God’s Sense of Humour

I started this post a couple of days ago, but it seemed to be coming slowly. Only when someone else mentioned the subject of God’s sense of humour did I decide to finish it.  I’ve described several times that I went to Bible College in the 80s, and there I was “counselled” for being gay, and graduated with a degree in Pastoral Studies. I was a great student, graduated with honours, and organized our Senior Retreat. However, there is one element of that three-year story that I’ve rarely told anyone.

First, let me be clear that I loved the school. I learned an enormous amount there; how to study the Bible, how to help people in need, how to do things I didn’t really want to do. It was a time where I learned a lot about personal self-discipline, and I’ve needed that many times since. It was a three-year enclave for me, in the midst of Chicago, where we were isolated from the rest of the world and I could study and explore as much as I wanted. To describe it as something of a monastery experience would not be far-fetched.

I learned a lot about God… though not necessarily what my professors were trying to teach me. Oh, I got good grades in systematic theology (Christology, pneumatology, angelology, eschatology, etc… all the Biblical -ologies) but life teaches you much more than classwork. My best friend was a woman, Laura, who was to be a missionary for some years in New Guinea and Morocco. We used to tell each other tales about things that had happened to us, and how God must have a sense of humour. Assuming that there is some plan for our lives, the ways that events criss-cross over the years is something of a cosmic joke… in the most affectionate and loving of ways, but sometimes we would just sit back and chuckle.

The school was very formal; there were lots of rules: don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t play cards, don’t see movies. Yes: the mid-eighties were a black hole as far as movies were concerned for me; I didn’t even watch TV (there was only one in the school, on second floor, which I never watched), so I didn’t know what movies I was missing. I was active in a variety of school activities and got to know the administration quite well. I remember discussions for hours at a time, talking about the application of different Bible passages. Since the school was inter-denominational, the perspectives represented stretched from Baptist to Charismatic. We were kids; we were idealistic; we were willing to talk about almost anything.

I remember graduation; relatives from England were visiting and watched me walk down the aisle. It had been an enormous effort to get that diploma. I remember walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the President of the College, and he handed me my leather-bound diploma. I got to the other side, amid dozens of other graduates, hugging and shaking each others’ hands and slapping each other on the back. Then I opened it up.

My name was spelled right. The date was correct. At first glance it read fine. But it said:

“The Trustees and Faculty…
award this Diploma to
George Ian Bowles
in testimony to the satisfactory completion of the prescribed studies of the
Pastoral Studies Major
and in approval of her Christian character and in commendation of her
zeal at practical Christian work….”

It was a woman’s diploma. I couldn’t believe it. The base diplomas were all the same except for gender, and there was one template for men, another for women. Names and majors were transcribed as necessary. It happened that with mine, there was obviously some confusion, and they could hardly have picked a more appropriate student to mess this up if they had tried. What was particularly ironic was that women were not permitted in my major. As I said, it was a conservative school, where the function of pastor was defined as being a gender specific role. They took flack about this, even at that time. Although I could see someone possibly getting my name on the wrong gender diploma, the mistaken gender association with my major was a theological no-no.

Laura and I chuckled about this for several days, one of our last experiences together before venturing off to our newly graduated existence. I returned the offending document to the school to ask for a new diploma with my correct gender on it, although I’ll admit that I did take several photocopies. They’ve been hiding behind the real diploma all these years, and this is the first anyone has seen it since that fateful day in 1987.

This post was originally published on Gather.com, and is reproduced here (primarily to try to keep my writing in one spot).

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