Thursday, September 25, 2008


I graduated from the University of the South in 1982. Sewanee was a great place to go to college. My high school had been quite large, so the small classes were a welcome change from the angst of urban teen education. In these days when we celebrate diversity, I think few will appreciate how wonderful it was to have come home to a place where I felt like there were others like me. I had never met people from my background before. There were other Episcopalians around. More to the point, there were other devout Episcopalians around.

Sewanee has an Honor Code (one should not lie, cheat or steal) that when I was there was all-encompassing and student enforced. At the end of my junior year (I think) I lost my wallet. It had my drivers license, some cash, library card, student id and all the other assorted paraphernalia that a young man of insufficient means keeps in his wallet. When I got home, I immediately applied for a replacement drivers license, informed the school that I'd need a new id and went on with life. Six weeks later a box arrived. My wallet had been found, turned in and the school had sent it on to me at my parent's home. Inside the wallet was everything that was supposed to be there. Including all the money. That's what Sewanee was (and hopefully still is).

That sort of environment has a powerful impact on a mind. Sewanee shaped the character of many people I know. I have always felt I could trust a fellow graduate of the college. The School of Theology was suspect, and rightly considered so because of the shoddy theology taught there as well as the older age of the students meant that their values, such as they were, were already fully formed.

I liked most of the students when I was there and still do. Some I didn't like at the time. But there was always a sense of community, a bond of shared values and of trust. I knew that even if someone I disliked told me something, it would be true. I knew that I could leave my door open and my possessions and my work were safe. My pillow might be replaced with shaving cream, but it would still be around.

Twenty six years have passed since I graduated. Some of my classmates have gone on to bigger and better things. Many are doctors and lawyers. Quite a few are priests. One is a bishop.

I usually can not impute bad motives to someone. But you see, I knew the Bishop of San Diego when he was in college. I knew his wife. I know what sort of college education he received and what he did with it. I know that he knows how to read, I know he understands logic. I know he is intelligent. At one time I thought he had integrity. At one time I thought I could trust him.

And then I read this.

And my heart is broken.

What good is having Integrity when you have lost your integrity to get it? What good does it do you to be bishop when you have maimed your soul to get there?


Perpetua said...

Dear Matthew,
I'm confused.
Isn't this the college Gene Robinson attended as an undergraduate?
And isn't this the college where he was told that people didn't really believe the words they were saying in church?
If the above is correct, it would seem already, way back when Gene attended, the college had an honor code, but that people in authority were subverting it by encouraging students to say "I believe ...." to statements that they didn't believe.

Matthew said...

Assuming that the story is true, that chaplain had an interesting reputation. As for me, I think Gene just likes a good story. So I'm not convinced as to the veracity of the tale.

And yes, Gene Robinson is an alum. So is Shannon Johnston, who was a year ahead of me, but in my major.

I don't know what sort of person Gene was in college. I do know what sort of person Jim was.

Tregonsee said...

"Some of my classmates have gone on to bigger and better things. Many are doctors and lawyers. Quite a few are priests. One is a bishop."

Same here. One of my classmates is now the Chancellor, and a contemporary, but not classmate, is that fellow from NH who sparked all the ruckus. But in the late 1960s, it was much as you describe. Perhaps more so. Most good, a few bad, and in both categories, there were surprises in later years. Still, the rot was beginning. I knew the chaplain who gave the bad advice, and his style of ministry was rare then. Call it "Early Spong." Now, it is the norm rather than the exception. Now add in the push for environmental science, and the secular religion which is often the result. Having attended the college rather than the SoT, it is still possible to write a yearly check in gratitude for the education and values I received. But it is getting harder, and I can no longer recommend without reservation Sewanee to a prospective student.

Zana said...

Wow - it always amazes me when I find another Sewanee grad. (c/o 93 for me and the hubby) I agree with tregonsee, tho, it is no longer a place I can recommend to students seeking a college. We even stopped giving to the scholarship fund last year. For the longest, we decided to contribute so others could receive the benefits just as we did - we certainly couldn't have afforded Sewanee otherwise!

Yet even in the late 80s and early 90s, things were starting to get wonky, and I wasn't even a professing Christian then. But I agree even more with Matthew - it made a powerful impact on who I have become (and I'd like to think I'm better for it).

This year we've also decided, being only 1 1/2 hours away these days, that we're going to go up for our 15th homecoming. Probably just for the day, and we probably won't pay all the extravagant fees to get an official badge. But the chance to walk around (strolling down amnesia lane!) is good for our souls, every few years or so. (And hey, Shakerag Hollow is still a good hike to clear the head!)

The Underground Pewster said...

Oh, take me back to the mountain. Or on second thought, recalling the Feminist Pledge 2005-2008, maybe not.

Tregonsee said...

And another sign of the times. I just got through reading the latest SEWANEE magazine, and noticed an obit for someone from the early 1970s. It ended by saying he was survived by his "lifelong companion ____" where the name was male. Until recently you would not find that in a Mountain obit.