By Alex Green
Markie the unicorn rides shotgun. There are a few rules in this class that are more important than others: no cell phones – a common prohibition, but one of the things that drives Markie’s owner particularly nuts; it’s sort of a pet peeve, he says.
“We must be aggressive with ideas but gentle with one another,” he reads. It’s on the syllabus, a usually cut-and-dry document with the “do’s” and “dont’s,” the “what time’s” and the “what date’s.” This one has photos and calligraphic font. The instructor went another step when he made it.
His name is Jason Truett Glen, and he is from Colorado, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Chattanooga and now Dayton. His hair is red, and his beard – enviable in its fullness – matches. His eyes search from behind small rectangular lenses. Because of the glasses, even after several lengthy conversations, I can’t remember his eye color.
He likes college campuses, fall leaves, pumpkins, his wife’s pie, mountain biking, Coldplay and Thomas Kinkade paintings. The class knows because he opens himself up a little bit through PowerPoint. He can be tough to get along with, and he knows it.
He is the son of a political hawk and a pastor. It was conservatism and evangelism at the dinner table. He is the younger brother of a National Guard enlistee. He is a commercial surveillance system installation veteran and an ex-home remodeler.
He is a Texas A&M alum and a graduate of its famous ROTC program. He is a former Marines officer candidate and waiter at a Chinese restaurant. He is now shaping Bryan’s worldview.
All of the past home states are sites where the Glen family lighted while Howard Glen, father and husband, preached. Every two or three years, Howard was fired for bringing real-world sinners into the middle-class church.
“Every time he got fired, we moved to a new state. I don’t know why he couldn’t go to work somewhere else inside the state,” Glen says.
Howard died in 2009, while Glen was transitioning through blue-collar jobs in construction and commercial surveillance system installation.
Twelve years earlier, the Glen family thought they had already lost their father and husband when Howard was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, Jason was in Quantico, Va., at The Officer Candidates School of the United States Marines.
He was fresh out of the ROTC program at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, where he had spent almost four years in the ROTC program before being kicked out for – in his words – verbally abusing two cadets until they quit the program.
Upperclassmen in the program had “extensive influence and power” over their younger peers, said Glen. “ I was simply not mature enough to handle that appropriately.”
At Quantico in 1997, Howard Glen was prepping for cancer removal surgery, and his youngest son was on disciplinary lockdown for expressing his opinion about poor leadership at the Marines school hundreds of miles away.
On lockdown and stuck, Glen opened a Bible.
“I don’t even remember [what I read],” he says. “It was Psalms or Proverbs or something. But it convicted me.”
Four weeks into the six-week program at OCS, Glen knew he had made a mistake. He went to the camp’s colonel and asked to be released from his contract, a document that gave the United States government ownership of the man.
Glen told the commanding officer that he felt God pulling him in another direction. He told him about his dad potentially dying of cancer. He told him he was a Christian.
“Well, you’re right,” Glen recalls the colonel telling him. “We do own you … but I’m a Christian as well, and I’m going to let you go.”
As Glen tells it – with teary eyes to his fall 2011 Christian Worldview class – a flight attendant on his plane bound for Oklahoma and family was serving drinks on the flight. When his Coke was served, there was a hand-written message on the napkin.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us is no match for what lies within us.”
The napkin is folded like a paper football and kept in a small wooden “box of mysteries”. Glen pulled the napkin out during our interview. No napkin has ever known a happier fate. It’s held like a hundred-year-old document and promptly folded back up and replaced when its part is over. But then again, there are probably few napkins that have influenced a life or six lives or now thousands of lives like this one.
Sometimes during class last year, Glen would explain how he imagines himself living in one of Kinkade’s wholesome, glowing little cottages on the edge of some small village where horse-drawn sleighs leave ruts in the snowy cobbled streets.
In a summer scene, he explains how he sits on the front porch of a small mountain cabin, rocking and looking out on a placid green pond. Some cat-tail weeds grow along one end. In a non-Bryan College life, he would be smoking a wooden pipe billowing out rich tobacco smoke.
But only in a non-Bryan College world. Right now, it’s about forming the worldview of a generation of students.
Markie the unicorn is a second-hand store rescue, by the way. Now he has a home at Bryan College. Maybe he isn’t the only one.