Erin McCahan Guest Blog: “That One Professor …”


Today we are delighted to present an exclusive guest blog from I Now Pronounce You Someone Else author Erin McCahan. Thanks once again to Erin for playing with us and to Christelle for setting things up!

I knew in third grade that I wanted to be a writer. By junior high I knew that I’d study writing and literature through school and major in some kind of writing program in college. Even when I began college, I was focused solely on creative writing – creative writing and transferring, but that’s a topic for a different guest-post.

Fast forward to the week before graduation from Capital University, a gorgeous little liberal arts college in my gorgeous little second-hometown of Bexley, Ohio. When I was filling out all the required paperwork and counting up credits, I realized that, quite by accident, I had more than enough credits for a minor in religion and nearly enough – but not quite – for a second major. And the reason for this accumulation of religion credits was a professor, that one professor you hear so many people mention fondly when they look back on life and college.

This professor has different names and different areas of expertise, teaches at different schools, is old and young, seemingly grumpy and the sweetest thing in the world, funny and serious, intimidating and approachable, but universally brilliant and loves teaching for the sake of the subject. This is the Professor Who Changed My Life. And my PWCML is Dr. Carl Skrade, who taught religion at Capital University. (Skrade rhymes with lady.)

I’ve described him on my website as one of those bearded, old-Volvo-driving, hangs-out-with-students-for-hours-after-class types of professors. He never lectured from notes but taught from his heart. He earnestly wanted us to grasp the material while our little nascent intellects were stretched and challenged to the point of exhaustion. Then we’d take a break, regroup and dive right back into the stuff.

Dr. Skrade was the king of handouts – photo copies of poems, book excerpts, quotes. Mountains of them, which saved us students a small fortune in textbook fees. And no matter the class, he always handed out a Rupert Brooke poem called Heaven. It’s Heaven seen from the eyes of a fish, and although I have not seen that poem in over 20 years, I quoted the last line of it so often in papers and to friends that I remember it to this day:

“And in that Heaven of all their wish,

there shall be no more land, say fish.”

This poem was my introduction to Dr. Skrade. I got my first copy of it on the first day of the first class I took from him. I think it was a class on the New Testament, and there I was, Day One, reading about fish and wondering what to make of it, wondering, to be honest, what to make of Dr. Skrade – a bit shaggy in appearance, confident, serious but with a disarming smile that, when it appeared, remained a little longer than it would have were he so gruff as his countenance suggested.

I liked him on Day One, liked the poem, liked that in a class that could be dusty with history and laborious with Lutheran theology, we began by talking about fish. Fish. Perspective. Heaven. Creation. God.

It all percolated uncomfortably in me where it was met by a gross misunderstanding of the nature of God I developed as a child. (The origin of this is also a topic for another guest-post. Someday. Maybe.) For now, it’s sufficient to say that from that very first class, the things Dr. Skrade taught me began to take root and began to challenge my long-held and wholly incorrect belief system.

The man was gorgeously convicted, and he taught seemingly incomprehensible concepts in small but manageable steps, making it impossible for me to either disregard or disprove the material. And sometimes I tried. Some of the concepts I learned were initially uncomfortable. Sometimes, I wanted to chuck the whole thing and just go back to bumper-sticker Christianity, and he knew that but never let me slide back into fallacy.

I was hungry for that, so hungry that I wanted to know every single thing this man knew. So I took all his classes and ended up with a religion minor and went to seminary after graduating, just so I could keep studying the ideas Dr. Skrade introduced me to.

But seminary was expensive, and I didn’t really want to become a minister, so I eventually left and returned to my love of writing, taking any freelance job that came my way. Couple years later, the position of youth minister became available at my church, and my minister, knowing I had some formal education here, offered it to me. I took it, only because I didn’t have the heart to say no, loved it, did it for 10 years, all the while writing in semi-secret. And finally I realized that, wait, here I’ve worked with teenagers and young adults for a decade. I’ve heard everything there is to hear – drugs, sex, trauma, drama. Why not write for and about them? So I did. I do.

It’s all linked in my mind. I went to seminary because of Dr. Skrade. I got the job in youth ministry because of my few semesters in seminary. I started writing YA because of my job in youth ministry, and I became a published author from that. And it all began at Capital University, in one of Dr. Skrade’s classes over a poem about Heaven and fish.

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One response to “Erin McCahan Guest Blog: “That One Professor …”

  1. I remember Dr. Skrade just as fondly, though not as vividly as you do. I had him for Religion 101 at Capital in my freshman year in 1975. Another student, a bit too goody-two-shoes for my taste, warned me not to take a class from him. I knew he was the professor for me!
    I went to seminary, too — 30 years later — and received a scholarship based on an essay I wrote referencing Paul Tillich. Tillich was one of the few theologians I had identified with in my life … and of course, you know, I was introduced to Tillich by Dr. Skrade. Before attending seminary I was a professor for about 10 years. I hope one of my students remembers me as fondly as I remember Dr. Skrade.

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