A Legacy of the Middle Finger

By Paul Koch

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I have come to realize that I’m somewhat of an outlier in most situations. Not that I don’t fit in, mind you. Not that I’m a social outcast or some sort of pariah. In fact I’ve found that I find it quite easy to interact with strangers and have even been known to be the life of the party a time or two. But I’ve noticed that my own memories of things are often quite different from most of the people that I shared those memories with. Usually I don’t say anything because it’s easier to simply go with the flow than worry my friends and family with what might very well be a mental disorder.

Though I think you may actually understand a bit about what I’m talking about. Have you ever gathered together with old friends and told old stories of times that you shared in the past? And somewhere along the line, you realize that other people remember it very differently from you? I suppose it is usually just a matter of perception. They remember how bravely you approached the girl to ask her name, and you remember only stumbling over your words. They remember your drunken rant in exquisite detail, and you remember only shame and embarrassment. I have heard stories told about myself that I don’t remember the way others do and I remember certain shared memories, even shared legacies, quite differently from many of my friends.

So, back to where I began, I usually don’t say much about my marginal memories. I defer to the reminiscences of my friends to simply carry the day and give my assent to their recollection even though mine may not jive. However in thinking about the legacy of Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on the occasion of his retirement, in reading the much deserved accolades for this incredible man’s work and life, I feel that my minority report ought to be considered.

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Now to be sure, I did not head off to study overseas by the urging and preparation of Dr. Rosenbladt. I wasn’t sent to become a great teacher of the church. I was sent to the seminary. By this move, his tutelage was cut somewhat short which is perhaps why my memories are a bit different.

In my reminiscences I could speak about the first time I heard him preach in the chapel at Concordia Irvine (before I knew his name or what he even taught). His words struck me as completely different from all others I had heard from that pulpit. I could speak about my wife being his TA or when he married the two of us at Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano Beach. I might very well talk about the conversation we had about being a father when I learned Cindy and I were going to have our first child and I was scared to death. I could speak about his words of encouragement when I first voiced the notion of going to the seminary or the many talks with friends in his home before I left.

But I want to address something very particular about my old mentor. I want to talk about the legacy of the middle finger.

My memories of Dr. Rosenbladt most often are accompanied with impressions of a fierce resistance to the status quo, the rule followers, and the law dogs. What seemed to go hand in hand with an unyielding proclamation of the Gospel was an uncomfortable rub against bureaucratic establishment. Not just one bureaucracy but almost any bureaucracy; church, university, governmental, etc. I remember how he taught us that to get a great education you had to be sure the bureaucracy never knew where you were. Sitting on his desk in his crowded office was a pile of forms. These were forms to petition out of one class and into another for your major, forms to create independent study classes and the like. They were already signed! He didn’t even ask when you took one, and he seemed thrilled with your desire to take your education into your own hands.

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I learned many things from Dr. Rosenbladt. I learned a love for evidential apologetics and a desire to proclaim the Word to the best of my abilities. But I learned along the way that quite often those who most need to hear that Word are those who have long been prisoners of our own bureaucratic system established to maintain that very Word.

In many ways, the ethos created by the spirit of Dr. Rosenbladt is what The Jagged Word has tried to capture. Our many authors write freely. People and bureaucracies will always try to cage them, and guide them, and censor them. Together with you, our reader, we are free to explore, to challenge, and to learn. At times we will be accused of heresy. At times we will be told that we must leave one bureaucracy for another, or get in line, or simply shut up. But I still remember that stack of forms – and they are signed and ready to go. And so, I post with foolishness.

Now, sure, my memory may be a bit skewed. I may not quite have the whole picture of the legacy of Dr. Rosenbladt. However, after many years when I finally returned to Southern California and saw Dr. Rosenbladt at a pastors conference, I didn’t see him up on stage giving tips on successful ministry or laughing it up with the good ol’ boys in the lobby of the hotel. Rather, we caught up outside where I bummed a cigarette off him. He put his finger in my chest and demanded that I preach the Word no matter what those bastards in the bureaucracy tried to sell me.

In others words, he reminded me of what I now remind you. Every now and again the best things to do is give the middle finger with a smile, and get to work!
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