I met Jack Birdwhistell maybe once, when my wife and I went to Georgetown College for her homecoming several years ago. But I have heard so many “Doc” stories, I feel like he was my campus minister, too!
I commend you this brief memoir of Doc Birdwhistell written by Joshua Hearne. This section in particular rings true with everything I’ve heard about the man:
So, though I was reluctant to be there, I found myself in the student center of Georgetown College one fall morning. As I added items to my list of reasons not to attend the school, I was interrupted by an older gentleman who didn’t look much like my mental image of a college professor. He introduced himself as “Doc” Birdwhistell and said that he taught some classes in the religion department. Before I even had the time to dismiss internally this big man’s overtures, he said that he had read something about me and had a few questions for me. Instantly, I was certain that he knew how I had secretly lost my faith and that he was going to harangue me even while he continued to shake my hand with his surprisingly huge and somehow slightly bony right hand.
“Mr. Hearne,” he began, “I heard that you played John the Baptist in a production ofGodspell back in Ashland.” I told him that I had, even while I was wondering where in the world he might have heard that. “I love that show,” he exclaimed, before asking “Was it as fun to kick in the doors singing as I always thought it would be?” We spent the next hour talking about a number of things that didn’t really matter all that much, but were pleasant conversation nonetheless. Eventually, he excused himself because he had work to get done. Though I’m sure he didn’t come down from his office in the chapel just to talk to me about high school musicals and nothing in particular, it sure felt like it that day. I ended up going to Georgetown, even though I was still without my faith, because I figured I could get along with Christians like Doc who seemed to think not only that Christians could study and struggle with doubt, but even that they should do both.
“It can be said, as a general rule, that the greatest saints are seldom the ones whose piety is most evident in their expression when they are kneeling at prayer, and that the holiest men in a monastery are almost never the ones who get that exalted look, on feast days, in the choir. The people who gaze up at Our Lady’s statue with glistening eyes are very often the ones with the worst tempers.” ~Thomas Merton
“This is the standard New Testament designation for saints: the forgiven, who know it, act upon it and live by grace without angling for stained-glass-window status.” ~F. Dean Lueking
“Being a Christian is one of the few things in life you cannot or should not try to do alone; we need help from all the saints–dead and alive, crazy and normal, known and unknown, and especially the everyday, ordinary believers.” ~Daniel Clendenin
“In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a pocket handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.” ~Frederick Buechner
“In our era many believe you can be a Christian without the church, and perhaps you can be a better Christian without the hypocritical complications of church life. But the saints urge us to be in the church, engaged with other Christians in prayer, worship, and service. The church has a book, a set of prayers and practices, and its saints; it is our privilege to be shaped by its treasury. The church is a place where we can stand. The church supports us, ennobles, and encourages us.” ~James C. Howell
“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” ~Oscar Wilde“Holiness is the very principle of eternal life, the very beginning of eternal life in the heart, and that which will certainly grow up to eternal life.” ~Jeremiah Burroughs
Tim Henderson has posted his summary of the next essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul: “‘Christos’ in Paul.”
I found this story quite fascinating, as is almost always the case when ancient rabbinic disputes are about to get real:
Clearly, what concerns the rabbis when it comes to factionalism is the possibility of Jews disagreeing about the Law in public. No wonder even the greatest sages hesitated to get involved in disputes between the two schools. “They asked Rabbi Yehoshua: What is the law with regard to the rival wife of a daughter? He said to them: It is a matter of dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.” But this evasive answer wasn’t enough to satisfy the questioners, who pressed him: “And in accordance with whose statement is the law? He said to them: Why are you inserting my head between two great mountains?” Getting caught between Hillel and Shammai was like being caught in a war between mountains—or, as we might say, between rock and a hard place. No wonder it took a divine voice to settle the argument between them.
Tim Henderson has posted his summary of Martin Hengel’s “Origins of the Christian Mission” from his volume, Between Jesus and Paul:
The third essay in Martin Hengel’s Between Jesus and Paul addresses the origins of the Christian mission. In doing so, he makes 5 main points, though I would question the sequence in which he chooses to tackle them…
Ben Myers calls them “grammatical rules.” They sound more like theses to me. Whatever they are, they succinctly describe the limits (i.e., the boundaries) of how Christians can speak properly about the mystery of the Incarnation. I commend them to you.
1. Not to speak of Christ in any way that sidelines his human experience.Jesus Christ is truly human.
2. Not to speak of Jesus in any way that sidelines the divine depth beneath his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly God.
3. Not to divide Christ’s divinity and humanity, or to give the impression that he sometimes functions as God and sometimes as a human. Jesus Christ is divine and human in one person.
4. Not to give the impression that Christ’s divinity is fully contained within his humanity, or that his divinity is limited by his human experience. The human nature of Jesus is assumed by the person of the eternal Word.
5. Not to divide redemption from creation, or to give the impression that Christ invades a world that is alien to him. Human beings were created after the pattern of the same eternal Image that has become incarnate in Jesus.
6. Not to divide Christ’s person and work, or to give the impression that Christ is merely the instrument by which God achieves salvation. Salvation is a person: Jesus Christ.
7. Not to divide Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, or to give the impression that he achieves salvation at just one moment of his career. The total life-journey of Jesus Christ – from his birth, to his ministry of teaching and healing, to his death and resurrection – is the saving event.
8. Not to speak of Christ’s death as a mere preliminary stage on the way to resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Priest whose death abolishes the power of sin and death. He is the humble God.
9. Not to speak of Christ’s resurrection as a mere reversal of his death.Jesus Christ is the King whose resurrection exalts and glorifies human nature. He is the deified human.
10. Not to speak of Christ in any way that implies that he is absent, or to give the impression that the church’s task is to make Christ present. Jesus Christ is the Prophet who reveals himself. He is present always and everywhere as the divine-human light of the world.
11. Not to divide Christ from Israel’s history, or to give the impression that the New Testament abolishes the Old. As Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus Christ is the surpassing fulfilment of Israel’s messianic hopes.
12. Not to speak of Christ as if he were relevant only to some people in some cultures and circumstances. Jesus Christ is present to all people, in all times and places, as their divine-human Prophet, Priest and King. The church trusts and proclaims, but never possesses, this Messiah.