geezeronthequad: Hangin’ With the Yalees – Paul Fry
“Time is important to me…” So says George C. Scott’s “Ebenezer Scrooge” at the end of a fine film staging of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. William Shakespeare echoes the same from “Richard II” with his line, “I wasted time and now doth time waste me”. Paul Fry takes this seriously and not just because he’s taught British Romantic poetry at Yale for over forty years or served as the master of Ezra Stiles College. His life and manner carry of an intense but measured focus. those forty plus years have been thoughtfully, intentionally spent. Many moons ago, Paul Fry stood at one of those crossroads moments that all college students bang into. What am I going to do with the rest of my life? While he probably wouldn’t couch this in the language of calling, he’s definitely thought about it.
Paul didn’t have to struggle with one aspect of vocation that many Christian students run into – parental expectations. he first thought about art and apparently had good artistic talent. Many artistic or creative students have parents who think that art isn’t much of a viable career path. Paul’s Dad was an artist who would’ve supported his pursuit of art. Especially true for students who awaken to Jesus Christ during their university years, some parents have predetermined career expectations based on family traditions or the baseline hope for their children of financial stability/security. “We didn’t spend that money and incur all that debt for you to go to Guatemala for two years to figure things out..” By spring break of my senior year, I knew I wanted to do something for Jesus Christ but was clueless beyond that. I answered the phone one day to hear a strange voice offer me a job on the spot as a reading clinician for a school district in western PA. A prof wanted to do me a favor and put my name in. The job was mine; all I had to say was “yes” and they’d sent me all the paperwork (like a job application). I thanked him and turned him down saying I had other plans. An hour later my father got home and I told him about the job I’d been offered. He said, “That’s great! This thing of you and Jesus Christ really pays off!” I told him I turned it down and a discussion ensued quite a bit higher than room temperature.
While Paul Fry embraced grad work in literature partially to avoid the draft into the Vietnam War, he reached past doing something he was good at (and probably enjoyed) to embrace something deeper that pulled at Him. He speaks the language of calling. “I went to graduate school because I felt I had a deeper vocation for the study of literature than for painting…Today, I could only advise students to follow their deepest vocation.” Much of Christian living today has difficulty scaling the mile high walls of the American navel. Barbara Brown Taylor once commented that finding and doing God’s will for many often wound up being what they would’ve wanted anyway if they had no faith at all. We can do better than this and must. This Christian life Jesus introduces into has a rudder; it’s going somewhere. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) “…for it is God Who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” (Phil 2:13) Time makes up the stuff and substance of our lives. To waste it means to waste a life. This thing of God’s calling, that deeper pull of something Paul Fry knew even outside a Christian frame of reference, stands as worthy of our full attention during the college years. Here are some of the best of the best of the best at getting started. Check out Os Guinness, Steven Garber, Derek Melleby and John Ortberg. Call Byron Borger at Hearts and Minds Books, mention you saw it here and he’ll give you 20% off.
Being a literary guy both at heart and in degree, Dr. Fry also speaks a timely word into the growing secularism of the stripe that restricts all-knowing to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines. “…literature expresses more eloquently and subtly emotions and feelings that we all try to express one way or another.” Musicians, philosophers, theologians and others would jump onto the pile with him to not restrict our ways of genuine knowing. As Blaise Pascal said,”The heart has reasons that the mind cannot know…”
Before we say goodbye to Paul Fry, take a last look at his picture. Doesn’t he look like someone comfortable in his own skin? Wouldn’t we like to just have an hour sitting with this guy letting our thoughts run wherever? Contentedness is always attractive. And it’s so elusive. If we just could be like…if we just could have a little more… if we could just accomplish…if we could just buy… Paul (the apostle, not the professor) said,”…I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content.” (Phil 4:11) I am sure Dr. Fry would be quick to say that not everything in his life has gone his way. Who could? But getting the right things right, teaching the right thing to the right people in the right place at the right time smooths out many wrinkles over the years and puts them in the right place on our faces. Calling does that.
A few cool things for all of us. Stephen Mackereth is a young Christian at Harvard and he is beginning a new column in the Harvard Crimson (Harvard’s real student newspaper) called Unapologetic addressing issues in light of Christian truth. What an opportunity and spiritual responsibility. Take a look, pray for him and make comments where you can. Also check out the British Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Good stuff. Sometimes escaping our North American context gives us some needed perspective. Faraday staffer Ruth Bancewicz has just penned God in the Lab, a fascinating look at science and faith from the inside. Meet Lizzie Burns, an Oxford doctorate in biochemistry, who takes her research into jewelry design, not as a fad or hobby but as serious creative work.
If you think anything here would encourage a student or someone who loves them, than share, subscribe, tweet and all that other social media stuff. If you already subscribe, then the next logical rung on your bucket list would be to join Geezer 1, the Facebook clubhouse for geezeronthequad.com. Take a look. We’re a mix of students, student ministry leaders, professors, administrators, artists, writers, musicians, composer, booksellers, broadcasters, business people, pastors, theologians, cultural thinkers and entrepreneurs as well as a few campus rats, rag pickers and a goth who think that Jesus Christ thinks that the university is a special place. Shoot us a request. This is a sharp group and you will make us better.
Please return your seat to the upright position and hand your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you leave. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com