All posts by Keith Call

This He Believed

Robert O. Ballou (1892-1977) achieved distinction in American literature as one of the sharpest editors in twentieth century New York publishing, accepting, among other accomplishments, the manuscript for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven (1932). Associated primarily with the Viking Press, his deeply ecumenical interests are reflected in the titles of the books he edited: The Portable World Bible (including selections from sacred volumes), The Nature of Religion, The Bible of the World and The Other Jesus: A Narrative Based on Apocryphal Stories Not Included in the Bible. In 1938 he wrote This I Believe: A Letter to My Son, relating his personal faith.

Though born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois, Ballou did not attend Wheaton College nor did he tread the well-worn evangelical trail. In fact, while maintaining a strong religious sensibility, Ballou cast an often scathing critical eye on his surroundings. Attending the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wheaton (now Gary Memorial United Methodist) with his mother and siblings, he recalls:

He [the pastor] was there to tell me what God was and what I believed about him, and so the next morning, when he asked me, “Do you believe in God?” before all of the people of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wheaton, Illinois, I said, “Yes,” just as I was supposed to. Probably my voice was very childlike and sweet and convincing…

As he matured, Ballou noted a few ironies:

After a few years the little wooden church seemed not good enough for us Methodists of  Wheaton. Then a very rich man named Elbert H. Gary, a man who was the head of a big steel company which took the iron ore…and made it into rails and locomotive wheels so that people could have “locomotion and transportation” gave us enough money to build a new church building of stone and cement and oak with stained glass for the windows. They called it the Gary Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, so that it would always bear the name of the man who had given money with which to build it. The way they named it made it sound as though Elbert H. Gary’s name was really more important than the name of Christ, whose church they said it was. And of course it was quite true that Christ had given us no money with which to build a stone church, and Elbert H. Gary had.

Continuing in this vein, Ballou pens few wry words about Wheaton College, or rather its then-president, Dr. Charles Blanchard:

I remember a man named Blanchard, who was president of Wheaton College. He felt that it was wrong to work on Sunday. He thought the railroads should not run on Sunday because that made the engineers and the firemen and the conductors and brakemen work. And so he would never ride a train on Sunday. Once he had to come visit some friends of ours named Steck, who lived about fifteen miles from Wheaton. He went there on Saturday, on the railroad. But he stayed all night and had to be back at Wheaton on Sunday. But on Sunday he wouldn’t ride on the railroad because he thought that making the railroad men work was not keeping the Sabbath day holy. So he asked Auntie Steck to drive him back to Wheaton and she did. I remember that it seemed to me that making Auntie Steck hitch up the horse (which was work) and making the horse run fifteen miles to Wheaton and fifteen miles back (which was work for the horse), was making the Sabbath day even less holy that it would have been if he had ridden on the train, for the railroad men were working whether he rode the train or not.

At the end of the memoir, Ballou concludes:

Seek your God quickly, my dear son. Never cease in your search — you, and all of your generation and those who are to come after you. Let you find quickly the glory of God which will lighten the world before it is too late, lest the spirit of man perish and the human race, proved futile, shall be wiped from the face of the earth by the God of Moses and Elijah, the God of Gautama Buddha, the God of Zoroaster, the God of Vardhamana, the God of Lao-tze, the God of Jesus, the God of St. Francis, the God of your grandmother, the God of Richard Wagner and Beethoven…the God of gentle spring rains, of growing flowers and singing birds, the God of flood and drought and earthquake…the God of peace and of war, of harmony and of discord, the one true God who is within your soul. My love for you and my faith in you be with you always in your search.

Laity Lodge, Holy and Healing

Laity Lodge, situated in the Frio River Valley near Leakey, Texas, overlooks a magnificent vista of forested hills and jagged rock. Far from urban chaos, this retreat stands as a haven for those needing to explore pressing questions, absorb the peace of the Spirit, or simply run into God.

Founded in 1961 by Howard Butt, Jr., the lodge welcomes its guests to encounter the sacred in privacy or community. Visitors to the canyon sing, walk, converse, eat and pray. Trusting every guest to engage all available resources, each retreat is opened with these words: “We have an agenda, but we don’t have an agenda for you.”

Frederick Buechner, author of Godric and The Sacred Journey, was a frequent speaker at Laity Lodge, where his recorded lectures have been transcribed and published as The Remarkable Ordinary (2017). He recalled:

On my first visit to Laity Lodge, when I was told not to turn left at the Frio River but in the Frio, I knew I had reached the land of Oz. After my first few days there I knew that, more even than Oz, it was a holy place. The high hills spoke of it. The river spoke of it. The “blue hole” where we swam spoke of it, as did Betty Ann Cody’s a cappella singing of “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” which left my face streaming with tears and which I will remember until the end of my days.  I don’t believe I have ever known a place as full of human kindness and openness and grace as I have found in virtually everyone I met there….I doubt I will ever get there again, but it will always remain part of the best of who I am.

