I was born in 1952 in Stamford, CT, the second of four sons to Frederick H. and Jean V. Long. My father's family came to this country in the 1820s and moved to the Mohawk Valley of New York State when Upstate New York was being settled from New England. My mother's family traces its American origins to the 1630s in Stratford, CT. One of my ancestors was a founding member of that town in 1639.
I attended public schools in nearby Darien until my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967. The internal dissonance between my Puritan-inclined upbringing in the "land of gentle habits" and the hip environment in California during the Summer of Love was probably one of the major factors leading to my embrace of Evangelical Protestantism during my later high school years. [My earlier religious upbringing could most charitably be described as tepid New England Congregationalism.] I graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School in 1970 and then attended Brown University in Providence, RI.
Brown made headlines the previous year for its bold and innovative curricular design, and my class was the first to see the implementation of the "New Curriculum." I began as a math major, because everyone in my family was math-inclined, but changed to the study of religion in my sophomore year. I took courses in biblical languages as well as a variety of courses in the history and philosophy of religion. Religion departments even in secular universities in those days were based on the model of Protestant theological seminaries; during my professional career as a teacher of religion the field saw a shift in departmental organization that reflected the religious realities of the world as well as the humanistic orientation of modern religion scholarship. My first extensive written effort was a 75-page undergraduate honors thesis on the "Concept of Messiah in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs." It was a burning issue at the time, at least for a few people.
I was quite unapologetic about my Evangelical faith during my days at Brown, and so no one was surprised when I decided to attend divinity school. My religion mentors, however, were (rightly...a comment from 2004) concerned that I wanted to attend an Evangelical Protestant school without a pedigreed tradition of scholarship. They knew of my conservative leanings at the time, and explained to me if I wanted to go "really conservative" I should go to Princeton Theological Seminary. For not the first time in my life I disregarded well-meaning, and probably correct, advice and packed off to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA.
I immersed myself in theological study with a gusto that would have made my forebears in the Reformed theological tradition proud. During my second and third years I also taught biblical greek and, in my third year, was student body president. In the campaign for student body president I was pitted against an older student, generally pro-administration, from Princeton University named Bliss. Using the clever slogan "Ignorance is Bliss," I sailed into office. At seminary I also met the woman who would be my future wife for 24 years (1977-2001) in a marriage that had its many wonderful moments but ended in a disappointing way.
I knew I was good at studying, and so I wanted to pursue doctoral work after GCTS. My undergraduate advisor from Brown called to invite me to apply to the new Ph. D. program in the History of Religions: Early Christianity. Before I got off the phone he offered me the full University scholarship, which paid my tuition, gave me a generous stipend and assured teaching assistantships during my doctoral career. What fun, I thought. So my new wife and I decided to live in Boston (a more exciting city than Providence in those days; come to think of it, in 2004 also) while I commuted to my doctoral program at Brown.
There were about eight or nine new students doing Ph. D. work in religion at Brown in 1977, and these were fairly evenly split among Western Religious Thought, Judaism and Early Christianity. One of my other two colleagues who spent a lot of time in Early Christianity is now the dean of a small Catholic college; the other holds a chair at Harvard Divinity School. I thoroughly enjoyed the academic environment and interfaith dialogue which the department provided. During my third year my academic advisor, a German [as were almost all the leading professors in biblical studies at Ivy League schools at that time], urged me to seek a year abroad, preferably at the University of Tuebingen, which was one of the most renowned schools for theological scholarship in Europe.
I wrote a letter to one of the Tuebingen professors, who was shaking up the academic world at the time by some of his work, applied for the DAAD ("German Academic Exchange Award"; yeah I know the initials don't match, but I thought I would give them in English), got my professor to attest to my knowledge of German (he was generous in his assessment!) and was awarded this wonderful fellowship. It ended up not only paying for our trip and living expenses, but it also included a scholarly visit to Oxford (to chat with a scholar working on issues interesting to me) and trips throughout Germany and Switzerland, including a trip to East Berlin. A thesis came out of the trip (along with many other memories and acquaintances), and I soon completed my 400-page dissertation: "The Trial of Paul in the Book of Acts: Literary, Historical and Theological Considerations." The title evinces the ponderosity which not only surrounded theological scholarship at the time, but also...me.
