02 December 2005

Life, Bagels and Mentoring

Praying Eyes
Originally uploaded by Mitch Majeski.
There is a sort of warm life in Gib’s Bagels every morning. Arrive sometime before 8am and you are greeted by the hot smell of toasting bagels, bacon and coffee and the murmur of conversation and turning pages. To some the text for the morning is the Denver Post while others read and discuss the Bible. Even the groggiest customer seems be thinking ahead, anticipating the day. Sometimes only the pause to wait for a bagel is necessary to move a mind from reactive to reflective. The promise and activity of a “Gib’s morning” become the perfect complements to my time with Mick.

When you meet Mick Scarpella you are left with an impression. The glint in his eyes is atypical. It speaks less of mischief and more of life. Years of hard work, mountain climbing and loss have burnished away false pretenses. He possesses a sturdy wisdom forged in a life of wrestling with, desperation for and fear of God. There is a sort of warm life in Mick that feels like a Dylan song; thoughtful and earthy with the ability to strip anyone’s protective layers and expose death.

A strange anticipation precedes the mornings we find to talk. I know that two things will happen at our meeting. My inconsistent and shallow thinking will be exposed and my sense of calling will be strengthened.

This is what it means to have a mentor. Not every mentor will have Mick’s story or personality but they will all have life - life that hasn’t come easy but flows easily into the spiritual veins of the protégé. Without life there is no mentor. If a mentor has anything to offer it is probably because years of sin and redemption, betrayal and intimacy, joy and loss and have clarified the bittersweet nature of his existence. This “bittersweet-ness” has pried idolatry from his hands and created a hopeful anticipation of a new home. A mentor need not be old, but time is definitely a sponsor of good mentoring – bringing the “good sense” described in Proverbs.

Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
but the instruction of fools is folly.

-Proverbs 16:22 (ESV)

“Life is really bittersweet isn’t it Mick?”
“Yes, absolutely.” he answered.

Those few words are forever carved into my foundation. After some of the hardest years of my life, trying to make sense of betrayal and disappointment, Mick’s friendship began to expose my own death and entice me to real life. A fool’s instruction will avoid the bittersweet and encourage an attachment to the things of this life: achievement, acquisition and comfort. The wise mentor has the good sense to see the futility in those pursuits and has the urgency to expose and remove this folly with the precision of a surgeon. The life that flows through him is otherworldly. Conversations with Mick over coffee and a buttered, parmesan bagel with bacon and egg (always on him) have helped me discover the God I love when life makes no sense.

But this “discipleship” is all so subtle and “second-nature” that protégé and mentor might even miss it. Mick would quickly reject the notion that he is mentoring me in any way – because he isn’t trying. A mentor can never force the issue. Forced entry intends to control and remove the bittersweet, which is the context for discovering life. Just as the Spirit of God never rapes, the mentor never barges in. Now let me make something abundantly clear, Mick has never been afraid to speak the truth and challenge my thinking, but (and this is important) his motivation has never been to control my thinking. Mick takes his cues from Christ who rebuked, challenged and exposed sin but never forced a decision.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, a mentor believes in the glory of God that could be revealed in his protégé. It seems as if God has given Mick a crystal clear vision of God’s desires for my life. I’m not sure why God does it this way, but Mick sees it more clearly than I do. Consistently he points it out to me when I need it the most; a very vulnerable thing for both of us, but a desire for God’s glory provides the motivation and security to “go there.” An email from Mick is provided to give this idea substance:

“I was thinking. Here is where you are supposed to say what Judy [his wife] says, "Oh No." I am really proud of Todd and how he is living his commitment to God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in all of his life. There really is nothing greater for me as a father right now. You and Todd are about the same age. I am not interested in being a father image to you, you are my Pastor. But I am really proud of you as well. -Mick”

It is a simple and subtle affirmation but it is a powerful conduit of life from God to me.

Apart from Christ, this kind of mentoring is impossible and, therefore, the fundamental requirement of every mentor is a deep, honest and living connection to God. This is the “salt in the oats” that will draw any horse to drink from the well of living water.

While we sojourn, we need mentors who are alive. We need those mentors whose years have revealed that our greatest satisfaction is found in Christ and everything else is a foolish bowl of cereal. We need those mentors that will invest the time required to know our souls and expose the cords of death that entangle us. We need someone who cares first for the Glory of God and second for that glory to be revealed in our lives.

Mentoring may or may not continue for eternity but in its current form it will cease. Soon the bittersweet will disappear and all the loss that has confused us will be replaced with intimacy and joy – soon, Mick, but not yet...not yet.


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