Two years ago I met a man, a highly educated man, a PhD., the president of a conservative, evangelical institution in the United States. Meeting him was an honor, or so I assumed. He is an active member and leader in a respected and very well-known church. The senior pastor of his church is famous–so famous, in fact, that he is on the radio, either preaching or being interviewed pretty much non-stop, or so it seems. The pastor of the church has even one-upped the Holy Trinity by doing something that not even God himself has ever done: get his personal name included in the title of a study Bible.*
As I was introduced to this seminary president, he heard my name; and before saying anything else he asked, “Are you related to so and so?” I happily responded that so and so was indeed a close relative, thinking I had an easy head start on developing a friendship with this erudite professor. Instead, responding to my affirmation, the professor said, “Godly man [my relative], but messed up in his theology.” Whoa! That was an unexpected deflator. Talk about a wet blanket. “Hey Bucko, your mom reads supermarket tabloids, and I saw your dad in the ‘Shoppers of Walmart’ video,” is how I wanted to respond. What I had expected to be a pleasant experience turned out to be an unpleasant reality that still bothers me two years later. It bothers me not because of the event itself; I can get over the judgmental arrogance of the man. What bothers me is wondering if there are times when I might not be as arrogant as the professor. Claiming to be a follower of Jesus should mean that I am loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. Am I? Or am I like that ill-mannered seminary professor, assuming I have arrived at the pinnacle of evangelical enlightenment? I am tempted in that direction but hope and pray that God will deliver me from that temptation.
Shortly after meeting Dr. Omniscient, I met an elderly, very elderly nun in a convent where I was doing a personal retreat. In the pre-dawn hours, my favorite time of the day (yes, I’m serious), I was in the convent chapel praying and reading my Bible when the nuns came in for their early morning mass. I am not Catholic and understand little of the rituals and rites performed during a Catholic mass. Curiosity won out and I stayed; call it professional interest.
I was the only person under 80 in the chapel; and other than a post-retirement aged priest who officiated, I was the only man in the building – it was a convent after all. Following the mass, one of the elderly nuns hobbled over to me, took my right hand in both of hers and smiled warmly, gently welcoming me to the convent. She thanked me for being at mass with them and expressed her desire that I join them again in the future. Her demeanor was so pleasant that I wanted to give her a big hug, but hugging a nun in a convent chapel immediately following mass felt to me like a lightning-bolt-from-heaven-worthy offense, a violation of protocol, and a non-stop, one-way ticket to Hell; so my urge and desire to hug a nun remained unsatisfied.
Theologically I am not Catholic, and I am confident and comfortable with my faith in Jesus and with my attempting-to-follow-Him life style. But I couldn’t help but compare the kind and gentle nun with the arrogant professor. In my beliefs I am much more in tune with Professor Bombastic than I am with Sister I-wanna-hug-her. However, which of these two made me think of Jesus? Of these two, who behaved the way Jesus would have under similar circumstances? Am I more often like the professor or more often like the nun? I suspect the professor comes out in me far more often than my inner nun. I never thought I’d say anything like this, but for the first time in my life I hope I can behave like a nun.
*Fear of being struck with Old Testament-style leprosy or having the Earth open up and swallow me keeps me from even touching a Bible with a man’s name as part of the title, much less reading it.