Another Master’s?!?

So the path towards ordination has begun. And with it, the need for a second Master’s degree, the Master of Divinity (M.Div).

In the spring I was accepted at Asbury Theological Seminary, in Wilmore, Kentucky. No, it does not mean we’re moving to Lexington. One of the reasons I chose Asbury is because of its robust online program, which will allow me a lot of flexibility. Unfortunately, the Virginia Annual Conference has some rules that are more restrictive than other conferences: I can earn only a third of my credits from classes that are purely online. Fortunately, Asbury has ways to deal with that too: they have classes known as “intensives,” in which the student does all the reading ahead of time, then comes on campus for one solid week, Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 each day, for all the lectures and classwork and projects and etc., and then the class is over. There are also “hybrid” classes, which are a blend of online work with two to three days of on-campus lecture work. Fortunately, Virginia considers both of those models to count as “on-campus” learning–so for the cost of two to three weeks of vacation a year, I can still make it work.

I did my first intensive, MS 501 Missional Formation: The Church in a Global Era, in late June. We were, literally, the only class on campus that week, so I had the chance to walk around and explore. To call Wilmore a one-stoplight town is to disrespect the second one, but you get the idea of how small a town it is. However, I felt completely at home. The class was fairly small, only about a dozen of us, and initially I felt a little intimidated: there are Real Live Pastors taking the class, ones who are already in service! But I quickly learned I fit right in, and enjoyed getting to know all the other students.

There was even a special chapel service they put on for us Wednesday at noon. One of our classmates sang, and the sermon was on Genesis 12:3–the second or third time I’d heard that message (“…be a blessing to all the nations…”) lately. The closing song even featured the line, “He is calling you,” repeatedly. OK, yes, I get it. I’m supposed to be here.

My other class this term (TH 501 Basic Christian Doctrine) is an online one, and it’ll wrap up next Thursday (when the final paper is due). Then I have a couple of weeks off until the next term starts up, with OT 520 Intro to Old Testament, and CD 501 Vocation of Ministry–itself another opportunity to be attentive to my call, as I go through mentoring back in Virginia. They’re both hybrids, so I’ll be on campus the last week in October. With more students around this time!

It’s a long journey: 27 classes, 91 credits, and will take about six years at my current pace (two in the summer, two in the fall, one in the spring). And I’m sure there will be struggles. But it’s off to a pretty decent start.

I got an A in MS 501…

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Here I Am, Lord. Send Me.

Here I am, Lord / Is it I, Lord? / I have heard you calling in the night / I will go, Lord / Where you lead me / I will hold your people in my heart.

Starting almost a year ago, I’ve been on a path of discernment. I’ve been trying to figure out what God is calling me to in the next chapter of my life, with an eye towards whether I am being called into a path towards ordination in the United Methodist Church. In this blog I’ve talked about discernment, about finding the breadcrumbs here and there and everywhere along the trail, about the times the Holy Spirit pokes me to get my attention, or gives me experiences of affirmation, and even the first steps along the path towards ordination.

This past weekend I took another. Publicly, I have declared myself to be a candidate for ordination as an Elder in the UMC.

If after about 15 months of signals I’m still feeling led in this direction, I think it’s time to make a decision and say, Yep, that’s probably right. In fact, I’ve spent prayer time over the past couple of months reflecting on all the green lights I’ve been seeing, and asking Jesus instead for disconfirming evidence: if this isn’t right, show me now! (And then crickets chirped, and tumbleweeds drifted through…nothing happened.)

In the spring, I was accepted into Asbury Theological Seminary–another piece of doors being opened for me, in fact. Asbury requires four reference letters; one of my four letter-writers told me he was slammed at work and couldn’t get to it for a couple of weeks. But then days later, I got the email saying I had been accepted. I assumed he had found the time and sent it in–but no, come to find out, he hadn’t…Asbury accepted me with only three letters, and apparently, a big enough nudge from the Spirit. I am humbled by that.

