It was my first residency at the Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies “Urban Studies” program. I’d never met any my of classmates before, much less traveled to Philly. I won’t bother you with my dramatic arrival involving a confused cab driver, 2 Eastern University campuses (one arrived at twice), Philadelphia University, and missing the Orientation Dinner. Suffice it to say I was frazzled, terrified, and more or less ready to go home.
Enter: DOCTOR Tony Campolo.
I’d heard him speak before at conferences and events. Great speaker… little bit of spit during times of emphasis, but it only reinforces the point he’s making. As far as I was concerned, however, he was “Tony Campolo” — public speaker and leader. No big, right? Sure I wanted to learn from him, but I didn’t exactly have his up-to-date CV. Had I bothered to read it, I might have shown a smidge more respect.
But then again, if higher academics can’t be bothered with upfront, direct questions, perhaps they aren’t such a big deal after all.
We all gather together, students and professions, for dinner. The weather outside was alive with Philly warmth and autumn colours. While enjoying our meal, Tony shows up. Of course we’re all in a bit of a flutter. Most of the staff already on a first name basis with him were pretty well “Whatevs”, but even the students who claimed to have heard him speak a million times already were in awe.
He begins to work the room.
The time for his lecture closes in.
And the fire alarm goes off.
We all march out into the lovely Philly fall weather, mingle around in the parking lot, and grab our chances at chatting Tony up. He and I snagged in some conversation and I found him to be personable, kind, warm, and outgoing.
We file back into the auditorium, take our seats, and Tony begins to speak. Of course I’m in the front, keener that I am. Easier to learn without the social anxiety of other people in front of me (creates social noise). Instead of the deep, spiritual sermons I am used to from the great Tony Campolo, challenging evangelicals in their social apathy and doctrinal snobbery, I receive a sociological history lesson.
Something isn’t adding up. Just because this guy is delivering a bunch of theories and ideas, I couldn’t find a reason to believe him whatsoever. Just who did he think he was?
I raise my hand.
“Yes! You in the front!” says Tony.
“Why should I believe you?”
A collective gasp sounds from behind me. And I start getting the feeling that I may have just crossed a line. I may have ended my Masters career before it had even begun.
Smiling just a bit (I think), Tony delivers a terribly academic answer about “If I was speaking to you as REVEREND Campolo, you could ask me about belief. But I am speaking to you as DOCTOR Campolo about already established sociological theories. It is up to YOU whether you believe me about these theories or not!”
Obviously I wasn’t kicked out of grad school. In fact, a couple of profs said the next day that I simply asked what everyone else was thinking. And it’s made for a great story. Happy 80th birthday, DOCTOR REVEREND Tony Campolo.
Still not sure if I believe you or not, but as you say:
That’s my choice. 😉