Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What Do Jerry Koosman, Carl McIntire, Arnold T. Olson, and Jayber Crow All Have in Common?

I often tell my students that "the past is a foreign country."  But sometimes, when conducting historical research, one can run into familiar faces.  This is happening to me over and over again as I write my history of the American Bible Society.  Over the course of the last year I have encountered several people--some already dead--who have in one way or another intersected with my personal life or my career as a historian.

In order to honor such serendipity, I have decided to do my best to include these people in my book, tentatively entitled "The Bible Cause: A History of American Bible Society."  The three people I am about to mention are very peripheral to the 200-year-old story of the American Bible Society, but they do represent certain trends that are central to the larger themes I am addressing in the book.  My goal is to somehow find a way to bring them into the narrative without disrupting the narrative flow. 

Your job, once the book is complete, is to try to find them (without looking at the index) in what may turn out to be a 400+ page book.   (This has a strange "where's Waldo"-type feel to it)

Here they are:

1. Jerry Koosman:  He was a pitcher for the New York Mets from 1967-1978.  As a diehard fan of the Amazin's, Koosman was one of my favorite Mets (next to Tom Seaver).  When I was a kid I used imitate his pitching wind-up with its unusually straight-legged extension.  In 1977, Koosman was the runner up for the National League Cy Young Award and was a member of the 1969 and 1973 World Series teams.  Here is Koosman striking out Boston's Carl Yastremski (my favorite non-Met) for the last out in the 1968 MLB All-Star game at the Houston Astrodome.


Well, it turns out that Jerry Koosman was a devout Lutheran layman.  In 1969 the American Bible Society presented Koosman with the 17 millionth copy of the Good News for Modern Man New Testament "in recognition of his service to the Bible cause."  Later, he would endorse the Good News Bible (Today's English Version) for the ABS.  

McIntire
2. Carl McIntire;  I wrote my M.A. thesis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on this 20th century fundamentalist and published one of my first articles on him--a 1994 piece in the Journal of Presbyterian History.  About fifteen years ago I got started on a biography of the man--even did some oral history interviews and bought a lot of microfilm.  I hope to come back to this project one day.  McIntire makes several cameo appearances in ABS history--mostly as a fundamentalist gadfly who opposes the ABS support of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and a cold warrior who, much to the dismay of ABS leadership, wants to send Bibles into Cold War Eastern Europe using helium balloons.  

3. Arnold T. Olson:  He was the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America from 1952 to 1976.  When I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the early 1990s it was the official seminary of the Evangelical Free Church. (And it still is).  I learned about Olson in a required course I had to take on Evangelical Free Church history and polity.  He also became a part of my regular vocabulary since the seminary chapel was named after him.  One of the earliest conversations I can remember having with the woman who would eventually become my wife took place in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel.

Much to my surprise, Olson was active in the American Bible Society.  He served on the Board of Managers and several important committees, including the Translations Sub-Committee.  I like to
Arnold T. Olson Chapel
think of his role in the late 1960s and early 1970s as one of the ABS's token evangelicals.

All of this stuff about trying to get characters into my book reminds me of something similar I managed to pull off while putting the finishing touches on my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.   A lot of my discussion of "place" and "rootedness" in that book stemmed from my reading of Wendell Berry's novel Jayber Crow, the story of a barber in Berry's fictional town in Port William.  I still think it is Berry's best work and may be one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read.

When it came to write the Acknowledgements for The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I managed to slip my fictional friend Jayber Crow into a list of people I wanted to thank. Here is the pertinent sentence:

This project has been improved by the formal conference comments, general encouragement, words of inspiration, and informal remarks of several people, including Dee Andrews, Richard D. Brown, Richard Bushman, Jayber Crow, Jay Green, Allen Guelzo, Kevin Gumieny, Marsha Hamilton, Rhys Isaac, David Jaffee, Eric Miller, Mark Noll, Elizabeth Nybakken, Donna Rilling, Mark Schwehn, and Nancy Tomes. 

Either the editors at the University of Pennsylvania Press had no idea that Jayber Crow was a fictional character or they simply indulged me by letting him stay nestled between Richard Bushman and Jay Green.

Look for Koosman, McIntire, and Olson sometime in May 2016!