Dr. Williams: A Heart of Gold

By MaryAnna Prahlow (Michigan)

Dr. Don Williams’s exuberance and love for poetic and wholesome literature and for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy overflow while he is in the classroom at Summit Semester.

This week was personally enjoyable as I was guided through the mind of a philologist whose straightforward, understandable lecturing, and teaching style was a refreshing change after recent visiting philosophers and more Socratic professors from past weeks. Dr. Williams, a professor at Toccoa Falls College, joined us this previous week to focus on Philology:

“the love of words and the study of language from the standpoint of history which aids us in the reading of literature.”

At the beginning of the week, specifically in preparation for the first lecture, he stated,

“all these weighty thoughts have a gravitational effect that tends to speed up time. This week will be over in less than a week.”

It seemed to work that way. Contrary to the seemingly overwhelming opinions of fellow classmates, I felt the week fly by because the “to the point” or “dry” teaching style taught me so well. The claim was made on the first day of class that Semester is itself out of step from our evangelical sub-culture.

Dr. Williams asserted that when on the topic of literature we are told to be silent and “just believe” when questioning what is true or quality. If it were the case of asking or exploring in order to learn and search for the truth on any other subject(i.e. math science or even football) that would not be a sufficient reason to give up the desire to understand, to explore, and determine why things are the way they are. Mature reasoning is to want to know and understand and keep searching logically for truth and answers until they’re found. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come, let us reason together.” We are implored as believers to use our minds, to think about words and the uses of our language.

Dr. Williams’ charge to us as young Christians is to use our minds well and not carry on the view that our minds are not to be trusted. Our minds are tainted and corrupted by sin, but not destroyed. The task of redeeming our minds is possible by the power of the helper, the Holy Spirit. We are saved by grace, sanctified by His Spirit, and motivated by His love. Dr. Williams’ thesis was, “no one can be a serious and obedient disciple of Jesus without giving a significant commitment to study in his life.” He emphasized a deepening of respect for literature through scripture; the Bible is our trustworthy door into the truth of the Lord. The overview for the week can be summed up as “language and literature go together.”

Imagine a jolly older man whose smile is real and genuine.

Imagine Santa Claus. Imagine such a man who enthusiastically joined us in the dining hall every meal and chatted with us. His heart is one of gold which I admire and look up to him for. Admittedly, he quotes from his books more often than could be considered reasonable; a hint of pride. Additionally, he tried to sell his merch (his books) to us–capitalism is good. He voiced his joy that he gets to spend a week at Snow Wolf Lodge with Summit students. Naturally, there was a feeling of pride rising in me as he went on about how respectful we are in comparison to students at universities now. But where is the desire in us to be called to an even higher standard? It is there.

I will not deny the character of any student here but an interesting question that came to me was, “what if we were compared to the very first semester class of 2006?” Times change, but truth does not and classroom manners should not. Are we living life well even as we continue to become more and more comfortable in our little community here in the woods? I have seen a depreciation of respect in the typical attitude in our classes and lecturers as the semester goes on. I include myself in this.

Why do we Christians take pride in learning to live well by separating ourselves from the world and being poured into by some of the wisest, most selfless, and godly professors then turn around and fall asleep in class, pass notes and the like?

We cannot be faithful in the heavier callings in life if while here we prop ourselves up on our pedestals box with all the classic praises students at godly programs receive. I sat through an entire week of lectures on respecting, learning to love, and gleaning from language and literature as an ambassador of Christ. It is just as easy to fall into worldly sinful desires and passions here in wholesome, good, godly atmospheres as it is in the real world. However, life is real here too… passing notes and not getting assignments done is not the same as going to a party school to intentionally live in flagrant sin, yet the simple truth is that the subtle lack of respect found in myself and us was real and disappointed me. This man has a heart of gold and chooses to come every year to invest and pour so much wisdom into us. I have a heart for old men who laugh at their own jokes, who intentionally spend time with the kids of the day, and who give advice concerning the kingdom of God.

The amount of consistent grace he gave and his pure look of enjoyment during lectures and meals and his play (Revenge of the DWEMS, “Dead White European Males”) was admirable. I think it is the point in the semester where the daily routine has possibly begun to become something that is taken for granted, and thus the fun begins to drown out and almost overtake the focus that needs to be given in the classroom. The graciousness and tenderheartedness of Dr. Williams has overwhelmingly convicted me to give our professors a respect in the classroom that goes beyond the standard of what’s expected today in Christian living and discipline.

His passionate fervor for the importance of language and literature implored me to be a serious student and to hold to a lifelong commitment to the great commandment to love others as ourselves.