My brother Glenn had sage advice, as always: “Go take a class. You’ll know soon enough if you’re supposed to be doing this.” In May I started my first two seminary classes, one online, and one “intensive” in-person class that met at the end of June. I met some wonderful people and had a great experience, including more affirmation…I texted Glenn, “I hate it when you’re right.”

In early July I attended a discernment weekend sponsored by the Virginia Conference. At one point in the weekend we reflected on Matthew 4. We did a lectio divina exercise, in which we read the scripture several times, pausing to listen for what word or phrase God draws to us, or what else we hear. On reading the story of Jesus calling his disciples to go and become fishers of men, what I heard was, “Let’s go fishing.”

On Saturday, I transmitted my Statement of Call to our congregation’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee, which is the first time all this has been public within the church. On Sunday, as the 11am service was wrapping up, Pastor Don called me up front and announced that I had put my name forward…so yeah, it’s a thing now.

I’ve begun to be more public in telling people about this, and almost unanimously, the reaction has been some form of, “Yeah? That doesn’t surprise me. What took you so long?” Why am I always the last to figure things out??

To be perfectly honest I’m a little…nervous? Scared? Intimidated by the prospect of all that’s ahead of me? And I was certainly a little bit of that standing with Don Sunday morning. Oddly enough, the people called “Methodists” have a very methodical process that this will entail. This is a long road ahead: on my current pace, it’ll be about six years to get my M.Div. But I’m also taking steps to make myself available if called sooner: I’ve completed my first interview with the local Alexandria District Committee on Ministry, and they passed me on to the next stage, mentoring with another pastor. In seeking our church’s SPRC recommendation, I put myself in a position to be approved at the charge conference next month, and in line to become a certified candidate this winter…and eligible for assignment as a part-time student pastor thereafter. Yes, while working full-time. Yes, while taking five graduate courses a year.

Pray for me. But all the more, pray for Mary: she’s entering into this wonderfully supportively, but also (like me) with very, very little idea of what we’re getting into. This really is a step in faith for us both. 

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good, and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

 

David’s Field School

A moment of parental bragging, if you please.

This month our son David has been just northwest of Madrid, doing one of his two field schools for his archaeology program. They’re working on the site of a cantina that was used in the Spanish Civil War, and finding apparently lots of material. As is typical for College Boy, when he’s busy and having fun we don’t hear from him, and that’s been the case much of this month. I’m sure he’ll have stories on his return.

He did send along this video, though: about a week into his program, it was featured on Spanish national network news one night. Click on the link to find the package, and at the 0:32 mark, and again at 1:15, the guy in the white PBR T-shirt digging in the dirt is my son.

So very proud of him for making this step towards what he’s said he wants to do since third grade!

Why Does Everything Have To Be So Hard?

Why does everything have to be so hard?

We’ve just been up to Vermont for a long weekend of helping mom with settling the estate, doing landscaping, and tending to the to-do lists that keep growing. And while it’s a joy to be able to help, each achievement breeds another two to-dos. We spoke with the new financial planner, yes, but that means having to decide on a new annuity. We moved all the piles of sand from around the property, but that meant we didn’t get to clean out the garage very much. And so on.

Please don’t misunderstand. We wouldn’t have traded the weekend for anything (well, except for seeing dad again, but…), and we really did enjoy seeing everyone. It’s just that there’s always Something Else. We go to file the probate paperwork, only to discover there’s another form with another signature that we have to hunt up… Mary really wishes she could just be up there all the time, there’s that much to do.

I read a devotional recently that got me to thinking about why everything has to be so hard. Doesn’t becoming a Christian mean life gets easier? No, actually, it doesn’t. Salvation makes things better eventually, but the One who died a horrible death on a cross would be the first to say, “I never promised it would be easier.”

And that leads me to wonder: what if all our struggles to find ease and comfort, what if all our efforts to just be free of all our burdens, means we miss out on a bigger point?

What if our problems aren’t meant to drive us to solutions, but rather, into the presence of and a deeper relationship with God?

What if our problems aren’t a source of pain and frustration, but a source of even greater faith?

