DSC07322.jpg{Another day in Lent and another mug that prompts some reflection. Mug/day #4.}

I’ve noted that each mug in the Kellam kitchen cupboard tells a story. Well, this one sure does, doesn’t it? Place, date, occasion. Done. Except for the rest of the story, and the tie-in to Lent.

My childhood pastor, the Rev. Wilbur J. Kerr, helped me choose Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA. Rev. Kerr knew I was headed toward ministry and thought a good Presbyterian school would help prepare me for seminary. He cautioned me though, “Don’t major in Bible or religion. You’ll get enough of that in seminary. Consider history or literature.”

It was good advice. And I didn’t take it. The school convinced me that their “tri-major” of religion/philosophy/psychology was perfect for pre-ministerial students. Oh…OK. No sense all these fifty (!) years later revisiting whether that was a good trail to follow. As I look back on my college years, what strikes me as far more important, faith-wise, was the Christian nurture I received on that campus.

Classes, daily chapel (required, daily chapel in the first couple of years there), college Vespers on Sunday nights, participating in Campus Christian Forum (like “youth group” for us young adults), retreats, the pre-min “fraternity” (which, of course, included women), conversations (remember “bull sessions”?) — all this in the context of:

  • the civil rights movement and Dr. King
  • the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • the Kennedy assassination
  • the so-called “charismatic movement”
  • the Viet Nam war
  • immersion in  Biblical studies and exposure to world religions
  • looking for dates.

And flunking out. Yep. I owe my academic failure to at least three things, one each for every time I was put on probation. First semester, I got a part in a theater production and spent more time in the green room than studying. In my sophomore year, I spent more time in the campus radio station than studying. Junior year, I spent more time in the campus darkroom than studying. Three strikes, and you’re out, for at least a semester.

When I got word from the dean that I was to be a goner, I went right to the chapel, and I prayed. I thought I was called to the ministry. What have I done? Lord, what am I going to do? And how, in heaven’s name, do I tell my Dad, the one whose hard earned money was paying for this failure? There’s a song by Burton Cummings of The Guess Who that sings:

I’m scared, you know I’m shakin’
I’m layin’ awake thinkin’ about it now
I’m terrified
Never been much on religion
But I sure enough just fell down on my knees…

The thing was…I was “much on religion” but I was still scared. About the next days, the next semester, the direction of my life if I didn’t complete college, go on to graduate school, and become the life-long student that good and faithful ministers are.

And then, out of school for a few weeks, I got drafted. Did I mention Viet Nam?

But I was good at flunking, and my physical was no exception.

I went back to Westminster after a few months at IBM, where my Dad had opened a door or two. He had been so full of compassion and grace when he got the word from the dean (not from me; I was in hiding), and my church, too, was persistent in its support of its wayward, not to say prodigal, son. And there was Joan, my date, and then my steady, and soon my fiancée in whom I majored in my senior year. My seminary acceptance letter almost sounded enthused about my coming.

I’ve titled this episode of the mug-of-the-day “Nurture.” Because this whole four year trial-and-error-and-redemption period nurtured me in the faith in ways so unexpected and undeserved that it was the “gift that keeps on giving.” I was guided by teachers, cared for by family and church, and nourished by God’s unwavering presence and pesky insistence that I keep moving, even when scared or uncertain or utterly confused.

So, where have you found nurture? Empowerment? Embrace? Companions along the way? This is Lent, a very good and proper time to consider what nourished your faith, and, importantly, whom you might nurture with your unwavering compassion.

Oh, a footnote about that mug. It’s not exactly the truth. Joan graduated that June 6th. I didn’t have enough credits until after summer school. But they let me have the mug anyway.