Conceived in hunger

“That the story has had such long legs says something about how Churches of Christ teach their own history (or willingly and quickly forget about it), and at the same time about how much hunger there is for exactly that history.”

–Greg Bales, manuscript editor of “Distinctions Which God Has Not Made” and grandson of former Harding professor and George S. Benson collaborator, J.D. Bales.

The conception of  “Distinctions Which God Has Not Made” occurred when 1042 seeds fell on the upturned soil of a restless, wide-ranging mind.

The seeds were words, 1042 out of 6437, that Bill Floyd had written in his essay “Why I Could Not Be a Career Preacher” for the 1966 book Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism, edited by Dr. Robert Meyers. The book is an anthology of critiques and spiritual memoirs of men and women who were either still in, or had formerly been a part of, the Churches of Christ, the “Campbellite” wing of the Restoration Movement (aka the American Restoration Movement or The Stone-Campbell Movement). 

The 1042 words described the courageous actions of the 946 Harding students, faculty, and staff who had stated their readiness to desegregate the school immediately in solidarity with the Little Rock Nine in the fall of 1957.

Whoa, wait, I thought. I’ve never heard that story before! I wondered why.

I had heard all the the foundational, Harding stories, the tales of mythic proportions about larger-than-life legends and heroes who had given up pay checks, gone hungry, wore threadbare clothes, and sacrificed so much just for the chance for us–for me–to receive a “Christian education.”

But at first glance, here was what seemed a very important story that had fallen through the cracks, or else, been tucked away, out of sight.

The seeds landed and settled into the folds and ridges of my brain and began to take root. A sprig of a thought formed in one furrow, an embryo of an idea in another.

The germination continued from 2005-2010, a period of great fermentation and change in my life.

My sons were going off to college and becoming men. Through blogging, I was writing and interacting with other writers who challenged me to reexamine lifelong thought patterns and ideas. In late 2007, Doug Mendenhall, a good friend who was a columnist and reporter for The Huntsville Times at the time and is now a professor of journalism at Abilene Christian University, encouraged me to apply for one of the rotating community columnist positions at the newspaper. 

Much to my surprise, they chose me. I had a chance to write a monthly column on just about anything I wanted. My blog was fun and was connecting me with many new “virtual” friends (most of whom I eventually met in person!), but this felt like the real thing. My musings reached a wider audience, and I had the pleasure of working with and learning from a first class journalist, John Ehinger, who at the time was the editorial page editor. 

During this period, I began to realize I would eventually leave the Churches of Christ. For years I had been studying church history and teaching it in Sunday school–all of it, not just the part from the Cane Ridge Revival on–and a longing to connect with deeper streams of truth and practice drawn from more ancient Christian churches and traditions had formed. Liturgy began to speak to me in a language that left me with a peace and understanding a million rationalistic, preach-by-number sermons never could. 

I was leaving the church of my youth and had one foot out, the other still in. I had never parted with a church tradition for another one, and I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Voices of Concern, the same book that contained Bill Floyd’s essay, was my beacon and guide. The soothing calls of kindred spirits from 1966 reached out to me all those years later, lighting the path and spreading breadcrumbs for another fellow pilgrim to ultimately find his way.

It was not an easy journey. I constantly felt the sharp pangs of a gnawing hunger, but it wasn’t literal food my mind, body, and soul craved.

It was truth–good news!–that I longed for, in particular the the full gospel story of what had happened in the fall of 1957 at Harding College.

The dry bare bones of a story formed a skeleton and started to dance. I began to realize the rattling of bones in my head would never be quieted unless I could attach tendons, flesh, and skin to them and breath into them their former life. 

And that’s where Jerry “Boo” Mitchell enters the picture.