Despite what your geometry teacher told you, parallel lines sometimes can intersect far off in the distance. Two parallel paths of my life converged in the autumn of 1999 when I began my career at Luther College. One of those paths was a commitment to God and the Church that had called me into the ordained ministry more than two decades earlier. A second path was a lifelong fascination with radio, television, and electronics which had begun as a hobby and turned into a profession.
I took apart my first TV set at about age 12. I wanted the parts to build a shortwave transmitter, and in taking that old broken TV apart, I also got some idea of what had made it work. At age 15 I passed a federal examination in electronic theory and radio law to obtain an amateur radio license, allowing me to transmit signals to other amateurs around the world. I had my heart set on a career as an electronics engineer, but looking at my math grades, my high school guidance counselor suggested I might be more successful in something else. Later, when my highest ACT score was on the math portion of the test, I questioned that decision, but by then the die was cast.
Some people are “P.K.s”—Preacher’s Kids. I was an “O.K.”—the organist’s kid. My father has been a church musician for nearly 70 years, and he and my mother continue to be very involved in church activities even in old age. Church was just what our family did. I fell in love with a church camp and went there as a camper every summer until I was old enough to join the staff. I sang in choirs, went to youth events, taught Sunday School, and was treasurer of the Luther League. My college choices boiled down to a small selection of Lutheran liberal arts colleges, and I soon had declared myself a pre-seminary student with majors in history and sociology.
But the interest in radio and electronics remained. I hung out at the local AM radio station, where they let me read newscasts, and in J-term of my senior year I convinced a physics professor to sign off on an independent study to work toward passing my commercial radio operator’s license—another federal exam—that would allow me to be employed at a broadcast station. When my new bride and I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, so that I could start seminary, I used that license to get a job as a technician for public television. They paid me to watch Sesame Street and other PBS shows, and if everything went smoothly, I could study between station breaks. After my first year of seminary I quit school to work full time for a local NBC station, but like Jonah, several months later I found myself heading back to seminary and on my way to ordination.
As a parish pastor, I was frequently called upon to use my media background for various church media projects. I was appointed to synod communication committees, and eventually, to the ELCA Communication Advisory Committee. But daily work in a congregation was quite separate from the media, so I began to take some media courses at a nearby university. I hadn’t known that there were scholars who actually studied the history of technology and the ways media affect society. Those few part-time courses eventually led to a master’s degree, and at age 45 I resigned my parish to begin a Ph.D. program in mass communication.
Coming to Luther allowed these separate strands in my life to converge. Here I remain a pastor of the Church, guest preaching frequently around Northeast Iowa and working with churches to improve their communication efforts, while serving in a ministry of education, sharing my knowledge of the media with my students. Parallel lines really can intersect!