As I begin a new phase in my life, it has been suggested to me that I take a bit of time for some personal thoughts. I do not find myself all that interesting, so I can’t relate well to how anyone else could. However, because we are social creatures, I can find some value in sharing this transition with you to some degree. After all, I have done only one thing for virtually all of my “work-life.”
That one thing has been very demanding, don’t get me wrong. It has had a number of phases but the central goal has been singular. In a moment, I will speak of some other phases of this life, but the core activity first.
When I was in the sixth grade, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. The answer I gave to that query was that I wanted to be a chemistry professor. I sort of got that right. My first degree is in chemistry. I was in graduate school in chemistry and well on my way toward that stated intent when life ambushed me. At the halfway point of my master’s program in chemistry, I was drafted into the Army and spent about three years being a soldier. In the same time frame I came to know my wonderful wife, and we married soon after I went into the Army. The Army was good for me in some ways, but I was off track when I got out and had a wife and daughter by then. I thought always to continue my graduate education and someday to be a chemistry professor. Hardheadedness may explain that. But the two wonderful ladies in my life at that time were of greater concern than my desire to hang around some university in a graduate student’s semi-existence.
The need to persist with school after the Army found no chemistry outlet even though I was employed as a chemist in those days. The only real option available to me at the time was the MBA option, so I began that pursuit which eventually led to a move to finish MBA work as a full time student. Somehow I ended up with a teaching job in the field of marketing right after the MBA. That, in turn, put me in a situation where I could begin doctoral work in marketing, which I soon did on a part-time and then a full time basis. The rest, as they say, is history. With the exception of about a year in private, full time consulting, I have spent the rest of my work life as an academic. Being a business type permitted me to serve as a consultant in a number of kinds of projects, but the career was academic. I went through the ranks and served in a number of administrative capacities. These last years I was a business dean most of the time, which is where the decision to retire was made.
While I was an undergraduate, I spent two of my college summers as a guest of the Marine Corps in their equivalent of office candidate school called PLC. If one got hurt in that program, one might simply be left behind or shunted aside. I did and I was. Two years later I was drafted which was when I became a soldier as I mentioned above. Interestingly, I was an instructor for about half of that Army time. This teaching thing just sort of inserted itself into my life.
When I was a senior in college the opportunity emerged for me to be in Israel for the summer after my graduation. With little by way of expectation I applied for that opportunity and was pleasantly surprised when I was selected. About ten weeks were spent in Israel working in youth camp situations with both Jewish and Arabic children. Along with that work came quite a bit of opportunity to travel around the country and see the places where such-and-such happened. “Such-and-such” involved “so-and-so” in a fairly matter-of-fact way. This was pervasive in that small country. For example, to travel to the valley where David met Goliath really gave life and color to that story. Scripture became very real to me in that place. Don’t get me wrong. I had always believed that scripture was accurate, but now it began to have real substance like never before.
While I was in the Army, I began to study the Hebrew language – at least the biblical version of that. I got some exposure to Koine Greek as well, but that was considerably more limited. I remained with exposure to Hebrew for many years, even trying to teach very rudimentary courses in a church at one time. I even availed myself to the services of an Israeli immigrant to the US and got some familiarization to more Modern Hebrew. In those years I acquired a library of lexical sources and authentic language texts in the two biblical languages which enabled a permanent attachment to biblical study.
Please understand that I never went to bible college or any such thing. I have read only very limited theological material and my experience of the Christian faith has been of the more general type in terms of exposure to the study thereof. I am widely read but had no exposure to the more academic pursuit of the faith. At the same time, I am obviously of academic temperament. Hence, when I study scripture I bring to that study an academic mindset, as ignorant as I may be of the work of those before me. This un-coached approach to learning the scripture left me to decide what I would pursue, which often meant the popular thing in my circles of the moment. I might take a more rigorous approach but would consider the same topics as many others.
Over the years, particularly in times marked by crises in people’s lives, I began to be called upon for counsel. (As an academic leader I was also pulled at to provide counsel to many students and some colleagues over the years.) In several very intense periods I found that people had begun to depend on me in matters of faith. That simply happened without attempts on my part to cause it to happen. This is a very great field of training in the scripture because therein can be found the material that is most helpful to people in spiritual crisis. A lot of experience and knowledge of scripture is very helpful, and I have been pleased to see that I have been able to help many persons through those hard times. This reservoir of learning complements my interest in matters biblical to quite an extent.
Here and now, I shall not go into the many details that attended these wanderings. Suffice it to say that I believe the Spirit of God to have been my guide. Sometimes He even manhandled me in order to bring about certain useful things in my life. Through all those years in which I pursued an academic career, I was also going to all the watering places of my soul. Those wells in dry places have contributed much to my current state of being. In their absence, I would probably be the consummate academic person. I know that I am not that person. I’m not very exciting, but I am not typical as an academic entity. I do believe however that I have kept through all those years the best of what that means without being its most typical product.
