Commencement exercises, like holiday movies watched countless times, usually are fairly predictable. After all, printed programs get us back on track in case of the wandering of minds.
Some of the best “mind-wanderers” are faculty members who know the sub-plots--some of them winding and tangled---that are unique to certain graduates.
One such recent program was at First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, where 22 candidates received graduate degrees from B. H. Carroll Theological Institute. Towering over them was the commencement speaker, Dr. Darin Wood, pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland.
He revealed a “sub-plot” keenly remembered from his doctoral pilgrimage, and it made Dr. Bruce Corley smile. Corley, whose seminary teaching career spans 41 years, was Carroll’s first president. He served a decade in the presidency, but most of his teaching and writing occurred during his long tenure at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. (He has authored some 25 books to date, with plans for many more.)
Of course, Corley and the commencement speaker were considerably younger back in 1991, during Wood’s pursuit of a Master of Divinity Degree.
“I wasn’t terribly serious about Dr. Corley’s class in Romans,” Wood admitted. “And Dr. Corley realized it before I did.”
That they are both baseball fans may have hastened a meeting of minds. Upon returning a marked paper to Wood that failed to impress, the mentor questioned, “When did you write this assignment?”
Wood responded, “I think it was during the sixth inning of the third game of the World Series last week.”
Corley, barely smiling, answered, “If you decide to get serious about this class, let me know.”
The words stung, of course; Wood soon realized his teacher was 100 percent correct.
He got serious about it, and eight years later, when he applied for the Ph.D. program, he asked Corley to be a reference. Corley, of course, agreed.
The rest, as is said, is history.
I mentioned Wood’s towering.
“To lessen whispering and wondering, I’m 6-10,” he said. “Someone said I missed my calling, and that I should have been a power forward.”
As he dissected hope and faith, he discussed how changes in plans can loom unexpectedly. He spoke of tackling a new challenge less than four months ago upon his being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He smiled confidently at the prospect of his final treatment to be administered soon.
The triumphant evening was marked by brevity. Wood’s 15 minutes were as effective as any I’ve ever heard, and so was the invocation.
It was offered by the Rev. Matt Killough, pastor of Sonora First Baptist Church and a 2008 recipient of a Master of Divinity Degree from Carroll. The prayer, no more than a minute in length, presented a powerful challenge. He prayed that God would lead graduates to “lean in to the misunderstood, to walk alongside the emptied, to run toward the forsaken and to sprint to the feet of Jesus.”
Would that all of us take his prayer to heart.
During the recessional, graduates exchanged smiles with loved ones who have cheered them on, and with mentors whose sharp focus continues to be on “getting serious.” One set of smiles was between Corley and Dr. Gene Wilkes, who succeeded him as president. During his student seminary years at Southwestern almost four decades ago, Wilkes sat in Corley’s classes.
Corley, and others who believe in Carroll’s mission, are cheering for Wilkes in a world where Christians feel greatly outnumbered by folks who aren’t. Isn’t that one of the most important lessons Jesus had for His disciples? In effect, He told them to “get used” to being outnumbered, but always to show others His ways.
Another theologian of another era--cut from the same cloth as Wood and Killough--likewise was concise. “Let’s all remember, all of the time, that the same God who has intervened in the affairs of humankind throughout history, is still in charge.”
Contact Don by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 817-447-3872.