On March 15th I defended my dissertation assignment, bringing to conclusion a three year process to receive a Doctor of Ministry degree… what a relief!
As I think about this phase of my life coming to an end, I had some things that I thought were important to “name” and to share. Perhaps this may help others who are considering enrolling or pursuing something that they have been considering doing.
1. This degree was not done in isolation. More than any other occasion in my life, I recognized that “me” getting a doctorate meant that “we” were getting a doctorate. I can’t imagine the amount of hours that were spent away from my family, hours where Ginger had to play 1-on-2 defense with our kids. I had to leave for a 10-day study trip a mere 3 days after my son Ezra was born.
I remember my brother-in-law Aaron remark as he read one of the drafts of my paper, “I feel like we’ve been talking about this for months. When I read your paper, it is like you are talking inside my head.” Slight additions were made from short conversations with Sterling College students from 2011-2012. The dissertation idea itself springs from an interaction with two characters that are in my life.
Don’t be surprised that if you get to (want to) read my dissertation to discover a piece of a conversation that we might have had over tacos one night. Maybe I wasn’t a dissertation writer, but a curator of meaningful conversations over the past 3 years.
2. This process has been one of the most meaningful formation experiences of my life. Learning at this level can either inspire vulnerability or isolation. There is no doubt that both are apparent. But, what I found time and time again is that the environment that George Fox created allowed for a healthy amount of vulnerability. I have no doubt in my mind that the 11 other cohort members I have shared time with are healthier than when we began the journey together.
The dissertation itself was a transformative exercise. In short, my paper considers the current Evangelical crisis and the reactions to trying to recover it. Each solution to the crisis represented a faith group, leader, idea, or experience that I have had in my faith journey. I realized that I have been living though this crisis, that the Evangelical dilemma is not something I study, but it is something that I am living. Because I am living it, I have little room to critique it from a removed distance, but I get the opportunity to love the people involved with it.
3. The dissertation also helped me discover an important value of human life, curiosity. Curiosity can be closely connected with criticism. Indeed, one of the attributes that one has to bring along in doctoral work is to be critical and skeptical. Unbridled skepticism, however, leads to elitism, isolation, and angst. Curiosity, however, allows one to enter into the intellectual world of the “other” without the primary occupation of “deconstructing the argument, finding the flaw, etc.” Curiosity can investigate how something “plays” within it socially-comprehended context, even if the argument, thought may not be completely shared by the curious one. Curiosity has the ability to create a beautiful, mosaic community.
As I reflect upon the last few years, I think that this might be the greatest attribute that I might have learned. The world is large; Christianity is large. Over a several centuries people have been practicing, studying, worshipping, praying, and proclaiming concerning the good news that Jesus is the crucified and raised Messiah and true Lord over God’s creation. Far it be from me, and any of us, to conclude that our “preferences” represent the full-arrival of Christian practice and thought. Instead, may we discover that God-infused curiosity might just change the world.
Thank you to everyone who played a part in the past 3 years. I’m extremely grateful and pray that God’s kindness that you shared with me would return to you in time.