Shuck and Jive

Thursday, August 23, 2007

High School and College

It is Conversations with Bob! Everything you wanted to know about your preacher but were too paranoid to ask! I'm up!

During junior high and high school I began a great deal of questioning of my inherited religious beliefs. The religion I had inherited claimed that evolution was a lie and that only those who believed in Jesus would go to heaven. From what I was learning about the world through science and the humanities the choice was easy. Religion was a joke and a bad one at that. Even though I continued to attend church services with my parents, its dogma I had long dismissed.

In Catholic high school I found a new way of doing religion. It was interesting, and actually a great deal more intellectual than what I inherited, but still was based on superstition. I appreciated the sisters and the brothers at my Catholic school but took most delight in the nonreligious teachers. I was impressed that the authorities of church let them say what they said. It gave me renewed appreciation that the church allowed its heretics to teach.

During my senior year, the hostage crisis in Iran hit. I turned 18 and we 18 year olds were the first to register for the Selective Service since Vietnam. We all felt we were going to be fighting Iran. As it turned out, that battle was delayed.

Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, the year I graduated high school. He was absolutely the worst president since Grant. He, like the biblical Esau, traded our independence, decency, and democracy for the pottage of foreign oil calling it "Morning in America." It was the beginning of our nightmare that has yet to conclude.

After graduating high school I attended Montana State University in Bozeman. I majored in Chemical Engineering as my father encouraged me to do. I did well with Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus but I appreciated them on the theoretical rather than the practical level. It wasn't long before I was disillusioned. I simply didn't want to be a Chemical Engineer. I couldn't imagine spending my life calculating pressures and temperatures from one tube to another. I particularly didn't want to spend my life working for corrupt oil companies.

There was hardly any room in our curriculum for humanities courses, yet I found a space to take a course on the History of the New Testament. It was so refreshing. I learned the difference between an historical statement and a theological statement. Example:

  • Jesus died on a cross. (a statement that can be evaluated by historical method)
  • Jesus died for your sins. (a statement that can be evaluated by theological method)
  • Jesus rose from the dead. (you make the call. I think it is a theological statement)

I also took a course on introduction to English literature. The professor, Michael Sexton, was fascinating. In this course he introduced us to depth psychology and I realized that religious texts (including the Bible) were imaginative literature based on archetypes of the human psyche. Religion as I learned it, made little sense. I decided to leave God behind.

I also realized that I loved the humanities and history as well as science. During my second year of college I switched my major to English, much to the dismay of my parents. I took another fascinating course on the Bible as Literature also from professor Sexton and was introduced to the work of John Dominic Crossan before he became famous with the Jesus Seminar. Yet I missed calculus and physics and took more courses in those fields. Finally, it dawned on me that I was wasting my parents' money, and even after a B+ average, (I did a miss a few courses due to partying) I decided to quit college after my sophomore year.

Not knowing what to do, I decided to hitchhike. In the summer of 1982, my parents were gone (my mother to New York to visit my sister and my father to Russia on a chess tour), I was going to spend the summer with my brother on the farm. I loved and still love him dearly, but he is a pain to work for. More than that, I knew I had to experience the world in some form. I had to get off the farm.

So I took my brother out for a wild night at the local Whitehall taverns and wrote him a maudlin note for him to read after I had left. I didn't want him to talk me out of it. The next morning, I packed an old army dufflebag and walked the five miles to Interstate 90 and stuck out my thumb, headed east. I decided to go which ever way the wind would blow. I thought I would go to Denver, since I had never been there. But, as I went along, the wind blew me further east on I-90.

I had a number of adventures, but the most interesting from a religious point of view, was that I was picked up in Minnesota by a Catholic priest. He had, literally, bread and water for me! He didn't preach to me or ask me a bunch of annoying questions. We listened to the Twins game on the radio. After a few hours we saw another hitchhiker and he picked him up, too. No preaching. No exhorting. But we talked. It wasn't until later that I discovered what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It was his simple hospitality.

As it turned out, being the mama's boy I am, I hitchhiked to New York City. I arrived there after about a week or so of hitchhiking. My sister's husband worked in a building next to Central Park. I had been there a couple of years before. So I walked to the building. The keepers of the gate would not let me in. So I sat on the corner wondering what to do next. I thought I would call my sister and let her know I was in town. I wasn't there for more than fifteen minutes when my parents and my brother-in-law walked by! I surprised them to say the least. They thought I was being a good boy changing sprinklers on the farm. As it turned out, my family talked me out of hitchhiking further and I took the bus home with my folks back to Montana.

It wasn't long after I was home, after listening to some radio dj in Butte say that he had the best job in the world playing tunes all day, that I decided to enroll in the Yellowstone School of Broadcasting in Billings, Montana. It was a four month course that would prepare oneself for fame and fortune.

More on that next time....


  1. Good story; it is interesting to contrast your experience with Bob's given the different time periods involved. The civil rights movement and the use and role of war (Vietnam) was a more immediate pressure on Bob, where by the eighties some of these lessons were learned and became part of the national consciousness, other lessons were forgotten and a sort of national amnesia culminated with the rise of Reagan. What I'm thinking is; it sounds like you were a sign of the times as reflected by your wanderings. A wandering hitchhiker could be a metaphor for the state of mind of the country at the time. I’m a bit younger than you, but I clearly remember becoming certain and terrified that nuclear war was an inevitable thing and was right around the corner. Lord knows how young people figure things out these days...

  2. bobby This is a late comment so may never be read but I have a partial answer to your last sentence. We called both our children on 9/11/01. My daughter had just started college. She and her fellow students worried that this would all start a war and bring back the draft.

    She, and from what I hear much of her generation oppose the war in Iraq. I have a greater concern. Because we have an all volunteer army too many people just don't really care about the war. It doesn't affect them directly. I hated the draft during the Vietnam War but wonder now if it didn't make the war more real to young people. Today you don't go into the Armed Services unless you need the money or college grants.

    BTW, most people haven't watched what has happened to draft laws since the all volunteer army came in. I think people would be appalled. If you want to apply for conscientious objector's status now you have to do it when you apply for your draft card. Of course no one tells you that . . .