I remember a moment during the summer between my junior and senior year when a group of high school students got together to figure out whether ministry was something which they wanted to explore. We came from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of us were musically inclined. Others, athletically gifted. To be honest, in some ways, I felt like it could have been an expanded, uncut edition of the Breakfast Club, if it lasted for a month and took us into the Adirondacks and the capital of Nicaragua.
We were united in confession of faith alone. Even our theological convictions were disparate, adding to the complexity of our disagreements. Even today, as I try (albeit terribly) to stay in touch with my friends on social media, I am reminded of how different each of us was.
At one point in the Nicaraguan leg of our journey, one of our mentors – an MDiv student of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary at the time – looked at me as I hung from a hammock chair. I had asked him some question about theodicy at the time because in my mind he seemed to know a lot about that sort of thing.
Thinking about that moment, I laugh nowadays because I realize how funny it is how we perceive those older than us as having their act (and theology) together more often than not. But, instead of taking an outright stab in the dark, the mentor was wise enough to pause and reflect.
After a while in silence, he said, “You know, Tim, there’s definitely a distinct difference between the theology one does in the classroom and the theology one does with a couple of beers and some friends out in the backyard. You’d best remember that.”
I nodded, not realizing what sort of gift he just gave me. To this day, I can’t remember the question I asked. I don’t remember many lectures or conversations had during that month-long summer program, but I remember snippets here and there.
I remember a seminarian professor telling my peers and I, upon making some astute observation, that we were a hair’s breadth away from being profound.
I remember seeing the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in the mountains in Northern New York.
I remember the spark of interest I had in studying ministry flaring up within me.
And I remember this conversation with that group mentor, Bryn.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the friends and mentors I had during the summer of 2013. College was distant, foggy concept. I was still terribly shy and had yet to date anyone. It’s strange to realize first, how far all of us have come, and second, how in some ways, I’m in the same shoes that Bryn occupied all those years ago.
I found myself sitting around a fire in the backyard of some acquaintances from graduate school a couple of years ago. Some of the guys had cracked open a beer or two. The small talk had died down and several of us just sat looking into the flames, lost in our thoughts. One of them shifted in their seat and set their drink down.
“So, this whole seminary thing – are you certain about everything that you believe?”
“I’d like to think so. If I’m being honest, there’ll be some days when I have my doubts about one thing or another. But for the most part, I am.”
“But what about…?”
The conversation continued long into the night, rolling back and forth between each of us like a ball.
At one point, I paused again. “And sure, there are times I’ve got questions, but that doesn’t mean I throw the baby out with the bath-”
The guy took a sip of the beer he had, causing me to erupt in laughter.
“Oh,” I started, touching my thumb and pointer finger together, “Just a memory I have. A friend once told me we need backyard moments like this to sort out everything going on in the academy. It’s just funny when we realize that we’re coming full circle. You feel?”
He shrugged. I laughed some more. Then, the conversation continued long into the night, our words mingling with the smoke as it rose into the night sky.