I’m a mentor type of guy. Not that I’m someone who should be a mentor (God forbid), but I have always felt the need to attach myself to someone who knows more about a given subject than I do. I had a history teacher in high school who could teach the crap out of history – his name was Phil Beasley. He made it funny, he made it relevant, and he made it extremely memorable. The students who hated history came out of Mr. Beasley’s class with a profound understanding of how the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand shaped the entirety of the twentieth century. He managed to be both charming and sincere, with a razor-sharp wit that was never used as a weapon. Everyone loved him. The man was a master – nobody taught history better than Mr. Beasley.
As I was a young man who was in love with history, Mr. Beasley was my friggin’ hero. He made me want to teach history for the rest of my life. My respect for Mr. Beasley was so great that he became my greatest role-model. I would ask him questions about subjects that meant a lot to me, just to get his opinion on them. On lunch I would stop by his classroom and hang out for a few minutes (and believe it or not, I was far from the only person who did so). And when he complimented something I did, it meant a ton to me – because it confirmed that I was somehow on the path to becoming just like him.
Even as I write this, I’m not sure if this story makes me out to be a teacher’s pet, or a sycophant, or maybe just a guy with no self-esteem. But I don’t think I was any of those things. I’m just the kind of person who learns best by following examples, and when I find someone who seems to have it all together, I latch on to that person like one of those gross sucker fish that cling to sharks.
I’m now a grown man with a family of my own, and I still feel the same way when I meet someone I come to admire. A little praise from them goes a long way. I feel a little conflicted about that. On one hand, it’s awesome to feel like you’ve accomplished something, and recognition of something well-done is an accomplishment. On the other hand, I’m thirty-three effin’ years old! When will I stop reacting to a kind word from a mentor like it’s sunshine parting the clouds?
At the root of things, I think, is my urge to achieve discipleship with someone. I want to learn, but not from a musty old book or an online course – I want to learn from a master. I want there to be someone I can go to with my life’s quandaries when I’m confused, with my embarrassments when I’m a failure, or with my triumphs when I’ve succeeded.
The funny thing is, it’s not the training that I want from this person, as much as it’s the relationship. Sure, there is training involved – but when I hung out with Mr. Beasley, it wasn’t so that I could learn more about history, but it was more so I could learn more about myself, and more about him. I wanted to see reflected in Mr. Beasley the man that I hoped I would be someday. It wasn’t that I needed a father – I had a pretty good dad already. And I was fairly popular within my crowd, so I wasn’t reacting to a lack of friendship. It was more like I needed a living embodiment of who I should be, of what I should aspire to.
That idea, more than anything else, really helps me with what I’ve often called “the Jesus disconnect.” The Jesus disconnect is what I call my brain’s inability to understand why people say that Jesus and God are the same person. In my pre-Christian days, I would put Jesus in the same category as Mohammed or Buddha – a person tied to a religion with something important to say. When I was calling myself a “theist”, I would argue that I could believe in God without believing that Jesus had anything to do with him. I read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and followed his logical argument supporting God, nodding here or there in agreement – until he jumped the shark and started talking about Jesus.
“Confound it!” I said in my imagination, not throwing the book across the room but thinking very hard about throwing the book across the room, “why must all these blasted Christians always assume that God and Jesus must go together! Nyahhh!”
I think I get it now. God is too distant – God is too big – for someone to just sit down and chat with God. And while people in the Old Testament seemed to palaver with the Lord all the time, I can’t wrap my brain around that.
But Jesus? People sat with Jesus. People talked with Jesus. He slept in their houses and ate their food, and every now and then he would do something so miraculous that it was like your world had exploded. I can imagine myself in that position – in this day and age – waking up one morning before my wife and kids, and finding Jesus sleeping on the couch. Maybe we’d have a cup of coffee, just the two of us, and I would talk to him about whatever was going on in my life. And while Jesus – who had a habit of speaking very cryptically when he was addressing groups – was listening to my story, I would know that as soon as I was done speaking, he would say something that was absolutely correct. Just the two of us, in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, and with that personal attention he would put my whole life in order. He wouldn’t appear distracted, or constantly check his cell phone, or ask if he could use my computer to browse his email. He would listen to me, think it over for a moment, and then blow my mind.
What better mentor could there be? Is it any wonder that he inspired such fanatical devotion in his disciples? I might’ve cut an ear off for him, too.
I wonder if that’s really what I’m looking for, what I’ve been trying to find all of my life – a perfect mentor, a man without flaw that I can guide myself after. Maybe he’d be teaching me about carpentry, on the surface, but really he’d be teaching me about everything. If that’s the case, then I have something to look forward to when I die – because I’ve got a lot of questions for the poor dude.
In the meantime, I might just have to settle.