Monthly Archives: October 2013

Reflections on a Sabbatical

by Leland Ryken, Clyde S. Kilby Professor of English Emeritus (Spring 2004)

Sabbatical. Noun. A year or half year of absence for study, rest, or travel, given at intervals, originally every seven years, to teachers, in some colleges and universities. This dictionary definition confirms again what I regularly tell my students in my literature courses-that abstraction and propositional discourse, for all their usefulness, never do justice to human experience as actually lived.

It is doubtless risky for me as a teacher to say that my recently completed sabbatical semester was my best semester in 36 years on Wheaton’s faculty, but…last semester was my best semester at Wheaton.

What my sabbatical semester gave me more than anything else was leisure of a certain type.The word leisure is traceable back to the French word leisir, from the Latin licere, meaning, “to be allowed.” Our word license comes from the same root.

What did I have license to do while on my glorious sabbatical? I was free to pursue a wide range of research and writing projects without intrusions. I was still sometimes the first person to arrive at the office and the last to leave, but since it was something I was free to do rather than obliged to do, even that felt leisurely. In addition, I woke up without the sense of latent anxiety that I feel even after all these years when I wake up knowing that I need to stand before an audience.

My sabbatical gave me the freedom to speak around the country in a way not allowed by my teaching routine-at Milton conferences in Tennessee and Pittsburgh, a Reformation Day in Dayton, a writer’s conference in Virginia, a theology conference in Atlanta, colleges in Alabama, a Christianity-and-the-arts conference in Kansas City.

I also had license to do some of my study and writing in sites far removed from Wheaton, and the result was a feeling of accomplishment with a “value-added” sense of refreshment and expanded horizons. My ongoing scholarly project is to contextualize Milton’s sonnets in a Puritan milieu. It was more invigorating to work on it at a chalet in Wisconsin and a hunting estate in Maryland than in my office.

All of my previous leaves of absence have been conducted under severe time pressure to meet a publishing deadline. I resolutely refused to let it happen this time, and it is one of the best decisions of my scholarly life.

In my writings on work and leisure, I have asserted that leisure must be felt as leisure before it genuinely is such. The sabbatical allowed me to translate that theory into practice, and I am grateful.

The following statement was included at the time of publication:

Dr. Leland Ryken has taught at Wheaton College for 36 years. He has published two dozen books (including edited and co-authored books). In 2003, Dr. Ryken received the distinguished Gutenberg Award for his contributions to education, writing, and the understanding of the Bible. His wife Mary ’88 is a graduate of the Wheaton Graduate School, and his three children- Dr. Philip Ryken ’88, Margaret Beaird ’93, and Nancy Taylor ’98-are graduates of Wheaton College.


tradiquette1950 was a very good year for courtesy at Wheaton College. Concerned about campus decorum in daily routines, the Intersociety Council compiled a handy booklet for instructing the average clueless Wheaton student on the correct social behavior involved in such matters as successful interaction with the opposite sex, polite chitchat, appealing dress and proper dinnertime comportment. This instructional is titled “Tradiquette,” smashing together the words “tradition” and “etiquette.” The editors state:

No one wants to feel odd, awkward or ill-at-ease. To be known as a person of poise is very much to be desired. In order that this be true of one, he must know the answers — what the inhabitants of his particular little world considers important — “how to do what, when.” So in your hand you have, for that very purpose, a little guide book compiled by Wheatonites for Wheatonites.

The advice is sensible. For instance, “…be free with the toothbrush. After all, water doesn’t bite, and being friendly with it can take a lot of the sting out of life.” The entry called “Don’t be an iceberg” encourages smiling and friendly conversation with students, staff and campus visitors. The entry called “Don’t be a clinging vine” warns the young lady about excessive arm-in-arm strolling with her guy because “…maybe he doesn’t want the extra load.” She must be reasonable. “But very seldom,” it adds, “does a girl grab a wing without a reason.”

The entry called “Class in class” cautions students against disrespectful behavior like 1) coming in late 2) writings letters 3) looking out the window 4) chewing gum 5) combing hair 6) whispering 7) filing fingernails 8) sleeping. “If you’re guilty of this — to the doghouse, please.”

What would the editors think of cell phones and instant texting?


Standing with the Titans

Billy Graham Center Staff- Lon Allison, Jerry Root, Karen Swanso

by Lon Allison, Former Director of the Billy Graham Center

This summer (2002) I visited with two titans of the Christian faith, John R. Mott and Billy Graham.

Mr. Mott died in the fifties, so obviously, my introduction to him was by way of biographies and his own writings. Mott, more than any other leader, was responsible for the Student Volunteer Movement, which recruited more than 25,000 college students to careers in missions. In 1910, he drew church leaders together at the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, with the vision to present Christ to every tribe and nation in their generation. Mott was the friend of presidents and the counselor to corporation leaders. His knowledge of world events was so vast and his friends so many that Woodrow Wilson twice sought him to be America’s first ambassador to China. Princeton offered him its presidency, though his formal education concluded with a bachelor’s degree. He declined both appointments because of a more important calling. In 1946 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.Yet for all his accomplishments, he voiced at the end of his life that he wished to be remembered as an evangelist.

This week I sat with Billy Graham for part of an afternoon. Our talks over ice cream sodas covered a range of subjects, but, as was Mott, Mr. Graham is first and forever an evangelist. His love for the gospel and lost people consumes his thoughts. Billy Graham was to the second half of the twentieth century what John R. Mott was to the first; his commitment to the whole church birthed a host of “Edinburghs” around the world. His desire to raise up the next generations of evangelism leaders built the Billy Graham Center.

In our musings, I mentioned my fascination with John Mott and how much he, Billy Graham, reminded me of him. At the mention of Mott his eyes began to sparkle, and he said,”I knew him. He was a giant.” I learned later from one of his closest advisers that Mr. Graham saw John R. Mott as somewhat of a hero and model for his own life.

Yes, I stood with two giants from two generations this summer, though my hunch is neither of them ever thought of themselves as such. They and so many like them are quick to tell us that it is Christ who is to be lauded, and that Christ is the source of whatever accomplishments we may see in their lives.

As I left Mr. Graham and reflected on our talk, I realized that I am the same age difference from our incoming freshmen as Mr. Graham is to me. Who, then, are the “titans” of evangelism in my generation? God save us from ever seeing ourselves as giants of the faith. But should the light of Christ shine through us enough to spill on the generations now rising, let us be both humbled and grateful.


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 Director of the Billy Graham Center, Dr. Lon Allison (who taught at Wheaton from 2000-2013) was featured in the Autumn 2002 issue.

The following statement was included at the time of publication:

For the past 25 years, Dr. Lon Allison has immersed himself in many aspects of church and parachurch ministry. As an author, educator, minister, evangelist, and performing artist in music and theater, he travels extensively in sacred and secular venues sharing his passion for relating the Christian faith to all aspects of life. In addition to membership on several missions and evangelism boards, Dr. Allison is director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton. He lives with his wife, Marie, and three children in Palatine, where he enjoys a variety of athletic pursuits.