“Now remember, Boz,” I said. “When Brian finds out that you’re a Star Wars fan, he’s gonna test you and ask if you know the number of the trash compactor that Luke and the others almost got smashed in.”
“I don’t remember,” Boz replied.
“It’s ‘3263827,’” I said.
“‘3263827.’ I’ll remember that.”
I had just spent four days at my parents’ house for Spring Break, returning to Jeromeville on the Saturday morning before classes started. Mom, my brother Mark, and his two best friends Boz and Cody followed me up for the day in a separate car. Mom had gotten the idea that it might be fun for the boys to come visit, and with all three of them in high school now, it was never too early to start visiting universities. We had met at McDonald’s for lunch, and now we were on our way back to my apartment.
“Hey,” Brian said when the five of us walked inside.
“This is my brother Mark, and his friends Cody and Boz,” I said to Brian. “And you’ve met my mother before.”
“Boz?” Brian asked.
“Short for Matthew Bosworth,” I explained.
“Yeah,” Boz said. “You can call me Boz. Or Matt. Either one.”
“Boz is as big of a Star Wars fan as you,” I said.
“I have a question I always ask Star Wars fans,” Brian explained, “to see if you’re a true fan. What is the number of the trash compactor on the Death Star where they were stuck?”
“I have to admit, though, Greg prepared me, because he told me you would ask that.”
“Ah,” Brian replied. “Do you have any obscure Star Wars trivia you ask people like that?”
“Sure. Who is the director of photography?”
“I don’t know that one.”
“Nice! I don’t have all the obscure credits memorized.”
“I would just leave the credits on and watch the names sometimes.”
“That’s cool how each of us pays attention to different details,” Brian said.
The rest of the day went well. I showed the boys around campus. They came back to the apartment and played basketball in the common area. I like to think that something from that day really made an impression, because Cody and Boz would both end up attending the University of Jeromeville after they finished high school. My brother did not; he went to community college for a few years and then transferred to the State University of Bay City.
Sunday was Easter, my first since I began attending Jeromeville Covenant Church. Church was more crowded than usual, but it was not as dramatic of a difference as Catholic Easter masses back home at Our Lady of Peace were compared to ordinary Sundays.
My first class Monday morning was not even on the University of Jeromeville campus. I rode my bike along my usual route as far as the intersection of Andrews Road and 15th Street, then turned left on 15th and parked at the bike rack of Jeromeville High School. I walked through the entrance to campus and found Mr. O’Rourke’s class toward the back of the school. Mr. O’Rourke had told me to just sit at the table in the back, and I could help students work on problems later in the period.
Mr. O’Rourke was an older man with short gray hair and a no-nonsense personality. After the students had arrived, he gestured toward me. “This is Greg Dennison,” he said. “He’s a student at UJ, and he’s going to help out in our class for the rest of the year.” Some of the students turned around to look at me, intrigued; I waved at them.
As Mr. O’Rourke lectured, I looked around at what I could see of the class. The class seemed very large to me; I counted forty-one students. I was used to high school classes of around 30 students at most. I would learn later that Mr. O’Rourke was semi-retired, only teaching the one class, and he was such a popular teacher that students would sometimes ask to be in his class even when it appeared full.
After Mr. O’Rourke finished explaining and demonstrating relationships between sine and cosine functions, I walked up to his desk. “So, just walk around and help students now?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “That would be good.”
My first few times up and down the rows in the classroom, no one asked me anything. This was a precalculus class, so these were mostly honor students; maybe none of them needed help. Eventually, though, I saw one student who was leaving most of the work blank on his paper. “Do you need help?” I asked. “Do you understand what to do?
“I don’t get it,” the student said.
“What do you know about sine and cosine? Can I see your notes for today?” I pointed out what he had sloppily written in his notebook and showed him what he could use to solve the problem in front of him. I could not tell how well he understood.
“Is there anything else I have to do?” I asked Mr. O’Rourke when the bell rang.
“No, not really,” he said. “At the end of the week, we’ll talk about how it’s going so far.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As I walked toward the school entrance, past a row of lockers, I heard a female voice say, “Greg!” I instinctively turned and looked, although as I did so I realized that I did not know anyone at Jeromeville High School. This girl was probably talking to some other guy named Greg. Maybe it was a student from Mr. O’Rourke’s class whom I just met this morning, but why would she need to talk to me now, outside of math class? I saw a familiar face reaching into a locker as I turned around, and I realized that I did know someone at Jeromeville High School: Erica Foster from church.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
“What are you doing here?” Erica asked.
“I’m doing a Math 197 tutoring class,” I said. “I’m TAing in Mr. O’Rourke’s first period.”
“That’s awesome! Everyone says Mr. O’Rourke is a great teacher. I never got to be in his class, though.”
“He seems like the kind of teacher I would have liked.”
