I have been waiting for this moment for almost thirty years. I did not know it would take as long as it did but the journey to ordination has been worth the wait. I’d like to share my story. This is part one.
Before the summer of 1992, I had planned on becoming a penguin-ologist. At the time, I could regurgitate (pun included) lots of innocuous facts that would delight even the most pedestrian penguin enthusiasts. All that changed however when I attended the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. In fact, I can pinpoint the moment I felt the call to ministry. I was sitting in a food court near the Super Dome with the rest of my youth group, and countless others, eating a cheeseburger, when I heard a still small voice rise up in my heart and mind say, “Get up and talk about me.” I squelched the voice by chomping into my burger again and wondering, “Where did that come from?” The voice grew until I succumbed to its heeding. I stood on my chair in the food court and called out to those that could hear, “Who wants to hear about Jesus?!” I don’t remember much after that but something in me changed.
When I returned home my mother could see something was different. Even my English teacher, Mr. Banchi, came up to me in the hallway and asked, “What’s happened to you?” I asked him what he meant and he told me that I was walking differently than I did last year. I walked with my chin up and my shoulders back. Jesus not only changed my life that summer but apparently my posture, too. I boxed up Roger Tory Peterson’s guide to penguins, among other tomes of ornithology, as well as “Penguin Corner” (an exhibit I saved from my third-grade science fair that included a three-and-a-half-foot tall paper mache emperor penguin). In its place, I began to set up an altar to the Lord: a piano bench, Christmas candles, and a binder stand for my Bible (I know… I was a weird kid).
From that moment, I began reading my Bible every day. I filled up my closet with Jesus T-shirts and even made a pair of Jesus pants (basically, I just painted Bible verses and Christian images on a pair of jeans and wore them around). I shared my faith with friends on my cross-country team, classmates, and employees at Ponderosa Steak House where I worked throughout High School. I have to admit that I was a bit much for folks but I was simply overjoyed that God changed my life.
You see, before 1992 I had a very difficult time moving from a small private Lutheran elementary school to a much larger public middle school where I didn’t know anyone. On the first day, our science teacher wanted to get to know us and asked each of us what is one thing in the world we would hold on to if everything else went away. I told everyone that I would keep my Bible. I was made fun of almost immediately. I was called Bible Man. I wasn’t ready for that. Things got worse when I started getting teased, sucker punched, and beat up. Eventually I retaliated and acted out. No longer was I called Bible Man but Psycho Boy. It’s amazing how long some names can stick to your soul. What is more amazing is how God can strip away the power and pain of those names by calling us by another name: Beloved.
“As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” Romans 9:25