It’s easy, and wrong, to say that “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” It’s wrong because it misses the point: the point of life isn’t to be free of annoyances and frustrations and pain and to-do lists, but instead, to come to know God as provider, as deliverer, as healer…to learn to trust that truth even when we hurt, or it’s not going the way we want it to be.

The whole of the Christian journey is one of abandoning our selves, and with it our own problems and worries, and learning to pursue God in our difficulties, to find He is our relief.

That’s not to diminish the importance of the to-dos. It doesn’t downplay the pain or the frustration. But it does invite us to reframe them, not as something I can achieve, but something with God in which I seek to understand, What is your lesson for me in this, Lord?

This week it’s the estate to-dos. Next week it’s the next year’s budget at work. The week after that, the kids’ school plans for the year. Then after that…?

When will we learn, He is all we actually need?

Mourning

The time to mourn is short that best becomes / The military dead. We lift and fold the flag / Lay bare the coffin with its written tag / And march away. Behind, four others wait / To lift the box, the heaviest of loads. / The anesthetic afternoon benumbs, sickens our senses, forces back our talk. (Karl Shapiro, “Elegy for a Dead Soldier”)

The funeral service for Mary’s dad was only ten days ago. The ground, packed down around his urn’s vault, is still settling, the replaced sod still seeks roots. The summer storms lash the stone marker, the crickets and frogs chirp in the sun, another day, then another day.

We each have begun our own return to what mom calls “the new normal,” back to work, back to the rest of our lives. But we cannot shake how different it feels. The kids and I flew back the next evening; Mary stayed on a little longer, before returning to the office and the to-do lists that don’t involve her father’s estate.

But those to-dos are still top of mind. There’s lots to be done with paperwork and setting up the next stages of mom’s life. There’s a camper trailer to sell (anyone interested in a fifth-wheel?), and a truck (funny story about that I’ll have to tell you sometime), and a John Deere tractor or two, and that’s before we look at the absolute piles and stacks of novels that Dad had around, which won’t be needed anymore. Or his tools, or his clothes, or his Army uniform.

And we begin mourning who could not do so at the time. We begin aching because we no longer have to wear our “the strong one” or “devoted child” masks all the time. We begin feeling the incredible, undescribeable exhaustion that mourning brings, and the reluctance to do much of anything some days. We find ourselves feeling emptiness that we never really thought existed. We keep waiting for Alan Funt to jump out, or Ashton Kutcher to admit we’ve been punk’d, so we can have a good laugh and get back to the way it’s supposed to be. Only it won’t be. There’s no do-over, just like there’s no Easy button for this.

And so we plod on. We make our plans to get back up to see mom in a couple of weeks, because there’s work to be done and quite frankly we want to be there, we want to be a part of it, despite whatever madness may be happening back here at the office with stuff that, really, just isn’t as important anymore.

We will go on. It will get a little easier, each day. It will, eventually, stop being so front-of-mind, so searing, so present. And when it does, it will be fresh cause for mourning.

Henry P. Tarrier, 1943 – 2018

On Tuesday morning, Mary’s dad unexpectedly passed away at home, aged 74. This whole week has been a blur of getting Mary up to Vermont to her family, then the kids and I following. He had wanted a very simple funeral, but as a 31-year veteran of the Army National Guard, received full military honors at his burial. We’re still processing through feelings that are quite raw, and I’ll be sharing more about that as time progresses I’m sure, but today I wanted to share the comments I made at his graveside funeral as a way of honoring the only other man I ever knew as Dad.

I want to thank the members of the United States Army for their service today in honoring Dad and his 31 years in uniform. I’ll let them honor that today; my role today is different, to share a few words about Mike in all his other roles, husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.

I knew Mike only 28 years, and I got in trouble before I even met him, when I didn’t come out to the house to meet him when I met Mary for our first date. I remember having to go through initiation with him as Mary and I dated, with his brothers Chuck and David grilling me on life, career, politics, everything, as Mike just sat back and watched, wondering if this one will be good enough to be worthy of being part of the family.

