How an Unlikely Friendship Gave Me Courage to Risk Being a Fool
My friendship with Dennis provided me opportunities to focus less on trying to "be cool" all the time.
(This post is part of a larger, ongoing series titled “TRYING: Becoming, Being, and Breaking as a Pastor” in which I chronicle my twenty year history as a Pastor. You can catch up on the series here.)
The drive from Albany, OR down to Biola University (where SEMP would be hosted) is 915 miles.
The internet tells me that’s about a 13 hour 12 minute drive. But I can’t imagine Google takes in to account how long it might take if you’re driving a church van full of angsty, fidgety high schoolers.
Jeremy (the Associate Youth Pastor I mentioned in this post) was the sole driver, responsible for the eleven of us high school kids who made the choice to spend a week of our summer in Southern California training in the art of apologetics for the sake of proselytizing our peers (more on that exciting premise later). Obviously, with only one driver there was no way to make the drive in a single day, so we planned to break up the trip with a stop in Bakersfield.
While I knew the ten other kids in the van, I wouldn’t say they were friends of mine. As I mentioned, the only reason I agreed to go to SEMP was because Jeremy wanted me to. However, one guy in particular, Dennis, quickly moved from “random kid I knew from school” to “best friend for my final year of high school.”
Dennis was a fascinating sociological specimen. On one hand he nicely fit into a handful of predictable stereotype boxes, while at the same time obliterating molds and creating a character all of his own.
Was he a stoner kid who rode a skateboard and spoke with a slow, half-smiled, non-southern accented drawl? Yes.
Did his dry sense of humor and quick wit ensure that he could comfortably weave in and out of multiple social circles, making it so that not only did everyone know and like Dennis but they assumed he was their friend? Yup.
And yet, simultaneously did he harbor a deep spirituality that generated in his spirit a constant tension between “drugs and alcohol” on the one side, with a sincere desire to “get clean and do better” on the other? Entirely.
He was, as they say, a troubled spirit, who’s heart was as big as they come.
I hadn’t had more than but a few conversations with him prior to SEMP, but when you’re crammed in a church van for two days straight you end up bonding at a pace that skips most of the intermediate relationship steps.
Dennis brought a handheld camcorder with him to document the trip so that our Youth Pastor, Rob, could put a promotional video together and share with the larger church—“Look at how amazing our youths are!” Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the footage we got was all that helpful toward that end. Two examples come to mind of things we did get footage of.
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