In Tune

On a lark, during third trimester of my Sophomore year at Hendrix College, I decided to sign up for “Christianity Since 1500” with a Dr. John Farthing. Even though I hadn’t taken “Christianity to 1500,” I thought I’d enjoy the subject matter. I was a History Major at the time, and the History of Religion was an intriguing prospect as a component of my major. It wasn’t a required class, but as a history buff, it appealed to me. Having been a Methodist all my life, I figured I knew about all there was to know about my own religious tradition. I had gone through Confirmation, after all, and was a regular attendee at Sunday school. I knew there had been a Reformation, and that the Methodist Church had somehow sprung out of it–but in a markedly different way than the Baptist church had: that was obvious by the way the Baptist girls in my home town of Arkadelphia, AR (also the hometown of Ouachita Baptist University) would treat me like I was a heathen. (Well, maybe that was one of the reasons.) In any case, one thing that this course would teach me (fittingly by my sophomore-meaning “wise-fool”-year) was that I didn’t know everything about my own religious tradition, and Dr. Farthing was there to help me wade in to a subject that would light me on fire.
I remember one of the first things Dr. Farthing (a devout United Methodist minister) said in that class was “perhaps the strongest argument for atheism comes from a thorough study of the history of Christianity.” Indeed, there were some very ugly things that I learned about the History of Christianity, but there were also some very beautiful things, and though I had previously become enchanted with other religious traditions, my re-acquaintance with my own tradition led me to a newfound respect for and interest in it. During that term, I also learned that I was making another C in Spanish (the second term of a necessary three terms of a foreign language for a History major), and I was excelling in History of Christianity. I can remember the light feeling in my chest when I made the decision one day after consulting with Dr. Farthing, to change my major from History to Religion. I wouldn’t have to take another term of Spanish, and I could continue delving into this subject that been so enthralling.
I had just started dating Lara in January of that year, and a very salient memory is stamped in my mind of that moment, coming out the religion department and practically skipping through a little brick gazebo in the middle of a rose garden, as I made my way over to Lara, who had just walked out of her own dorm to meet me and head to lunch. I couldn’t quite explain why I felt so uplifted about the decision, but reflecting on it now as a component of my call (though at the time I didn’t know it as such), I understand it as that experience of being “in tune” with God’s hope for my life. I would go on to take several more classes with Dr. Farthing, including History of Christianity to 1500 the following term, Makers of Modern Theology, and African American Religion, and I wasn’t alone in my enjoyment of his teaching style and substance—he was always one of the “student favorites” on campus there at Hendrix. I was one of the fortunate ones that got to have him as my advisor. Two years later, Dr. Farthing officiated at our wedding there at the chapel on campus at Hendrix. And then, 13 years after he had counseled me to take a path that would lead to my own call into ministry, I found out after I had been appointed to UUMC that this is where he had had that similar experience of “being in tune with God” during a conversation with Rev. Bonner Teeter. Needless to say, I’m happy to invite him back, and I hope him being here might remind you that “God works in mysterious ways!”

1 Comment
  • Nika Posted 03/04/2012 3:05 pm

    Dr. Hultgren preached sevreal Sundays in the early 90 s at McAlester First Baptist, during a time we were without a pastor. He was terrific! What a scholar and a heart for people, with the energy and Love of God . One sermon that I vividedly remember and have often quoted the three main points: Every person needs three things in order to exist. Dr. Hultgren pointed out that these three things transcend all barriers of age, gender, economic stature, etc. and they are necessary to life. We must each have (1) Someone to love and someone to love and care for us in return; (2) Something to do each day something of value and worth; and (3) Something to look forward to . Thank you Dr. Warren Hultgren! You were a great servant of the LORD! Bob Gragg

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