An Old Testament-Style Calling for GTS Alumnus

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By Turhan Tirana, M.A. Class of 2012 When I matriculated at General, the thought of a calling had not occurred to me. In my retirement then from remunerated work, I just wanted to study. Or so I thought. And five years later, last May, upon graduation with a master’s in Biblical Studies, still no change. What I wanted to do with my newly-found freedom was to study some more, on my own; fish for trout and striped bass, and tend to my garden and grandchildren.

Two weeks later, this dream was gone. My calling, Old Testament style, had come and smacked me on the head. But a better calling, a better use of what General has taught me and a more challenging one, one which requires me to be fully alert each moment I cannot conceive.

I am a teacher now, never having taught before. Moreover, I am a teacher of the Bible, right now the Psalms. I teach at a Christian evangelical addiction recovery mission in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a once prosperous, once handsome industrial city known now mostly for its decay, poverty and crime.

My students are male recovering drug and alcohol addicts, aged 18 to 50, half of whom have served prison time. They are smart, engaged, sometimes funny and for the most part, Biblically literate and sufficiently literate to challenge me from time to time. Their understanding, however, tends toward fundamentalism and inerrancy.  But thanks to what Prof. Owens taught me, I mostly keep my cool and sometimes, I can even nudge them to other perspectives.

For example, we can now comfortably use the word “metaphor.”  And somewhat as an experiment, I tried on them a George Herbert poem ("The Pulley"). They not only got it; they argued raucously with each other about it, the arguments including the nature of God and free will. The teaching, too, goes both ways. I am learning from my students, unwittingly, about faith; theirs, for some reason I have not yet discerned, being more certain than my own, their afflictions and humiliations notwithstanding.

Pivot Ministries is the name of the mission. It has been around for 42 years, although now it faces scary financial prospects. Funding comes mostly from private donations, including some local Episcopal, Congregational and other churches. My students are in the first three months of a 16-month recovery program which treats addiction as a spiritual problem. The program is based upon Bible study, prayer, self-evaluation and AA and NA.

The men come to Pivot from all over the country mostly by word-of-mouth but sometimes by recommendation of their probation or parole officers. They may leave at any time. Almost half stay the full term, thereby, perhaps, fulfilling Pivot’s stated mission “to return the men to their families whole.” They are blessed to be there.  So am I.