"Children are the only test of character that you cannot get rid of when you are tired or stressed and go do your own thing. You can take a break from a 'ministry' but not from a whole slew of little kids. You are up to bat all the time. You never see the dugout, much less the locker room. But it is way down in the nitty-gritty, knee deep in the nuts and bolts of everyday life, that God makes spiritual giants. Laundry and phonics and recipes are the stuff of greatness. "
- Jill Barrett
or Everything You Didn't Want to Know About the Thinklings So Didn't Ask
- King's X, "Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something"
Nobody really knows exactly how the Thinklings came about. It's been a gradual coming together to be sure. Perhaps the germination of the group traces back to around 1992 in a Phys. Ed. Class at Houston's Cypress Creek High School. In that class, two sophomores, Jared and Eric, met for the first time. Their early friendship developed out of a mutual love for Jesus, a shared admiration for the harmonic rock trio King's X, and a rather effective tandem approach to basketball. Eric and Jared also met with some friends every Saturday for basketball (in Spring/Summer) or football (in Fall/Winter).
It was here that Eric introduced his Uncle Mark Miranda to Jared. Mark is only about five years older than Eric, and the two practically grew up together, bonding as brothers as much as uncle and nephew.
It was in these Saturday sports outings that nicknames got passed around like crazy. Eric and Mark had been Bird and Blo, respectively, ever since they can remember, and neither really knows what their nicknames mean, though they can speculate. Bird (Eric) and Blo (Mark) christened Jared "Rod," probably derivative of the pronunciation "J-Rod," though Rod does not remember ever actually being called J-Rod.
Bird, Blo, and Rod became fast friends, often discussing religion and their mutual affection for C.S. Lewis through the lazy haze of cigar smoke, long after games had broken up. With revolving fourth members, they participated in annual Hoop-It-Up tournaments, entering the Couch Potato Division only to be soundly defeated each time by towering hoopsters who definitely did not belong in the Couch Potato Division.
The team had many different names then - Bud Adams and The Birds, among them, but maybe these early Hoop-It-Up groupings were pre-incarnations of the Thinklings. Bird, Blo, and Rod loved the camaraderie of "guys" - guys who talked theology and literature as easily as they did sports and music. Guys who laughed long and heartily. As Lewis writes, "Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?" The only fires the guys had back then were the ones on the tips of their freshly-lit stogies, but the sentiment remains the same.
Later, Rod had the opportunity to intern in his church's youth ministry. It was in this setting that he met Bill Roberts, a doe-eyed and rosy-cheeked Sunday School teacher. One summer, Rod and Bill happened to ride home together from a Colorado camp all the way to Houston. They spent the entire trip reading the Acts of the Apostles and discussing ministry. They even discovered a mutual appreciation of Lewis. A deep kinship formed.
Around this time, Rod was experiencing some conflict in his job environment, and he began to face an overwhelming sense of disillusionment with the direction of his church's ministry. Bill was a bright spot in an otherwise dark place for Rod; therefore, Rod dubbed Bill "Jewel," for he truly was a Jewel among men.
Jewel even joined Bird, Blo, and Rod for some Saturday basketball games, and the "starting three" initiated a prolonged acquaintance with Jewel. Still, the primary group remained the three.
Some time around 1993, Bird and Blo had introduced the unique eschatology of Marvin Rosenthal and Robert Van Kampen - usually called "pre-wrath rapturism" - to Rod. They all read Van Kampen's massive THE SIGN, a full-length defense of his eschatology. Rod eventually introduced the book to Jewel, and soon, even he "converted."
In 1996, Rod's wife was transferred by her job to Nashville, Tennessee. Rod was heartbroken at having to leave his best friends, but email addresses were exchanged with promises to "keep in touch."
Bird, Blo, and Rod struck up a regular email conversation featuring the same recurring topics - Lewis, King's X, and eschatology. They eventually decided to conduct an online discussion of THE SIGN, complete with a re-reading of the text. At this time, the threesome felt it appropriate to include Jewel in the discussions. With his own copy of THE SIGN on order from Amazon, Jewel gleefully climbed aboard. This was the first real Thinklings pursuit, before they called themselves Thinklings.
(A bit on the name:
Early discussions included the collective self-references of "Guys" or "Dudes." Bird and Rod had a fondness for the word "chode," taken from the grotesquely eccentric and playfully crude animated program "Beavis and Butthead." They never did, and still don't, know what the dictionary definition of a "chode" is, but they are reasonably certain it is a scatological reference, and thus, do not really care to know what it means. For Bird and Rod, "chode" simply meant "dude." Additionally, tone of voice may indicate meaning. "What's up, chodes?" is a friendly greeting, but "That guy's a real chode!," with the emphasis on "chode," is an insult. Even squeaky clean Jewel, who won't even say (or type) the word "sucks," uses the word "chode," thereby endowing it with innocuousness. Jewel called his incoming emails "Chode Mail." The others called it "Our Email Discussion Group Mail" or something equally cumbersome. An official name was needed.
Because the four shared an abounding appreciation for all things Lewisian, they wanted to emulate the spirit of the group of British writers who met in the Eagle and Child pub near London in the early 20th century. These writers included Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and Dorothy Sayers, among others. They read their works-in-progress to each other and basically basked in the warmth of their abundant wisdom. They called themselves the Inklings.
Presumptuously, the late 20th century American foursome aspired to goals as lofty. Derivations were tossed around - The Dinklings, The Geeklings. The Thinklings, though probably a bit self-important, was finally decided on.)
What began as a discussion group for an eschatological text became a lively forum for discussion of all things theological, literary, musical, and personal.
The Thinklings now convene via internet nearly daily, believing, as Lewis did, that "The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are."
Meaning of love
King's X, "Fine Art of Friendship"