My 20th high school reunion was held in Pensacola this summer. The class of ’88 from Booker T. Washington high school met to share memories and update each other about their lives. I wasn’t there. I agreed to a mini-reunion a few months earlier with some of my best friends. We went to Chicago, ate expensive steaks, walked the streets, took the train, and watched some sports. It was a good time. But if I could go back, I’d go to my reunion instead.
There have been a flood of pictures, facebook connections, and renewed contacts thanks to the group from our class that did make the choice to re-connect. I realize now that my memories of that group have faded. I wish I could have heard some of them speak, looked at the receding hairlines, observed the wrinkles, found out who achieved their promise, and who is still looking. Maybe part of why I wish I had gone is because I am no longer a wanderer. After obtaining four degrees, including a Ph.D. and a J.D., I have finally settled down at a university and have a book contract. I would have been able to say something about myself rather than being a bewildered thirtysomething, which I was.
I’m burying the lead (or lede as the journalists say). One thing that has struck me in looking at facebook pages from my high school peers is that many of them seem to remember Pensacola as a hotbed of fundamentalist Christianity. More than one seem to define their lives in some degree as a reaction against that.
I’m fascinated. I wonder whether I was just too caught up in other things to notice at that age. My parents were from different denominational backgrounds and I just wasn’t interested in Christianity. Today, Christianity is my passion and massively important to me as a scholar. But back then, it was noise. I didn’t hear it. Not really. I was more concerned with getting a girlfriend or college football or David Letterman. I wasn’t leading the examined life in any way. Just trying to have some fun, go to college somewhere, and not mar my PERMANENT RECORD. Yes, I was a big believer in that. Not worried about God so much as a paper file that would follow me throughout my life.
If I had any kind of feeling about Pensacola, it was that it was a Navy town. I remember the handsome guys with short hair driving up to pick up their girlfriends (our girls!!!) in convertibles. I remember the Blue Angels and the push for young guys like me to consider Naval employment. I remember the radio stations. TK 101.5 and WABB. The way the cool kids were all listening to U2 just ahead of the curve, REM a little further ahead of it, and the Smiths and the Cure way ahead of it.
But if I push a little harder, I can recall the street preacher standing at the corner across from Albertson’s where I had a summer job as a bag boy. I can remember him warning of hell and damnation. Can remember his emphasis on the need for JEEEEEEEEEE-SSUSSS! At the time, it just annoyed me. Just kind of embarrassed me. I understand why some Christians refer to the scandal of the gospel. It seemed kind of scandalous. This guy was telling us that we aren’t good enough and that something is wrong with us.
The strange thing is that I’ve come to agree with him. The style and tone is different, but I do think we all have the something wrong. That unresolved something. And I do believe that a man was born who changed everything with his life, death, and resurrection. I believe there is evidence for it. Is it a slam dunk? Is it an unavoidable belief? No. But the great philosopher Alvin Plantinga is right when he says that it is warranted.