“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 4)

07 Jun

~~ Ch. 4 ~~
Faithful Bible College was founded in 1941 by the Reverend Lawrence W. Clemons, an associate evangelist of D.L. Moody. FBC had only recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The school rightfully prided itself on its commitment to the authority of the Bible, the relevance of the Christian gospel, and the need to train young people in the skills they would require to serve Jesus in a post-Christian, and frequently anti-Christian, society.

I’ve never seen such a dedicated faculty, thought Dean Sean Miller to himself. They’re not only excellent teachers, but they are paid so much less than they could earn at a secular university.

“Good morning, Dean Miller,” said Bible professor Dr. Hornby.

“And a good morning to you too,” responded Miller. “What classes do you have today, Theo?”

Dr. Miller knew full well that Hornby had two classes today — “Intro to Theology” and “Discipleship 101.”

Hornby smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Sean, I probably won’t forget which class I’m teaching!”

This bit of repartee came from an incident a few months ago when Hornby began his class lecturing on the Hebrew grammar used in the Dead Sea Scrolls to a freshman class in Church History. After a few minutes, a young coed raised her hand and said, “Uh, Dr. Hornby, will we need to know this for our midterm in, uh, church history next week?”, Hornby turned scarlet and put aside his Old Testament lecture notebook.

“Hmmm. Sorry about that, students! I guess my old age is catching up with me.”

The students laughed, and looked at him with deep affection. They knew how much he cared about them and how hard he worked to make his lectures not only interesting, but practical. He had only missed one week of classes after his beloved Eleanor had passed away from breast cancer.

Faithful Bible College’s classes were almost done for the Spring semester. The student body numbered only about 150, so it was fairly easy for the nine members of the faculty to learn almost all of the students’ names.

Although every student had to major in Bible, there were several minors at FBC that students could pursue. Dr. Rick Nation was the department chair of political science and math minors. Mrs. Gertrude Kominsky was in charge of the English and American Literature minors. Dr. Mortimer Sandover supervised several adjunct teachers in the Business Administration program. Dr. Warren Peace oversaw historical studies and Dr. Hornby was the head of the Bible/Theology studies.

All the teachers were committed Evangelical Christians and their camaraderie was, to Hornby, one of the best parts of teaching at FBC. Each could have made more money teaching elsewhere, but FBC, though small, challenged their trust in the Lord to provide for the school and gave them great freedom in administering their various programs.

Hornby enjoyed the bantering, the give-and-take, between the faculty members. All seemed to relish teasing each other, some playing practical jokes, others poking fun at each other’s foibles. Although it was never said, they simply loved each other and their role in the ministry of training a new generation of church leaders at FBC.

“Say, Mortimer,” Rick Nation said one day in the faculty lounge.

“Yes, Rick?”

“You run our Business Administration program, right?”

“You know that I do, Dr. Nation. Why do you ask?”

“Well, Mort, I heard that you bounced a check at the local Seven-Eleven last Friday! You’d think the head of the Business Administration department would know how much money he had in his personal checking account!” Nation laughed, partly because Sandover had done the exact same thing the month before.

“Yep, I sure did,” Sandover blushed as he began walking out of the faculty lounge. “But I heard that you actually misquoted Jesus the other day in your political science class.”

“What? Never! What did you hear?”

“I heard you said that ‘Jesus was a friend of Republicans and sinners,’ misquoting Matthew 11. You really meant Democrats, right?” Mort laughed as he asked his question. Everyone knew that Nation was a committed member of the Democratic party, even though it sometimes presented a real challenge to his Christian convictions.

The students quickly picked up on the good natured teasing of the faculty, and weren’t reluctant to follow their example. Hornby thought back to one Monday morning as he got to school for his 8 am “Intro to Theology” class. He went into his classroom, placed his hat on his desk, then went to make himself a cup of tea in his office. He got a bit side-tracked and finally returned to the classroom by 8:12. No students. Everyone had left. They had assumed that class was cancelled. Hornby sent the class what was to him a strongly-worded email which read, “When my hat is on my desk, I am in the classroom and class is not CANCELLED!”

