Wednesday, October 27, 2010

College grad year

My first year out of college I was the science department chair of a small rural high school in Ohio. In fact, I basically was the science department. I taught Biology, Chemistry and Physics while the 9th grade general science course was taught by the Junior High School science teacher. I also began to teach an adult Sunday School class at a small Friends Meeting where I was nominated to be Clerk. I also celebrated my 21st birthday.

I undertook a serious study of the Bible with particular help from several resources such as the Interpreter’s Bible and Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series. I also read more early Friends, especially studying Barclay’s “Apology,” and “discovered” Rufus Jones’ writings that “spoke to my condition.” My father’s personal library was very extensive, especially of Friends works, but also of other writings. I began to read other theologians such as Barth, Tillich and Bultmann.

I was nominated to be the Clerk of a Quarterly Meeting at the time that Indiana Yearly Meeting was transitioning to “less Quakerly” regional meetings. At the last official West Branch Quarterly Meeting I read a statement I entitled “The Myth of Midwestern Quakerism,” later published in Quaker Life. I also was presiding clerk when Ludlow Falls Friends Meeting was laid down. I began to have serious doubts with regard to the place of the pastoral system and several other aspects of the ways Quakerism was interpreted in Indiana Yearly Meeting. This included the peace witness of Friends. At Yearly Meeting there had been an attempt to publicly denounce “A Quaker Action Group” which was planning to send medical supplies to North Vietnam. The proposed minute would have disavowed the use of Quaker by the group. Due to the statements by several Friends the minute was not approved at the regular sessions but a special “called Meeting” was to be held to review the matter. A number of Friends in Indiana YM sent up a series of weekend meetings throughout the YM on the Friends witness to peace and medical assistance to even our “enemies.” Much of this work was based on Friends history but also the Biblical basis of “Love your neighbor/enemy” as well. I participated in some of these and was impressed by several Friends including Virgil Peacock and Sam Levering. The “called Meeting” decided, I believe at least partially through these efforts, no action would be taken on the proposed minute.

Toward the end of my first year of teaching I was invited to become science department head at Tipp City, OH, high school. This was the school that my wife, Judy, and her family had attended and where her family still lived. At the time the invitation came Judy had just gone through the fist trimester of pregnancy with heavy bleeding and the probability of a miscarriage. It seemed from a professional and personal point of view that it would be best to move closer to Judy’s family and to become involved in a larger science department. Tipp City, through the efforts of Bill Bechtol, Assistant Superintendent, who had been Judy’s teacher and then Principal when she taught for one year before we were married, was exploring ways to individualize instruction to best reach each student. I became involved in science curriculum development and instructional improvement for the entire K-12 range. This was quite exciting and energizing to be involved in “cutting edge” education.

However, the birth of our first son Scott was one of the most memorable times of my life. This came after a very trying last 6 months of the pregnancy during which Judy spent a great deal of time on the couch at her parents’ home where her grandmother also lived. Being young, “foolish,” and full of seemingly boundless energy I had also started a master’s program at Miami U. that summer. Thus in September of 1966, I was the husband of a wonderful person, father of a beautiful child, and a science educator with a bright future.

The following three years were very full. Among the experiences were: Judy and I had a second son, Geoff; I received an MAT in Chemistry; I loved teaching and working with teachers on curriculum and instruction; and I served as “weekend pastor” at Jamestown, OH, Friends Meeting.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I entered Earlham College shortly after my 17th birthday and planned to be a math teacher. The following four years were full of challenges, opportunities and wonderful events.

The summer after my first year I went to work at Quaker Haven Camp in Indiana. There I met Judy Rogers. Our relationship began as a joke when she would say to me quite loudly in the dining room, “No. For the last time, I will not marry you.” However, about a month after summer started we came to realize that we wanted to spend more time together. Within another month, I asked her to be my wife. Fortunately for me, she said yes. We were married at the end of my Junior year after she had been teaching elementary school for a year. For financial reasons she had completed the requirements for a “Cadet Teacher” certificate to teach in Ohio public schools at the end of 3 years of college.

At the beginning of my Sophomore year I was fortunate to have an opportunity to play goal keeper for the alumni soccer team in the annual alumni-varsity game during pre-season practice. I was 5’ 4” and most people didn’t think I could make a good enough keeper to pay for the varsity. The keeper from the previous year had broken his arm and was going to play in the field so a “new” keeper was needed. Apparently I did well enough in that game and in pre-season that I was selected as the starting keeper for the season. We had a good year and the following year, my Junior year, the soccer team was National co-champs of the small college division of soccer. My senior year I was elected Captain and MVP of the team. I was very fortunate to be part of a team that respected each other, worked at our individual skills and positions, and played as a team. The coach, Charlie Matlack, always stressed that we needed to develop individual skills but that even more important was that we be willing to work with the team. He exemplified the concept that, although winning was great, our integrity as individuals and as a team were more important. Competition with others was less critical to our development as competition with ourselves to improve our skills and teamwork.