We returned to the States in September 1981. Actually I got a six month extension on the DAAD (until Feb. 1982) but my mother called me in Germany in August 1981 to say that my father's health was failing rapidly. He actually would die about midnight on December 20, 1981, exactly eight hours before I began a series of grueling interviews for my first teaching position. The interviews led to my traveling all over the country to look at campuses, meet professors and students and be sized up by committees. I ended up being offered a position to teach religion and humanities at Reed College in Portland, OR. Since Portland was my wife's home town, and since she wanted to be near family as we raised our children (born in 1982 and 1987), we decided to move to Portland.
I taught at Reed from 1982-88 and was Assistant Professor of Religion and Humanities. I published a few scholarly articles during my time at Reed, but most of my focus was on teaching and activity in the Portland community. I had always wanted a public venue for my work, and the presence of the Rajneesh community 90 miles away from Portland and my location at the most academically-visible school in Portland provided the occasion for me to have a visible community presence, first in religious communities and, increasingly, in partisan and non-partisan politics. For example, I was elected to the Board of Directors of Portland Community College in 1985 and served five years on that board. In addition, I was ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1984 and used that ordination to teach and lead classes galore at churches and synagogues throughout the Pacific Northwest.
One of the most valuable experiences I had at Reed, bar none, was my teaching in the collegewide humanities program. Based on a Chicago model, this year-long program acquainted students with primary texts from the Western tradition from Homer to Dante. Teaching the literature was a challenge, stretch and joy. I never realized what an advantage it is in understanding human life, as well as Western literature and history, to have a thorough grounding in classic texts. Because I had been "Bible-obsessed" before this time, I felt that my classical education was now being completed. It is an inexhaustible fountain from which I have continually replenished myself ever since.
While teaching at Reed, I had an unusual opportunity to take a leave and write editorials for the Oregonian newspaper. It happened like this. David Broder, who even at that time was probably the dean of American political reporters, came to Reed in early Spring 1985 to give a talk. I managed to be the person to introduce him at his formal talk and thus was invited to a private reception for him afterwards. The editorial page editor for the Oregonian was at the reception and, after a conversation for a while, he asked me if I would be interested in writing for the paper, to bring a greater "humanistic" approach to writing editorials. I really didn't know what he meant but the challenge was attractive, I had just been awarded a Vollum Junior Sabbatical and I relished the opportunity to write on a daily basis. During the Summer and Fall of 1985, then, I wrote several dozen editorials for the Oregonian, which I still keep in a scrapbook at home.
If you are still reading at this point, you may have a number of questions. First, what happened to that Evangelical faith that seemed to be the foundation of my life from the late 1960s until at least the 1980s? Since I was being hired by the Oregonian to write "humanistic essays" (and the editorial page editor was Jewish), what became of that Evangelical fervor? And, again, it seems like things had gone pretty smoothly in life so far. When do we get to the juicy stuff, where loss enters, where the pains of life catch up to me? Finally, since I am currently a lawyer and a law professor, when did that interest emerge? I don't plan to address all of these issues here. There are other places where I do or other occasions where I will. Suffice it to say that even if I had left the social world of Evangelical Protestantism sometime early in the 1980s, the effect of that manner of thinking stayed with me until at least 2000 if not longer. And, with respect to losses, I have had many but I do not want to "lead" with them. The fact that the early focus of my web page was on the Book of Job, and that I plan to write during 2004-05 on Shakespeare's tragedies might hint at something in that area. But some will have to be left silent at this point.
I returned to Reed after my sabbatical but was itching for something different than teaching religion and humanities at an elite college. I decided to apply for a ministry position as interim head of staff of a large, left-leaning Presbyterian congregation in Portland. I liked the opportunities I had to teach in church contexts at that time; perhaps, I thought, ministry would be a good place to hone those skills and develop others. I knew several well-placed members of the congregation because of my public visibility over the previous few years; one of them even served with me on the Portland Community College Board of Directors. Westminster offered me the interim pastoral position, and I began an 18-month stint on my 36th birday, May 15, 1988.
