The Road to Someplace Beautiful Chapel Address by Eric Kouns
Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia
November 10, 2015
[Note: If you’d like to hear this address as it was delivered at EMS, click here.]
Whenever a man of mediocre intellect is invited to address an audience in an academic setting—a pseudo-scholar who wants to foster the pretense of erudition—he will often begin his talk by referencing an obscure quote by a nineteenth-century existentialist philosopher.
I think it was Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist, who once observed that…
We live our lives looking forward, but we understand our lives only by looking back.
I would call that either profoundly self-evident or self-evidently profound. But it’s true, in any event. Continue reading →
Father Harold Stanhope removed the stole from around his neck—green, since September is Ordinary Time in the liturgical year—and laid it back on the shelf. Then he unfastened the rope cinch around his waist, took off his alb, and hung it on the rack next to the stole. After pouring himself a glass of cranberry juice over ice, he kicked off his shoes and settled into his favorite chair. It had been a good morning.
He had spent most of the past two hours standing—while preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, and greeting the people as they left the chapel following the service—and at age eighty-one, that was not as easy to do as it once was. Father Harry, as everybody called him, was tired, but he was also very happy. His ministry filled him with satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving God in this place. Continue reading →
In late 2012, I created a character called Arthur Lough and introduced him to readers in my final blog post for that year. At the time, I never dreamed Arthur would become the instrument through which I would tell my story to all who were interested in knowing more about my pilgrimage, but here we are, more than three years later, and Arthur is more important than ever to that enterprise.
In the fall of 2014, I published my first book, an autobiographical novel in which Arthur Lough becomes my alter ego and the subject of the narrative. I created a back story for Arthur so that I could think about him as a person distinct from myself throughout the process of writing the book, but that would be, as the philosophers say, a distinction without a difference. Arthur is mainly me, and his story is mainly my story. Continue reading →
Well, it didn’t take long for me to break my self-imposed fast from Facebook and this blog, but I need to say something in response to some personal messages I have received lately (based on the assumption that if some people are voicing thoughts like this, at least a few more are probably thinking them without saying anything).
My daughter is a single mother with an active, healthy eight-year-old son who is in the third grade and doing very well in a challenging academic and social environment. She is employed full-time in a helping profession that requires her to travel extensively in the local area and to be on-call and available for emergencies even when she is off-duty. Continue reading →
One year ago my daughter and I were sitting at my kitchen table carving silly faces and other designs into pumpkins, which has become something of an annual ritual for our small family. As usual, our wide-ranging conversation touched on everything from health-care (she is a nurse) to religion (I am a recovering ex-clergyman).
At one point, the discussion centered on Cirque du Soleil. Some months earlier, thanks to a Christmas gift from our daughter, her mother and I had attended a concert by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra which featured a few members of the Cirque troupe performing their dazzling acts of aerial acrobatics while swinging from ropes and trapezes high above the stage. It was, to use an overworked word, breathtaking. Continue reading →
I recently happened upon the website of the Bible college from which I graduated forty-five years ago. I was particularly drawn to the audio recordings of presentations, mainly sermons, made in the school’s chapel services over the past few years. For nearly three hours, I listened to excerpts, ranging in length from two to twenty minutes each, from a dozen or more preachers. Many of the speakers were men I knew personally from my years as a student.
It’s hard to describe how the experience of listening to those voices from the past affected me. At first, I was nearly swept away on a wave of nostalgia, as their familiar speech patterns took me back to a time when life seemed simpler and the future was filled with promise. The longer I listened, however, the less positive I felt about the experience. Continue reading →
My soul is at peace. I haven’t written those words very many times in my life, because for most of my life, it simply was not true. But it is today, and I’ve experienced a growing awareness of that deep, inner peace for the past several weeks. (Oddly enough, the keenest awareness has developed and intensified since early March, just about the time we started the Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition.) Continue reading →
Four times over the past couple of weeks, someone responding to something I posted on Facebook referred to me as a leader. Each time the term was preceded by an adjective. Twice I was called a Christian leader, once a church leader, and once a spiritual leader. Three out of the four references commended me for my role and service as a leader. The fourth was more along the lines of “You call yourself a leader and still write the stuff you do?”. Continue reading →
As I have set forth in my autobiographical novel called The Long Road from Highland Springs, when I began teaching at a small, Mennonite Bible college in Ohio in 1994, I never expected to make the classroom my career. My affection for teaching was hardly love-at-first-sight. My first efforts were uneven, at best, and my students could easily detect my discomfort and lack of confidence. To this day, when I cross paths with former students from that first year, I have to work hard to stifle an instinctive urge to blurt out, “I’m so sorry. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Eventually things got better, much better indeed. Reasonably good performance reviews turned in by my students each year served to bolster my confidence, and I became far more comfortable in the role of a teacher. Since I had not set my sights on an academic career from the get-go, however, I did not follow the common path of preparation for aspiring professors. Continue reading →
For sixty years, Christian faith of the conservative and evangelical variety was a foundational element and a formative influence in my life. More than that, and—practically speaking—more important than that, for nearly forty years, it was an essential factor in the way I made my living. As a pastor, a parachurch executive, and a Bible college instructor, one of my tasks was to defend and propagate a fairly specific set of beliefs and the system of biblical interpretation which produced them.
That is not to say that the character and content of that list of doctrines never varied over the years. It is only to say that I understood, if mainly subconsciously, that any significant variation could have consequences. Not least was the possibility that I could lose my job. Continue reading →