The sophomore year at OBU is the year of Western Civ. This is one of humanity's greatest accomplishments (typical, charming, Scott hyperbole employed for literary effect). Western Civ is two six hour courses team-taught by an English and a history prof. In the fall you move from the fall of Rome (the ancient world was covered in the spring semester of Freshman Comp) to the dawning of the modern world. Semester two is Enlightenment on. You study history and read the great works of Western literature in combination; it is fantastic.
In the fall I had the wonderful pairing of Crouch-Farthing. Jim Farthing was one of the creators of Western Civ (along with Bill Mitchell, who was the only person to consistently call me by my first name). My favourite Farthing lecture was on the medieval development of the doctrine of penance. While lecturing on penance, he walked over to Ann Miller and asked to borrow her pencil. She handed it to him. He then took it and soon broke it. He then walked back over to Ann and said, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" She said "yes," and he handed her back the broken pencil. Then after another minute or so he asked what was inadequate in the understanding of forgiveness he had just displayed with Ann? The answer, of course, is that no reparation was made for her loss. He ended up giving Ann a dollar. So, now we all understood the reason for the doctrine of penance, previously an alien idea to us baptists.
That semester I also took Ancient and Medieval Christianity with Slayden Yarbrough. I was very fascinated learning church history, very little of which I had known before. Having these two classes at the same time broadened my understanding of and deepened my appreciation for medieval Christianity and Roman Catholicism in particular.
That December I travelled to Israel and Rome with a group from OBU. Our tour leaders were Dr. Yarbrough and Rick Byargeon (see My Freshman Year); I roomed with Dr. Byargeon. "James," by the way, was on that trip as well. It was a great group. Not only did it include college students, but there was a significant contingent of senior adults from Oklahoma churches travelling with us. They added a lot of fun to the trip.
When we arrived in Israel late at night in late December we were all so enthusiastic. That first night the simplest ruin got us all excited. We were in the land of the Bible! Over the days you remain excited, but you also begin to settle more into the deep rich spiritual experience that you are having.
The second day I stood on Mt. Carmel. Mt. Carmel! Here Elijah had battled the priests of Baal. Here YHWH had sent fire down upon the altar, proving to the people of Israel who was God. I was overwhelmed. But then I realized that the trip was only beginning and that I was soon to walk where Jesus walked.
There is something amazing about doing your morning Bible reading sitting on the beach of the Sea of Galilee.
Or bowing to say the Lord's Prayer in the Chapel of the Beatitudes.
Or walking down the hill on which the multitudes sat listening to Jesus teach, arriving at the Chapel of the Multiplication and celebrating communion at the spot where 5,000 were fed.
Or re-enacting your baptism in the Jordan River.
Or looking at the sycamore in Jericho.
Or walking up the Jericho Road toward Jerusalem.
Or standing on the Mt. of Olives looking out over the city of Jerusalem.
Or walking through the streets of Jerusalem, praying at the Western Wall, seeing the inside of the Dome of the Rock, praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" at the Pool of Bethesda, etc., etc., etc.
We ended our two week tour in Rome. Rome is my favourite city in the world. I can't even describe its beauty.
We were there over a Sunday morning. Three of us took the bus to St. Peter's. We got off a block ahead and made the walk up the street to the piazza. It was a cool, clear, lovely morning. We entered the basilica with hundreds of others. The room was alight. The paintings, mosaics, sculptures, etc. were radiant. It was the most beautiful room I had ever entered and to think that heaven will be even more beautiful leaves one overwhelmed. Pope John Paul II was celebrating a baptismal mass, baptizing about fifty beautiful Italian infants. Then I received communion here at the historic seat of the church. Yes, I know it was a violation of Roman Catholic teaching for me to take communion (and I'm usually more sensitive to those things), but this was St. Peter's.
As I swallowed the host, I opened my eyes and looked up. Here was a room full of people from around the world. Here was the Church universal, the Body of Christ. Here was St. Peter's, commemorating the Rock upon whom Christ would build his church. I was also seeing the massive rock at Caesarea Philippi the place where Jesus changed Peter's name, a place I had been standing only a week before. When we walked back out to the piazza I looked up and there on the facade and along the colonnades that surrounded us (almost embracing us) were the statues of Christ, the apostles, and saints of the Church. We were surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses.
And in that moment I felt fully connected to all that had gone before.