After completing the time at Westminster, I faced, for the first time, some questions about the next step in life. I didn't want to return to teaching religion. Even though the ministry position had been engaging, I didn't relish aspects of the job (fund-raising, for example). I also began to note that many people acted differently toward me upon learning that I was a pastor. It seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help in developing personal relationships, especially with people who had no church or religious background.
So, I did what I do best when uncertainty prevails. Take a sabbatical. For about six months at the end of 1989 and until the middle of 1990 I read a lot of great literature, refreshed my biblical languages and was around home more for my wife and children. Then a call came out of the blue from an acquaintance--the Dean--at a small Presbyterian-related college in Kansas. I had visited Sterling College in February 1988 to deliver some lectures under the auspices of the Staley Foundation, and the Dean was calling to see what I was up to. I think I mumbled something about interviewing for pastoral and teaching positions. At that point he said that they were searching for someone to teach in the world history program at the college. Though I had never lived in the Midwest, and though my visit to Sterling happened when the brown motonony of the Kansas February landscape was broken only by the gray of the sky, I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of teaching world history. It would give me a bigger "canvas" on which to paint [focus on the religious traditions alone was, I felt, too limiting for me], it would enable me to learn a lot of things that I wanted to learn for a long time, and it would give me an opportunity to retreat from a busy Oregon life as my kids were actually becoming fun to be around. In addition, my wife had only returned to work part-time after the birth of our son in 1987, and she was willing to try this new (and perhaps misguided) adventure. I accepted the position at Sterling and we left Oregon, with Mount Hood in the rear view mirror, on August 18, 1990. We stayed in Kansas until the "Bob Dole for President" signs began to appear in the Spring/Summer of 1996.
The contrasts between rural Kansas and Portland, Oregon, were immense. I was living in a town of 2,000 with a college population of 500 students, drawn primarily from the surrounding farm communities. Many of the students were first-generation college students. In contrast to Reed, which has the highest rate of students going on to get Ph.D.s of any college its size, few students from Sterling do graduate work immediately after college. It was a reverse culture shock to what 1967 had been for me. Instead therefore of having a conservative reaction to the Summer of Love by becoming an Evangelical, I had a liberal reaction to Sterling College (an Evangelical school) by becoming increasingly more (negatively) vocal about the concept of Christian higher education itself and what was then called a "Christian World and Life View."
Perhaps I was a person who would ultimately be uncomfortable in any life situation that involved working with others, I thought. I sometimes still entertain that idea. But I decided to stick it out at Sterling for six years. I was able to teach what I wanted in the courses that were on the books. So, in addition to the standard "World Civilization" courses and the "periods of Western history" and "regions" of the World, I introduced the study of Islam to this small Christian college and offered seminars on both of Augustine's great works (The Confessions and The City of God), in addition to a seminar during January session on memorization. I never bought into the modern academic notion that the most important thing about learning was learning how to learn. I have always felt that mastery of a content that is internalized, from which one can derive continuing insight, is the goal for me. Memorized lines can teach you 24 hours a day; "learning how to learn," well, I don't even know what that means.
I also went to Sterling to begin my writing. During the hectic days of the 1980s in Portland I would sometimes receive offers to write articles or even books, but I would generally turn them down (again, a terrible decision, if one considers academic tenure an important thing in life) or not answer the letters. Now, however, I wanted to start to say some things. During 1991 I entered into a writing relationship with Glandion Carney, an African-American man who was working for an Evangelical organization which had a press (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), and he was able to secure book contracts for us of biblical subjects. He would secure the contracts, we would talk about the chapters to be written, but then I would do the planning, sketching out of the chapters and writing, and we would split everything. At first I was so grateful to have a ready outlet for my ideas that I didn't mind that arrangement. In more recent years that has become problematic to me.
