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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.