Sears, Sommerism, and Selection

I have more than one book from my Ritchie grandparents’ library.  One of them is the autobiography of L.C. Sears (later the dean at Harding College).  I inherited this particular book, I think, because the children wanted each grandchild to have at least one book.

My general impressions of “Dean Sears” are scant, but here they are:   1) although in his 90s, he is the one I think I remember walking around the Harding campus while I was a student, 2) I think he was well respected and liked as a gentleman, as a leader, and as a Christian, and 3) #2 must be somewhat true, because a Harding dorm was named after him.  Since I was interested in knowing more about this man who was a major player in Harding’s early and middle years, I read on.

Here is a passage from the early childhood section of the autobiography:

We attended church regularly every Sunday at Odon, but I noticed that wpid-img_20150520_112801_637.jpgmy father and mother were beginning to worry.  There was a lot of talking after church while we children waited impatiently to go home.  I saw some people crying.  I finally learned that some in the church wanted to buy an organ and play it as we sang.  This was the new development which was becoming quite fashionable among the churches.  My father and a number of others, however, protested that the early church never used any musical instruments, and that the apostles urged us only to sing.  In spite of their objections, however, one Sunday the organ was there.  My father and a number of others talked together, and the next Sunday we had a meeting in our home.  Then my father closed the country store and with the help of others turned it into a church building.

– L.C. Sears, What Is Your Life? An Autobiography, p. 15

On the succeeding page, Sears describes, with no detectable emotional charge, the influence of Daniel and Austin Sommer on this new, split-off church in Baille, IN.  Now, some have used the label “Sommerism” to describe divisiveness (in some cases, harsh-spirited rancor) founded on what I take as sincere but overwrought convictions — notably, those scruples related to mechanical instruments, and particularly around 1900.

If I had lived in the time of Sears’s youth, I imagine I would have been in the non-organ faction¹ by birth.  I dearly hope, though, that I would have been less dogmatically exclusive and more irenic than RM non-instrumentalists tend to be.

Having known of places in which I felt the hyper-pejorative label “inbred” was not too strong a descriptor, I found curious these lines from the chapter on the 1940-1955 era:

By “selective” inbreeding, however, we could draw as many teachers as possible from our other Christian colleges and then choose, as we had been doing, from our own graduates those who would add greatest strength to our institution.  They would be as competent as any we could find elsewhere, and because they knew and loved the school they would be more willing to accept the salaries we could offer.  (p. 148)

There is something to be said for a sacrificial mode of operation.  It certainly breeds loyalty, if the town or institution or business survives.  In the midst of the lean times, though, morale can be dismal.  I would speculate that the above-mentioned method of cherry-picking CofCers to be faculty members would be frowned on by 21st-century regulators and accreditors.  That doesn’t mean such inbreeding doesn’t exist today; it only means folks aren’t likely to be as transparent about it as Sears was.

Sears had the rare, unenviable position of being involved in college administration through both the first and second World Wars, not to mention the early operation of the Selective Service.  I was impressed with his even-handed mentions of both a) those who served in the military and b) those who were conscientious objectors on some level.  One conscience-driven man — Ben Randolph, who was Sears’s roommate — was put in jail for a period of years for refusing to accept a non-combatant position.  As a dean, Sears was called on to advocate the interests and consciences of young men on both sides of the complicated, charged questions of military service; he seems to have communicated with non-preferential, dignified treatment of all.

As I made my way through the book, I found confirmed my general impressions that L.C. “Cline” Sears was a man worthy of emulation.  He happened to have married into influence — becoming the son-in-law of J.N. Armstrong, who was, by most accounts, the first president of Harding.  Armstrong, in turn, was son-in-law to James A. Harding, who had been a student under Alexander Campbell at Bethany College, and who was key in the beginnings of both David Lipscomb College and Harding College.

My father was unaware, or had forgotten, that his own letter was quoted by Sears among notes received at the dean’s retirement.  I’ll close this brief look with my father’s words from his student days in 1960:

There couldn’t be a more humble man than you.  Thank you for two wonderful classroom experiences. . . .  You are one of the real leaders at Harding. . . .  – Gerald W. Casey (p. 169)


¹ Frankly, I am in the non-organ faction today, but for different reasons:  I simply don’t like most of the (overwhelming) sounds that instrument makes, and I am disturbed by the inhibition of congregational participation.


Memories of Segregation/Oppression of Blacks (1)

On the heels of this year’s M.L. King Day, and as we come into what is known as Black History Month, it seems a good time to speak of race relations.  A few months ago, when I wrote about relatively minor, conflicted feelings related to race (here and here), Sally Clark, a dear family friend, responded.  Since she had some very rich experiences through the years, I invited her to write a guest post.  This is the first of her reflections, and I look forward to sharing another of her mini-memoirs in the future.