Theologian J.I. Packer, author of Knowing God, said, “Laity Lodge…is one of the Christian world’s best kept secrets. Personal maturity in Christ is what it was and is about, and its ministry goes from strength to strength.”

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, spent one month each year for a decade at the Lodge. She began one lecture series declaring, “I am very blessed to have been here for this month in this place which, I believe, is holy and healing.”

Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw at Laity Lodge, 1997.

Eugene Peterson, pastor and translator of The Message, supported Laity Lodge’s efforts to erase the distinction between the “full-time” minister and the layman. He wrote, “…That seed quickly  matured into a lifelong determination to do whatever I can to abolish this expert/layperson division in the Christian community.”

Laity Lodge speakers whose papers are archived at Wheaton College include Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

The story of Laity Lodge is chronicled by former director Howard Hovde in A Dream That Came to Life: The History of the Laity Lodge Retreat Center (2007).

The Miracle of Muriel Arney

Muriel Arney of Red Oak, Iowa, was born totally blind in one eye, and partially blind in the other. But with a determined heart, she engaged life with more focus than many who are fully sighted. Writing an autobiographical statement for her Wheaton College application, she remarked, “I broke my arm in third grade while coasting. The pain wasn’t bad, missing school was terrible.” This statement summarizes Muriel’s relentless love of learning. Afflicted with a “spastic” leg ailment in addition to her blindness, Muriel managed to convey a radiant love for people and education. “There is nothing that she will not try or do,” wrote a former grade school teacher, “and she wants no sympathy.”

Walking with a cane, Muriel maneuvered efficiently throughout campus, carrying a tape recorder under her arm for recording lectures and class discussions. Listening intently to the sounds all around her, Muriel recognized fellow students and professors by their voices and footsteps, remembering names, though she hardly knew many of them. While enrolled at Wheaton College, she learned Braille and studied with friends as her vision worsened to total blindness, accompanied by terrible throbbing headaches. Navigating chapel aisles or crowded hallways, she was terrified that someone might jostle her and detonate the excruciating pain.

While attending the winter evangelistic services on February 7, 1957, the guest preacher, Reverend H. Lawrence Love, delivered the closing prayer as Muriel listened with her head bowed. Looking up, she was greeted by a stunning surprise. “There was my roommate,” she said, “plainly visible to me; the pain was entirely gone. How shocked I was! As soon as the service was over, I said to my roommate, ‘I can see!'” Later that night during a prayer meeting in Williston Hall, Muriel saw for the first time the girls who had been assisting her. The next day a medical examination proved 20-20 vision in her left eye. The Psychology Department chronicled the event as a genuine miracle.

Graduating from Wheaton College in 1959, Muriel continued her education at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and eventually completed her teacher’s certification. Suffering further operations, she used crutches and braces for support as she commenced her career as a teacher to those with disabilities. Suffering deeply but ready to testify to her savior’s abiding love, Muriel Arney died in Red Oak on December 26, 1968, after an acute five-day illness. Her life verse was II  Samuel 22:33, “His way is perfect and he maketh my way perfect.” Muriel’s mother, Pauline, wrote to Alumni Magazine, “May the testimony of her life for her Lord continue to be an influence and a blessing in the lives of her host of friends.”

Will D. Campbell and Jim Wallis

At a time when racial tensions are high, we can revisit the unique career of a man who was a civil rights activist yet also sought to evangelize white supremacists.

Will D. Campbell, author and activist, occupied a distinct and somewhat lonely category as he preached a transcendent message of peace during an era of sharply divided political ideologies. Ordained in 1941 at age 17 as a Southern Baptist preacher, Campbell briefly served a pastorate in Louisiana before engaging his lifelong public ministry — advocating for Civil Rights. Presenting himself as a backwoods “bootleg” hayseed, wearing cowboy boots and straw hats, he actually possessed a fine intellect, abundant courage and quick wit. Campbell, siding unhesitatingly with the oppressed and disenfranchised, was one of four who boldly escorted African American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” into the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Campbell was also the only white man to attend the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.

In addition to frequent lecturing at churches and universities, Campbell wrote fiction and non-fiction. His novels include The Glad River (1982) and The Convention (1988). His autobiography, Brother to a Dragonfly, was a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award. Though Campbell vigorously battled inequality, his simple Christian faith elevated him above the violent forces of impassioned rhetoric. For example, he visited James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., in prison, insisting that the segregationist too is a child of God and a brother. He also ministered to members of the Ku Klux Klan, performing marriages and funerals, visiting them in jail and hospital.

