Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Closing a Season

How interesting it is that we enter and leave seasons of life, episodes that last for a while, but then vanish like snow melting in the Spring. Not to be too dramatic about it, but it's no small thing to spend 5 years of your life intensely engrossed in education rigors only to complete it with little fanfare. When I turned in the last of my assignments last Monday, no alarm went off. The assistant in the New Testament office at Dallas Theological Seminary didn't yell out, "He shoots! He scores!" like some enthusiastic hockey announcer. Nevertheless, I knew right then that I had, for all intents and purposes, completed my seminary education. All that remained was some housekeeping preparations for graduation. It was so anti-climactic. Not that I was expecting a parade, but it was surreal that at that moment, when I handed my completed assignments to the office assistant, only I knew the significance of what I was handing to her. She may have thought I was merely handing her a stack of papers, but I was handing to her so much more. That exchange represented the completion of five year's work, gallons of tears, numerous nights fighting over time allotted to family or school, episodes of depression, shaken faith and financial hardships. I was handing to her the last assignments required of me to complete the Th.M. program. I'm not certain, but my hand may have quaked a little when handing her the papers. She accepted them from me as though receiving a memo announcing a departmental meeting. I wanted to say, "Show some respect woman! My own blood was injected into the ink cartridge used to print these papers!" I didn't say that though. There was no reason to expect her to know what was going on within me.

Having said the above, I must say that God has graciously spared me from the more serious cases of "seminary detachment disorder" that other graduates must be experiencing. I imagine that if someone had developed no other interest, or had few other experiences than seminary for the last 4 to 5 years, graduating and leaving may be somewhat unsettling. What would they do now? How does the rest of ministry and their own spiritual walk proceed without a professor giving them reading lists and assignments?

For me, I'm very thankful that God has, over the last five years, provided me with a wide plethora of experiences and interests both inside and outside of seminary. Inside the seminary, I have been able to accomplish the goal that I started seminary with: to treat it as though it was a Christian minister's version of the "Shaolin Temple." My history with martial arts has instilled in me a love of kung fu lore. I enjoy studying the history of the art, the master/apprentice relationship, the natural movement, the training philosophy, the complementary styles and the spiritual integration. The way that the "temple" was a fully integrated training system holds tremendous appeal. Students had the opportunity to live, train and learn in a seamless environment designed to transform the "whole" person from someone merely wanting to learn "Chinese boxing" into a fully equipped "priest" that held the Art in one hand, and Buddhist teaching in the other as they set out to bless a community. The Buddhist part can be taken away, but the rest is a fully integrated and transforming training system that I loved to pursue when I taught the Art.

I sought to make Dallas Theological Seminary such an experience for myself, and I did. If I could have lived there, I would have (there was even family housing if we could have fit). I am so thankful to God for all the ways he made my dream come true, for example:

-writing two articles for the student newspaper
-given my testimony in chapel
-serving on the student Spiritual Life Board
-starting a student archaeology research group (president for a year)
-teaching two courses at the seminary's Center for Biblical Studies
-intern research for the history of the seminary, that contributed to an upcoming book about DTS

I don't write these things to submit an online resume. Only to give thanks to God for a "full seminary experience." Indeed I did, in fact, wander the halls getting spontaneous lessons from the "masters" (professors). I learned of its heritage through first hand research, and sought out profs who could regale me with tails of finding documents from a past seminary president in a "secret chamber" buried under Chafer chapel (it has almost the feel an archaeological excavation). I developed close relationships with professors who came to my home, ate dinner with us in genuine fellowship and guided me in my development. I had mentors that introduced me to broader scholarly communities such as ASOR, ARCE and ETS, in addition to those that advised me through my period as a lead pastor and eventually assisted in my ordination. Like classmates in the "temple" who would spar with one another between chores, so also I had classmates with whom I dialogued extensively to develop my theology and ministry philosophy.
Dallas Theological Seminary became like the "Shaolin Temple" for me. I am grateful to God for having, through the Spirit (who I often refer to a "the faculty of One") brought me into a season of training that fulfilled long held and deep seated dreams on mine.

As this season of training comes to a close, my reflections on the last five years conjures within me an intense sense of gratitude. God has surely been kind, accomodating and generous. "The Faculty of One" crafted a training regimen so fulfilling of my longings, that I'm left in awe of his love and kindness. God is good...all the time. Truly, all the time...God is good.

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