That’s the name of the most terrifying ride in any amusement park anywhere.
It’s also become a modern day truism as communication and information technology have made it easy to know what’s happening on the other side of the world—so easy, in fact, that most of us spend more time checking out what’s happening on the other side of the world than we do checking on the folks who live on the other side of the street and more time virtually hob-knobbing with our Facebook “friends” than we do actually relating to the people who live around us.
I have met the enemy and he is me.
Still, occasionally I am reminded of the wonder of real live human relationships; last weekend offered several such reminders.
Debra and I travelled from our home in South Georgia to the great frozen north—Atlanta—where I was scheduled to lead a Bible study at the Northeast Baptist Church; I regaled the good folks there with my research into a fascinating approach to biblical hermeneutics that I call “The Jesus Lens.” The reason that I was invited to Northeast—for a second time, as a matter of fact—is that my friend, colleague, and fellow traveler Brian Wright is their pastor.
Before he was any of those things, though, he was my academic advisee during my period as a Professor of Religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. My first encounter with Brian was before he matriculated to the university; we had a preliminary advising session in which he claims I tried to convince him to take Calculus when he was barely Algebra-ready. We compromised on pre-Calculus, a course taught by Dr. Mike Pinter, a superb Professor of Mathematics, and it turned out to be a good experience.
Brian was one of the more astute advisees I ever had; he resisted enrolling in one of my classes until his senior year—I retaliated by requiring him and the unfortunate other students who were caught up in our little drama to read Walter Brueggemann’s then just-published Theology of the Old Testament which Brian says took him weeks to understand and which I still don’t understand.
After graduating from Belmont, Brian went to McAfee School of Theology and, just before graduating with his M.Div., became pastor of Northeast, where he has done a good job at guiding the congregation through a lot of transition; I am very proud of the ministry that he is doing and leading the church to do. In a few months he’ll be “Dr. Wright” when he receives a D.Min. from McAfee—again, I’m proud.
Debra and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with Brian and the good folks of his church.
On Saturday night, we enjoyed dinner with two old friends, Randy and Jennie Berry. Our story is too long to tell in full but I’ll share some pieces of it.
Randy and I grew up together in Barnesville, Georgia; we went to the same schools and we attended the same church. We were for two years roommates at Mercer University. I think it’s fair to say—he’ll read this and he can argue with it if he wants—that we were good friends because we were at the same time very alike and very different. Jennie Coppage was a Mercer classmate and was for a time the roommate of Debra Kay Johnson and when we finished Mercer we all married each other—Debra married me and Jennie married Randy, to be specific; that was in 1978, 32 long years ago.
The simplest way to describe what happened next is that our families went their own ways—Randy and Jennie serving in churches and in business and in education in Florida and Georgia and having three children, Debra and I going off to seminary for a long time and then being blown about by my various vocational winds, all of which had to do with preaching/teaching/pastoring, and having our two children. We saw them at Randy’s father’s funeral and at my father’s funeral, which occurred in the Spring of 1979, just months after we married and within a few weeks of each other, and then a handful of times over the next few years but it had been more than twenty years since we had been together.
The dinner last Saturday was the kind of reunion where it felt like we had just seen each other yesterday but that about 141 million things had happened in the meantime. It was really fun.
I am happy to report that Jennie and Debra still look great; Mercer friends who have not seen them since college days would immediately recognize them. Randy and I, on the other hand, would have to introduce ourselves and then show identification and perhaps contribute a DNA sample. See for yourself:
When I looked at the Northeast Baptist worship bulletin on Sunday morning, I noticed that a man named Chuck Abbott was offering a prayer and that a woman named Karen Abbott was reading Scripture. I wondered if they were related and thought nothing further of it. After my mesmerizing presentation during the Sunday School hour, a fellow who turned out to be Chuck Abbott walked up to me and said, “You said you are from Barnesville; do you know any Abbotts?” to which I replied, “Know any? I’m half Abbott myself” (explanation: my mother was an Abbott).
It turns out that, the best we could figure, Chuck’s something like my fourth or fifth cousin; I think that my grandfather and his great-grandfather were brothers—at least that was the theory we arrived at before my headache set in. Karen is his wife and later we met their glorious daughter—and my fifth or sixth cousin—Kirsten. They went to lunch with us and it was good to get to know them.
Like I said, it’s a small world.
And I’m happy to say that I’m a Facebook friend with Brian, Jennie, and Chuck.
If Debra, Randy, and Karen will get with the program, maybe we can keep these relationships going!