By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – October 17, 2016) — Pastors that have interests and occupations outside of ministry has always held a curiosity for me; maybe because I’m one of them. The curiosity is not in any judgmental way, something like, “How dare you do something other than work for the church.” No. My curiosity comes in the form of finding that outside interests of pastors help shed light on our common humanity — of people enjoying God’s gracious gifts — both in the church (special revelation) and outside of church (general revelation). There are many parsons (to use an old phrase) with varied specializations.
The catalog of ministers that have been bi-vocation is a list too long to note. But it could easily begin with the Apostle Paul who was a tent-maker (obviously he was good at making things with his hands) and an evangelist, church planter, and theologian. Augustine was both a Bishop and writer. Albert Magnus was a Bishop and early scientist. Francis of Assisi was an evangelist and musician. John Donne was a poet and priest. Antonio Vivaldi was a priest and composer. George Herbert was a country parson and poet. Jonathan Swift was an essayist, novelist, and cleric. Jonathan Edwards was a pastor, evangelist, theologian, and naturalist. Lewis Carroll was a clergyman, writer, and mathematician. Gregor Mendel was a priest and botanist. RS Thomas was an Anglican priest and poet. Fray Angelico Chavez was a poet, artist, and priest. John Polkinghorne is both an Anglican priest and physicist.
The list could go on and on, but you get my point: throughout the centuries there’s lots of clergyman than have outside interests.
Recently I came across another of these clergymen: Ross Calvin. As a Harvard trained scholar (Master’s degree in English and a Ph.D. in English philology), Ross Calvin left the Midwest and east for the west after he entered the ministry as an Anglican priest. While serving a church in Silver City, New Mexico, Calvin began his book, Sky Determines, probing the geography, culture, botany, and meteorology of the southwest. The book was a success, receiving reviews from across the globe. Calvin biographer, Ron Hamm, calls Sky Determines Calvin’s masterpiece, saying, “It’s easier to list the newspapers that didn’t review Sky Determines than those that did.” Sky Determines brought Calvin some notoriety during his lifetime (the book was originally published in 1934), but has since become a bookmark of the past. And even though Calvin wrote other books (River of the Sun being the most notable), his influence has lost some of its impact. And though not as influential as another New Mexico resident active during Calvin’s generation, Aldo Leopold (writer of the famed A Sand County Almanac), Ross Calvin’s legacy has waned over the years.
Ron Hamm is out to change all of this.
During a recent lecture Ron Hamm gave at the Albuquerque Friends Church — as sponsored by the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation, Hamm unpacked the life and influence of Ross Calvin, summarizing the contents of Hamm’s newest book, Ross Calvin: Interpreter of the American Southwest (New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalist for book of the year). Hamm is a champion for Ross Calvin, ensuring Calvin’s importance and legacy is not lost to new generations. Hamm told the audience that Sky Determines was one of the first books he read when he relocated to New Mexico over 55 years ago. And the book still holds a mythic place in Hamm’s mind. “Not an easy read,” he told us, “but a rewarding read.” Hamm described how Calvin was able to weave natural history, meteorology (how weather determines geography), and culture in a beautifully writ “love letter to his new-found home,” New Mexico.
I was able to chat with Ron Hamm before people arrived for the lecture. Ron had just pulled into town with his lovely wife. Ron told me that he left his trusty dog, Smokie, at a kennel (not spelled with a “y,” Hamm said; “Smokie wouldn’t understand if you spelled it that way”). He asked how I liked the book. I told him that I enjoyed it thoroughly. But that my only complaint was there wasn’t enough information about Calvin’s inner life and sermons. Hamm explained to me that upon his death, Calvin asked that all his papers — sermons, etc. — be destroyed. Fortunately Calvin’s journals (housed at Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico), letters, and news articles survived. And of course Calvin’s books. It was from the journals, newsletters, correspondence, books, and interviews with family that Hamm was able to paint a portrait of Ross Calvin that is both engaging and enriching. The Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico Calvin wrote about in his books acted as a character in Hamm’s book, a place beloved by Ross Calvin. As Hamm told us, “The Gila wilderness of New Mexico was Calvin’s backyard, his playground, his solace, and his retreat.”
The book follows thirteen well-written chapters, chronicling Calvin’s childhood in Illinois, his doctoral work at Harvard, his brief teaching career at Syracuse University, his ministry pursuits, family success and problems (Calvin’s first wife died, leaving their one and only son with Calvin’s parents, later causing the two to be estranged), his work as an author and naturalist, and a general overview of his ministry in New Mexico, one that included the oversight of the building of a noted church in Clovis, New Mexico — St. James Episcopal Church.
Because most of Calvin’s Christian work is lost, Calvin is best remembered as an interpreter of the wilderness, a spokesman for the southwest. For Calvin, nature has an answer as to why culture does things the way it does; it’s found in the wind, the clouds, and the sky. In short, the weather patterns and geographical makeup of regions determines how people live in given locations. Calvin’s premise was unique for his time; one that holds great merit today — the sky (weather) does help determine the larger cultural makeup of a given society.
Ross Calvin died on January 30, 1970 at the age of eighty. He was buried in Albuquerque’s Fairview Memorial Park Cemetery (Calvin retired in Albuquerque after his ministry posts in Silver City and Clovis, New Mexico).
And though I’m saddened that Calvin’s sermons are lost, I’m pleased that Calvin was a pastor with outside interests, following in the lineage of countless clergy throughout the centuries. For in leaving us with his two noted works, Sky Determines and River of the Sun, the Anglican Priest did those of us living in the southwest a favor: he showed us a picture of who we are, how weather determines our geography, and why it matters. And above all, Calvin gives us a glimpse of a man dedicated to God’s two books: the Word (the Bible) and world (nature).
For more information about the book, click here: https://sunstonepress.com/cgi-bin/bookview.cgi?_recordnum=969.
Photo captions: 1) Ross Calvin relaxing in his New Mexico garden. 2) Author, Ron Hamm. 3) Sky Determines by Ross Calvin. 4) River of the Sun by Ross Calvin. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist,Brianspends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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