Born in Oklahoma to a C&MA pastor and his young wife, raised then among Native Americans on the rez and Okie cowboys and oilmen, I eventually grew up in rural Ohio and West Virginia. For years my highest ambition was to play football for the West Virginia University Mountaineers, and then maybe the NFL. Dream on! (Today I limp & gimp around in pain from all those hits those 8 years I played organized football – was it worth it? Seemed like it at the time)
For college I came here to Wheaton College (where I continued football for two seasons). What a difference, between the Big City and my hillbilly background! In coffee houses in both downtown Chicago and out here in the suburbs, I wrangled over controversial subjects with all different kinds of people (“dialogue” was the buzz word of that day), and became increasingly aware of how many different ways there are to see the world and to think!
Evangelicals in the 1960s, it seemed to me, were perennially on “the wrong side” of many controversial issues of the day: it was embarrassing to me that on one issue after another –civil rights, particularly—those who believed as I did theologically did not think as I did socially. Increasingly I felt alienated from the Church, and felt more kinship with the beatniks and hippies I was dialoguing with in outreach-oriented coffee houses.
Eventually, I just had to let go. I wanted to see the world without automatically looking through an “evangelical rose lens.” I wanted to let experience come directly, without putting it into a box or a category. I withdrew from college after my junior year, took the medical exam at the U.S. Army induction center in Chicago, and was granted a 4-F (“ineligible”) draft status (because of hepatitis contracted in Colombia, South America during a year of short term missions there). Now freed from the shadow of Viet Nam hanging over my head, I hitch-hiked to San Francisco, like many other seekers of my generation.
For the next seven years or so I wandered North America, trying to figure out what life is about, working at construction sites, ranches, logging, short commitments, and moving on, always moving on. Trying to find what is real, what is true. Gurus and heads told me it was this, or that, but nothing could hold me. I kept moving on.
Mostly: I had fun. It was great to have the body of a grown man, but be as free as a child!
It was the era of the greatest music Americans have ever cranked out, & I boogied to some great musicians, like Hot Tuna, Janis Joplin and B.B. King. . . and I just kept moving on. Looking for truth (or maybe trying to avoid it).
But at age 27 the Lord suddenly just let the scales fall from my eyes and for the first time in years I could see through the fog. One winter holed up in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico I sat by my wood stove reading the Narnia Tales by C. S. Lewis, one after another, and over the course of a week or so I recognized, reading those, what is True: that there really is a good God, and there really is an evil enemy of the Lord of Lords. After years of entertaining many different silly notions to see if they might work, I was confronted, reading Lewis’ tales, with reality: I was a sinner, a slave of the evil one even while I thought of myself as “free and independent.”
I realized that my Taoist/Zen Buddhist illusions of ethical neutrality were just that – illusions. The universe is not neutral, it is not existential; it is the battle ground between a Personal Good and a Personal Evil. For the next six months or so I fought like a cornered tiger, not wanting to be swept into the ‘cage’ of evangelical Christianity again. But Jesus was kind and merciful, and he let me know that he was going to love me back into the Kingdom whether I liked the brethren and sisters therein or not!
Make a long story short: through the gentle help of some very nice believers I came to not only love Jesus and his Word, but also the people of his family, the Church! At age 28 I went back and finished a Bachelor’s degree in literature at Wheaton, went straight into the M.A. program there, and over 6 years at Wheaton and then Princeton Theological Seminary, I studied the Bible ever deeper and deeper until I could read it in the languages in which it was first written down, and also received from the Holy Spirit the gift of teaching, so that when I explained the Bible to others, they could understand it better than on their own.
After a few years of pastoring (ironically, back in northern New Mexico where God had wrestled me to the ground seven years before that!), I met and married Susan, who intended, as I did, to serve the Lord overseas with the Alliance. We came back to Wheaton, became members of Lombard Bible Church in 1985, and were sent to France and then west Africa, where we taught both in a Bible college & “out in the bush” for eight years.
Sensing that we had completed our assignment in Cote d’Ivoire, west Africa, Susan and I both started Ph.D. programs at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We only had enough money for one of us to continue, so Susan took on a new career, teaching English as a Second Language, and other stuff, and helping support us while I studied, pastored at Hyde Park Alliance at the University of Chicago and then Wheaton Chinese Alliance, and wrote my dissertation (on “Living and Active: The Word of God in the Book of Hebrews”).
The Alliance asked us to go work in Spain with the many immigrants to that nation who were seeking a better life, and starting some churches among their own transplanted people in Spain, and we did that for a few years, helping strengthen the embryonic Spanish C&MA church with teaching seminars and retreats.
Since 2005 and up to the present we have been back in DuPage County, where both Susan and I teach in local universities as adjunct professors and we lend a hand at whatever church we’re part of – LBC again, since 2008. My favorite contribution to the Kingdom these days is teaching Bible courses to adults returning to college up at Trinity in Deerfield. I also enjoy every chance I get to preach, whether in English or Spanish.
If you want to see more detail about us and our family, type smillies.us in your web browser.
I don’t deserve the Lord’s grace; none of us do. But I’m sure grateful for it! I hope and pray that he’ll keep opening doors for me to be useful to him and his kingdom.