Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Donut Delight Changed My World

I attended a high school with approximately 1000 students in Ontario as I was growing into the debonair stud-muffin that I am today. I entered Grade 9 in 1992 with much of the fear and trepidation that most boys and girls faced as they made the transition into secondary school. I quickly connected with the Christian students club that already existed in the high school. It was a friendly group that met weekly, though it was rather small. However, it was good to know that there was a group of like-minded believers within the daunting hallways that I easily got lost in that first year.

It wasn't long, though, before a new Christian Students Network rose to (humble) power in our high school; I was an eager participant in it. We amped up our organization and activities. These included:

  • Scheduling regular worship music nights at various local churches
  • Beginning a regular newspaper which featured articles from various students. Topics ranged from theological issues to music and upcoming youth group events in the area. People would take turns stuffing the papers inside lockers of those who signed up for them.
  • Before the start of each school day, a group of 10 or 15 of us (sometimes smaller) gathered around the flagpole to pray, often causing snickering from the nonbelievers. 
At our height, the network boasted around 120 students, a thriving group. I spent almost all of my free or spare school time with other Christians. However, this changed as the years passed.

I had never skipped out on a class in my entire life, that is, before my grade 12 and OAC (Ontario Academic Credit) years. It was then that I must have decided that I truly hated math and science classes so much, that I would take the risk and begin my absenteeism. Either that or the coffee and donuts beckoned me.

Donut Delight was, temptingly, a one-minute walk away, kiddy-corner from the high school. This was no Tim Hortons, to be sure, however this added to its charm. I began to skip my dreaded math and science classes, and I would head over to the donut shop, where consistently there would be...shock of all shocks: non-Christian classmates. But rather than head for the exits, and rather than try to proselytize them (as my brand of faith demanded), instead I began to listen to Scott and to Lindsay, to Becca and Julie, and to Damien. There were several others. As we drank our coffee (which was quite good as I recall) and ate our donuts, something important started happening in me. I began to listen to these classmates, and mostly without judgment but more so out of curiosity. As time went on, and the number of classes missed rose, something very significant shifted in me. I realized something very important: "Hey, these are not bad people!" And if they weren't bad people, why should I be trying to save them from a Hell that bad people naturally went to? I learned that my non-Christian friends - as they were now my friends - encapsulated many of the very same dreams, trauma, fears, and curiosity that I also held within me. They weren't bad, they were just different than I in some ways.

Now, I continued to believe in the evangelical Christian faith, and even went to Bible college after high school; I did not finish my program there, however, as eventually the questions that began inside Donut Delight led to my abandonment of most of the tenets of the fundamentalist evangelical brand of the faith. 

I learned two huge lessons during those last couple of years of high school:
  1. It is better to listen without judgment and be willing to learn, rather than to impose your theology onto someone else. And..

  2. It pays off to stay out of trouble and be a goody two-shoes. I never spent one minute of detention for the 60-70 classes that I spent drinking double-double coffee with my new-found friends.
Mark Andrew Nouwen