The Value of Wise Mentors
I have found two groups enjoyable to be around until the subject turns to religion. That is when both groups have a tendency to become overly confident, if not strident. They are quite sure they are right and everyone else is wrong, especially me. Ironically, these groups come from two different ends of the spectrum.
I once developed friendships with a two professors from a secular university. One was a specialist in the history of 16th century India, while the other was an expert on the philosopher Richard Rorty. Both were quick to tell me how utterly ridiculous it was that I should be a Christian. Of course, it was New York, where Christians do not grow in abundance. I took their criticisms in stride.
These friends were kind and generous and enjoyable to be around when the subject was not religion. They were curious, open and thoughtful. But when the subject turned to Christianity, they were intractable. They were right. I was wrong.
Because of my work with this magazine and Christian churches around the country, I also come in contact with church leaders who are equally convinced my religious beliefs are misguided. If I encounter these folks in a restaurant or at a convention, our conversations are enjoyable, sometimes even delightful. But when the subject is a matter of faith on which we hold different opinions, their rhetoric can condescending or patronizing.
Both groups make me think of Dr. Byron Lambert, my mentor in the faith. Dr. Lambert was firing more neurons in his sleep than I do on my best days. A student of philosophy, theology, ethics, and a plethora of other subjects, Byron was a walking encyclopedia. He was also one of the most wise and humble men I have ever known.
When Byron disagreed with me, I never heard about it in public. He waited until he had time to consider what I might have intended with my misguided thoughts. Eventually he would kindly say, “I found your perspective interesting.” Then Byron would gently and rightly direct me toward a new way of thinking.
Byron never questioned my intent. He always treated my position with respect, even when he suspected I might have derived it from a bubble gum wrapper. He taught me how to be gracious, as he graciously corrected me time and again. In the process I became a better thinker. I also learned to realize that an open mind is very close to a Godly mind.
I miss Byron a lot. I wish more of my generation were like him. I will never have his knowledge or wisdom, but I would love to have his spirit.