Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Going Back

I was in Austin most of this week attending the Austin Graduate School of Theology’s Sermon Seminar. This seminar is special in that scholars lecture on preaching from different books of the Bible (this year: Amos, Hebrews, Genesis, and Galatians) and share as many resources and suggestions as they can to help preachers. I have been surprised by the nostalgia I feel this week and have identified some of the reasons for this (the nostalgia, not my surprise).

Austin Graduate School of Theology (when I attended it was called the Institute for Christian Studies) was the school I left the Houston business world for in 1987. I came with no more specific purpose than to learn more about the Christian faith and the scriptures and to satisfy a nagging curiosity about vocational ministry that I could not seem to shake. This school, in essence, gave me both a solid foundation of Christian understanding and a concrete sense of God’s call to full-time ministry. I have stayed in touch with Austin Grad as an enthusiastic alumnus, and it is gratifying to see the school’s new spacious campus on Guadalupe near Hwy 183, far from the parking nightmares of the U.T. campus to which it so long was subject for so long.

This is also the place where I met my sweetheart, the lovely and spirited former Angela Dulaney. A friend of mine arranged for us to run into each other at a Westover Hills congregation Singles ministry gathering, and I was immediately smitten; here was this petite brunette dynamo driving an aged Camaro with a 350 V-8 engine and a 357 Magnum revolver in her closet for protection. I should have realized how symbolic that was. Suffice it to say, I never knew what hit me. We courted while both working part-time at Houston’s restaurant as I finished my Bible degree and she began work on a Master’s, and got married in the summer of 1989.

1989 was an eventful year for my family, full of pain and promise. My brother graduated from Navy flight school, my younger sister graduated from college, I graduated from I.C.S., Angela and I got married, my older sister died, my grandfather died, my brother got married, and my father got remarried. Three graduations, three weddings, and two funerals. Memories of all this washed over me as I drove from my hotel to the campus and intentionally detoured through some of the old neighborhoods.

I think it’s good to go back. Memory and nostalgia are satisfying unless they preoccupy you unhealthily. When Alex and I went to New Orleans for my father’s 80th birthday a few weekends ago, I took her on a drive around Algiers and showed her places of fondness and significance for me from my childhood. We even stopped by the house of a childhood friend and visited his 86-year old mother, reminiscing and marveling at how fast life goes by. It was wonderful.

The Bible talks a lot about the power of remembering. Life without memory is neutered. As we remember both painful and happy times, we give them layers of depth and meaning. Many years ago I became intrigued by a quotation from T.S. Elliott: “We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” Sometimes, backwards is forwards.


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