Memories of Segregation/Oppression of Blacks

Guest post by Sally Clark

As I was growing up in Oklahoma City in the 40s and 50s, my world was totally white. Everything was segregated: schools, neighborhoods, churches, colleges, friendships, busses, water fountains, movie theaters, swimming pools, restaurants, bathrooms, marriages, etc.  It didn’t dawn on me until I was a teenager that things should not be that way.  I’m not sure exactly when it hit me. I do remember a chorus from Southwestern Christian College (a black college in Terrell, TX) coming to perform in a park for our congregation.  (I think the performance was probably held in a park because blacks were not allowed in our church building, but I’m not sure of this).  As I sat there listening to the wonderful voices, it hit me that “they” were people just like us….but NEVER would we “mix.”

I can remember riding the city bus and seeing the sign, “Rear seats for colored.”  It might be very crowded at the back, and there might be empty seats in the front, but the blacks did not dare sit down in the front.  They stood crowded into the small space at the back … and if the bus was very crowded with whites, the whites could even take the seats reserved for blacks.  When we went to public places, there would be two water fountains; one said “white,” and the other said “colored.”  Mother and Daddy used the word “nigger” in reference to blacks.  When they were being “polite,” they used the word “nigra.”  Over the years I really hated this; I couldn’t stand to hear them say these words.  But in even later years, I had to realize that that is the way they were brought up. They did not hate blacks; they just thought black and white were two different worlds.  They were good to the people who worked for them, but still considered them inferior.  One story that I heard about Daddy, I did not learn until after he died. In the early 1950s (long before the days of fast-food), people might eat out at a nice restaurant (I can’t recall that we ever did; we just didn’t eat out!) or in a cafe. Daddy was a contractor, and his best worker was a black man named Henry Dorsey.  One day at noon, they decided to go to a cafe.  When they entered, the owner said to Daddy, “You can come in, but that nigger boy [he was not a boy; he was at least 40 years old!] has to go around to the back door.”  Daddy said, “If you don’t serve my friend, you don’t serve me!” and walked out!  I was so proud of him when I heard that story. (I wish I had known it while he was still alive.)

1954 (the year that I started college) was a very important year regarding segregation.  That fall, it became the law that public schools must be integrated.  There were all sorts of protests and violence during this time.  Whites did not want their world “polluted” by blacks.  They especially did not want their neighborhoods to be invaded by blacks.  And the worst thing of all was the idea of racial intermarriage.  It was just unthinkable.  (It was actually illegal in most states!) There were protest marches, killings, bombings, etc., by people who did not want “race mixing.”  Harding College was totally white, of course, and this didn’t seem right to several of us “socially aware” students.  I remember (probably my junior year, when the Little Rock schools were integrated with much protest and violence!) that the Student Council president, Bill Floyd, wrote up a petition, which was very mild; it said something like, “We the undersigned wish to let it be known that IF someday in the distant future Harding decides to integrate, we will be in favor of it.”  Pretty mild.  As I recall, something like 80% of the students AND faculty signed it.  Well, the Harding president, Dr. George Benson, didn’t like this at all.  When he heard about the petition, he got up in chapel and made his famous “black birds, blue birds” speech.  He said that Harding would NEVER be integrated; it just wasn’t expedient, and it wasn’t natural to have races mix.  He said, “Just look at nature.  Even the blue birds stay with blue birds, and black birds stay with black birds.”  It was several years later that it became “expedient” to admit blacks, but for many years, there were still rules against interracial dating.

In 1964 when I was on my way to Miami to get a plane to Peru, my friends Jeanette Read, Gloria Shewmaker, and Eunice Shewmaker were with me as we drove along through Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia (from Texas, where we had all gotten together).  We were in a car with NJ license plates (since that is where we were all teaching at the time), and we were sort of scared.  It was very dangerous for “outside agitators” (people who came down south from the north to help with civil rights, helping blacks register to vote, etc.).  Just a few days before we drove through Mississippi, there had been a murder of three northerners—Cheney, Schwerner, and Goodwin (I think those were the names)—who had come down to help.  When we entered our motel room that night, we wondered if the car would be vandalized—or worse—while we were sleeping.  Nothing happened to us, but we were glad to get away from there.

I remember a “bus incident.”  It was probably in 1956 shortly after Rosa Parks (black maid) was arrested for not moving to the back of the bus.  (She was arrested in 1955, and bus segregation became illegal in 1956.)  It was after working at Rothschild’s one day, and I went out to catch the bus home.   It was VERY crowded with lots of whites standing.  There was one empty seat; it was on the aisle next to a black woman sitting in the window seat.  NO ONE (white) would sit by her … but I did!  As I sat down, everyone was staring at me, and giving me the “hate stare.” A favorite expression to describe people who did what I did was “Nigger lover”… and I’m sure that that is what the people were thinking.

As the years went by, I became more and more interested in equality and saw the total ignorance of people who thought that whites were superior to blacks.   A book which made a HUGE impact on me was Black like Me by John Howard Griffin.  The book was published in 1961, two years after he learned what it was like to be black.  John Howard Griffin was a white Texan reporter, who in 1959 took some capsules (prescribed by a dermatologist), exposed himself to ultraviolet light under a sunlamp, and stained his skin to make himself appear darker.  In this condition, he traveled in the Deep South and “passed” as black for a month, experiencing what it was like to be perceived and treated as a black.   It was just unbelievable!   It really opened my eyes.  So many things were horrible for him—for just one month—and I could only imagine how it would be to live that like all the time.   As I write this, it makes me want to read the book again; I just went to my bookcase to get it out, but it’s not there; I guess I gave it to someone.

