The Bryan Institute for Critical Thought and Practice at Bryan College hosted a symposium last weekend (Friday and Saturday) entitled Christianity & Psychology: Five Views. My friend Eric sent me an email two or three weeks previously informing me of the event, and said he might be attending. I’d been invited to a wedding at Santiago, Chile, but hadn’t notice necessary to obtain a passport and secure transportation in time to infest briefly that South American capitol. I thought it looked interesting and since the event was free and open to the public, I decided to attend. I checked with a couple of other friends who reside in or near Stepford, Tennessee, and one of them said he’d like to go to the event, as well. As it happened, neither Eric nor Doros were able to make the trip.
A Late Start
Having nothing scheduled at the office that day, I took leave on Friday 19 March. My plan had been to get an early start so that I could make Eric Johnson’s opening session at 11:00 am. But Friday morning rolled around, and it was the first sunny day in several weeks that I was home and my son, Seventy-Six, was awake and asking to play outside. In addition to that, I’d stayed up late the night before and slept late that morning. Seventy-Six, just two this past month, and I looked at flowers growing in the yard and I don’t remember what else. I have no idea what that flower is, but it smelled heavenly. A few days after I first posted this paragraph, a Facebook reader commented there that the flower is a hyacinth, and that the flower does indeed smell heavenly.
I got out the door after my wife, Caution-Lady (named as you would expect for her superpower) and Seventy-Six left to go to a public library story-time. I packed an overnight thinking I would have time for fitness activities in the afternoon. I got about six or seven miles when I became aware of the fact that I’d left my laptop computer’s power adapter plugged in at the house. so I turned the car around and drove back to the house.
A Fatal Wreck
I don’t know, I think it may have been about 10:20 of the clock when I got back on the road to Dayton. I took Interstate 24 East toward Chattanooga, congratulating myself on getting around all of the slow drivers peddling their cars up and riding their brakes down Monteagle when, about half a mile shy of Exit 161 traffic inexplicably stopped. The car in front of me swerved side to side in an attempt to slow its forward progress. I had better success with my decade-older Volvo’s brakes.
For what seemed like two, two-and-a-half hours traffic was almost completely stopped. I ate a snack, read a book, got out and stretched, telephoned and left a message for Caution-Lady letting her know I’d be late getting to my destination. I talked with other stalled motorists likewise out of their cars. A helicopter appeared and, I would guess, carried off seriously injured survivors of the wreck. The consensus was that a fatal wreck had occurred at Mile Marker 159. From where I spent way too long parked, I could see people walking their dogs in the wide, grassy median. One family even got the kids out to play there.
Just to my left at that point was Big Daddy’s Fireworks, which also appears to operate as a British Petroleum gas station. On the ground, outside my car window (for about five minutes until traffic moved enough I was able to idle past it) was a not-very-long dead cat. Mercifully, it had not yet begun to stink. I thought about stuff like why my life has consistently been spared through all manner of vehicular mishaps and wrecks. Wondered whether what my friend Doros would call the accident of Providence that sent me back to the house for the computer’s power-adapter had spared me yet again.
On this day I did not become confused about the time change from Central to Eastern wherein I lost an hour. The clock in the 850’s dash informed me that I’d arrived Dayton about 3:00 pm Central time. Meant it was 4:00 pm Eastern. Highway 27 North become Rhea (pronounced Ray) County Highway as you approach Dayton from the south, but I didn’t know it as I drove in to Dayton. I veered left when the road forked instead of right, thus deviating from the Mapquest sanctioned route I’d printed up that morning before leaving the house. Waiting for a traffic light to change, I noticed an Indiana license plate on the power utility truck stopped just in front of my car. I snapped a picture – here it is:
Pretty interesting, huh? Another of life’s oddities which collectively comprise the reason I usually carry a camera. That and my Mr. Monk-like need to document or at least think about everything that intersects with my awareness. I even thought about which direction the arrow should point deciding finally that it should point from the original plate in the photograph to the cut and pasted enlargement with which I conveniently covered a portion of the not-very-informational and annoyingly reflective metal pull-down storage-box door.
Rhea County Courthouse
By this time I’d figured out I was not on Rhea County Highway (which is where my hotel was located). The county courthouse came in to view on my left – an interesting large brick building with a steepled tower on one corner reminiscent of a large First Methodist Church building. Because I have for years wanted to visit the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial as both a religious tourist and one who has, in the past, regularly performed the Monkey Dance (about as dancelike, really, as Mata Hari’s rhythmic movements were in any wise sacred), I found a place to park on the square and got out to take a look.
