Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thank You "Chainsaw" Charlie

I read today that one of my professors from ACU passed away this morning after a long battle with cancer.  I have to admit, when I think of Dr. Charles Siburt, I'm left with mixed feelings.  He could irritate the snot out of me, yet without him my life would be very different.

After transferring to ACU from Pepperdine, I had a nervous break down.  I won't go into all the details about that; let me just say that my pretty, little 4.0 from Pepperdine fell apart.  My past professors considered me a bright, promising student, but my new professors saw me as mediocre.  When you're planning on earning a Ph.D. of your own and your whole life is academics, that's an identity rattling transition.

There was a good reason Dr. Siburt was called "Chainsaw Charlie."  He had a gift for cutting through the crap and being brutally honest.  There were a few times I was on the receiving end of that chainsaw.  I got the impression he was frustrated because I wasn't focused enough.  I know I was frustrated because after my nervous breakdown, I couldn't focus the way I used to.  Years down the road and looking back, I see that I had some definite pride issues.  I wanted to be respected like the "scholar" I once had been while realistically not performing as the "scholar" I thought myself to be.  Dr. Siburt wouldn't let me play pretend, and although now I see he couldn't do that and still be a good mentor, at the time it made me angry.

That having been said, when I finished my time at ACU I no longer had the desire to go on for a Ph.D.  Through mostly happenstance, I found myself in part time ministry and enjoying it.  After a brief stint teaching religion at a private K-12 school north of Dallas, Kalyn and I moved to Kentucky so I could begin full time ministry.  It wasn't long (think three months) before we knew there were some major disconnects between ourselves and our congregation.  After about a year, we began sending out feelers for other congregations.  It never led anywhere.  Trying to use my contacts, I got a hold of Dr. Siburt to ask if he had any leads.  He had some, but they never led anywhere either.  Months went by, and Kalyn and I started asking hard questions.  Again making a long story short, Kalyn and I eventually realized that many of our major disconnects weren't only with our local congregation, but with our denomination in general.  Not knowing what to do, I sent Dr. Siburt a long (and I mean GIGANTIC) email spelling out all of our concerns and basically saying that I didn't see how I would have a future in the Church of Christ.

For those of you that don't know, ACU is a Church of Christ affiliated university.  Dr. Siburt was a prominent professor and in charge of church relations.  He could have protected himself and his position by telling me it would be fine, that I just had to keep looking in Churches of Christ.  Instead, the first line of his return email was basically, "With the concerns you've voiced, you probably won't be able to find work in a Church of Christ."  Then he proceeded to give me advice on how to move forward, which I took, and have never regretted.

My family and I now find ourselves in a wonderful church and a wonderful denomination.  We are happy; we are supported, and I no longer have to constantly censure what I truly believe about things.  I am in a denomination where I can honestly and genuinely serve.  That couldn't have happened without Dr. Siburt.  That couldn't have happened without him pushing me when I didn't appreciate it.  That couldn't have happened without him supporting me and guiding me when I didn't know what to do.  That couldn't have happened without his willingness to be a reference for me when I was applying for recognition of ordination with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  No matter how much I was frustrated with him, or he with me, he was always there for me, chainsaw in hand, when I popped out of the blue needing help.  As much as his blunt honesty could hurt, I don't know who else to go to now that it's gone.

Dr. Siburt wasn't a loud presence in my life.  He wasn't flashy, or necessarily even prominent, but he was present, and that has made all the difference.  I will always be grateful for that, and I will miss him.


  1. Wow, B.J...I had no idea Chainsaw had died. I haven't spoken to him in a couple of years, but this is surprising. I too had the "privelege" of receiving the chainsaw treatment periodically. I know that I'll surely miss him as well...Arik

    1. "Privelege"...haha. That's one way to put it. I hated when I could hear that chainsaw cranking up, but the trimming always did me good. I'd say the most improtant lesson I learned from him, though, is just how drastic a difference being constantly present in someone's life can make. That's his legacy for me.