The first reason is that there was no math. None.
The second reason was because in the tradition I was in that was the way to get yourself ready to be a pastor.
Actually, not a “pastor”.
In the particular “non-denomination” I was part of, a non-denomination that had it’s own Bible Colleges, annual North American Convention and publishing companies (see my post on “Confession 2”), we had all that but we didn’t have pastors. We had “ministers”. Which here in Canada is what we call a federal politician but down there we meant ‘pastor’. Confused? I was too.
The greatest lesson I ever learned there, and I actually learned a few, was one of the un-intentional ones.
Mr. Loman, we’ll call him, had taught at the school for years. Decades. And then more decades. He’d written books, preached a zillion sermons, written a ton (I’m pretty sure I mean that literally) of magazine articles and been an elder in a local church as well as teacher and administrator of the Bible College.
Mr. Loman always wore a suit and tie. The rumour was, and I believed it, that students had seen him put on coveralls with suit and tie underneath and change the oil in his car there on campus between classes.
He required us to study 2 hours for every one hour we were in class and he took attendance at the start of every class by asking for our study hours. Mostly this was an ethics exam that most of us failed. If you ALWAYS did your two hours he’d call you on it, grill you, go over your schedule with you for the last two weeks in front of the whole class until you finally cracked and confessed that your last 3 “2 hours” were really more like 15 minutes total. Worse though was consistently turning in 5 minutes. He would pause, stare at you over the top of his glasses and give you a taste of the final judgment.
He was a wee man, like Zacheuss, but he was mighty. He was my favourite teacher. He was my “Kingsfield” during my very own Paper Chase.
He once passed out a list of 50 verses of Scripture about leadership from the New Testament that he wanted us to memorize for the next class. I killed myself to memorize all 50. I drove my roommate crazy. He was in the same class but not even interested in trying to take on this impossible task.
At the next class, Mr. Loman asked, as he took down our study hours, how many verses we had managed to memorize from the list. “10” one guy reported. “12”, another guy said. “Amateurs,” I thought. “5” the guy right before me said and I smiled with grim satisfaction. Then he called my name, “50” I said. He didn’t pause, look up or signify in anyway that I had done the impossible. Then he called on the next person and the next until roll call was finished and we never talked about the 50 verses again.
My favourite moment of every week was the Tuesday and Thursday chapel service where the whole student population would gather for a sing-along worship time with organ and piano accompaniment (the funeral home and ballpark being the only other places you could find an organ) and someone preaching a sermon. My favourite moment came in these chapel services during the sermon. Mr. Loman always sat in the same seat at every service. And at the start of every preacher’s preach he would put his left arm up on the rest and then he would rest his head on his left hand. The fun was figuring out how long it would take ‘til he fell asleep. The best times were when he had almost fallen out of the pew (which, when translated means “seat”) before he jerked and woke himself up. Priceless.
The greatest lesson came just before I graduated. Mr. Loman was being honoured for all his years of teaching, ministry and leadership in the church. Our school auditorium was packed out with generations of students and people who had been impacted by Mr. Loman’s life. Presentations were made, speeches given, reflections shared.
About halfway through the greatest lesson began and by the time the night was over it was burned into whatever part of my brain makes me never, ever want to be like someone else.
One after another of Mr. Loman’s children, grown children, came up to say a few words. He had a lot of children. Each one told a variation on the same theme, “Dad was never around much, we knew we had to share him with the church, we knew God needed him here or there, he gave so much to so many so we understood when he didn’t have so much for us…” These aren’t all exact quotes but anyone who was there and is honest heard what I heard.
I loved him and I know he had forgotten more scripture than I’ve even memorized but I also knew bullshit when I smelled it. Pictures, smiles, pats on the back and psychiatrists lining up to give their cards to all of his children. One thing I knew at that very moment I would never do is let ministry in the church make a transaction that ripped off me or my kids of time we could never replace or get back with each other. In that moment I realized I was preparing to work for people who would let me practically abandon my family and then reward me for it if I just did things for them that they liked. I was signing on to an institution that would espouse family values while they shoved my family aside for a good photo op or important board meeting.
I love Mr. Loman and I always will. I also love the Church. But Mr. Loman un-intentionally taught me how voracious she can be, how pretentious and I will never, ever forget that lesson, so help me God.