Friday, September 5, 2008

Calvin Beale -- who?

I've been all caught up in this political stuff and neglecting my obituaries! I should have commemorated "Killer" Kowalski, wrestler, or Don LaFontaine, trailer-er extrordinaire (Mick LaSalle gives a good tribute to him). But I was all riled, as you know.

So it was very pleasant and restful to read the obituary of Calvin L. Beale, commemorated earlier this week in the NY Times, as "Demographer With a Feel for Rural America."

I doubt he was the most interesting man. "He traveled to 2,500 counties (of 3,140) around the country and knew everything from the most common surnames in a given place to the kind of leaves carved above the courthouse steps." And I worry that he would tell you all about them.

The thing about him is that he didn't assume the common wisdom was true. His research was very different, apparently, from what we tend to expect. Most times you have a hypothesis and you test it. He (according to this obit) did what I think is a more difficult thing, which is to start with an open mind, go explore, and gradually develop a picture.

I admire this so much because this is what I try to do when I prepare a sermon: I try not to assume I know what's in the text, even when the text is familiar. I continue to be amazed by the Scripture; so often, what I had assumed was there is not there; so often it surprises me.

It should be a lesson to me about more than just Scripture. There are so many places, ways, and people that I should allow to amaze me before I interpret them. Maybe then I wouldn't get so riled.

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