At one prominent event he introduced himself: “My name is Will Campbell. I’m a Baptist preacher. I’m a native of Mississippi. And I’m pro-Klansman because I’m pro-human being.” Not surprisingly, Campbell’s extraordinarily irenic ministry infuriated other civil rights leaders, stirring deep resentment. How could he do such a thing?

“Mr. Jesus died for the bigots as well,” Campbell reasonably responded. “Christ’s death and resurrection is for Eldridge Cleaver [Black Panther leader] and Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Campbell later remarked, “I never was able to explain to them that pro-Klansman is not the same as pro-Klan. That the former has to do with a person, the other with an ideology. I tried to stand patiently, even in the face of fear and danger, because I had so recently learned that lesson myself.”

His invaluable perspective on race and equality was not lost on key figures of the burgeoning social gospel movement. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, invited Campbell on August 18, 1980, to write for his magazine:

You speak more sanely and clearly about reconciliation and the gospel than anybody I know. We would be very happy to have an article from you on what reconciliation means now, especially in light of the deteriorating racial and economic situation. Your relationship both to southern blacks and poor whites, and the Klan in particular, is pretty unique, and you might want to write something out of all that. Stories drawn from your travels as a sort of pastoral troubleshooter would well illustrate such an article. If the idea grabs you at all, we’d be interested. You could shape the article in any direction you wanted.

Campbell replied on September 2, 1980:

My feeling here is that I don’t have anything to say that I have not said several times already. The alleged resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan is, I believe, largely a media mind stance. The Klan has never really gone away. I continue to try to point out that a few hundred poor, confused folks marching around a burning cross, or even gunning down folks marching in Greensboro, are not the real racist enemy in the country. And a lot of folks go on seeing me as some kind of apologist for the KKK. I have never said that they are not evil. The point is that we who practice the sophisticated and socially acceptable brand of racism are more evil.

After an active career of prophetic proclamation and courageous action, Campbell died at age 88 in 2013.

Jim Wallis’s brief exchange with Will D. Campbell is maintained in the Sojourners collection (SC-23) of Special Collections, Buswell Library. Sojourners’ mission is to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. You can read more about their racial justice efforts here

Gordon H. Clark and His Correspondents

Dr. Gordon H. Clark taught Philosophy at Wheaton College from 1936-43. As a committed five-point Calvinist, Clark’s unswerving Reformed theology ran him afoul of certain members of the administration, including President Dr. V. Raymond Edman and trustee Dr. Harry A. Ironside, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. Ironside wrote to Clark on July 13, 1942: “…I am thoroughly convinced that hyper-Calvinism is not consistent with a true evangelical attitude. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘evangelistic’ rather than ‘evangelical.'”

Though students like Ruth Bell (Graham) and others appreciated Clark’s precise, reasoned, self-described “cold” classroom presentation, contrasting the “warm” pietism popular at the time, pressure from various quarters resulted in Clark’s resignation. Leaving Wheaton College, Clark secured employment as the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Butler University in Indiana from 1945-73. After that he taught at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, from 1974-84.

Compiled by Douglas J. Douma and edited by Thomas W. Juodatis, Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (2017) presents an array of Clark’s exchanges with such prominent evangelical and fundamentalist leaders as J. Oliver Buswell, V. Raymond Edman, E.J. Carnell, Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry and J. Gresham Machen. The compilation uses many letters scanned from the College Archives of Buswell Library.

The Trinity Foundation in Unicoi, Tennessee, continues to republish Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s many books, tapes and pamphlets.

P.D. James (almost) at Wheaton College

P.D. James

Great Britain offers an abundance of superb mystery novelists, but after Agatha Christie, the reigning contemporary “Queen of Crime” was undoubtedly P.D. James, who published 22 books, fiction and non-fiction, and several short stories between 1962 and her death in 2014.

A committed Anglican and lay patron of the Prayer Book Society, James’s stories usually feature at least one religious character. In fact, her hero, Adam Dalgliesh, Detective Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard and poet, is the son of a vicar. The dynamics of good vs. evil are typically explored in her books. As such, P.D. James is often compared to another Anglican mystery writer from an earlier generation, Dorothy L. Sayers, whose papers are archived in the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College.

Perhaps some of the material in this 2009 book comprises what James might have taught at Wheaton College.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Barbara Reynolds, president of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, introduced Dr. Beatrice Batson, Chair of the English Department at Wheaton College, to P.D. James at a soiree in London. Batson and James immediately fell into a comfortable friendship, discussing books and faith.

