Monday, January 14, 2013
Dixie and the Guru
The occasion was Cedar What, a mock election held every four years at my alma mater. This mocked the Nixon/McGovern election, but the late entry of a 3rd party candidate won instead.
If you check your history, you'll note that some famous White Guy was the 3rd party candidate in '72, but in Cedar What that year the winning dark horse candidate was a black student.
But I'm talking about half of the ticket known as Dixie and the Guru. "Dixie" was the English prof who was married to Paul Dixon, who went on to be President of Cedarville College. "The Guru" was a philosophy prof named James Murray Grier. Years later, we still called him The Guru.
He was my Guru. The man taught me to think.
I said Jim Grier taught philosophy. He was reputed to have an intimidating vocabulary and was one of the two toughest profs on campus. I took Intro to Philosophy from him and I proved the perfect foil. He would present some theory and an objection would form in my mind. I'd raise my hand, and voice the objection. He invariably slapped it down with the greatest of ease. Little did I know I was reinventing each of the classic objections and he needed only recite the classic counter-objections from memory. I entered this class thinking human will was the center of reality and left this class thinking that it is secondary to divine will.
I still got a B in the class. Cedarville didn't use pluses or minuses. That bothered me because any class I put my mind to I could get an A in. So, I took another and another Grier class. It took me until my senior year to learn how to get an A from him.
In his classes, I was the sole Math major and my questions always reflected the technological or scientific perspective of whatever he was discussing.
I suppose this must have had an impact, because years later he was preaching in my church and I raised my hand. He recognized me, and said, "You! No more questions!"
(Along these same lines, I found a tape of when he came to speak to my Calculus class. As I was listening--years later--a question formed in my mind. Seconds later I heard an annoying nasal voice on the tape--mine--ask the same question.)
It wasn't that Jim Grier devised some marvelous new way of thinking, but that he managed to integrate a diverse collection of considerations into a single, coherent whole. The best summary of his thought was, "He's got it all together."
I well recall sitting in Ethics class my senior year when things slipped into place.
Life may be different for you, but for me I figured out little models of how the world worked. Each was effective in its separate domains. Outside those domains singularities appeared that would invalidate the model. And a different model would have to be created and used. Wittgenstein spoke of different languages that people bring into play in different contexts, and that's similar to what I've got in mind.
When I was in Ethics class, he mentioned a certain school of Christian mysticism that I had been a fan of and properly contextualized it. It was just like putting a piece into a jigsaw puzzle--not the first ones around the edges, but that one where you've got most of the puzzle together and then suddenly the pieces start flying in as fast as you can pick them up.
I suppose you could call me a Protestant Scholastic. It's as accurate as Zen Baptist or Libertarian Puritan. At Cedarville I could say I was a "Grierian" and everyone knew what I meant.
Rest in peace Jim Grier. You left big shoes to fill.