviewed the work of some half dozen writers but with special emphasis on two who had captured my imagination and for whom I had great hopes. I sold a lot of books for these two young men. The first had attended Princeton University and was either contemplating or beginning a career in the Presbyterian ministry in which he would later excel. Frederick Buechner had a style of great elegance, so highly polished that he reminded me of Wharton at her best. He liked long sentences dealing with, for example, the sensibilities of urbane parents who sent their sons to places like Princeton, and I used to read aloud with great effect several passages from his novel A Long Day’s Dying, in which single sentences ran on for half a page. At the end of each segment I would tell my audience: “I could not in a hundred years write like Mr. Buechner, nor would I want to, but I esteem him as one of the best young writers today and feel sure he will maintain that reputation in the decades ahead.”

Michener adds a footnote, “He has. From his industrious pen has continued to flow a unique mix of intelligent novels and masterfully argued religious essays. His reputation is solid.”

The papers of Frederick Buechner (SC-05) are archives at Wheaton College (IL) Special Collections.

 

Full Circle

FullCircleThe 1960s were years of dizzying upheaval for the United States. Its citizens wearied of the complex, seemingly endless war in Viet Nam. University students experimented with radical philosophies and mind-altering drugs. Racial tensions tightened in the inner city, often exploding. Popular music, particularly rock and roll, assumed an edgier attitude, reflecting the spirit of protest. As culture-shattering challenges shook the American psyche, the church did not remain unscathed. Amid the turmoil, David Mains, formerly assistant pastor at Moody Church in Chicago, with his wife, Karen, determined that the moment was right to implement a “creative” congregation on the edge of the ghetto, using all the gifts of its membership while aggressively reaching the socially disenfranchised and those disillusioned by local churches. Under Mains’ leadership, Circle Church began in 1967 with 28 people. Four years later Circle Church’s membership climbed to 500 congregants,  comprising students, high-rise apartment dwellers and ghetto inhabitants. Mains tells the story in Full Circle (1971). As the years progressed, however, Circle Church began to slowly unravel. Mains picks up the story in a 2004 Christianity Today essay called “Presumption at Circle Church.” He writes, “Today I am embarrassed about some of the attitudes expressed in Full Circle. I still have the same principles, but my comments seem cocky and presumptuous. I saw Circle Church as the tip of a new wave that would sweep across evangelical churches. That didn’t happen. Circle Church still exists, but in a smaller form and with more specialized emphasis.” Mains cites several reasons for the failure of Circle Church, expounding on each point. 1) I often allowed myself to fixate on issues. 2) I was naive about social problems. 3) In encouraging others’ gifts, I minimized my leadership role. 4) I held onto the church too tightly.

“The best thing that happened to me in leaving Circle Church was the breaking of my pride,” Mains writes. “During the breaking time, I felt rejected by the church that I had poured my life and soul into for ten years. For a brief time I questioned my faith in God. I wondered if I could trust him again.” He concludes,”More than a year passed after I left Circle Church before I began to feel like a man again. I have since sensed a new filling of the Holy Spirit, which was the result of a complete surrender to God. The process taught me to put confidence not in myself but in the Lord. As never before I identify with Paul’s words, ‘His strength is made perfect in my weakness.’”

Though Mains expresses a measure of remorse, his experiment in the Chicago ghetto, using liturgy, art and lively worship, waved a banner of salvation and hope for many, while providing a template for later generations of churches employing similar principles.

In 1977 Mains assumed the position of director for the Chapel of the Air, with Karen acting as co-host of the syndicated radio broadcast. Both have authored several books. Their papers (SC-118) are housed at Wheaton College Special Collections at Wheaton College (IL).

Memoirs of Africa

LosierAndrew Losier graduated from Wheaton College in 1934 and Dallas Theological Seminary in 1937. That year he was married to Dorothy, his college sweetheart. Under the umbrella of a faith mission, Dorothy and Andrew sailed for East Africa, arriving on December 5, 1938. They worked among the Kipsigis until 1940, then received an assignment to work among the nomads of the Masai Tribe in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. In 1952 they founded the Christian Literature and Bible Center. They distributed over a billion pieces of Christian literature in 50 different languages in East and  South Africa. After 43 years in Africa, they began their international distribution venture, “Around the World.” Losier very briefly recounts his Wheaton College days in Memoirs of Africa (1985),

During my senior year at Wheaton, I became engaged to a wonderful young lady, Dorothy Lehman, who was the ninth child of God-fearing parents of German-Swiss origin. For many years I had prayed that the Lord would direct me to the right woman for my future life partner. Unknown to me, Dorothy was praying in Indiana for the right man. I dedicated my life to full-time mission service in Africa and she dedicated herself to full-time mission service anywhere but Africa! But God worked that out, too. It was nearly five years before we were married and I thank God that Dorothy was willing to wait for me.

