I am waxing a bit nostalgic at the moment.
Fifteen years have gone by since I first faced a class of eighteen eager and thoughtful young people, wondering who this strange guy in tweed playing second fiddle to the charismatic, magic-producing founder of the Torrey Honors Institute was. In the weeks before my very first session, John Mark Reynolds was working his customary magic, deeply engaging the students in an adventure of Socratic inquiry, and I was wondering how I would even follow that up. would the chums receive me well? Would they be bored out of their minds and decide to recreate the Defenestration of Prague by throwing me out of the huge windows of Sutherland Hall Room 206 (now faculty offices) into the asphalt parking lot?
Well, that was not quite what happened, but I didn’t seem to be producing the kind of “magic” John Mark was working in the classroom. I was ready to turn in my resignation, head down in defeat, when he gave me the best advice that has impacted my career ever since. He said, “Don’t try to be me. Be who you are, love the chums, and you’ll see how they will come around.”
That is precisely what I did, and have had fifteen wonderful years doing what I love most: reading the classic books that have shaped the cultural and intellectual history of the West for the past twenty-five hundred years, and leading students in discussing these texts in the spirit of Socratic inquiry.
It was two years prior to meeting John Mark that I came across Thomas Aquinas College’s curriculum, its Great Books curriculum and Socratic style of pedagogy, and knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I offered a short prayer, asking God to make this possible, either at Thomas Aquinas College, or elsewhere. Little did I know that that “elsewhere” was going to be at my alma mater, Biola University, with the founding of the Torrey Honors Institute.
I credit my late pastor and mentor, Fr. Michael Trigg, of blessed memory, with introducing me to John Mark. He thought we should meet, and so we did, and that acquaintance has changed my life in many significant ways. Working that customary magic, he presented to me his idea for Torrey, and then came the question I was not expecting: “Do you want to join me?” Well, the answer was yes.
For the first two years, I don’t know how we survived. Amidst lots of skepticism concerning the success of our venture, and being short staffed, we managed to bring thirty-seven intrepid young souls who signed on for a great adventure, at once Tolkienesque and Quixotic. We were attempting to save the West. With the absence of clerical staff, however, our venture looked like it was doomed, given the fact that I (yes, I!) had to fulfill some administrative duties. Anyone who knows me knows you don;t hire me for my administrative skills (just take a look at my office). It is a miracle that we survived at all!!!
One of the greatest satisfactions any teacher has is when a former student becomes a colleague, a co-laborer in this great enterprise. Melissa Schubert comes to mind. Now three others have joined our ranks: Jamie Whitaker-Campbell, Janelle Aijian, and Matthew Wright. Many times I have to remember that they were once students, having now crossed over in my mind as valued colleagues with whom it is a pleasure to work.
As I look now at the state of Torrey, it is in good hands, with Paul Spears at the helm, and a team of great faculty that is moving Torrey forward. It is in light of this that I now take stock and consider my future.
Once again, John Mark Reynolds is summoning me to take part in a new adventure, across the 10 Freeway to Houston. In a few weeks, I will be flown out to interview at Houston Baptist University for a position as a professor of Medieval History, and a chance to teach in the Honors College, where I would be doing precisely what I have been doing in Torrey all these years. I’m also considering a possible position at Thomas Aquinas College.
Regardless of where I end up (most likely HBU), I take fifteen years of a great adventure with me. I carry my Torrey ring with me to remind me to keep my dear colleagues here in prayer, as they take this great institution forward.
I will certainly miss my colleagues, with whom I have cultivated a dear and close friendship.
So, my dear Bagginses and Boffins, Tooks and Brandybucks, Spearses and Sanderses, Jenson and Schubert, Vincents and Campbells, Hendersons and Aijians, and all of you merry band of learned and winsome colleagues and students, today I take my leave of you, and go on another quest, and it is a good thing, as painful as it is to leave you.Working with you has been a most gratifying experience. I have learned much from you all, and I hope I, in my own small way, have served you well in return. My Torrey ring will bring you all to mind, and remind me to keep you in mt prayers as you engage in this great task of taking Torrey to new and greater heights of intellectual and spiritual endeavor. I hope you all keep this old soldier in your prayers…
because this old soldier is now ready for a new adventure!