Tuesday, April 7, 2015

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” — Henry David Thoreau

There was a time back when I was working on my Ph.D. in Eighteenth Century British Literature (I know, what could I have been thinking?) at the University of Arkansas that I wanted to be a tenured professor of English at a small, four-year, liberal arts college.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I spent seven years in this pursuit, I got to see up close and personal, how petty and competitive the world of academia was.  I began to feel like the quote from Groucho Marx that I didn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.  During my time at Arkansas, my two favorite professors and friends both died, cooling my ardor for being a professor quite a bit.  In addition, I served as the assistant to the Dean of both the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences and enjoyed both of those positions, but in the middle of all of this, I had begun to go back to church, to teach Sunday School, and later to become a part-time local pastor for the United Methodist churches at Elkins and Winslow.  I passed my orals for my Ph.D. and had nothing left but the dissertation, yet I was feeling a huge pull toward seminary and left without finishing my Ph.D. in English to attend the Boston University School of Theology.  It took me four years to finish, but I did and graduated with three majors in philosophy, theology, and ethics.  The United Methodist Church in Arkansas was never comfortable with me in the ministry.  My ordination interviews which just lasted a few minutes for the other candidates took over three hours for me.  I was challenged again and again, but in the end, they could find no real reason not to ordain me.  At my ordination, while my family was still in Boston, there were no friends or family in the congregation.  Afterwards, each of the new ordinands stood in a circle of light under their names in a reception hall.  Each of the others was surrounded by well-wishers, but I stood all alone.  Finally, Bishop Will Willimon, the theologian, author, professor, and Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, came over to me and said, “I hear you’re a maverick.”  Gesturing at the lack of anyone wishing me well, I replied that he was right.  He leaned close and said, “Stay a maverick.  The church will die without men like you.” 
Finally, this year, the Bishop of Arkansas was able to remove my ordination citing my honorary title of bishop here as a reason.  He never contacted me before or since, and even with documented proof that he was wrong to do it, he has remained mute and let his actions stand.  It no longer bothers me as I remember what Bishop Willimon told me.  True, authentic, Christian leaders are mavericks and challenge the status quo, and they should.  I’m glad I didn’t become a professor and am glad I followed God’s call to Africa, no matter what the cost.  Because Christ died for me, I live for Him.  I will serve Him faithfully to the end of my days, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the widows and orphans, preaching, teaching, and baptizing in His name.  What others say and do is meaningless in light of what Christ asks of me.  He asks the same of you, and your response will define who you are and how you will be remembered.  Sobering words, eh?
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