Donald Wentler (1st Quarter, 2009)

1st Quarter, 2009
Dale E. Fridell Scholarship Winner
Donald Wentler

Going to graduate school at the age of 56 is an absolute joy.  I love the learning process and can only say as I have already finished my first semester is, School Rocks!!!

A Portion of Donald’s Winning Essay:

Donald Wentler

My answer to both essay questions are in my response to this, the first essay question. My scholarly pursuit is one in which it could be said that I have been working on all my life and has become defined by my experience with God at church summer camp when I was sixteen.

Three events occurred there that made me question and finally understand everything I believed, then and now. First, a group of college singers from Naperville College came to camp and took part in the Bible study groups held there. My Christian Living group was one of these. They shared their beliefs and introduced concepts from Nietsche, Camus, Hume and other philosophers. I did not understand a lot of the terms they used, or the concepts they raised; but, I understood enough that their ideas overwhelmed my thinking capacities with questions about God and life I could not answer. Somewhere inside my brain what they said made sense. I now know that their basic thrust was that human beings could never know God, if God exists, and that physical reality was an illusion.

Directly resulting from the first event came the second, it occurred at the church camp’s swimming pool. The next day after the study groups had met I decided to go swimming to free my mind from the thoughts of nothingness that I found myself suddenly being driven toward. I tried to dive into the water but did a belly-flop instead. The pain was excruciating but I had somehow separated my mind from the waves of pain coursing through my body. So, I purposely did another belly flop, then another and another until I was barely mobile. I managed to get myself out of the swimming pool and as I sat down to rest everything and everyone around me seemed to slow down and become very, very distant.

A deep, soul consuming silence came over me, and in that silence I knew I was unmitigatingly alone. I also had the jarring realization that no difference existed in the worth of a human life and the life of a worm. Whatever reality was, I was not in it. I stood on the outside of everything and it was unbearably empty.

Later that night, I went forward during the evening worship service. I was unable to talk to anyone about what I was experiencing because I did not have the words to express myself. I knew I could not be helped by anyone or anything. I had not heard a word the preacher had said, but I went forward anyway. I thought, “. . . what have I got left to lose.”

I knelt down at the altar – and nothing happened. I remember thinking to myself, “Here I am Lord, if you can do anything, well, now is a good time,” and, nothing happened. Meanwhile one of my friends from my home church had also come down to the altar and knelt beside me. She started crying and somehow I felt her pain, so I quietly said, “Lord, I know I’m lost, but please help her.”

And then the third thing happened – I got zapped! I do not use this term loosely. Zapped is the best physical description for what happened. I felt healing tongues of electricity engulf me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet; and then after awhile, slowly leave. I had received an infilling of the Holy Spirit! There are no words that can express just exactly what I experienced that night, but I now knew, really knew, in my mind and in my heart that life was real and good because Jesus Christ had made it so. All life was, and is, to be found in him. I cried quite a bit that night, mainly out of gratitude with a deep sense of joy as well as, love, hope and peace. I still live by the phenomena of the Person I experienced that night.

With this as my background statement, I have learned to live not from a strict standpoint of immutable doctrine or even of hard-nosed self-assurance; but rather, I live in the growing process of obedient trust in Jesus Christ and of exploratory growth in the life God has given me. I explore and seek to understand others’ beliefs and faiths from their point of view.

I began the earnest preparation for this task by attending Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois, majoring in Philosophy and Religion to do God study. However, upon graduating from Greenville College, I felt I needed to obtain a stronger experiential understanding of people from a wider range of life.

For that reason, I began working for Underwriters Laboratories, also known as U.L. I traveled throughout the Eastern United States for nineteen years inspecting and testing burglar alarm systems. Working for UL was a relatively fulfilling career. It not only provided people with the sorely needed means of protecting their livelihood; it also provided me with the opportunity I would not have otherwise had to meet, and on occasion become friends with individuals from very different walks and conditions of life.

In 2001 I left Underwriters Laboratories because I had become ill with major depression disorder. After three years of continuous treatment and recovery, I felt called to go back to school. I enrolled at Brooklyn College and majored in Anthropology to study human beings. Consequently, I rediscovered my love of learning, eagerly soaking up every course I took. In actuality I simply could not get enough. I was so driven by my desire to learn, and to share what I was learning, that I ended up mentoring thirty students in the three years I was at Brooklyn College.Of these individuals half were able to pull their grades up from failing to As and Bs.

While still working for Underwriters Laboratories I also began leading and teaching my church Bible study groups. As each study progressed I found myself relying more and more upon my religious studies from Greenville College. Bible dictionaries, commentaries, concordances and theological textbooks that I had used at Greenville became excellent resources for class discussion.

In one Bible Study in particular, the Adult Church school class at Immanuel and First Spanish United Methodist Church in Brooklyn, New York, I became the resource person for presenting multiple positions on biblical and theological issues. Some of the more intense issues covered by the class were televangelist faith healers, sin and homosexuality, abortion, our involvement in overseas wars, evolution and the Bible, witchcraft and the paranormal.

On some of these issues I feel I presented a fair hearing both pro and con. On other issues, I was less than adequate but nonetheless, the class clearly enjoyed the learning experience.  When I left Immanuel Church in 2007 I was left speechless when 3 of the 6 class members confided that the deciding factor for their continued membership in the United Methodist church was directly related to the manner in which I had led the class.

I am passionate about learning and teaching the Bible and theology. I get excited when fellow students suddenly take out notepads because I have presented something they need or want to learn more about that goes beyond a surface look at the Bible. Similarly, I find myself consistently awed by the personal knowledge and experiences class members bring to the discussions. I have found that when put in the right context and with any modicum of enthusiasm the average layperson is hungry to learn what can be offered at more than just a face value reading of the Bible.

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