“So you want to be a teacher? Is that why you’re doing this?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” I said. “I’m looking at different options for the future. One of my professors asked me if I had ever thought about being a teacher, and he set this up for me.”
“What are you doing next year? You graduate this year, right?”
“Yeah! I’m going on a mission trip to Turkey for part of the summer, and then I’m still waiting to hear back from some schools, but I’m probably going to stay home and go to UJ.”
“That’s cool,” I said.
“I need to get to class, but it was good running into you.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
A few hours later, back on campus, I had Data Structures, a computer science class. A lower-division computer science class, Introduction to Programming, was a requirement for the mathematics major. In addition to the upper-division mathematics units required for my major, a small number of courses in statistics and computer science, including this Data Structures class, counted in place of upper division math units. As a kid, writing code in BASIC on a Commodore 64, I enjoyed computer programming as a hobby. I chose against majoring in computer science, though, because my computer knowledge was out of date, and I did not want a hobby to turn into work. But I wanted to take this class, so I could learn more about programming while working toward my mathematics degree.
Technology-related majors were very popular at Jeromeville, especially in 1997 with the Internet just emerging as a consumer technology. Because of this, computer science and computer engineering majors had priority to register first for most computer science classes. This was my third attempt at taking Data Structures. The first time, I was number 19 on the waiting list, and the professor said that no new spots would open up. The second time, I had moved up to first on the waiting list by the first day of classes. I was hopeful, but the professor said that they had already expanded the number of spaces in class beyond what they should have. The number of computers in the labs was too small to support this many students, so no new spots would open up. For the other computer science classes I had taken, I did most of my work at home, dialed up to the campus Internet late at night so as not to tie up the phone line. I suspected that lab space was not as much of an issue now that working from home was possible. But the department had not changed their rules.
This quarter, the professor gave the usual bit about the class already being too full, and no one else being admitted from the waiting list. But this time, it did not matter, because I already had a spot in the class. When I called in to register last month, I expected to get put on the waiting list, but it said I had successfully registered. This might have been my only chance to take the class, so I took it. I told this to Eddie from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship at the retreat last week, and he said this was God opening up a door for me. Definitely.
After Data Structures, I had chorus. As I walked toward the bass section, Danielle Coronado, who lived down the hall from me freshman year, came up to me and gave me a hug. “Greg!” she said. “You’re back!”
“Yeah. I wanted to do chorus last quarter, but it was the same time as Dr. Hurt’s Writings of John class.”
“That’s right. Well, I’m glad you’re back.”
I walked toward the bass section and sat next to a guy I recognized from fall quarter when I was also in chorus. “Hey,” he said. “Welcome back. It’s Greg, right?”
“Yeah,” I replied. I did not know this guy, I thought he was a music major, and I did not know the music majors very well. I was surprised that he recognized me.
About fifteen minutes into class, after explaining some procedural matters, Dr. Jeffs, the conductor, said, “The pieces this quarter are Schubert’s Mass No. 2 and Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder. The sheet music is at the bookstore; hopefully you all have that by now. We’ll start on the Schubert today.” As he began playing and demonstrating part of Schubert’s Mass, Dr. Jeffs explained that Schubert was from Vienna, so we would be using Viennese Latin pronunciations instead of Italian Latin. When performing Schubert, the word “qui,” for example, was pronounced “kvee” instead of “kwee.” I had never heard of such a thing. The Brahms piece was also entirely in German, a language I did not know how to pronounce. I was sure I would get used to it.
The spring of 1997 was an unusual quarter for me; it was the only quarter that I did not have any actual mathematics classes. Helping in Mr. O’Rourke’s class at Jeromeville High would go on my transcript as a two-unit math class, but I did not sit in a lecture or do homework out of a textbook. Data Structures counted as a major requirement, but was not technically a math class.
This quarter was also my lightest load by number of units; I only took as many units as were required to maintain my status as a full time student. But it certainly did not feel like a light load, because the two actual classes I was taking, besides Mr. O’Rourke’s class and chorus, were both extremely difficult and time-consuming. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had Philosophy and Social Foundations of Education. I had not made a final decision about my future, but I was now seriously considering the option of becoming a teacher, so I figured it would not hurt to start working on prerequisites for the teacher training program.
I could tell after ten minutes of class on the first Tuesday that this class would be a lot of work. As a math major, I was not used to classes with this much reading and writing. But the subject matter looked interesting, investigating some of the difficult questions about why education is important in society, and why schooling is done as it is. As a possible future teacher, it was important to answer these questions, and I had to take this class at some point if I were to become a teacher. Good thing I took it in a quarter when I had a light schedule.