The Losiers had five sons and two daughters. Andrew died in 1998. Dorothy died in 1992.

Why Anthropology?

As a cultural anthropologist, people often find what I do very interesting. They like to hear about my time in the Philippines or subsequent travels to "out of the way" places. But even though it is interesting, many still think it is not terribly relevant.

I've come to believe that anthropological knowledge is more than interesting—for the Christian, it is imperative.

We can often see the benefit of anthropology for missionaries; but what's the relevance for "the rest of us"? The fact is, most evangelical Christians now live outside of North America or Europe. They are not to be relegated simply as subjects of mission, but our brothers and sisters in Christ. Understanding what God is doing in these places is not about "them," it is about us—the global church. Sure, we can live "good" Christian lives with no knowledge of other Christians whatsoever, just as we can come to a saving faith by simply reading Romans and nothing else. But God desires that we would know the richness of His Kingdom (Eph. 2.7), not just the minimum.

Moreover, increasing numbers of people are in contact with "cultural otherness," whether through short-term service trips, or among cultural minorities in the U.S. Can we demonstrate love to people if we aren't even sure how to communicate? A big hug and using first names are good ways to tell Midwesterners they are loved, but for a Christian in Zambia, or Hungary, or China, what is that big hug going to mean? More importantly, are we equipped to find out?

Most critically, anthropology has long held to the dictum that only in understanding others, do we understand ourselves. White Northern Americans are no less steeped in culture than the brown nomad living on the plains of the Sudan. Even our understanding of God's revelation is inexorably linked with our cultural context. Wheaton alumnus and anthropology major Billy Graham '43, Litt.D '56 once said that if he could go back, he would have gotten a Ph.D. in anthropology to understand race relations and inequality in the United States. (When students ask what to do with a major in anthropology, I love saying that it can lead to a career in worldwide evangelism.)

Understanding the relevance of anthropology to the whole church is coming slowly in Christian circles. Only five of 115 schools in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) offer a major in anthropology. But when a student leaves my class understanding that the U.S. church is culturally unique, but not perfect; knowing why we should learn from those who, though they are culturally different from us, are still our Christian siblings; and realizing that culture is part of God's design, not a consequence of sin—I know again why He brought me to Wheaton.

Dr. Brian Howell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, holds a Ph.D.from Washington University in St. Louis and joined Wheaton's faculty in 2001. He specializes in global Christianity and has published work from his research on Baptists in the Philippines in various journals in addition to presenting it at international conferences. He is often asked to address student groups on topics such as cross-cultural ministry, gender, and popular culture. He and his wife, Marissa Sabio, have three children. (Wheaton Magazine, Spring 2005).

Charles Blanchard on the Bible

BlanchardThe life of Dr. Charles Blanchard (1848-1925), second president of Wheaton College, was nearing its end just when the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversey was heating up. These hotly divisive years presented stiff challenges to conservative Christians as traditional assumptions were routinely overthrown or mocked. Is the Bible flawed? Is evolution true? Is scripture merely a collection of fictional morality tales? These questions, then as now, plagued educational institutions across the nation. Eventually the battle lines were drawn – and Dr. Blanchard made it very clear where he stood, as evidenced by these words from the Preface of his book, Visions and Voices: Or Who Wrote the Bible (1917):

It is not strange that such a book should be assailed. We do not wonder when we read that its translators, teachers and followers have been strangled, beheaded, burned, drowned and by thousands have died for this wonderful book on bloody fields. It is, however, strange that today men who profess to believe the Bible and are paid for teaching it should join hands with the Paines, Voltaires and Ingersolls of our race to destroy the faith of the people in this book. I do not understand their motives, but I do know the deadly work they are doing, and I entreat all men who honor God or wish well to humanity to resist their desperately evil assaults on this the only hope of the human race.

Conflict Resolution

Mark Lewis

As the lights dimmed to black in Arena Theater’s last play of 2005, the audience was left with the image of a young couple gazing at one another across a divide, their future together suspended in the distance between them.

Discussions following this production, The Cover of Life, by R.T. Robinson, have been engaging. What happens to that couple? It seems that the playwright does not intend us to know.

Furthermore, as the director of the play I was committed to creating a final image that would leave all of us squarely in the middle of the question.

Why? I am sometimes asked why so many of the plays we produce in Arena Theater do not resolve neatly, or sometimes even positively. Why not offer our audience encouragement by doing plays that offer more definitive resolutions? Are we trying to discourage or frustrate the faithful friends who come to support our work?

