Wheaton College, a 30 minute train ride from downtown Chicago,
was a whole different world.   Brilliant, talented peers amazed me
(and humbled me) with their already-honed gifts and abilities.  
Professors stimulated my thinking and catapulted my  analytical
skills far beyond what I'd ever been challenged to do before.

I worked several years in Christian coffee houses in Chicago and
the western suburbs, sitting at cable spool tables with nonbelievers
and seekers and beatniks and left-moving intellectually-oriented
Christians,  drinking coffee and Russian tea and dialoguing for
hours about social values and music and the arts and politics and
Christianity.

After my sophomore year of college I was able to go to Medellin,
Colombia for a year, where a Canadian CMA missionary,
Arnold Cook,  and a Brethren university professor, Paul Goring,
had rented a little shop as a meeting place for university students
from the nearby Universidad d'Antioquia.
Gene's Story
Monet's series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral, each one reflecting a different
time in the day   with light falling on the surface from different angles,    
heightens awareness of the differences  that
 time  makes on impressions.
go to page 2
At age 27 it was as if a veil dropped off my face and I could perceive what a wreck I was making
of my own life--and that of others.      Holed up in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains, reading C.S. Lewis, and spending days at a time
just thinking  . . .  my Taoist illusions of moral neutrality dissolved.    There really
are, I recognized incontrovertibly,   good . . . and evil.
  And they are personal.

It was a shock - I'd always thought of myself as sort of a wandering do-gooder,
 a person who,  though not committed to any one group of people
or any one place
 or any one set of responsibilities,  nevertheless was a "helper" to anyone with whom I came in contact.    It was devastating
to recognize that at heart I was,  instead :  an incorrigible sinner . . . like everyone else.
He led me to Nyack, New York where my uncle Maurice Irvin pastored a church full of the leaders of the very church
denomination in which I'd been raised.   Over 6 months Uncle Maurice and that church body gently discipled me back into the
Kingdom of God.
I took an intensive Biblical Greek course at the seminary, did extremely well in it, and was encouraged to think maybe the Lord
had given me my mind back.
I remembered what I had heard as a child, a youth, that Jesus Christ died in my place   precisely  because we are incapable of either
saving ourselves  or of doing real good  -  and I humbly repented of my independence  and began to follow God.
Sometimes Jesus just  reveals himself,   and our blindness is suddenly stripped away,  
like in Caravaggio's painting of the disciples' experience at Emmaus'
My second year in the Masters program, the chairman of Wheaton College Bible Department, Morris Inch (in photo at right below)
asked me to be his Teaching Assistant.    He gave me all kinds of opportunities to teach in the classroom at Wheaton College,
grade exams  and papers,   and even help edit his continuous output of theological books he was writing.

It was a life-changing, career-affirming year in my life.

This, I now knew, was what I was supposed to do with my life.
"Uncle Mac" Sawyer and Aunt Helen (above left),
and "Uncle Maurice" Irvin (above right),
as missionaries, pastors, and educators,
influenced me throughout a lifetime,
but particularly as I moved in those directions
myself as an adult
In the fall of 1976,  I went back to Wheaton College, applied to finish my Bachelor's degree
in Literature,   was admitted, and went straight on through a Masters program in Theology
at Wheaton as well,   learning from Merrill Tenney, Clyde Kilby, David Mains, Walter Elwell,
Hassel Bullock, & other great teachers   not only the content they had mastered but
something about teaching itself.
.
I found a room with a bunch of Colombian university students,  
quickly learned Spanish, and basically immersed myself in
Colombian culture.   I only spoke English a few minutes a week.
It was a wonderful, life-changing, formative experience.
The next 5 years were spent wandering around America with a backpack ,   trying to figure out what life is about,   "interviewing"       
people I met  and drawing them into what many remarked were the most profound--if not the weirdest--conversations they'd ever had.
Yet, most of my biblical and theological education had been pretty  ad hoc and fragmented so far.  I knew if I was going to be an educator
in and for Christ's church,  I needed a more solid, methodical, seminary education that would prepare me better for equipping the next generation
to carry on the torch passed to us  by generations of leaders since the earliest church.

