Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Class I'll Never Forget

I just received the most recent issue of the Yale Alumni magazine and the feature story is entitled "The Class I'll Never Forget". Inside the magazine, there were 15 short paragraphs from various Yale alums- describing their most memorable class and what made it so. Inspired by the article, I began to make a list of the classes I took while attending Yale Divinity School and my different teachers.

You'd think the class that I'll never forget would pop right out at me, but as it turns out I think of the professor and the class so often, it took a minute to bring them to mind in context. I would like to say, however, that I took many classes from deeply profound and caring professors who inspired me in any many ways. These were men and women who taught me to see the humanity and the Spirit in church history, the power and the humor in Scripture, the darkness and the light in Christian ethics.

Yet, the class I will never forget is "What Would Jesus Write" with Jack Hitt. For this very small seminar class I had to submit a writing sample, preferably in the style of an editorial or magazine pitch. I wrote "Where would Jesus drill" about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and sent it in, fingers crossed.

When schedules were published, I saw that I was in! The class initially conflicted with a language requirement, but Hitt moved the time and we gathered once a week to hear each other's pieces, encourage one another in submission, and to be told, bluntly, where we needed to cut, shape, and get over ourselves.

I believe only 8 or 9 of stayed in the class and, I'm not entirely sure, but I believe I was the only one in the class aiming toward ordination at the time. We wrote about politics and personal experience, religion and education, science and mystery. And Jack Hitt inspired us all. If you've ever read his books, heard his pieces on This American Life, or flipped through a magazine he's edited- the man knows how to tell a story. He knows how to wind you up, play you out, and then bang you on the head and hang you out to dry. And he imparted as much of that skill as we could soak up in a semester.

He showed us how to sell ourselves, sell our writing, and sell the point we were trying to make. I wrote 300-500 word piece after piece in that class- some poignant, some funny, some angry. Hitt edited via email to us all, talked on the phone, and spun out three hours of some of the most useful class time I'd ever have.

Having written for radio prior to YDS, I was used to writing short, informative pieces. Hitt gave my writing a whole new edge, a sharpness and clarity that was absent before- perhaps because of necessity or because of lack of skill.

Even now, when I am writing a sermon (or a blog post), once I pass 500 words- I wonder if I still have anything to say or if I'm just talking. The very best of my sermons and posts are definitely influenced by that class and by Jack Hitt and what I learned from him. I read almost everything he puts out, in the hopes of continuing to shape my own style through his lessons. Of all the classes I took, of all the things I remember from seminary, the thing I ask myself daily is "What would Jesus write"?

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