Many more things happened in my life as I got more personally involved in interracial life, but I’ll tell more about that when I write about interracial adoption.

To be continued . . .


Special note:  since Ms. Clark authored this mini-memoir, a widely publicized article was posted by an Arkansas journalist.  For this even more informative (although less personal) treatment of the same topic, click here.

These articles may also be of interest:

USA Today article on the healing of racial divides in the Church of Christ

Feature blog on two men in the center of black-white integration at Abilene Christian University

Full-length article on the above men (move to p. 51)


It’s early in the life of our new group study of Mark’s gospel, but we’re enthused. It’s also early in the morning as I write this, by some accounts, and I’m hearing the hymn “Early, My God, Without Delay” as sung by the Harding College (now Harding University) A Cappella Chorus. This reminds me of a paraphrase I wrote years ago. Most will likely be unacquainted with this Isaac Watts hymn, so I’ll include the original text here:

Early, my God, without delay,
I haste to seek Thy face;
My thirsty spirit faints away
Without Thy cheering grace.

So pilgrims on the scorching sand,
Beneath a burning sky,
Long for a cooling stream at hand,
And they must drink or die.

I’ve seen Thy glory and Thy power
Through all Thy temple shine;
My God, repeat that heav’nly hour,
That vision so divine.

Not all the blessings of a feast
Can please my soul so well,
As when Thy richer grace I taste,
And in Thy presence dwell.

Not life itself, with all her joys,
Can my best passions move,
Or raise so high my cheerful voice,
As Thy forgiving love.

Thus till my last expiring day
I’ll bless my God and King;
Thus will I lift my hands to pray,
And tune my lips to sing.

I wasn’t acquainted with the third and fourth stanzas shown above, since the hymnal I used in early years made a habit of not including more than 4 stanzas, or 5 at the most, regardless of the length of the original. Now, here’s my loose paraphrase:

First thing in the morning, my God, I will not delay; I rush to seek Your face.
Here I am in the midst of worship; my eyes are open wide.
Here I am in the midst of worshipping You; I thirst inside!
Seeing You and drinking of You are the most excellent things in my life.
You are My God–Jehovah Provider–quenching me when life is dry.
Father, I hunger; I can’t get enough of You; You’re the only One who satisfies.
After the thunder, oh, drench me in Your Spirit’s rain, or I will be like one who dies.
[stanzas 3, 4 not rendered]
The best things in life can’t even come close to stirring my soul. (O my soul, bless the Lord!)
The best things in life can’t even get a song running through my mind.
So as long as I live, I will live to make You happy.
And my worship I will give, knowing Your protection and love.
I will worship You with all of my being, lifting my hands, all of me freeing.
I will worship You, Lord, truly with my ev’rything.
Wanting to meet You in spirit, to honor my King.
First thing in the morning, my God. . . .
(c) 1994-1996 Encounter Music

As with many of my writings–whether prosaic or musical–so much of the value is personal. I would not presume even to translate Isaac Watts’s poetry flawlessly or faithfully, much less the words of God-breathed scripture. But I think I did reasonably, for my purposes at the time, with rendering the dynamic sense and general import of some of those hymn lines. It’s a paraphrase–a dynamic quasi-equivalent, with morphed idioms–not a word-for-word translation.

Paraphrases of scripture get a bad rap with some committed Christians today. On one hand, if we’re serious about God and the Bible, obviously we will want the best, most literal translation possible. Finely tuned scholarly sensibilities also sometimes collide with apparently “loose” notions of translation. Yet on the other hand, it appears wise, and spiritually well conceived, to attempt to discern the original, idiomatic intent of an expression, a sentence, a paragraph … and then to attempt to usher that intent into modern language’s terminology and syntax.

Despite the biases of certain translations, and the silly transliterations of the King James (e.g., the word “baptize”–conveniently created in order to avoid rendering “baptizo” as “immerse,” risking offense of the religious establishment), I’ve not yet seen a translation that sets out with wholesale intent to malign divine will. Have you?

Last night, our study group read Mark’s gospel. The entire gospel. For me, it was a profitable, inspiring experience. The book-level contextual clues fairly jump out, and I’m eager for deeper study. While others read from the NIV and the CEV and the ESV, I read from the New Jerusalem Bible and the one-man translation of some guy named Williams. Neither did violence to the original, but the wordings weren’t always familiar. And I’m not sure I care a whole lot. Spontaneously, I did change “burst into tears” to “wept,” but other than that, I was comfortable with the loud-and-clear intent of both these versions.

It’s early yet, but as we proceed with our Mark study, I don’t think I’ll be using a paraphrase to dig in to structural and linguistic details. Overall, though, paraphrases can be quite useful for getting the big picture.

First thing in the morning, God, I rush to consider You. . . .