by Donald M. Mackenzie Jr.
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
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.