Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Back and blogging

It is safe to say that last month was the lightest blogging month since I began blogging in earnest 10 years ago this month. My primary reason for not writing much was that I spent most of the month at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. From Sunday, 12 June until Friday, 1 July, I completed my first (of three) residencies in pursuit of a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) degree. My experience there was wonderful. Since I went with high expectations, it is amazing to me that my experience measured up to my expectation.

If you're considering bailing out on this post, don't be alarmed I am not going to bore you with a day-by-day account of my residency. I do, however, intend to give an overview. One of the reasons I like pursuing theological and ministerial education and formation is that it stretches me. I like having my preconceptions challenged, my lazy assumptions called into question, and learning things I barely know or don't know at all. At the end of the day, I am quite ignorant. I also enjoy looking at familiar things from a new vantage point as well as broadening and deepening my knowledge. In particular, during this residency I came to see quite clearly that my passion in life is serving Christ by serving his Bride and, in his name, the world. In other words, it did a lot to confirm my calling as a deacon. Hopefully, what I learned and experienced will make me more effective in ministry.

Academically, what interests me is pastoral, or applied, theology. For this, the first ever residency for the Mt. Angel D.Min program, we completed a semester long class each week. Each day consisted of three lectures and a seminar, except our last week, which was pastoral psychology, during which we had four lectures. Outside of class we read and prepared for seminar discussions, researched and began writing our term papers for each class. In the end, each weekday was about a 14-hour day for me and on weekends I put in about eight hours of research, reading, and writing each day. Being free from all outside distractions, I was amazed at how quickly and pleasantly the days passed. Our classes were: Ecclesiology, Scripture (Gospel of Matthew), and Pastoral Counseling.

Mount Angel Seminary

It was nice to step out of the busy stream of family, work, ministry, social media (for the most part), news, etc. It helped me regain my equilibrium. I often live life with my face pressed to the windscreen. Getting away almost always helps me put things into perspective. I can't say that my time at the seminary was particularly prayerful. But then, while I certainly did pray every day- I would suffocate if I didn't- I wasn't there on retreat, but to go to school. It was precisely in and through my studies that I experienced the presence of the Lord. Sometimes growth requires soul-searching, deep thought, a few long walks, and a little sleeplessness. At least in my experience, the Spirit often works deeply and uncomfortably, but discernibly. As St. Paul put it:
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will (Rom. 8:24-27)
Am I a "holy one"? If so, only because of the merits of Jesus Christ. I cannot claim any holiness of my own. Far from a depressing admission, acknowledging that I lack holiness is a source of great joy for me. It frees me from the need to pretend. In any case, growing becomes harder as I grow older. I don't know about you, but for me age does not equal wisdom. I am not nearly as wise as I imagined I would be at my age. I am not as wise as I should be at my age. Even so, I think to ever consider myself wise would be great folly and the surest indication that I possess no wisdom at all. I am glad I have room to grow. It is a great grace. I think being conformed to the image of Christ means always having room to grow and remaining willing to endure the pain of growth. One of the unique features of being Christian is that you can be right, but, oh so wrong.

Now that I back home, after a short post-residency family vacation in Oregon, which is an amazingly beautiful state, I hope to get back into the swing of things and start blogging again with regularity. In time, I may share here some of the fruits of my labors.

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