The next Monday Hornby got to the classroom a bit early, put his hat on his desk, then went to his office to make tea. He got back to the classroom at about five minutes after 8, only to find no students there, but 32 hats each nicely placed squarely on the students’ desks.

Hornby laughed and laughed about that prank, remembering that he had pulled exactly the same stunt when he had been a student, earning the nickname “the Mad Hatter.” “I guess what goes around comes around,” he said to himself.

Hornby unlocked his office door on the second floor of the classroom building, sequentially turning on the five lamps in his office, his small waterfall planter, and his ancient cassette player. He hated the fluorescent overhead lights and almost never used them. Even though cassettes were an outdated medium, he had accumulated quite a collection over the years, his two favorites being B.B. King’s “Greatest Hits” and the album “Chicago’s Number One Singles.” Hornby loved going to thrift stores and adding to his treasury for about a dime a cassette.

He looked around his office, once again purposing in his mind to get rid of the three boxes which had been on his floor for almost a year. I’ve got too many books and not enough room for them, he thought. He was gradually going through his collection and selling or giving away books to students to assist them in beginning their own libraries.

One shelf held multiple copies of the four books he himself had written over the last few years. Their titles included, “Anyone Searching for the Real Jesus?”, a challenge to the so-called historical search for Jesus which often seemed to be nothing more than a liberal effort to discount the reliability of the four gospels. Hornby also had his autobiographical account of his trip to Turkey ten years before to search for Noah’s ark, entitled “Where’s the Ark Parked?” What a waste of time that trip was, he thought outloud, although he was fairly pleased with the title.

His third book was a memoir of his life with Ellie, including his daily journal of the last few months of her battle with cancer. “I Was Made to Love Her” was more than a Stevie Wonder song to Hornby. His latest book, written about a year ago, was a literary lark which he thoroughly enjoyed writing. Entitled “Calvin Had a Cat,” the purposed author was John Calvin’s cat Ulrich and its life with the famed Reformer. Hornby was fairly proud of this last book, for there was a lot of theology and history included in the “memories” of the Frenchman’s feline. He had promised himself that any student who came to his office and commented on the books he had written would be given his or her choice of one of them for free.

Hornby worked hard to make his office a comfortable place for students to come and ask their questions, talk about their struggles, or just hang out. He had a large plaid couch on the right side as one entered the office, then his desk against the back windows, and then his small refrigerator and microwave. His office furnishings were completed by a year-old Lazyboy recliner FBC’s board had purchased for him to honor his thirty years of teaching Bible and theology. It’s not quite as comfortable as mine at home, he thought to himself, but I have been known to catch a few z’s there before or after class.

His refrigerator was stocked with a pint of Half ‘n half, a canister of Starbucks bold coffee, two six-packs of RC cola, and a package of MoonPies. Hornby had enjoyed an RC cola and a MoonPie (which consisted of a large marshmallow squished between two large chocolaty round cookies) as a child. A perfectly balanced lunch, he laughed to himself. He thought it his mission to share that dual treat with any student who came to visit, and more than a few had left with more energy than when they had come!

Down his hall, past the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms, was the faculty lounge. Someone early in FBC’s history had fought against its creation. Apparently one of the board members, when the building was in the planning stages, had said, “We don’t need a faculty lounge! The last thing our teachers should be doing is standing around drinking a bunch of coffee and shooting the breeze!”

Fortunately, that board member was outvoted and the lounge was created out of two spare offices with the wall between the rooms removed. A local furniture store had donated large leather couches, four overstuffed chairs, and beautiful hardwood coffee tables which displayed the faculty’s recent publications. Oh, and the board person who objected to the lounge? He visited the lounge several times during the semester, observing how the teachers encouraged one another, prayed for each other, and brainstormed together about projects that would help FBC in its mission. He was convinced and showed his “conversion” by purchasing a top-of-the-line coffee machine and a year’s supply of gourmet coffees and teas.

Hornby knew that the nine faculty could easily stay in their own offices getting ready for their classes, but the lounge drew them into a fellowship and community that no number of faculty meetings could ever create. And each was expected to spend at least a few minutes in the lounge after the school’s daily chapel was over and before lunch. A teacher who was seen little in the lounge would be followed up by his or her colleagues to make sure things were going well. This was another perk of teaching at FBC.


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