Entrance to the U of Chicago Div School

When I first left for seminary in 1978, enrolled at both U of Chicago Div School and Meadville/Lombard, I was worried about being “worth it,” particularly since I was going in large part through a UU scholarship. One couple, the Mayers, actually pledged $35 a month and sometimes that was all that kept me eating.

So I wrote a page, single-spaced, every week and sent it back to the church for their bulletin board as a way of paying. One of the early ones (below) listed the courses I was taking. Notes in Helvetica.

Introduction to the Liberal Church and Ministry is the M/L requirement, taught by Neil Shadle. It consists of visiting ministers of the area and presenting student papers on topics that are aspects of the ministry that the presenting student finds of particular interest. I expect to explore the minister as “the enabler of the community” and to use my Leadership School materials as a starting point. Shadle was genius at side-stepping work. Don Wheat was the most insightful and warmest of the ministers we visited.

The two Div School requirements are supporting courses for the certifying examinations. One is Religious Traditions and Western Culture: Sacred Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The teacher wears cowboy boots and started us off with the first Rosh Hashanah, the first religious service centered not on animal sacrifice but on the reading of scripture. He taught with a coffee mug in his hand until he fell off the raised platform one day and removed all doubt about what was in it. We had a replacement next class meeting.

Religion and Modern Culture: Modern Thought deals with contrasting thinkers of the century and their struggle to reconcile science with religion, psychology with the tradition, and so on. Homans (1930–2009) is very tall with a basset hound facce and a habit of holding his hands out in front of him as though he were physically carrying the ideas. We students called his course “Modern Stinkers.”

According to this record, I audited three other courses and say my real enthusiasm was reserved for them.

Introduction to Christian Ethics is taught by Jim Gustafson (1925–1921), a mild, rather chinless fellow with big glasses who becomes gradually more fired up through the hour until he’s flinging brilliant challenges over our heads. What ought we to do? What ought we to be? How do you justify that? What theory of being does that imply? Gustafson was a truly brilliant man. I have never scoffed at Catholic thought in part because of him.

Religion, Ethics and the Human Life Cycle is a smaller class taught by Don Browning (1934–2010), a gentle, red-haired man with experience as a Rogerian psychotherapist, who quietly and thoroughly explores the moral justifications of intervening in another human life. This professor is the one most interested in applying theory to the daily life of the pastor in a helpful and practical way. Browning’s explanation of kinds of ethics — rules, examples, theories, etc. — have been invaluable. Some examples have never left me.

He told a true story of a very large black mother’s outrage over the neglect of her son. The authorities at the university hospital kept brushing her off until she marched into the CEO’s office where he sat at a large desk in front of a fine wide window and tipped his fine furniture past him through the glass so it crashed on the front walk one story below. He escaped but he was impressed. I remembered her when my eyeball was scraped in Emergency in a botched test for glaucoma when I asked for help with a viral eye infection.

Introduction to Theology is my “fun” class. Langdon Gilkey (1919–2004) was a vivid, witty, almost seductive, man who wears his hair like Buffalo Bill or Custer and who sports a tasteful stud earring, silk scarves, and ethnic necklaces with his velvet suit. He as comfortable discussing Buddhism or dinosaur bones as he is talking about Christian concepts. I wish I hadn’t been so bashful. He was open, he and his wife kept a friendly house, and other students grew close to him. But he was so very brilliant that I was overwhelmed. I should reread his books.

I wrote: “I’m enormously impressed at how patient and gracious all these people are about their time. They all are careful that we understand. There’s no feeling of “if you can’t stand the heat, get out!” But I have about 2 months to read and analyze fifty books!

It barely crossed the M/L minds that women should be better represented though three of our six in the class were female. Harris Riordan found the atmosphere too cold and severe and transferred back to Union Theological Seminary at NYC. She found a lifelong home church in Boca Raton.

It’s a common joke that the UU ministry is a path between Methodism and the golf course, because it is a phenomenon of focussed but liberal minds with an attachment to nature who aren’t quite clergy. But I would dearly like to see a study of FORMER UU ministers. They are quickly blotted out when they leave, for a number of reasons. Some have simply outgrown the role and others were never suited for it anyway. More than a few can’t find a church they fit. A few become rather famous. Sam Keen comes to mind. Robert Fulghum.

I don’t mean ordinary UU’s, but rather degreed, ordained, serving people who left. I’ve always thought there was a lot of wisdom and insight to be gained by doing “post-pulpit” interviews. Great book project for a young person who can manage a publishing contract. My own present interpretation is that the UU is a phenomenon of the Enlightenment that is now confronting something much more vast and terrifying, this immense new understanding that science has learned and needs emotional help to manage.

I was not taught the theories of embodiment in Div School. In fact, they were actively resisted as “phenomenology”, the folk remnant of superstition that once raged across the eastern US, giving rise to ghosts and table rapping. But now the new knowledge, thanks to the internet, is available to anyone and the autodidacts glory in the mysterium et fascinans.

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.