Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I Finally Finished College

I officially received my bachelor's degree in 1995 and have even received a couple of master's degrees since then, but it wasn't until a few days ago that I really finished college. Allow me to explain …

During my junior year, I took a class on C.S. Lewis taught by Lewis scholar Jerry Root. Back then, professor Root lived in Santa Barbara and commuted to Los Angeles every Thursday to teach the class. His was one of the most — if not the most — popular courses to take so, as is common in a big lecture class, you didn't get a lot of one-on-one time with the professor, especially considering he was only on campus once a week. Consequently, in order to calculate final grades for students, he had us turn in a reading report that specified how much of the required reading we had done. He combined this with the grade for our research papers to determine our final grade. Actually, he had us do the calculating on our reading report and so, if we'd done our calculations correctly, we knew the grade we were getting for the course. If we were right, he'd give us what we had calculated and it would show up on our report cards at the end of summer. Those who were too anal/obsessive-compulsive and couldn't wait until the end of summer for their report cards could give him a self-addressed, stamped postcard and he would send them their grade in late June. I was one of those who just couldn’t wait.

I had received an "A" on my research paper and, desiring to do just enough work to get a 90 percent for my final grade, I figured that if I read 7.2 of the 8 books required for the class, that's what I would get. There was only one or two required books for the course; the rest of Lewis' books were divided up by genre/theme/category, and we had to read one from each genre/theme/category. One of the categories was a list of books by authors who influenced C.S. Lewis. When I got around to reading one of those books, I was almost out of steam for the semester. So, I picked the shortest book on the list and read one-fifth of it. I calculated my 7.2 books read and my 100 percent on the paper, turned in my reading report with final grade calculation and ended the semester content in my soon-to-be-confirmed-by-postcard "A-".

A few weeks later, I received the postcard in the mail and immediately noticed that it had an awful lot of writing on it for something that only needed an "A-" inscribed on it. I proceeded to read something along these lines:

"Eric, You read 7.2 books and got an ‘A’ on your research paper, expecting to get an ‘A-’ for the course. You valued your ‘A’ at 100 percent when, in fact, an ‘A’ is only 95 percent. You would have had to receive an ‘A+’ on your paper in order to read 7.2 books and get an ‘A-’. As it stands, you should receive a ‘B+’ for the course. However, I've given you an ‘A-’. READ THE REST OF WILLIAMS THIS SUMMER!!!"

The book professor Root referred to is The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church by Charles Williams. I was grateful for professor Root's overwhelming grace and favor and had every intention of reading the book.

Fast forward to May 2007. I was preparing a sermon on Matthew 6:33-37, Jesus' words on taking oaths and fulfilling vows. My study revealed that Jesus wants us to avoid the way of the world and the sinful habit of making all manner of oaths and vows in an attempt to appear trustworthy and honest when, in fact, we have no intention of carrying out the oaths or vows made. Jesus wants us to be so trustworthy and honest that our word is enough. If it turns out that an oath or vow is necessary to uphold the truth, then it is not wrong to make one (just as Paul did several times in his letters). But by no means should we be making oaths or vows that we don't fulfill or that we make for manipulative purposes. As I thought about an example to use for this sermon, I could think of a good number of cases when someone didn't fulfill their oath or vow to me, but I didn't think that a very appropriate way to communicate the message. I continued to ponder as I studied the passage.

And, as you most assuredly have guessed by now, as I studied it came to mind that I still had never read The Descent of the Dove. If anything qualifies as being an unfulfilled oath/vow, that does, even if the circumstances are a tad unusual. Professor Root gave me a better grade than I deserved in faith that I would finish reading a book over the course of a few months and I, 13 years later, still hadn't read it? Ouch! It's actually quite embarrassing, but it served as the perfect example for my sermon. Of course, the thrust of the message was to be trustworthy and honest, and if I was going to admit that for 13 years I'd been walking around with an as-of-yet uncompleted B.A., I had to close the sermon with a commitment to read the book. I did just that and told the congregation to give me a few months to get and read the book before checking up on me and keeping me accountable on the matter.

I Amazoned the book and my parents passed it along to a team from our home Church that we met up with in Germany for a conference. I started reading it there just over two weeks ago. My wife, on Father's Day, gave me a few uninterrupted hours to finish the last chapter of the book. Now I can tell people that I finally fulfilled my vow, and that I finally finished college, over a decade after receiving my diploma.

I wish I could finish this entry by praising it as the best book I have ever read or by saying that it changed my life in some way. Actually, I found Williams' thick British English distracting and his liberal amalgamation of Church history (labeled "unconventional" by his admirers) unhelpful in conveying his point. Rather, I finish this entry with a simple sigh of relief and a prayer of thankfulness that God continues to change me for the better, even if it involves a bit of shame at times.


Trader Joel said...

I read you blog entry, and last night I had a dream that I was at work waiting for our morning delivery to the store. When the delivery got to the store, Jerry Root was driving the truck....odd.

eric O said...

You should read a Lewis book immediately! If you wait, he just might continue to show up in your dreams until you do.