Eventually Batson, ever seeking opportunities to expose her students to fine literature, boldly asked James if she would like to travel to the States to teach a course on creative writing for one semester at Wheaton College. To Batson’s amazement, James quickly agreed.

However, with Batson’s retirement encroaching in 1985, administrative plans fell apart and P.D. James never visited the campus.

 

 

Clyde S. Kilby and Tennessee Williams

Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, late professor of English and founder of the Marion E. Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College, is closely associated with seven British authors, particularly C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers and J.R.R. Tolkien. In light of those interests, Kilby is not often mentioned in relation to American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams (1911-1983), author of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Night of the Iguana and many other successful plays, short stories and films.

But there is a connection, however slight. As this Christmas card to a colleague reveals, Clyde and Martha Kilby’s roots sprawled deeply throughout the rich southern soil that also produced one of America’s greatest writers.

Dear Beatrice: Did I tell you “Tennessee Williams,” your compatriot was born in St. Paul’s Rectory? His grandfather was a good friend of my parents! The house has been bought by the state and will become a Welcome Center when moved to a very large vacant lot across the street. A national “shrine” of the state! Come to see me!! Blessings and Christmas greetings, with love, Martha Kilby  

After years of profligate sexual activity and prescription drug abuse, Williams famously sought to “get my goodness back” by joining the Catholic Church in 1969. Evidently, Williams hoped to vivify not only his personal piety, but also his lagging creative and professional career. Instead he found himself more interested in ritual and architecture than doctrine. As a result, his renewed interest in spirituality did not solidify and he descended into a drugged stupor throughout most of the 1970s, only periodically producing new work.

If Tennessee Williams had discovered the writings of Lewis, Sayers, Tolkien and the other authors represented in Clyde Kilby’s Wade Center, perhaps his desire for a lively, enduring goodness might’ve permanently settled his disquietude for the final act of his life.

According to the website for the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center, the rectory in 1993 was in danger of being torn down to accommodate a church expansion. In an effort to preserve this historic literary landmark, the yellow and blue gingerbread home was loaded onto flatbed trailers and moved to Main Street, where it was restored. Three months after the grand opening, Tennessee Williams was honored with a U.S. postage stamp, and a public ceremony was held in the home.

Recently honored with the designation of a National Literary Landmark, the home serves as the official Welcome Center for Columbus.

 

 

 

 

A kaddish for the Red Grange candy bar

Harold “Red” Grange, one of the greatest American football halfbacks, was responsible for knocking out the teeth of many players on opposing teams. As a celebrity endorser, the Wheaton native was (less directly) responsible for rotting out the teeth of many admiring children with the distribution of the Red Grange candy bar, which included a collectible trading card displaying  “The Galloping Ghost” in action. Produced in 1926 by Shotwell Candy Company, the Red Grange candy bar struggled briefly in the competitive sweets market before disappearing forever.

Judging by this cross section, the Red Grange candy bar resembles the Baby Ruth, which has survived since 1921: a caramel or nougat center surrounded by nuts and encased with milk chocolate

Steve Almond in Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America (2004), offers this amusing lament to obsolete candy:

…I think about the candy bars of my youth that no longer exist, the Skrunch Bar, the Starbar, Summit, Milk Shake, Powerhouse, and more recent bars which have been wrongly pulled from the shelves — Hershey’s sublime Cookies ‘n Mint leaps to mind — and I say kaddish for all of them…Oh where are you now, you brave stupid bars of yore? Where Oompahs, those delectable doomed pods of chocolate and peanut butter? Where the molar-ripping Bit-O-Choc? And where the Caravelle, a bar so dear to my heart that I remain, two decades after its extinction, in an active state of mourning?

Whether the retirement of the Red Grange candy bar was mourned or not, it has joined the pantheon of discontinued candies: Cherry Humps, Blizzard Bar, Clark Coconut Bar, Bob Cat Candy Bar, Jumbo Nerds, Goodnuff Peanut Bars, Luv Pops, Goofy Groceries, Life Savers Holes, Gatorade Gum, Merri Mints, Orange Heads, Tangy Taffy, Wonka Bar, Mr. Buddy, Bit-O-Licorice, Bonkers Fruit Chews, Mr. Melons and many more.