Wednesday evening I had The Edge, the junior high school youth group at church, for which I was a volunteer. The staff and volunteers arrived an hour before the students, and the meeting before the kids arrived felt a little different because Taylor Santiago was not there. Taylor had been my friend since Day 1 of freshman year, and he had encouraged me to get involved with youth ministry after he noticed some boys from the youth group take a liking to me after church. He left last week for six months of inner-city ministry in Chicago; he would be back for the start of the school year in the fall.
As the students walked in, we usually had music playing, typically some Christian artist. Having only been a practicing Christian for a little over a year, I was just scratching the surface of the vast world of Christian contemporary music. Whatever this music was that played today, I found it intriguing. It sounded like rock with horns. I only knew of one other band that sounded remotely like this, although that other band was not Christian music; this was definitely not them. At the Spring Picnic freshman year, I had been told to go watch a local band called Lawsuit that played there every year. Lawsuit was a unique blend of rock with horns that some people described as “ska,” the first time I had ever heard that word. I went on to see Lawsuit play three more times in the two years since.
I was checking in students at the entrance that day, along with Erica Foster, the girl I saw at Jeromeville High after Mr. O’Rourke’s class. Her younger brother was one of the teen boys who had taken a liking to me. “What is this music?” I asked Erica.
“Five Iron Frenzy,” she said. “My brother has been listening to this a lot at home.”
“I don’t know them,” I said. “I just got excited that there’s a Chrsitian band that sounds like Lawsuit.”
“Is this what Lawsuit sounds like?” Erica asked. “I’ve heard of them but I don’t know anything about them.”
“Sounded like,” I corrected. “They broke up.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah. This last New Year’s Eve was their last show.”
“That’s too bad. I heard they were good.”
“They were! They sounded like nothing I’d ever heard. But now I’m gonna have to check out this Five Iron Frenzy.”
Jeromeville had a small Christian bookstore, and I went there as soon as I was done with classes the next day to find that the Five Iron Frenzy album, called Upbeats and Beatdowns, was in stock. I brought it home and listened to it while I replied to a few emails in my inbox. In November, I was saddened to receive a flyer from Lawsuit announcing their breakup. I did not attend their final show, on December 31; I was halfway across the country at the Urbana conference on that day, and the show was for ages 21 and up, which I would not be until next August. But now I was excited to discover a Christian band that sounded like Lawsuit.
I learned a few songs into the album that I had been mistaken; Five Iron Frenzy did not sound particularly like Lawsuit, beyond being rock with horns. They had a much faster and more aggressive sound, more like punk rock with horns, a genre called ska-punk that was emerging at the time. But it was catchy, and I could hear references to Christianity in the lyrics, at least when I could understand lead vocalist Reese Roper’s high-pitched, fast singing.
A few minutes later, a song called “Anthem” came on, and I immediately began to regret my decision to buy this album. Reese called America a hollow country, and sang about how he did not care about the American notion of freedom. If the members of Five Iron Frenzy were Christians, why were they spewing this anti-American liberal crap? As far as I knew, Christians were conservatives who loved their country. Maybe this was not entirely true, I realized, as Reese sang about true freedom being from Jesus Christ. But I still loved my country and did not find patriotism inherently at odds with Christianity. Two other songs on the album besides “Anthem” directly criticized the sins of the United States and the shallow nature of the American church, but if I must be honest, these criticisms were certainly justified.
I liked most of the rest of the album. In addition to songs praising God, the album also contained some songs that were just silly, like one about the old TV show Diff’rent Strokes and one about how Jesus is better than superheroes. Other songs explored deep philosophical topics of interest to Christians living in this world, like one about colorful characters waiting for a bus.
The album did eventually grow on me, although to this day I still always skip “Anthem.” I have had a complicated relationship with Five Iron Frenzy over the years, one that has featured some very personal experiences. I sang one line on Reese Roper’s solo album in 2004, and I had an hour-long personal conversation with saxophonist Leanor Ortega-Till in 2020. And in addition to recording some of my favorite songs ever, Five Iron Frenzy has also recorded many other songs in the same vein as Anthem that I did not particularly care for.
Currently, I have mixed feelings about Five Iron Frenzy. They released an album in 2021 of all angry political music, with none of the Christian or silly songs. Ultimately, though, I have always said that Five Iron Frenzy did a great job of bringing together Christian and secular fans, liberals and conservatives, just by being real. I understand now that Christianity is not by any means limited to Americans or conservatives, and it should not be. Paul writes to the Corinthians that different people have different gifts that are all part of the body of Christ. Just as Boz and Brian had discovered their different takes on Star Wars trivia when they met a few days ago, people with different cultural and political backgrounds have different experiences with Christianity. I may not agree politically with all Christians, but we are still one in Christ, each with a role in the global Church.
Hello, readers! What’s an obscure fact about your favorite movie that you like to remember and tell people about?
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Also, the Five Iron Frenzy music video below comes from an unofficial source on YouTube. Just in case it gets taken down, I’ll include an official audio as well.