The Rhea County Heritage Museum is located in the courthouse basement. Entry is free, and I found no staff member anywhere in attendance therein. I walked through and looked at the many displays. The clocktower’s mechanism in the back of the museum along with pieces of early medical machinery. Nearby was a case with dental instruments and photographs of dentists and dental technicians. Of course, I took special note of all that because my father-in-law is a dental surgeon. I saw a number of displays devoted to someone named Curly Fox who apparently played guitar and violin. But I didn’t spend much time in the basement.
I found an interior staircase and took it up to the first floor landing where, I think it was there, a placard directed me to the second floor for the Scopes Monkey Trial courtroom. This is what I was looking forward to seeing at Dayton. I snapped a number of photos of the courthouse exterior, the museum (including the dentistry exhibit for my father-in-law), and the famous courtroom. Also a photo of some mascots in the court clerk’s office. The ladies there gave me directions how to get back to the main highway and to my hotel. If I hadn’t lost so much time in traffic earlier, I probably would have spent more time reading the exhibit material in the basement.
I drove out to my hotel, which will remain nameless in exchange for the deep discount I received upfront and then again after making a complaint about the, er, cleanliness of the plastic tray upon which the management had placed my room’s coffee maker. To the good, however, the refrigerator and microwave ovens appeared very clean, and the bathroom seemed tolerably clean. Heaven knows, I have slept in much worse places. Also, the wireless broadband signal was strong. After getting stuff out of the car and arranged in the room, I ventured out again.
I thought it would be a good idea to get some healthy snacks (because I knew I’d be eating some restaurant food), so I bought grapes, a banana, some yogurt at a nearby supermarket. Later, I washed the 850 at a coin-op in the same shopping center – I hadn’t washed the car since late Fall, and I would have been embarrassed to motor up to the symposium in a filthy Volvo. I drove out to find the college using directions the supermarket cashier had given me. Turned left at the boat ramp, and then drove to the top of the hill. Rudd Hall, according to one of the students walking about up there, was that first building, the one I thought was probably the campus chapel.
Friday Late Afternoon
I drove back down the hill and had a look at the boat dock. When I asked the guy in the bait store there at the top of the boat ramp whether the low water level represented the normal winter pool, he looked at me like, “Huh?” When I asked him whether the water level was normal for this time of year, he said that it was. The body of water there, he informed me upon query, is Watts Bar. I have noticed in times past that the flatwater in the Soddy Daisy area looks interesting – run-down marinas and the detritus of environmentally apathetic human development – to paraphrase Dave Kruger’s classic words, human places, but wild. The flatwater shoreline in Dayton looked less run down, but also like it might be interesting as a couple of shallow creeks – Richland Creek and Little Richland Creek – flowed into the lake near the boat dock. I’m guessing the creeks are deep enough in the Spring and Summer months to paddle up into the old part of Dayton a bit.
After leaving the boat ramp, I found a small Vietnamese restaurant, unprepossessing in appearance, and ordered spring rolls and a vegetable stir. The spring rolls were excellent. It would almost be worth a trip to Dayton to sample them, but since I was there anyway, they were a providential bonus.
The evening session of the symposium was scheduled for 7:00, and I arrived in good time for it, parking in the lot between Rudd Hall and the school’s cafeteria. I entered the building from the side-door closest the parking lot, bypassing the knot of attendees milling about the book sales tables in the lobby area. The lecture hall was not crowded, I would say no more than half full.
Brown’s area of research expertise is agenesis of the corpus callosum, and the gist of what he had to say related to the manner in which the human being is the human body. Brown also presented Brown’s Model for discerning truth using information obtained from five authorities which he illustrated on a PowerPoint slide as a ring of five radios transmitting frequencies represented by curved lines converging toward the ring’s center. Brown said he’d derived the model from John Wesley’s four-sided model consisting of Tradition, Scripture, Theology, and Experience. You will have to email Dr. Brown if you wish to know the names of his five authorities because I feel certain I have misremembered one or two of them.
As Brown talked about his model for discerning truth in regard to a given question, I thought that the ring’s center should or would, in his metaphor, become populated by an approximation or sort of holographic mosaic of “Truth.” But as Brown talked, he said that when he first conceived the model, he thought he was in the center, receiving information from each of the authorities, giving greater weight to one or the other depending on the nature of the question asked. With good tuning or frequency modulation, some level of agreement can be found among all of the authorities. Sort of an Hegelian thing with truth becoming manifest in the mind of Brown. He said that over time he has been coming to believe that our culture has to an extent “over privileged the individual” and “under privileged the group” which is society and which is what he thinks really populates the model’s center. So in Brown’s model, there is actually an uber-authority and that is the one who tunes the radios – the individual or the group.