I have not been a typical person in terms of my faith either. In a sense, it would appear that there has been no guiding principle in my so-called “religious” pursuits. I maintain that is not the case. The guide may not be found in any particular branch of biblical study or in any particular persuasion of communion. I confess to that. I have not staunchly defended my right to pursue my faith in some manner or other that is commonly recognizable, but I have simply (and mostly quietly) pursued my path anyway, even when in the company of the various communions.
I maintain that the Spirit of God has been my guide. It is He who has caused me to pursue this and to eschew that – none other. In that I have had few companions, many of those only very temporarily. Virtually none of them have made the journey with me all the way. Really, only two or three have consistently been right there with me at the edge of the analysis through which I have been gently “forced” by that Spirit. If you are wondering, this is more nearly a complaint than a boast. It is simply true.
A bit over six years ago I was very honored to be asked to teach in a week long symposium. For that symposium I was free to pursue three specific topics of my choice. They turned out to be a sequence of matters that are quite related to one another. At the same symposium, I found myself being called on to offer another “extra credit” session by some conference attendees who wanted greater clarity on a particular aspect of the material being presented that appealed to them beyond what most of the other folks wanted. That was a wonderful experience. I found a particular grace in that moment that has not left me. In that context I knew that I should expect to be called on in other instances to present things with my unorthodox methodology.
A few years before this blog, I began to realize that some of the things I was doing in personal counseling were actually repeated often enough that I should make recordings of those sessions. However, that would be too personal for the subject of the counseling, so I began to think of how to get that done. Over some time I hit on the idea of recording many of those often-repeated examples in writing in such a way as to expose no secret crises, but to demonstrate for many how common our experiences are in this life.
After some time in this state of musing, I set out to write about Jacob and his twelve sons. There were three main things I wanted to accomplish in that effort. First, I wanted to examine and explain what a father is by looking at Jacob in relation to his sons. Then, I wanted to explain what a son is by considering each of the twelve of his sons as different and distinct manifestations in their relationships with him. Finally, I wanted to take an honest look at how brotherhood works, both in the presence of a father and in the absence of a father. So that is where I started.
But I just couldn’t simply start there, because Jacob as a phenomenon is hard to make sense of in isolation from his own parents and brother. So I took a step back and confronted the nearly silent man named Isaac, the father of Jacob. That too was not satisfactory, so I took another step back in time and began to consider Abraham as the beginning of the story. But even Abraham, with all that has been recorded of his life, would not “behave” as my starting point. It soon became necessary to find out why Abraham was who he was. In order to do that, I had to begin with what a father is and what a son is and found that men cannot show me that. I had to go to God Himself as the Father that Jesus called Him. Jesus nearly always referred to God in that manner and to Himself as the Son. That is where I had to start.
So I began. I already had a very meager website at that time. I purposed to write these studies and attach them as files to the website in some manner and to let those for whom I care know about them so they could download them. About a year ago, I was counseled by a very significant person in my life to forego that and to put these teachings into book form to make them available in the world. That was heady counsel. I did not feel worthy of such a thing. However, the source of that counsel is so important to me that I made that change of direction.
Over some time I completed that which I have described above. When I turned the work over to my publisher, we decided to offer the work in two volumes. The first of those, Birth of The Holy Nation, Volume 1, is now published. The second is already written and will go through the processes that lead to publication later this year, I hope.
While I was figuring all that out, I knew that I would retire rather than seek further advancement in my academic career. I had no idea what I would do after retirement, but at my age it had become apparent that was the direction I was to go. These streams began to flow together a year ago, and there is no real looking back now.
I will be so bold here as to declare that I have learned to hear the breathings of the Spirit of God in these decades of preparation. At a time when most people either put down their heads and continue on the path of their careers or simply discontinue those careers, I find myself facing a new future. As far as I can tell now, much of that future will be to write those things that are being whispered to me by the Spirit. I have identified nearly a dozen such projects and new ones emerge as I go along. I have gone from “what will I do with my life after retirement?” to “will I live long enough to write what I see?”
I am now retired from my secular career. It is over. I do not regret it. I learned many things from it. What I do know is that I am excited about what will be. That is now much more important that what has been. I believe I have had a particular grace of revelation imparted to me. It was much of the substance of the breathings of the Spirit of God in my life. That humbles me and makes me so bold as to declare that wherever He is taking me, this has been only the beginning.
I share these musings with you that you may better understand the state of my being as the best part of this life (to date) begins to unfold. I have been already advised that even this is not the description of the end of my life. I can only suppose that whatever follows it will be even more wonderful. I trust that I will live these things in a place where I can hear what He is saying.
Birth of The Holy Nation is a beginning, not an ending.
So be it.