Winter 2003
Volume 7 Number 2

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Giving Words to the Story introduction| Verily, a Servant of the Living Word | The Grass Withers, the Flower Fades; but the Word… | An Inner Light | Remembering


 by Donald M. Mackenzie Jr.


Bob Jacks (left) and Don Mackenzie became friends in the early 1970s when they began a folk music ministry.

Bob Jacks was a very important figure in my life, personally and professionally, and I am truly diminished by his untimely death. We met in the fall of 1969 when we were both invited to participate in the ordination of Shirley Racacs (Class of 1969). We rode together to the ordination and discovered that we shared many interests. At that time he was teaching at the Seminary and finishing his Ph.D. at Columbia. What moved us most was the desire to explore an awareness of faith that was inclusive of more parts of life than we had, either of us, experienced up to that time. The singing that we later did together was an acting out of that exploration. We were particularly interested in the role of art in theological reflection and in the practice of ministry.

Three aspects of his character stand out.

He was as passionate as any other human being I have ever met about the importance of the Word, God’s Holy Word and our human use of words to proclaim that Word. So many of us wander in search of life’s meaning and its theological substance. On that issue, Bob never wandered, even though his own theology did change over time.

Bob Jacks had a genuine aesthestic sensibility, that skill that T.S. Eliot described as a “non-dissociated sensibility” —a poetic sensibility that could connect (for example) the smell of the beans cooking on the stove and the sound of the typewriter and show us something in a completely new way. Most of us are oblivious to such connections. The function of art, Bob insisted, is to show us things in new ways.

Likewise he possessed a real theological sensibility, what Paul Tillich described as the mediation between the human and the divine. Bob not only understood that mediation; he made it his life’s work to teach the rest of us something of how to understand it.

But more than anything else, Bob Jacks was a true creative genius, and in his genius he combined that passion for the Word and those aesthetic and theological sensibilities into a life that was an encouragement and an inspiration to so many of us. Even after I graduated and Bob and I became colleagues, I was still and forever his student. Thanks be to God for his spirit, his skills, and the strength of his character!

Donald M. Mackenzie Jr. (Class of 1970) is minister and head of staff at the University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle, Washington. In the early 1970s he and Bob Jacks had a folk music ministry called “How Can I Keep from Singing?” that they took to many churches in New Jersey and around the country.


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