In any case, during my Sterling years, I began to write with great eagerness. The summer of 1991 saw my autobiography, 39 and Lost in America. After I wrote it (150 single-spaced pages on my old Mac with its ink-jet printer), I called some presses to determine their possible interest in publication. One editor kindly told me that until I was famous, I didn't have a life. That was even before "Get a life!" entered into the argot of teenspeak. 'If only I had taken his rejection by developing the phrase,' I now think. It possibly would have led to the life that I didn't have. At that time I guess I just didn't know how to make lemonade out of lemons. More recently, I have been thinking of writing Vol. 2 of my autobiography sometime in the near future, but Job and Shakespeare have taken precedence for now. Were I to write volume 2, I would not just make it 1991-2005 (or whenever), but would reinterpret the events I interepreted in 1991. Some of my construals of my past have changed in the intervening years.
In the summer of 1992 I began working on a book on the Psalms, which was published in 1993 under the title Longing for God: Prayer and the Rhythms of Life. What I liked about this book (and I hope it is reprinted some day) is that I approached the Psalms from four categories which I felt mirrored the movement of the heart in the context of life: yearning, distress, trust and praise. I found Psalms to mirror these movements, and each chapter in the book is a meditation on a Psalm by category. As years went on, I developed a mnemonic and added one point, so that my lectures/classes on the Psalms cover the following rhythms: Longing, Losing, Listening, Loving, Laughing. I like the latter better, but the book got me started in thinking seriously about the Psalms, the rhythm of life, the role of distress in life, and the way the Bible can be read in tragic and sad circumstances.
The book was published the week before I went to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (Jan 1, 1994) as a Joseph Malone Fellow of the National Council on U.S-Arab Relations. I sensed well before the current hoopla that the key foreign policy/religious issue for America in the 21st century would be to relate to the Muslim world [I remember even writing an editorial about it in 1985, in which I tried to explain to the Oregonian readers the difference between Shia and Sunni Islam].
The next three summers saw my writing reach a fever pitch of activity. Maybe I knew that my days in Kansas and the luxurious months of writing would soon end. In any case, I wrote my first book on Job, Trusting God Again: Regaining Hope in Disappointment or Loss (the last words were not my suggestion..) in summer of 1994, and it was published in 1995. In addition, I had been working on a curriculum to train church leaders ever since 1991, and that project, put out by a committee which I chaired, was published in 1996. Then, there was another press which heard of the work on Job and wanted me to write a briefer piece on Job for study groups. The result of this, Who in the World Can You Trust? was not published until 2002 or 2003, even though it was written in 1995.
Two other works came out of 1995 and 1996. I had a student in one of my classes who was definitely the most "famous" Sterling College student of that era. Raised in an abusive environment and then saved from it through adoption by an Air Force couple, Shawn Huff had been recognized by the first President Bush as one of his "1000 Points of Light." He overcame tremendous physical and emotional adversity to be an excellent college athlete, a serious student and a considerate and compassionate friend. I asked him after class one day if anyone had told his story in more than just a news article. He said that no one had. I offered to do so, if he would be willing to talk with me during the Spring of 1995. He consented, and so each week I would set up the tape recorder and ask Shawn about his life. We would meet formally for at least two hours each week. In addition, he provided me with medical records from his past and names of people from Texas to North Dakota to Colorado who had nurtured him. I pored through all this material and wrote a 180 page biography of Shawn in the summer of 1995 called Out of Darkness: The Story of Shawn Huff. When I presented his grandmother with a bound typescript of Shawn's story, she cried.
Then, in the summer of 1996, even though I had already decided to enter law school, and my family had agreed that we had been in Kansas long enough, I wanted to write one more book. This time it was on Jesus, and I called it Yearning Minds and Burning Hearts: Rediscovering the Spirituality of Jesus. The book sought to pick up on the strong interest in Jesus and the renewed focus on spirituality and wed the two by looking at how Jesus conceptualized and practiced his own discipleship. Because the book did not come out until I was well into my first year of law school, I did not have a chance to promote the book, and it has since gone out of print. However, this is another book that I believe is worthy either of revision or reprinting. As I left Kansas in 1996, then, I did so with a great deal of satisfaction from the perspective of my writing. Seven books (or major parts of books) in six years. Focus on three of the most important, from my perspective, texts or people in the Bible: the Psalms, Job and Jesus.