No, nothing could be further from my intent in choosing and directing plays. But I am fervent in this belief—”theater” operates or works most powerfully at the level of our shared and ongoing questions. There is immense value in evaluating a play not only by what message or moral it might offer, but also by the quality of the questions it leaves us asking.

So much of what we call “entertainment” is not meant to affect us in this way. Questions, if there are any, are beautifully crafted to resolve completely. One can practically know what time it is in an hour-long television drama by the story’s proximity to its resolution, which is usually very simple. When we are fed a steady diet of this type of ending to a story, what becomes of our ability to trust God in a world where endings so often seem, from our human perspective, to be unresolved or ambiguous?

Theater is intended to land differently—to leave a different kind of impression. It relies absolutely on writing that demonstrates honest conflict springing from opposing points of view. If a play is to succeed, these opposing views must be brought to life by actors advocating honestly for their character’s choices.

Additionally, theater demands that an audience struggle with its own presuppositions. Unlike film or television, where a camera focuses our attention for us, we decide where to look and whom to incline to. We may disagree completely with a character’s point of view and the actions it leads her to, but a good play asks us to lend our attention to that character’s story, and to consider it, for better and for worse.

Hamlet says, “The purpose of playing was and is…to hold a mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image.” We need to be open to seeing our image in both parts of that mirror if an experience in the theater is to fulfill its potential to reflect and challenge us.

Wheaton Magazine (Autumn 2005)

Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens by Al Habegger

A brave British widow goes to Siam and—by dint of her principled and indomitable character—inspires that despotic nation to abolish slavery and absolute rule: this appealing legend first took shape after the Civil War when Anna Leonowens came to America from Bangkok and succeeded in becoming a celebrity author and lecturer. Three decades after her death, in the 1940s and 1950s, the story would be transformed into a powerful Western myth by Margaret Landon’s best-selling book Anna and the King of Siam and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The King and I.

But who was Leonowens and why did her story take hold? Although it has been known for some time that she was of Anglo-Indian parentage and that her tales about the Siamese court are unreliable, not until now, with the publication of Masked, has there been a deeply researched account of her extraordinary life. Alfred Habegger, an award-winning biographer, draws on the archives of five continents and recent Thai-language scholarship to disclose the complex person behind the mask and the troubling facts behind the myth. He also ponders the curious fit between Leonowens’s compelling fabrications and the New World’s innocent dreams—in particular the dream that democracy can be spread through quick and easy interventions.

Exploring the full historic complexity of what it once meant to pass as white, Masked (published by University of Wisconsin Press, 560 pages) pays close attention to Leonowens’s midlevel origins in British India, her education at a Bombay charity school for Eurasian children, her material and social milieu in Australia and Singapore, the stresses she endured in Bangkok as a working widow, the latent melancholy that often afflicted her, the problematic aspects of her self-invention, and the welcome she found in America, where a circle of elite New England abolitionists who knew nothing about Southeast Asia gave her their uncritical support. Her embellished story would again capture America’s imagination as World War II ended and a newly interventionist United States looked toward Asia.

The Kenneth & Margaret Landon Papers (SC-38) are cited as primary source materials and are housed in the Wheaton College Special Collections, available to researchers.

———-

Alfred Habegger is professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas. His previous biographies are The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr. and the highly acclaimed My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. He lives in northeast Oregon.

Why She Stayed

In 2006, Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church, author and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, shocked America when he confessed to drug abuse and an illicit affair with a male prostitute in Denver. GayleConsequently, Haggard quit his numerous leadership positions and sought pastoral counseling. Not only was Haggard publicly humiliated, but so was his wife, Gayle. Inundated with a persistent question, she responds in her memoir, Why I Stayed (2010). She recounts her marriage to Haggard, from their meeting as students at Oral Roberts University to the present. Gayle Haggard summarizes her conclusions in the final pages:

Why did I stay married to Ted Haggard? I think the more pertinent question — the one I had to settle in my heart — was, Why should I go? My reasons for staying with Ted were far more compelling than any that would have propelled me toward divorce. I stayed with Ted because to me he’s worth the struggle…But even in the midst of my pain, I believed Ted loved me…I decided that he was worth fighting for, our marriage was worth fighting for, and our family was worth fighting for. I stayed with Ted because commitment means something to me. I’ve committed my life to God, which means that I’ve chosen his ways and I follow his example of love and forgiveness. I’m committed to our marriage, to stay in this journey till death do us part. I am committed to our children, and I want to restore honor and dignity to their lives.

The papers of the National Association of Evangelicals (SC-113), from its inception in 1941 until the mid-1990s, are housed in the Wheaton College Special Collections, available to researchers. The NAE is currently headed by Dr. Leith Anderson.

