Former Army Capt. Scott Bostic's story could start with his upbringing in the Methodist church in Roswell, Georgia, or at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he made a priority of always finding time for devotion.
But to understand how this former medical corps officer ended up in divinity school, it may make more sense to start in Iraq.
"I didn't have the distractions of life in the States," Bostic recalled. "I had one big distraction, but when I wasn't working, there wasn't a lot else. Other folks played video games. I spent my time in the chapel."
Today, he's in the chapel full-time, as a student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. At age 33, he's preparing to graduate from a program that could lead him to work in church administration, teaching or pastoral care.
A distinct pursuit
He thought he might become an Army chaplain, but as a single dad, that's starting to seem unrealistic. He's more likely to end up in the ministry once he is ordained as an elder in the Methodist church.
Studying to be a minister isn't like other academic pursuits; it's not about solving equations, amassing facts or conducting experiments in a lab. In divinity school, you are the experiment, the laboratory in which faith, intellect and compassion are stirred together on the way to a diploma and a career of service.
On the academic side, "theology is a mix of English, philosophy, history," Bostic said.
"A lot of it is being able to understand complex issues and being able to make a well-reasoned argument for a position," he said. "And there is a ton of work that goes into that. You have to understand the text itself — when it was written, who we think it was written by, the historical context in which things were written and ultimately what it means to us now."
Bostic describes his studies in the 90-credit-hour Master of Divinity program as a kind of spiritual boot camp, with professors determined to break a student's belief system as a way for that student to re-examine every idea to see where it came from, what it means and whether it is, in fact, true to the student today.
"You have to have everything taken apart, deconstructed and laid out in pieces in front of you in order to be able to put it back together and say what you believe," he said. "It's about helping you understand your own faith relative to another person['s], so you're not just becoming a miniature version of some other theologian."
Former Army officer Scott Bostic expects to end up in the ministry once he is ordained as an elder in the Methodist church.
Photo Credit: Daniel Woolfolk/Staff
In the field
There's a hands-on aspect as well, with course requirements that include full-time internships in the summer and part-time work during the school year. Bostic has been doing his at Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.
While the Post-9/11 GI Bill is paying for his education, he had to get out of the service to pursue this calling. The Army will send you to school to be a doctor or a lawyer, he noted, but if you want to go to seminary, you must leave the uniform behind.
Bostic doesn't sound upset about that. Actually, he doesn't sound upset about much. He's calm and quiet, a guy trying to live a spiritual life. For him, that life is less about thumping the lectern and more about helping those in his community to live better, more satisfying lives.
In fact, at times he can sound more like a community organizer than a reverend. The job of the minister is to "encourage and empower and challenge people, to be of service to the needs of the community," he said. "I am charged to care for people's souls, and also to care for their lives."
'The next faithful step'
So much of this goes back to Iraq, working the east side of Baghdad in a medical support role with the Army's 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.
Everyone else in his battalion was a logistician, and he didn't quite fit in.
"People understand medical logistics, but they don't really know what to do with them," he said. "The field-grade officers understood it, but everybody junior just knew I was supposed to take care of medical stuff."
So he spent his time with the other outlier — the company chaplain — and joined the Tuesday Bible study group.
"Over time, I got more and more interested," he said. "It was a great space for me to take a break from managing flight operations, from medical evacuation planning, from planning for medical backfills as folks departed from theater."
Having spent so much time building up his faith, Bostic has found it a challenge to have to rebuild that faith as part of his religious and professional education. "But one of the great things about being in a community like this is that most everybody else has been there, and if they haven't they are going to get there before too long," he said.
The trick is to keep moving forward, to always take "the next faithful step."