But I left Kansas to try something new: law school. I knew as early as 1993 that I did not want to stay in Kansas for the long term, but I did not quite know how to extricate myself from my situation. My wife at the time was the Associate Pastor of a congregation in a town not far from Sterling, and she was ready for a change in 1996 also. The selection of law school as the next step was not as unusual as it might seem. As early as 1970, after I had applied to Brown as a high school senior, I said in my alumni interview that I intended to study law after I went to Brown. I remember as early as eighth and ninth grade, still in Darien, CT, being fascinated with the work of the Supreme Court and getting books out of the public library to learn about the Justices and their work. As I interpret it now, I had an initial longing for law, but it was drowned out by the Siren call of religion. I felt that I had devoted a lot of attention to religion, and then to history, and that now, in 1996, I could heed the "first call" I heard, the study of law.
But, where to go? I knew that going to law school would put my family (with kids now 14 and 9) through some additional changes, so we decided it would be best if we returned to Oregon and I attended one of Oregon's law schools. In addition, since I would be starting a new career in my 40s, I wanted to do so in a place where I already knew some people. The contacts I made in Portland in the 1980s would be very helpful in landing me a lawyering job at Stoel Rives in 2000.
So, we returned to Oregon and Salem, Oregon to be precise. Willamette offered me the best deal, and I wanted to be in the capital city, near the appellate courts, the legislature, the state archives and an undergraduate school where I knew the religion faculty (from my Reed days a decade earlier). I ended up teaching part-time in the religion department during my second year of law school (1997-98); it was the last time I have taught undergraduates.
Law school was a new and interesting challenge, but my historical, literary and philosophical background aided me a great deal in my study. The professors were kind to me, even though I wasn't the typical law school student. I flirted with the possiblity of pursuing a joint degree in law and business, and even enrolled in the business classes during the Fall of 1997, but I quickly lost interest in that venture, and needed to stay one semester longer in law school than I previously anticipated (thus I finished in December 1999). I began to love law not only because it attempted to provide a reasoned explanation for coming to small and large decisions but for two reasons that people never seemed to understand. Both can be explained by reference to my past training in historical and biblical studies.
First, I used to tell people, I loved dealing with American law or the common law tradition because it was all in English. Even though some of that English, or a good deal of that English, might not be in memorable or easily understandable prose, at least it was English. After all, as a student of ancient religions, I needed to work in several languages. My dissertation was written in five, and I have studied twelve (I didn't say I have learned twelve!) so far. I thought I was in a dream world of sorts when all the texts and references were in English, and the Latin was used not as a communication device but as a sort of legal shorthand. Second, I used to remark that generally there was enough written material to be able to come to a decision on the meaning of a provision of law or of the tax code or of most texts I was studying (this was difficult to do, admittedly, for older legal texts, such as provisions in a state constitution). Legislative history, contemporary news articles, and scholarly commentary all provided me enough material to come to a decision on the meaning of a text that was not purely fanciful.
I make this second point because my inability to do this for biblical materials ultimately led to my leaving the field of professional biblical studies. I was a historian of religion. Historians try to reconstruct past societies or realities based on written records or other deposits from the past. Often historians are forced to extrapolate from two shards of a pot or elusive lines of a poorly-preserved text to add "color" to the period which they are studying. I left biblical studies because I could not get my elementary historical questions answered about the historical realities assumed behind the biblical narratives. For example, in studying the biblical prophetic literature, one of the most important questions to me is to understand WHO the prophets were. What was their "social location" when they boldly stated "Thus saith the Lord"? To be sure, biblical scholars are interested in that question, and give a wonderful variety of answers to it, but none has a degree of solidity that I require to be comfortable in myself that meaning has been established. For example, if we knew that Amos came from Tekoa and that he probably wrote in the first decades of the eighth century B.C.E., I would ask questions, "What was the population of Tekoa at that time? What was the nature of social life? What about Amos' family? Did things change from 790 to 780 B.C.E. in Tekoa? What were formative influences on Amos?" You get the point. I would ask dozens of questions that not only had no answer to them but had no possibility of being answered. I could multiply my examples. I found law initially refreshing because there were, by and large, records that would help explain what things meant.