I had been an excellent math student in high school and intended to be a math teacher. However, my second course in Calculus was with a professor who stressed, at least in my perception, memorization and rote repetition of the voluminous notes from the chalkboard that were written during class. I did not do well. At the same time I took a Chemistry class from Ted Benfey and discovered that the subject was not just memorization and rote repetition of the Periodic Chart and other “facts.” Science was taught as a search for a sense of what the natural world was like at its basics. I decided to be a Chemistry major and a teacher of science as a result of that course. Several members of the Chemistry faculty at Earlham at that time were Friends, T. Benfey, L. Strong, W. Stratton. Their approach to chemistry and science seemed models of the way to approach both the natural and spiritual worlds.

My senior year was full of changes and opportunities. Judy and I lived in married student housing and she taught in a rural Ohio school. I did my student teaching in the high school associated with the school where Judy taught. The spring of that year I was offered a part time teaching position in Hagerstown, IN, where my uncle was on the school board and my cousin was in a physics class. The physics teacher spent most of the time talking about his hobby of raising bees and rarely brought up much physics. I was asked if I would teach the class. It was my first professional teaching position and the start of 42 years of teaching in many ways and in many places.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guided Search: Kenya

A Guided Search: Kenya

At the end of my sophomore year in high school my father, mother and I went to Kenya where I was enrolled in Rift Valley Academy. Since I planned on attending college in the States upon graduation and British schools were reluctant to give full entering credit to American students, it was felt I should go to RVA, a school run by missionaries for mission children. The school was in Kijabe a 12 hour train ride away from Kisumu which was the nearest large town near the center of Friends Africa Mission in Kaimosi. I arrived at school with the sudden realization that not only was I the first Friend to ever attend RVA but that Quakerism was a relatively unknown faith that was assumed to be like the rest of “orthodox Christianity,” i.e. Evangelical Protestant. Although many of the aspects of the religion practiced at RVA were relatively well known to me and in fact seemed quite similar to some of that preached by some Friends pastors I knew, I still felt that somehow there was something different in what I had been taught at home.

I began to read, for the first time really, the writings of Friends, Faith and Practice, and the Bible. I had been led to these sources earlier and had splashed around the surface but had not delved into them. I read the Bible straight through twice in the first year, plus scriptural readings assigned in class, and studied George Fox’s Journal, Barclay’s Apology, and some history of Friends. I came to appreciate early Friends and the Bible, especially John’s Gospel and the prophets, as trustworthy guides that were not to be followed “lock step,” but rather as companions along the way.

One of the distinctive characteristics of my Friends practice was in the area of communion. The worship service at RVA observed communion once a month. I decided early on that I would participate in “silent communion” while the others went forward to receive the cup and bread. I did not make a big deal out of this, but it was obvious and several questions came up among the faculty and students. My participation in “silent communion” seemed to satisfy most people and I generally felt accepted. I didn’t realize how different this was until very late one Sunday night during my senior year when I was awakened by a younger student who came from a strong Lutheran background. As I had learned in class and discussions, communion was very central to some students and they missed celebrating the eucharist every week. The young man who woke me was one of these. In addition, communion had been celebrated that morning and would not be celebrated for another month. He explained to me that he had felt “unworthy” that morning and chose not to participate according to his belief that one needed to be “worthy” to partake in the communion. Now, in the middle of the night after wrestling with his beliefs for quite a while, he felt he needed to have communion, but realized that it would be another month before he could take communion in his tradition. He asked me to explain how I “took communion.” I tried to explain the belief that Christ needed no intermediary and then direct access was available if we would listen and open ourselves to commune with Christ. I don’t know how much this changed his views, if at all, but it did seem to give him some peace that night and he was able to get to sleep.

At the conclusion of my two years at RVA, I had what I consider one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. The seniors traditionally took a “senior trip” and we chose to go to Amboseli National Park for a camping trip of several nights. Just previous to leaving on the trip I had been told that my father, mother and several month old sister would be leaving for the US immediately and that I needed to stay in Kenya until graduation in August, more than a month away. The reason for their departure was the serious nature of my father’s health condition. I also had discovered that my sister and mother were “lucky to be alive. During delivery of my sister, whose conception had been deemed improbable if not impossible, my mother had been very near death and a very quick Caeserean section was performed. My sister had not breathed on her own for nearly forty five minutes and it was only through the skill, commitment and dedication of the mission doctors and the “grace of God” that my mother and sister were alive. On the last night of the trip the seniors “gathered sticks, kindled a fire and left it burning” as we shared some of our feelings, especially about our time at RVA. At that time I felt a strong sense of immanent loss with the knowledge that not only was I “alone” in Kenya, but that I might have been within moments of losing my father, mother and sister. However, as I experienced this possible loss a very clear sense of presence somehow communicated to me that I was not alone and that regardless of my aloneness, Someone would be with me.