 

Dizzy Dean at Wheaton College

Famous preachers, authors and lecturers often visited Wheaton College during the 1930s, but students were particularly delighted when Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean visited for a day. Dean, a Major League Baseball pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Browns, was hosted by his friends Coach Fred Walker and Captain Doug Johnston of the campus football team.

l. to r., Captain Doug Johnston, Dizzy Dean and Coach Fred Walker

Like Yogi Berra and Bob Uecker, later players-turned-commentators, Dizzy Dean was renowned for his colorful personality as much as his athletic prowess. The following excerpts from the Record, published on September 26, 1936, detail Dean’s visit:

“A great school, I never saw a better spirit anywhere,” drawled Jerome “Dizzy” Dean, famous St. Louis Cardinal baseball pitcher, grinning at the cheers of 1200 Wheaton College students in chapel Monday morning…It was the first time in his life he had ever been in a college chapel, but he declared that the thundering, whole-hearted singing and sincerity of the students  gave him “one of the biggest thrills of his life.” He was so impressed that he later told Walker, “From now on, Wheaton College is my college.” His publicized joviality was never more evident than in a walk around the campus escorted by Walker and Johnston. Still limping slightly with a sore shin injured by a line drive the preceding day when he lost to the Cubs in a hectic eighth inning, he commented favorably on the lawns, buildings and athletic field, declaring them “real pretty.”

Dizzy spoke again and again of his admiration for Walker. In his short speech in chapel accepting the football he told how their friendship started when the new Wheaton tutor was coaching a baseball team in Texas where Dean played in his minor league days.  “You got a good coach. I know him,” he told the student body, who staged an almost unprecedented demonstration in applauding him. Just before he got into the coach’s automobile to leave for Chicago, the good-natured sportsman shook hands with Johnston.

Dizzy Dean, belying his own wit and keen intuition, describes himself: “The Good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong right arm, a good body, and a weak mind.” Retiring from playing in the late 1940s, he continued as a successful sports commentator. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953. He died on July 17, 1974. Wheaton resident Robert Goldsborough in his historical mystery Three Strikes, You’re Dead (2005), featuring series protagonist Snap Malek, police reporter for The Chicago Tribune, uses Dizzy Dean as a character, along with Al Capone and Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The Process Church of the Final Judgment

It is not uncommon for Wheaton College students to explore various denominations, investigating differences in ecclesiastical polity and practice. But those who journeyed from the comfortable suburbs to the Near North Side of Chicago to attend the Process Church of the Final Judgement were surely surprised to hear from its black-robed ministers that God is composed of three gods, Jehovah, Lucifer and Satan.

The Process, splintered from L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, was founded in London in the early 1960s by Mary Ann and Robert de Grimston, who soon established chapters in major U.S. and U.K. cities. Charles Manson was allegedly a member of the California chapter, but this assertion was never proven.

A Processan minister inducts two acolytes into the Church, at which time they become initiates of the Covenant of Christ and Satan.

Wheaton College student writer Sinclair Hollberg chronicles his visit in “Record Investigates Process Church in Chicago,” published on November 5, 1971. Hollberg visited as an attempt to learn more about one of the cults that were increasing in number at that time, and challenging the church.

During the service Hollberg approached “Mother Mercedes,” director of the Open Chapter, who explained the unique Processan doctrine:

“God is within us, his stature and character are inherent in our lives. But there exists also the part of man which is anti-god, it is contrary to God’s character and is responsible for the conflicts and tensions of life, the uncertainties, fears and shortcomings that rob man of happiness. The way we can resolve this tension is by uniting ourselves through knowledge of him. But the problem comes because we cannot describe God; if we could describe God then we could define him and to define him would be to limit him to the level of the finite and mortal. We can only describe the parts of God. God is composed of three gods — Jehovah, Lucifer and Satan. Jehovah is the wrathful god of vengeance and retribution, demanding discipline and ruthlessness. Lucifer is the light-bearer who urges us to enjoy life to the fullest, to be kind and loving and live in peace and harmony. Satan, the receiver of transcendent souls and corrupted bodies, represents two opposites. First, to rise above all  human and physical needs to become all soul and spirit; and, secondly, to sink beneath all human values and standards of morality to wallow in depravity.”

Hollberg writes, “Salvation, under Process Church perspectives, comes by resolving the conflicts, tensions and frustrations of life through knowledge of that part of God within us that applies to the problem. So one may have Jehovian tendencies of harshness and willfulness, or Luciferian characteristics of agreeableness or Satanic leadings of idealism or depravity. All are in one god, all are unified through Christ. So man may have freedom from the dilemmas of human life by realizing that his behavior is reconcilable with god.”

According to Occult Chicago, the Process founded the Chicago chapter in 1970, locating variously in buildings on Wells, Deming and Burling streets, its black-caped Messengers of the Unity distributing literature throughout the neighborhoods. The Process eventually departed Chicago and other cities, breaking into less colorful organizations.