“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 15)

06 Jul

~~ Ch. 15 ~~
Tuesday morning’s class was one of Hornby’s favorites. In reality, all of his classes were his favorites, for he considered shaping young minds an incredible privilege.

“Theological Methods and Issues” was an upper-level research class in which students learned how to investigate an issue and write persuasive, evidence-based papers on their chosen topic. And the topics were quite varied. Some chose to take on the issue of abortion and cultural values. Others worked on the topic of male leadership in the Scriptures. And still others investigated unusual subjects that they had thought about for a long time.

Hornby saw his job as helping the student sharpen his or her research question, pursue the best sources for information, and respond to the issue in a culturally-relevant manner. Each year as he taught this particular course, he was impressed with the excellent work of most of the students. In fact, last year he had self-published the top ten papers in the class as a book entitled “Thinking about Theology.” It had become a best seller — among the students’ parents and relatives!

But not all his students were eager to receive his wisdom in sharpening and researching their papers. One older female student proposed writing her paper on the Gullah people of South Carolina. Dr. Hornby, who knew a bit about that Low Country people group, suggested several ways in which that topic could a bit more focused.

“I remember that conversation as if it were yesterday,” Hornby said outloud to himself. “My student listened to my ideas, then looked at me and said, ‘If I followed your advice, Dr. Hornby, that would be your paper, not mine!’” Oh, well, he thought to himself. You can’t help everyone.

Hornby prided himself on his ability to find (and fix) every grammatical error in a student’s paper. He not only dealt with dangling participles and split infinitives, but simple matters such as punctuation errors, comma splices, and unclear antecedents.

He thought back on an email he received from one student who was considering taking his “Theological Methods and Issues” class. He wrote the student, welcoming her into the class, and added that he was death on grammatical errors and she should be prepared to proof-read her final paper several times.
He got back the following email: “Dr. Hornby, I read what you said about your correcting grammar mistakes, and I want you to know that you hurt my feeling.”

Hornby didn’t know how to respond. He wanted to write, “I’m sorry you were offended, and I believe you wanted to say ‘you hurt my feelings’, but I will do my best to help you compose the best paper you can.” Instead he left out the correction and assured her he was looking forward to working with her.

Some students thought that the FBC faculty did not carefully read student papers, but just skimmed them and assigned grades. “Ha!”, Hornby laughed to himself, as he recalled reading a rather lengthy paper on “The Mystics of the Middle Ages” by Kathy, an excellent student in his class. In the middle of her discussion of the philosophical foundation of mysticism, she wrote in a small footnote, “Dr. Hornby, if you are reading this whole paper, I will buy you a Burger King Whooper Meal Friday night at midnight!”

She and her friends were shocked to see Hornby enter the local Burger King at 11:59 pm on Friday night wearing a Burger King crown with a Burger King napkin tucked into his dress shirt and carrying a fork and a knife! That was one delicious meal, Hornby thought to himself!


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