If there is one quote that sums up much of my life away from Christ, it is that from Walker Percy's The Second Coming: 'He got all A's and flunked ordinary living.'
That quote encapsulates much of what I was like as an undergraduate at Davidson College, now many years ago. I was a great student ' finished 8th in my class with a chemistry degree, with many As and yet impoverished as a human being. I cringe now when I think back to those days and what I was like. Put bluntly, I was out of control in terms of a fraternity drinker; a liar whenever it suited my purposes; a manipulator; and, a user of people around me. But I did get many As.
It wasn't that I did not have a Christian background. I had gone to church regularly while growing up in Western New York, and continued going to church after arriving at Davidson. But it was a shallow, all-for-me Christianity, driven by one thing ' a need to be successful, particularly in the classroom. I was as self-centered as one could be. And despite it all, God was good to me, as I met my wife now of 37 years, Kaye, while at Davidson.
As young people, you need a strong faith to weather the storms that will inevitably hit you after you leave the safe and controlled life of college. I did not have that faith back then. Satan especially wants to destroy young people, before they have a chance to get on with their lives; their talents are then diminished, and their potential gifts to the world are taken away. Look what has just happened to Michael Vick, as an extraordinary example. Without the full armor of God, and particularly the shield of faith, you, as a young person, are particularly vulnerable to attack and destruction.
For me, that attack was the Vietnam War. And while I do not want to get into the details, it nearly destroyed me. I live with those days of fear and anguish to this very day. Yet I was rescued by God, although I did not deserve His grace. In the aftermath, I ended up working in New Orleans, and that is where a genuine relationship with Christ developed, thanks to a great group of young people and the congregation of Canal Street Presbyterian Church. It was there I learned about the love of God, and the primacy of the Bible. It was at Canal Street that Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians came a part of my thoughts and my life.
My time in New Orleans will always be special to me. After a time I realized that I need to complete my education and so in 1978 I enrolled at Johns Hopkins University in the History of Science program, and I was awarded a PHD degree in 1983. While at Hopkins I taught several Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship small group bible studies, and that was as rewarding as my research and writing. After a year and a half of working at what is now the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, I ended up at the University of Dayton, where I am now Professor of History and Alumni Chair in the Humanities.
For me the good life involves maintaining a balance. I consider my work important, but I also make sure to play tennis whenever I can, exercise, and work on my car, an old Porsche 911. Exercise is important, because your body is the temple in which Christ lives. Bodily health is important to living a good life. But without spiritual development, exercise is merely a physical activity that will take you only so far in creating a happiness that is deep and enduring.
My Irish green 1971 Porsche 911T targa is a story unto itself. It was a worn out machine when I brought it home in 1996 on a flat bed trailer. Over the years it has needed so much work that it can only be seen for what it is ' a money pit. Author Stephan Wilkinson has written a book entitled My Gold-Plated Porsche: Or How I Sank a Small Fortune in a Used Car and Other Misadventures, and that pretty much sums up my experience as well. But every time I work on my car I think of God, who dos not give up on us and who restores us, just as I restore that car. It is now in pretty good shape cosmetically and mechanically, and I had it the Centerville, Ohio Americana Festival car show this past 4th of July. I drive it whenever I can; there is nothing like it with its distinctive sound and ride and with the top out on a cool morning or evening.
During the past 25 years or so life has been both challenging and rewarding. I am especially proud of our daughter Lisa, who is now a senior chemistry major at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Building character takes time, but without Christ in your heart and mind, the battle is insurmountable. People matter! No matter how busy you might be, put the needs of the people around you ahead of matters related to career. I still can fall into the trap of getting so busy I forget those around me. Consequently, I have a 11 page c.v., but I still fight a tendency to do work and get As ' As as professors define accomplishments in terms of publications and awards. But God keeps on working with me and deals with my imperfections and sin; every day, with God's help and the Holy Spirit, try to be a better and more caring human being.