Words of wise counsel were given to me by my step father when I was a child. He said, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Because I tend to take myself and everything else too seriously, this was important for me to hear.
During my time in the Navy Chaplain Corps (1983-2008) I was selected to attend post-graduate school. This means you attend a school of higher learning to study at the doctoral level for one year. My field of academic endeavor was Pastoral Counseling. The school was the School of Theology at Claremont (STC), in a suburb of Los Angeles. I had a wonderful time that year (1990-91)! Several moments stand out as I reflect back. Allow me to share them with you.
Prior to the school year beginning, I was asked to speak at a conference of my denomination in L.A. I shared how I was tickled to have been selected to attend post-grad school at STC. After my talk I was approached by a number of church members telling me that they would be praying for me while I was at STC. I noticed that many of them appeared to be very concerned for me. STC is known to be a very liberal school in every way possible. I chose to attend there because it had the highest academic rating nationally. So I divined that these dear friends in Christ were concerned that I might somehow wind up being influenced, and thus change my views to conform to the liberal view of Christianity. I laughed at the absurdity (they obviously didn’t know me). I challenged them to pray for the school because I intended to proclaim Jesus there!
In August of 1990, Iraq had invaded Kuwait, you may remember. The United States then geared up for war. The faculty, staff and many students of STC decided to engage in a protest march. Well, I wanted none of that, so I decided that since I was on active duty while attending this institution of higher learning I would wear my uniform to school one day a week throughout my year there. My purpose in doing this was to visually remind them that American men and women were putting themselves in harm’s way so all of us could live in liberty and freedom. No one ever said anything, but I definitely upset their sensibilities.
One incident that is etched in my mind was during a class discussion on various theological conundrums. All the students were sitting in a circle of chairs. I was warming up to my subject, waxing eloquent to my fellow doctoral students. I was on a roll! One gal was sitting directly across from me with her arms folded across her chest, glaring at me. I had no idea what was troubling her. When I finished she spoke right up, stating in no uncertain terms, “It really offends me that you refer to God as he!” I blinked a couple of times, collecting myself for a response. I smiled (further infuriating her) and said, “I’m sorry if my reference to God in the male gender offends you. However, I have it on very good authority that God sees himself as male. No less of an authority than Jesus himself said in Matthew 6, ‘When you pray, pray in this manner: ‘Our Father who is in heaven . . .’ If Jesus had said, Our Mother, then you would have no argument from me. But he didn’t say Our Mother – he said Our Father.” She had no comeback which ended the discussion. I later had an opportunity to minister to her through some personal hurt she experienced in a relationship.
Toward the end of the school year (in another class) each student was required to give a ten minute synopsis of their term research paper. On the day I was to give my talk, sitting there waiting my turn, I spoke to the Lord and asked him to help me get through to these students who viewed me as an alien from some far distant galaxy. I often felt that they looked at me like I was a science lab project. “Oooh, look! It’s a conservative! I wonder what type of species he is?” It was now my turn, so I stood up, smiled at the class, and said, “It may surprise you to know that I’m more liberal than you would imagine. However, I am far more conservative than you’d ever want me to be!” The class burst out laughing uproariously. I glanced over at the professor. She was laughing so hard I thought she might fall out of her chair. It broke the ice, and I was able to present my talk to a most receptive and transformed audience.
And yes, I completed my doctorate from STC. I had a great time doing it, too!