I have always been thankful that I have had great teachers all along my educational life that would encourage me and help me to learn perseverance. In college, like many freshmen, my first semester was a disaster. I had listened to my brother and ended up in all the wrong classes. Granted it cleared up that I was not going to take the business track my older two brothers took.
As I sat with my advisor and was trying to pick up the pieces he said that I should concentrate on things that really interested me. So I signed up for what I thought was an intro class on world religions and found at the beginning of the semester that I had inadvertently signed up for a junior-level class seminar. Eight people in the class and there would be no hiding if I were not prepared! However, for the first time in my academic career that was not an issue. I came excited and ready to learn.
I found myself mesmorized by Dr. Bodamer’s teachings. And it was in that class where I realized my call to ministry. I often joke that it was in a class on Hinduism and Buddhism where I found my call. It was a little more nuanced than that. A more accurate statement might be that it was in that class where everything coalesced and for the first time in my life I had a clear vision of where I wanted to go, even though the class had nothing to do with Christianity.
For the next three years I would study with Dr. Bodamer. Even with all my learning issues, he took me under his wing and helped me to learn not only faith, but how to be a faithful leader. In the dark recesses of the main hall at Millikin, I sat in his office contemplating Barth and Calvin and spent two years studying Greek with a text deemed too difficult for most seminaries. But he was patient, and when we came to the end of the book, we started over again because as he said, “you’ll always learn something new when you revisit a text.”
Dr. Bodamer was not your typical professor; he was a pastor and a theologian first and he taught me some very important things that are part of my very being today. He taught that Theology is not something reserved for the elite scholars and that some of the best theology came from the common person. Secondly, he changed the way I look at the Bible. He was the first to say to me “there are millions of people that can quote Bible passages who no longer believe; what’s important in faith is not what you know, but the relationships you have with God and each other.” He also said the Bible should never be memorized because to memorize it is to force it to lose both meaning and relevance because the tendency is to look at passages in isolation of their context.
A while back I witnessed a debate between folk who thought the only theology was what came straight from the Bible, others said that only Clergy could do theology, and others claimed that theology just did not matter at all, only the Bible or a good moral code. At any one time in my life I could have agreed to any of those points of view. But thanks to this mentor I realize that none of these statements are really right. Theology is about the words we use in talking about God and the most powerful theology is about the relationships that we build and the communities that we are in.
At 83, Dr. Bodamer joined the church eternal, leaving this earthly life last week. While I have not seen him in years I cannot help but remember his importance in my life and feel a loss for this very special man, but I know where he is and am thankful for all that he did for me!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen