I am the daughter and granddaughter of ministers, both ordained in The Brethren Church*. If you're not German and from Ohio, Indiana or Illinois, you probably haven't heard of us. We're of the Anabaptist vein of Protestant believers, but because our church loves to fight over doctrine, and then split up, we're a really, really small denomination.
My maternal grandfather was saved at the age of 16 at a tent revival in Long Beach, California. His family was notoriously rough-necked (my great grandfather drilled the first Shell oil well in California) and atheist and his older brothers turned the hose on him when he came home and fully mocked him for becoming a Christian. He attended college at our Church's Bible College in Ohio, driving from California to Ohio and back once a year with three other young men from Southern California. He founded (or church-planted in today's terminology) a church while an undergrad, and then went on to found 14 other churches around the U.S. after graduating from seminary.
From the mid-30's until 1942-is, he was either head of missions for the church or President of the church. In 1939, our denomination split over fundamentalism and the direction of Ashland College. My grandfather spent about 18 months in court testifying over assets (the "Gracies" as I was taught to call the faction that split from us) had changed church locks, taken over buildings and to sort out who got what took a long time and a legal battle. The split created what is known within the church as "The Period of Disillusionment"
It hit my grandfather even harder. After the court settled matters, he packed up his wife and his young daughter and headed back to California. My mom now says that he had a nervous breakdown. For 12 years, he did not set foot in a church. He sold used cars, he sold encylopedias door to door. He provided for his family and he read his Bible, but he never attended church or preached. When my mom was a sophomore in high school, with no forewarning to her or my grandma, he announced that he (they) were headed back to Ashland and he was rejoining the church's national office.
By the time my mom was a sophomore at Ashland College, he had become a full professor of Religion. My memories of my grandfather are all wonderful and amazing and full of love. He is by far the most intelligent person I've ever personally known and the hardest worker. When he taught a course in say, the Book of Hebrews, he would get up at 5:30 every morning for a month before the course began and he would read the entire book. Every morning. He did this for every book of the Bible, every semester, every year.
Sometime in my middle school years, I realized that he had the entire Bible memorized and I loved to shout out a random verse and listen to his booming voice recite that verse.
But his learning wasn't limited to the Bible. He read every issue of Harper's, underlining key information, annotating articles with his notes in the margin. He read The Atlantic, US News and World Report, Time, Newsweek, fiction, non-fiction and Biblical commentary. He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to stage practical jokes. He also loved extremely bawdy humor and he smoked from the time he was 9 until he was 90. He was a genius. He was never a fundamentalist (he was too smart for that, I think) but he fully believed that the Bible was Inerrant and God Given. He defies stereotyping or easy categorizing.
Before he retired from the university, it was unusual to go to his house (I grew up a block away from my grandparents and since there were no streets to cross, we could walk or ride bikes to their house anytime we wanted to do so--for me, that was daily) and not have to wait until he was finished talking to some student who needed help or advice or a friendly ear. He got tons of drunken football players out of trouble and more than one unwed college student told him before telling the parents.
But he was a pain in the behind. He did not bend when he believed that he was right. His doppleganger was an atheist English professor. Once after a heated argument, he threw Dr. Snyder down the stairs. When people asked if I was his granddaughter, I was often afraid to admit to it, because one either loved or hated the man. There wasn't a lot of gray in him, nor in how people felt about him, but I loved him dearly and would defend him to any detractor, even as a shy little kid.
When he died, his funeral service was attended by close to 1,000 people. Hundreds of people shared how my grandfather had led them to Christ. It was touching and comforting and wonderful to my 32 year-old self. For years after he died, I missed him so much that I'd find myself sobbing in the shower or overcome when I would hear one of his favorite hymns.
My mom and my dad maintain that I am my grandfather through and through and I like that. I also know that his experiences when the Church split has had a huge influence on how I view church arguments over doctrine or direction and my lack of patience with those who let things of this earth interfere with the Church's mission on earth.
Like Bono says:
*Oh yea, and did I mention that we feet wash?