During the question and answer period after the lecture I asked Dr. Brown whether during the application of his model he has found some questions or areas of discussion in regard to questions where no agreement can be found, and does he use that information to create a fuller picture of the object questioned. My point, which I probably didn’t articulate at all well was that even when we cannot find definitive answers or even useful approximations of truth in regard to a question, we can still use that information to map the limits of the knowable, as well as to map the damage wrought by the introduction into the world of what the Christian calls sin. That wasn’t really the use Brown had in mind for the model, and he emphasized that it is usually possible to find areas of agreement among the authorities.
Dr. Brown’s engaging presentation got me thinking again about the assumption many Christian intellectuals and academics make about communication, which is this: Clear communication and clear reception of communication is possible regardless of whether the parties to the communication share a common language. From a biblical worldview perspective, what this fails to take into account is the post-deluvian confusion of language at Babel. And although I recognize that this particular bonneted bee may be insignificant, it is a question to which I return again and again.
Note: On 4/21/10, I finally got around to listening to the podcast of the final session, a panel discussion, and it was at this time that the matter of the ability of human beings to communicate clearly (or not) with one another was addressed.
Saturday was the day I became confused about time at Dayton. Normally, I rely on my cellular telephone’s connection with The Great Wireless Clock somewhere in the air, or upon the computer’s link to The Great Internet Clock, or local FM radio as authorities reporting current time, but somehow I became convinced that my phone and computer were reporting time at Dayton as Central Standard, when in fact I was operating in the Eastern Time Zone. When I conked out Friday night in my hotel room I mentally did so on Central Time, but when I awakened set about breakfasting, packing, and getting ready to check out and head back to the college, I unknowingly did so on Eastern Time. So it was that when I arrived at Bryan College thinking I was about 40 minutes early for the 9:00 am lecture, I was surprised to find the parking lot already full, and took a spot in the student-only parking lot behind Rudd Hall. Entering the building from the rear, I made my way up flights of stairs to the main floor and looking in a side door observed and heard Stanton Jones speaking from the podium. It was then that I realized my mistake. Simple time travel confuses me, and I think it is a function of some maths specific learning disability. I continued climbing stairs until I got to the gallery and there took a seat.
Because I got to the lecture hall as late as I did, missing the introductory remarks and the beginning of substantive remarks, and because I didn’t take notes, I don’t remember as much about Jones’ presentation as I do about Brown’s (although I didn’t take notes during Brown’s talk, either; possibly his subject matter interested me more). With the exception of Eric Johnson, whose name was vaguely familiar to me, I’d never heard of any of the Five Views speakers, so had no idea what to expect from Jones. Apparently his area of expertise is homosexuality and the scientific research pertaining to its origins or causation in the person. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jones remarks were not in the least bigoted, and equally surprised that he had no particular axe to grind regarding the possible contribution of genetics to causation. Jones engagingly debunked a study of twins purporting to prove genetic causation. What I appreciated most about Jones, and really about all the event’s presenters, was the acknowledgment of complexity and rejection of easy explanations or the idea of a definitive answer.
The second speaker Saturday morning was Paul Watson, a professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. He made a remark about feeling diffident because he was, if I remember this correctly, the “second author” of the chapter to which he’d contributed. He went on to present a detailed teaching lecture that he admitted he had prepared specifically for the event, as opposed to having derived from his own work on the subject matter covered (and I cannot recall now what that was). Because I did not find the presentation sufficiently vibrant to engage my attention, I fired up the laptop and spent the bulk of Watson’s talk writing about the Powhatan.
It was only during the question and answer period after his talk, when Watson seemed to feel more free to discuss his own thoughts and ideas, that he made what I thought were significant contributions. He spoke about the need for Christian intellectuals to engage the wider world of scientific and academic thought and to avoid acting and thinking in ways that result in the creation of a Christian intellectual ghetto. He spoke about his Quaker convictions and alluded to that bit in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel wherein Jesus likened his ekklesia unto a “city set on a hillside” that cannot be hidden in darkness (due to the light therefrom) or in daylight (due to its position) advocating for intellectual and scientific collaboration among Christians of the several denominations.
Note: I finally got around to listening to the podcast, and Watson made some contributions during the final session – panel discussion – with which I did not much agree. His statements regarding disagreement and “blood” struck me as somewhat overheated, but I was pleased to note that he seemed to feel a little bit freer to speak from his own perspective.
Lunch at Bryan
I ate lunch on campus – Bryan College puts on a pretty good Saturday buffet lunch for $4.90. I spoke to a young man I’d seen and recognized from the gallery earlier in the day. Turns out I knew him from the seminary we both attended. He stayed on and earned a doctorate, currently teaches at Bryan. Although we were not friends at seminary, it was good visiting over lunch. At lunch I met another fellow who has sailed recreationally, and we discussed the Tennessee job market, sailing, and a project he is considering that involves making a dugout canoe. After lunch I returned to Rudd Hall and bought a copy of a book Warren Brown coauthored, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? The book table cost was a substantial discount over the Amazon price.
