What’s In a Sheepskin?

While visiting the Wright Bros. memorial at Kitty Hawk, a friend and I passed a docent in the park standing nearby the spot where powered flight first took place. My friend made the comment that it was amazing that these two ordinary men had done what none of the PhD’s could do who worked so hard to solve the puzzle of powered flight.

The docent grinned wryly and said, “Well, there’s more to that story that most people forget.”
“Really?” my friend replied.

The docent went on to explain that at the time, Dayton, OH was the Silicon Valley of the Age of Industry with more patents per capita to its fame than anywhere else in the United States. It seems Orville and Wilbur were better schooled than most average bicycle makers. Taught at home by their mother, they learned the basics of physics and also German because of the immigrant population of the town. They also taught themselves to read French. This language study made it possible for them to read everything on flight that was being published as quickly as it could be discovered and notated. Chanute was their highly interested confidante (with a PhD) who gave them access to what was circulating around the academy. It seems that though the boys did not have the sheepskin, they had more than enough credentials that could grant them one especially in modern times.

This is inspiring to me as an aspiring and self-proclaimed pastor-scholar. If I were independently wealthy and could pay for my own PhD in Theology, of course, I would do it, even while working in local ministry. I desire access to the academy because I too want to engage the knowledge that will lead to the powered flight of my congregation. Yet the academy remains at a distance from me for the time being. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t read, think, and keep up with all that is circulating in order to apply it. (In the present Age of Information, there is less need for one to have Chanute to aid in the access.) For now I may be missing the sheepskin, but I want to work in such a way that I will have more than enough credentials to obtain it should the opportunity arise.

Nothing moved me to practice as a musician in my undergrad days more than my students. To see them fly on their instruments motivated me to sit alone (a difficult task for an overly extroverted extrovert) for long hours and thoroughly learn the instrument myself. Nothing moves me more toward the life of the mind as it relates to theology than those who come to me with honest questions and a sincere desire to apply God’s Word to their real existence. Again I find that I am willing to sit for long hours alone (sometimes to the chagrin of my wife) and apply myself to the task. To fly, and especially to see others fly with the power of lift that is beyond my ability to contain, this is my pursuit.