More on Fr Greer in a minute, but this week Crusty has been on a nostalgia trip, partly due to Fr Greer's passing but also due to some other, personal matters COD doesn't feel like sharing with the interwebz. Got me thinking about the past, how Crusty got to where he is today, and mentors in general. There have been many over the years, but these three in part come to mind this past week as Crusty has been pondering.
The first was my grandmother. She was an amazing woman: sent off to live on a farm with a family not her own, grew up without running water and electricity in rural New Hampshire. She was the only woman in her high school graduating class; all the other women didn't finish, got married and got to work. But my grandmother finished, and not only that, was the valedictorian. She went off to college when it was rare for anyone to go, let alone women, graduating from the University of New Hampshire. She was a mentor to me not just for her courage and intelligence, but as a Christian as well. Crusty was a child of a mixed marriage. Dad was Irish Roman Catholic and Mom a New England Yankee Congregationalist, and it was still a bit of a scandal in 1950s Boston when they
|Grandma circa 1935. I still miss her.|
The second was (is, he's still alive but retired now) a rabbi. Crusty arrived at college in thoroughly skeptic mode. After Confirmation, COD still went to church, not as often as before, and mostly out of a sense of obligation, and by his late teens AYMC (Angry You Man Crusty) has was skeptical of much of Christian belief and doctrine and began styling himself as an agnostic. The church just seemed so hypocritical, Christians didn't seem to follow the teachings of Jesus and were obsessed with people's sex lives, and so Crusty's faith was in benign neglect and he becoming content with trying to do unto others as he wished they would do unto him. However, Crusty was just a poser when it came to agnosticism, and it really didn't suit him. For instance, while a Russian Studies major, he began taking
|RBI Klein discussing I-Thou relationship with the ball with Buber.|
Academically, Fr Greer bridged New Testament studies and church history. Crusty had taken OT and NT survey courses as an undergraduate, and some philosophy of religion classes, but it seemed that the years from 100-1600 had been entirely skipped, and up to that point my academic work ended with the NT and picked up again with Descartes. Fr Greer opened up all that space in-between. His own doctoral work was in New Testament, but he bridged the NT and Patristic periods, in his writings he
|Fr Greer and McGregor during Crusty's time at Yale.|
As a seminary professor, Crusty finds himself sometimes echoing some of the things he learned from Fr Greer. Crusty always tries to return papers as promptly as possible, like Fr Greer did. Fr Greer would also rarely write in the margins of your paper, he would attach often several yellow lined pages with extended comments. COD can't pull this off -- he prefers papers submitted electronically -- but tries to add as many comments as he thinks are helpful. Fr Greer always was focused on the student and learning, when at times it can feel as if you're a cog in some kind of machine. Crusty tells every student at the seminary where he teaches, "The students aren't here for the seminary, the seminary is here for the students." I like to think I picked that up from Fr Greer.
There are any number of Fr Greer stories. The time his dog threw up a half-eaten bird in class and he went on lecturing without missing a beat. While presiding at a weekday Eucharist, reading a particularly tendentious biography in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, then rolling his eyes and saying, "Good God this has to be one of the dreariest commemorations someone could have thought up. Let's translate another commemoration." The way he never liked shaking hands during the peace, but would stand with his arms crossed and nod in your direction. COD always wondered, in part, whether it had to do with the impairment on one of his hands due a childhood accident.
He was refreshingly blunt without being cynical or snarky or mean, there was a sincerity and honesty to his bluntness. In particular Crusty remembers telling him he was going out to meet with a couple of parishioners at the congregation where I was doing field ed and he was assisting priest. He rolled his eyes and I asked what that was about and he said, "Tom, you need to know that in every congregation there are a handful of people whose sole purpose is to undermine and destroy every single thing you want to do. X and Y are two of those people." He paused, then added, "The funny thing is they are sometimes really nice people otherwise."
While at Yale, and thanks to mentor and friends like Fr Greer and others, Crusty wanted to grow up to get a PhD in Early Church but also teach in Anglican Studies, which, astonishingly, Crusty has ended up doing. In 2002, Crusty was absolutely floored to be one of the finalists for the Walter Gray Chair in Anglican Studies that Fr Greer has held (and BTW they chose the perfect candidate, COD's former classmate, while honored to be a finalist I would have picked the current incumbent over me). I sent Fr Greer my dissertation when I finished it, attached a letter thanking him for helping crystallize my academic interests, but also thanking him for being such an important mentor and model of what it means to be a priest and a scholar and a teacher. With typical graciousness, he send a hand-written reply several pages long and commented (favorably, I might add) on several points in the dissertation, demonstrating he had taken the time actually to read it.
So it's been a sad week for Crusty, not just with Fr Greer's passing, but, as noted above, with some other things he would rather not share. Crusty felt a tinge of guilt he hadn't kept in touch with Fr Greer, or even let him know how important he was in COD's personal and vocational development. Someone's passing often leaves us with regret for things unsaid. But alongside this nostalgia and sadness there is also a bit of hope and encouragement. Crusty has been pleased to see the outpouring of remembrances of Father Greer as news of his passing spread. It made me remember what a privileged position it is to be a teacher on any level, to walk with people on their journeys. Amidst challenges of preparing for accreditation, keeping an eye on the seminary's investment portfolio, and changing batteries in smoke detectors -- all the glamorous elements of being a seminary dean -- Fr Greer's passing has reminded Crusty that the seminary is here for the students.