So , when Princeton Theological Seminary not only invited me to come study, but also promised to provide my support throughout either a Ph.D.
program or a three year Master of Divinity program, I put it before the Lord. Was this the next step?  It made perfect sense.
To my delight, I felt very sure that he was indeed calling me to go  and study there for three years.    So I did.
When I asked Merrill Tenney to have our picture taken together,
he snorted in typical dry droll Tenney humor :
"So you think I'll become famous
 by having my picture taken with you?"
In the  late 1970s and early 1980s, the Midwest District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance planted a lot of new churches in the Chicago suburbs.
As a single man, full of energy and idealism, I helped get three of them up on their feet and running, while I was at Wheaton Grad School.
My favorite, & the dearest to my heart, was
the Wheaton Chinese Alliance Church, an
extraordinary multi-cultural experiment in seeing
if Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Americans,
Australians, Vietnamese--and even a couple
red-haired Irish, and some Africans!--could be the
Body of Christ together in DuPage County, Illinois.

Because the Holy Spirit is who he is, and because
the founding pastor, David Wong, and his
hard-working wife Nancy (top row, far right)
were committed  to spending every waking hour
with prospective church members or inquirers or
us graduate students from Wheaton who were
attracted to this warm community, it blossomed
and bloomed and became a great center for
transplanted immigrants, and others of us
"marginal" or "mixed" people.

David and Nancy were a great model for what a
true pastor is and how he operates.  I thank God
for their investment in my life at that point, even
while they had their own bigger project to do.
Upon my return to Wheaton College after a year and half away,
I had become far too restless to do much good.

I also found my mind had become impatient of the cartesian
analysis typical of academia, and I wanted to just experience life
more directly.   I was gradually  becoming, though I didn't know
it at the time, the quintessential Kierkegaardian
aesthete.
Noting that most of the adults I knew  in the quiet towns my dad
served as a pastor lived relatively uneventful lives of routine
and repetition,  I thirsted for a more colorful and exciting life.
There were a lot of programs on TV in those days in which the
main characters kept "moving on" (Route 66, The Fugitive, I
Spy, Bronson, Maverick . . . )

I daydreamed about adulthood:   traveling and picking up and
moving on, seeing new sights and meeting new people,
Only two people in my high school graduating class went "out of state"(outside West Virginia) to college. I was one of them.
Yippy Yi Yo Kai Yay
After completing my junior year at Wheaton, I withdrew and, like many of my generation,   hitchhiked to San Francisco.
We tripped on the Jefferson Airplane
(Click it)
Growing up in a Christian & Missionary
Alliance preacher's home meant,
among other things, working hard to
help make ends meet - paper routes,
shoveling snow  around the
neighborhood in winter, mowing grass
in summer, bucking hay bales, digging
gardens . . .
Many missionaries sat at our table through the years and told
adventurous stories about far away places.   In addition to the
frequent appeals and "calls" I heard issued in church and camp
and conference settings for young people to "go to the ends of the
earth" with the gospel, the idea naturally suited my growing itch
to see other places and live with other peoples.
Class of '67
(Pretty serious-looking
for a 17 year old , no ?
Waylon Jennings: "Ramblin' Man"
(click to hear it)
The first couple years of my life
were in rural Oklahoma. The sounds
I heard there, among Blackfoot and
Cherokee  "on the Rez"  and Okies
my Dad served as pastor, have
apparently remained in my own
speech patterns right to the present.
. . . working with my hands, in the dirt, was a pleasure, not an
onerous duty. Always has been, ever since.
And their offshoot:  Hot Tuna       (Click this too)
Has there ever been a thundering bass
like Jack Cassady,

who anchored both groups?
I'd stop and work for a few days,
or as long as a few months,
at some simple labor job :
make enough money to hold me,
and then I'd hit the road again.
Searching,  exploring,  asking questions,  
reading,  reflecting . . .


I got so used to falling asleep
on the ground, looking up at the stars,
with cool fresh air caressing my face,
that when I moved "indoors" at age 27 I could not sleep in a bed.
  Had to sleep on a nice hard floor.
Allman Brothers Concert?
Takin' life  easy