During my second year as a student, I decided to try my hand at legal writing. I was teaching in the religion department at the time, too, but wrote a paper as a member of law review that the Willamette Law Review decided to publish in 1998. Called "Requiem for Robertson: The Life and Death of a Free-Speech Framework in Oregon," the article tried to explore the history of the Oregon Supreme Court's free speech jurisprudence. The title of my article, which only one person has asked about, is derived from a person whose framework I was criticizing in the article, retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans Linde. Early in his career he wrote an influential law review article on free speech under the federal constitution the subtitle of which was something like "Dissonance in the Brandenberg Concerto," because he was dealing with three cases on free speech and Brandenburg was one of them. Taking off on his musical metaphor, I entitled my article "Requiem for Robertson." Robertson was the Oregon case in which Linde tried to set out a free speech framework under the Oregon Constitution. Of course, I was trying to suggest that the Oregon framework was, so to speak, dead.
During the last semester in law school (Fall 1999), I was getting restless again, and so I decided to study and then write a book on the history of the Oregon death penalty. Titled A Tortured History: The Story of Capital Punishment in Oregon (published in 2001), it really was the first effort to try to give historical shape and legal understanding to the history of Oregon's dealings with capital punishment. The book played to rave reviews, and I received an award for it.
During two summers (1998 and 1999) I worked as a summer associate at Stoel Rives in Portland, and then began working for them full time after finishing law school. But by that time (Spring 2000) a number of things began to happen in my personal life that eventually led to my divorce (October 1, 2001) and my son's living with me in Salem. My three year period at Stoel Rives was spent under the shadow of some very difficult personal circumstances. My home at the firm was in the trial practice group, and in the three years I was there I worked on a variety of cases from the extremely complex and drawn-out (we had been suing the federal government for 17 years on one of the cases; we won a multi-million dollar judgment against the government in 2002) to the relatively routine. Much of my satisfaction came from working on pro-bono cases. I helped secure asylum in America for a Benadir refugee from the Somali civil war. I wrote a clemency brief (ultimately unsuccessful) for a death row inmate asking for a commutation of his sentence from death to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Most satisfying was a victory won at the Oregon Court of Appeals, in which that court reversed a lower court ruling to allow my client (a single African-American man) to have custody of his mixed-race child instead of the grandparents who had taken custody of the child after the murder, by a third party, of the child's mother. The case helped define the contours of the "biological preference" under Oregon law in child custody cases.
I was living in Salem during the entire time of my work at Stoel Rives. After the divorce and my gaining custody of our son (our daughter was studying at the University of Oregon after September 2000), it became increasingly difficult for me to add those three hours per day for commuting at the same time as developing a law practice and caring for a teenage son, and so at the end of January 2003 I left Stoel Rives. I suggested to my son well before that time that we move to Portland and start life anew there, but he felt (and I didn't disagree) that he had experienced enough turmoil in his life since 2001; any stability through friends and school would be greatly desired. When I gave up commuting the long hours to Portland, I vowed that I never would commute to a job again. We will see how that holds.
Thus, since January 2003 I have been teaching as an Adjunct Professor at my law alma mater, Willamette University College of Law. At first they asked me to teach the Jurisprudence class, which I did in Spring 2003. That was followed by a course in Employment Law (Fall 2003) and then courses on Insurance Law and Sales Law (Spring 2004). I think they realized that they have stretched me too thin, and my focus will be on Jurisprudence and Sales during 2004-05. I do not know if I will continue to teach after that time. My hope is that the web site might be attractive enough to people who think and write that it might launch me into my next career.
So we come to the summer of 2004, when I am drafting this longer autobiography. I am living with my son, Will, who is 17 and will head off to college in Fall 2005, and our faithful Westie Molly. Will's older sister, Sydney, was a 2004 graduate of the University of Oregon (English and Journalism). She will spend 2004-05 in New York City trying out her wings as she gets a flavor of a different coast. I have been fortunate to have friends who have been close during several difficult days in the past few years. My next book will be out in September 2004 and will be on the Book of Job. I have completely rewritten the earlier one, though some resemblance is no doubt present. Mini-essay writing, development of new friendships and caring for my son (and our dog Molly) takes up a good deal of my time now. It is a very good life.
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