Because for Mike, everything began and ended with family. His wife, Sandra, and he were married for over 50 years; their devotion is a model for us all. They were absolutely inseparable, did everything together, which was a hard lesson for Mary when we married, that occasionally a husband may want to do something different than his wife. He loved his girls, and it absolutely broke his heart every time Mary and I left to drive back home to Virginia.

I just want to say a few words about the character of the man that we honor today: eight of them, in fact.

I won’t say Dad was stubborn, but I’ll say he was determined, and he had a very definite sense that there is a right way to do things. He was persistent, he never gave up trying to figure out a fix for something around the house. He worked with his hands, doing simple, honest work; he didn’t have to be a General, he was content with who he was. He was selfless in serving others, which we saw both in his career choice and in how he sacrificed to make sure his family had everything it needed. He had a tremendous heart for others, one that had a quiet depth to it. He might not speak often, but when he did, his words conveyed meaning. There was a genuineness to him that meant what you saw was what you got, there was nothing artificial about him at all. And he was a man of character and integrity, a wholeness that everyone came to understand.

We marked Fathers’ Day yesterday (it’s not right to say we celebrated it, given the circumstances). To become a father is fundamentally a foundational act: you are establishing something you intend to be permanent, to live on forever. Mike lived a whole life, devoted to establishing something permanent, and as he would look around today at everyone gathered here, I believe he would feel he was a success. Who a father is, his values, he hopes will live on after he’s gone. I believe Mike’s will, because of his grandchildren–and it’s with them that I want to close today.

I want the four of you to know, to never doubt, that you were loved by your Grampa, that he was incredibly proud of you. And, everything we’ve talked about here today about him, lives on in you.

  • Naomi, you are persistent. You didn’t give up on college, you went back to classes this year, and I know that made him proud. You are also incredibly genuine. Your Grampa lives in you.
  • Monica, you have such a heart for others, and a quiet depth about you. You have your Grampa’s heart. He lives in you.
  • David, you too are called to work with your hands in simple work, and you are becoming a man of incredible character and integrity. Your Grampa lives in you.
  • And Sarah, I won’t say that you’re stubborn, but I will say you’re determined, and that you also know there’s a right way to do things. And your selfless serving of others is reflected in how you serve the Lord. Your Grampa lives in you.

At our funerals, the stories that are told won’t be about how early we walked, or our grades, or that time we stayed late on that project, or made this incredible Powerpoint…none of the things the world says are important. Instead, the stories that will be told will be about the life we lead, our values, and the legacy we leave behind in our children and grandchildren.

And so, as we commend Mike’s remains to the earth and his soul to his Lord and Saviour, we reflect on the legacy of the man it was our privilege to know and to love, and we celebrate how he lives on.

Summer: No Relaxation Ahead

I was just flipping through the calendar, trying to find a time for my bride and I to have a date night, and discovering anew how packed our summer will be. Remember when summer was the time for relaxation, vacation, and quietude? Yeah, me neither. It certainly won’t be this summer.

School ends for Sarah next week. She has one week free, then the last week in June, while I’m at a class, she’s got her first week as a paid (!) staffer for Jeremiah Project out in Winchester. Then it’s the week of July 4th, when Sarah wants to go visit a male friend of the boy gender variety (agh) in Roanoke before the 4th, and then I have another conference at the end of the week. The second week of July Sarah’s back to JP for a second week, and all of a sudden it’s the middle of summer.

David will be in Spain from June 30 to August 8, doing the first of his two archaeological field schools. The program actually ends August 1, then he’s spending a week bouncing around Iberia before flying out of Lisbon. Which means we won’t have a visit home to Vermont this summer, because four days later we have houseguests, and then…

…just a week later Sarah is one of the teen leaders for Chrysalis weekend C-99. She’s already been working hard on that, and it’ll be a great time of grace, but MAN, the summer disappears! Then we have to move David into his apartment before school starts for him at the end of August…

No, there is no rest for the wicked…