The Teacher in the Next Bunk
Teaching comes in various forms, while teachers come in various shapes and sizes, sinners and saints. Some of life’s greatest teachers have no teaching degree, have no formal classroom, and have no grading scale.
This blog is a reflection on an unaccredited teacher that formatively shaped my thinking: my first college roommate, Andy VomSteeg. The lessons learned from this prognosticator of life proved more valuable for me long-term in 2019 than they appeared in 1985-1986. It’s a terrible irony to be a professor now and realize that you didn’t sit at the feet of a sage in your own dorm room. Perhaps it will lead you to reflect on your own unaccredited life teachers.
This college roommate first introduced me to the doctrine of common grace. Granted, the term was never used in Johnson Main Hall 301 and the theology was never formally articulated. Yet, he understood it before I did. He educated me that what seems profane can in fact be holy. He would play Bruce Springsteen in the room when I, an evangelical child of the 80’s, had a conviction against rock music. It was what the spiritual did in that decade. “Listen to him [Springsteen] sing about the pain of regular life,” he would say, glorifying lyrics about a lost soul working at a car wash while in search of personal significance. The Boss can make even a car ride sound epic. Steeger laid the foundation for me to recognize the heavenly in the regular, the sacred in the profane, and the glorious in the inglorious. While Springsteen rarely gets profiled for reflecting the divine image, Calvin could recognize it: “Still, we see in this diversity some remaining traces of the image of God, which distinguish the entire human race from the other creatures.”
This college roommate first revealed to me that Christians use jargon that can annoy other Christians. It was in bible study, grinding out some part Paul’s letters, that the term “spirit-filled” entered the conversation. I defended the term. After all, it’s in the bible (Eph. 5:18). After all, it’s common sense: it means allowing the Holy Spirit to “live in you,” a common metaphor for Christian holiness. “What does that even mean? It’s only words,” he declared. Debate ensued in defense of God. While some Christian might respond, “He’s not filled with the Spirit,” I now realize Andy’s insight. Terminology might be in the bible and terms might be easy to imagine logically, but when it’s used in so many ways by so many people to mean so many things, it becomes empty. When we’re not precise in theological meaning, terms becomes annoying when thrown about to depict the Christian life.
The lessons are numerous. This college roommate taught me that Christian thinking should be broad; he had to regularly justify why he was majoring in History while intending to go to seminary. This college roommate taught me confidence as he yelled, “Hey, Roomy!” from the cool kids table when this lowly freshman was lost in the dining hall, simply trying to find the food line when I wouldn’t wear my glasses in public. He taught me the beauty of soccer when he dropped a perfectly launched shot on goal that curved around the head of the goalie. He taught me the power of a controversial single line delivered boldly: “Love begins in the mind.” He taught me that being from California means you won’t worry too deeply about really anything. At least that how he seemed to feel when he borrowed my car without asking. After all, what is a Christian if one doesn’t share?
The concept of a gradebook for one’s life is a worthy consideration, an exercise in self-evaluation for our areas of career or personal contribution. The concept of a teaching evaluation of another’s influence is also worthy, and Andy VomSteeg was my Teacher of the Year for 1985-1986.
I’ve not seen or talked to my first college roommate in thirty-three years. There is no quid pro quo here and I didn’t lose a bet. It’s a simple recognition as my thirty year college reunion looms on the calendar this summer—the lessons learned from a bunk mate were more life-profound than I realized at the time. Andy, maybe you'll be out there on that road somewhere, in some bus or train traveling along, in some motel room where the wireless won’t clog, and you'll read me…write this blog.
Andy VomSteeg is Lead Pastor at New Vintage Church, Santa Rosa, CA, https://newvintage.org. Be careful not to leave your keys on the pew after church.
1. Springsteen Lyrics, Downbound Train (New York: Columbia Records, 1984).
2. W. Brian Shelton, Prevenient Grace (Wilmore, KY: Francis Asbury Press), 224; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II.2.17.
3. Springsteen Lyrics Adapted, Bobby Jean (New York: Columbia Records, 1984).