I went to a Christian college to an eye to become a pastor and change the world. This is how an eighteen-year-old thinks when his view of the world to this point included trips to Disneyworld and Niagra Falls.
Very little happened at college to expand my narrow view. I didn’t own a TV or a car. I took on a heavy course load, enough to double majored in biblical studies.
My world consisted of a familiar oak chair in the library and a Formica table at Denny’s where I memorized facts from theology books and the countless variations of Hebrew participles for hours each day. I reviewed lecture notes that were presented by Christian professors. When I broke for meals, the cafeteria was filled with other Christian students. My only consistent connection to the outside world was a subscription to U.S. News and World Report. That and a few trips to the commons to watch the Chicago Bulls or a rare televised Philadelphia Eagles game were my only lifelines to reality. Ok, and there were the trips to Rush Street every finals week for Chicago deep dish pizza. But that was hardly a cross-cultural experience.
After four years, my friends and I turned in our dorm keys and received mortarboards and diplomas, the apparent tools we would need to change the world for Jesus.
My monastic little world didn’t actually expand until I met Rob.
I met Rob on the first day of my first real job after college. I returned to Erie and began looking for work. I was surprised to learn that a degree in “Biblical studies with emphases in Biblical Languages and Old Testament” was not a door opener with the Human Resources office at any company. I eventually found work at a mental health residential treatment center for children and adolescents. I spent the first day on the job watching orientation videos, reading policy manuals, and signing papers. My trainer then sent me to the “cottage” to meet Rob, the shift leader.
The word “cottage” evokes an image of a small bungalow poking out of the woods with exposed timbers and a camp coffee roaster sitting in the fire place. What I found was a cinder block structure that was home to twenty boys who weren’t able to live at home. Each child had several emotional or mental health issues. It was usually the case that each of the boys’ family systems was so fragile to begin with, that adding a special needs child to the mix made everything fall apart. So the children were sent to live in the cottages where they would get help and learn how not to capsize their families. The boys lived upstairs in dorms and slept on bunk beds cut from thick lumber.
Rob was downstairs in the staff office wearing a black leather jacket with his long dark hair pulled back into a pony tail. Rob tapped out the rhythm to a Metallica song with a box of cigarettes in his hand. His other arm rested on the desk. A metal hook stuck out the sleeve instead of his hand.
Rob played host well. He introduced himself and showed me where to find the coffee pot and the restrooms. We return to the office and settled into chairs. I have a hard to keeping a conversation going with someone new, but Rob kept asking questions. Eventually Rob asked about my school and what my major was. Rob’s mustache tighten over his upper lip when I answered him.
“Do you mean to tell me that the dinosaurs never happened? How do you explain Dinosaurs? They’re not in your Bible.”
I scrambled to cobble together an answer, but Rob continued.
“And Mary. Come on. Do you really think that Joseph bought that [explicative] story? “Oh honey, I’m home and I just got knocked up by the Holy Spirit.”
“Joseph would have thrown that whore out on the street. He wouldn’t have bought that story. But you do.”
Rob and I eventually became friends and years latter I’d officiate his wedding, drunken groomsmen and all. But in that moment, my world grew and I realized that there was a whole population of people who saw me as nothing more than a superstitious fool.