By the time I’d left Rudd Hall for lunch, I’d finally noticed the paper sign taped to the door leading to the gallery stairs informing anyone with the sense to look that balcony seats were off-limits for the symposium. I am grateful to the staff at Bryan for their courtesy in the matter of my initially inadvertent boundary-crashing. I found a seat on the main floor’s center section back row for John Coe’s presentation.
Coe, who in person bears a slight but noticeable resemblance to comedian Chevy Chase, informed the audience that he has never mastered the art of the PowerPoint presentation, and that he had, instead, printed copies of his paper for distribution. He then proceeded to read aloud from Transformational Psychology: Deconstructing Modern Science and Rediscovering the Person, which he’d co-authored with Todd Hall.
Coe, as I recall it, took issue the truncated science that acknowledges only what is publically observable, clinically reproducible, and symbolically quantifiable. Proposing a return to the roots of science as practiced during the millennia prior to the advent of Rationalism, Coe asked why anyone should believe that empirical reason is the only or even the best means of knowing.
Certainly I agree with Coe when he points out that what is billed as science today fails to account for much that is known and can be known. On the other hand, that may be a good thing, as knowledge is so often twisted to suit political ends or simply to work harm against others to no remotely justifiable or good end. Before the agnostic reader dismisses Coe as a sort of religious quack who suggest we return to the casting of lots or the reading of entrails or the observation of the manner in which ceremonial chickens peck corn, or worse, drink river water, I recommend obtaining a copy of Dr. Coe’s paper or attempting to correspond with him. Doubtless I have not from memory done his ideas justice here, and a critique of his paper is beyond the scope of this blog.
Powlison’s was the last solo presentation of the day. From the remarks of the bearded Bryan College faculty guy whose name I never did manage to remember (I thought he was probably Leo Buscaglia, but it turns out I was mistaken as you will find if you click on the link above), I gathered that Powlison had been seriously ill recently, and a Google search for the terms “David Powlison” and illness returned this link to the man’s comments on something written by John Piper evidently entitled Don’t Waste Your Cancer. The page linked supra, informs the reader that Powlison was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. Although I despise the unreadable prose of John Piper, I find Powlison’s remarks on Piper’s material worth reading.
David Powlison, like John Coe, spoke without a PowerPoint. He said his concern was the manner in which the theorizing of academics, scientists, practitioners are worked out “downstream” from Watson’s “city on the hill.” Powlison spoke like a man who “gets” the fact that most of humanity lives in conditions that are far from idyllic, who experience little of the “common grace” (which is the theologically flawed term he used to describe the good will and bonhomie that more often prevails “upstream”) known to those with advanced academic degrees working in the realms of theory and research.
None of the kids in the hall took notes on anything other than their laptop computers. A fair number of them were surfing Facebook or checking email, as well.I think it was as Powlison spoke that I snapped a flashless picture of coeds using laptops during the session. Interesting to note about a quarter of the laptops I saw in use were Apple products. All of the pictures I took over the weekend were made without flash. Thought it would conserve battery power, and would be far less disruptive in the environment. The Pentax Optio WR33 produces blurry indoor images when the flash isn’t used. Dunno why. Doubtless the solution is an easy Internet find, but I’m not interested enough to look into it.
Faced with the long drive from Dayton to Stepford and no direct connecting route, I debated internally remaining for the panel discussion or heading home to my wife and son. About five seconds into the prayer led at first by Eric Johnson (pictured above), but couldn’t get out of my seat until the silent praying that followed was done. Anyway, I’d enjoyed good conversation with the fellow seated next to me during the Coe and Powlison presentations, and wanted to say goodbye. We’d already exchanged contact information. So I took off as unobtrusively as possible. Got in the car and drove off. It was on my way off campus that I snapped the picture of Rudd Hall that appears about mid-post.
Because I providentially missed growing up immersed in the small “c”hristian subculture that, to use Justo Gonzalez’ phrase, passes for church in North America, I never know what to expect when encountering groups of my coreligionists. I recall once attending a Voice of the Martyrs “conference” hosted by a large Franklin, Tennessee, Presbyterian congregation that devolved into a sentimental pseudo worship-service, when what I’d hoped for was serious discussion of Christian persecution worldwide. So I was very pleased that the Bryan Institute foisted nothing of the sort upon those in attendance at the Five Views symposium. Left me with a better impression of my conservative Christian intellectual brethren than I’d supposed possible.
Podcasts can be downloaded here