Letters to Jody

Letters to Jody, published in 1971 by Thomas D. Parks, is a collection of fictional letters from Dr. Blake, an industrial chemist, to Jody, his Bible class student who has just entered a state university. JodyIIAs she adjusts to academic and social expectations, Jody shares various issues with her wise friend. An article from the January 28, 1972 Record explains the book.

If it is true that many parents send their children to a Christian school because it is a “‘safe’ place for my little Frerkowitz,” then there is greater truth in the statement that going to a Madison, University Park or Berkeley will be a crucial period in the life of a Christian youth. A unique insight into a parent’s mind on this subject may be viewed in a recent book entitled Letters to Jody. The author is Dr. Thomas Parks, father of Jody Parks, a Wheaton junior and literature major. However, the Jody of Wheaton is not the Jody of the State U. in the fictitious correspondence. Supposedly the letters are received from Jody’s Bible class teacher. Her name is employed merely as a personifiation of “the Christian University co-ed.” Dr. Parks combined his experience as the father of a Christian college student with his ideas of the current university picture to elucidate his understanding and convey this to his audience.

Letters addresses itself to anyone who would be involved in answering the problems and questions in the mind of the Christian at college or in any other student-related experience. Also, it serves as a representation to a non-Christian or a new believer of some positions held by most middle-class Christian parents. In an interview, Miss Parks said, “Some of the issues in the book were touch to me.” This especially pertained to the letters the book’s cover reviewer termed “race relations,” since Jody serve with SMP in Spring City, Tennessee, a Bible camp for black children this past summer.

Jody aided her father in analyzing content and style in Letters. There were some personal references which she did not want to see printed. Stylistically she said, “The book was too much like a textbook. I helped him cut down some of the letters in length and add more also.” There aren’t any letters by Jody in the book. She did help edit it, however.

Long out of print, Letters to Jody still offers valuable insight into the cultural shifts emerging during the early 1970s, in addition to reflecting the conservative positions held by Dr. Parks, who graduated from Wheaton College in 1942.

Christians in the Public Schools

As an education professor, I am frequently asked about the three types of educational opportunities: homeschooling, public schools, and private schools—each of which I believe is viable and valuable.

My own experience included a private Christian elementary school, public high school, a private Christian college, and a public university. My children attended public school until they enrolled at Wheaton. Our experiences have been rich and stimulating for academic, social, and spiritual growth. In these settings, we have encountered gifted Christian and non-Christian teachers who challenged our faith by helping us examine what we believe and why we believe it.

When asked to recommend one of these forms of schooling, I encourage parents to examine their own educational views and their child's characteristics in order to find the best fit. Similarly, when education students ask where to begin their profession, I respond that they need to prayerfully match their educational philosophy with their own God-given personality He calls some to private schools and others to public schools. And often the call changes within a career.

Having offered this advice, I am frequently asked to defend my support of public education. Not only have I attended and taught in public schools, I consider it to be a vital area of service today.

First, the vast diversity in public schools includes both Christian and non-Christian students.While Christian teachers need to demonstrate God's love to non-Christian families and colleagues, they also offer an important ministry by affirming Christian students for their core belief and values. Respecting every student requires that these individuals' views be heard in the marketplace of ideas. In caring for all learners, Christian teachers in public schools can provide a model of Christianity in action for a student who might otherwise feel marginalized in a secular world.

Second, public schools offer an opportunity to reflect Christ's love to students of all economic levels. Christ calls us to meet the needs of the poor. Public schools are increasingly the only option for our poorest students.They (like all students) deserve the most committed and compassionate teachers.

Economic hardship often creates the need for stability. When Steve Mcllrath '93 began his teaching career at a public high school on Chicago's west side, his young math students questioned whether he would still be there when they graduated. During his ten years there, Steve has seen nine principals and almost 50 other math teachers come and go. As the epitome of a Christian teacher who serves faithfully in a public school, Steve is much more to me than a former student; he is my hero.

Dr.Jillian Nerhus Lederhouse '75, Associate Professor of Education, began teaching courses at Wheaton in 1978 while still an elementary teacher in the Chicago public schools. She joined Wheaton's faculty full-time in 1989 and currently serves as coordinator of the elementary/middle grades program. Recipient of the 2001 Senior Faculty Achievement Award, she has been published in several education journals addressing topics ranging from classroom management to assessment and Christian teachers in public schools. She holds a B.A.from Wheaton, an M. Ed.from DePaul University, and a Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Chicago. She and her husband, Wheaton swimming coach Jon Lederhouse '74, have three children. (Wheaton Magazine, Winter 2005).