The Prospect of Travel

I don’t think I’d realized how much the quarantines were getting to me until Asbury un-cancelled the on-campus portion of one of my summer classes this week.

Asbury Seminary, along with the rest of higher education, cancelled all on-campus classes for the rest of spring term this year. They had set May 4 as the next date they would reevaluate their condition, including decisions about the summer. As a student in the Virginia Annual Conference, I have to have no more than one-third of my credits be fully online, so I am continually looking for on-campus courses so as to save my online credits for later in the process.

Early in the week, though, they announced that all June campus classes would also not meet, and be entirely online. That certain took out my World Religions class that was due to meet in Orlando the week of June 22. No hope there for an on-campus time. And, I also had an e-mail announcing that my Christian Ethics class would also be online only–despite it meeting June 29 to July 1 in Kentucky.

I don’t think I was entirely surprised, but I was disappointed. I did want to be on campus, and I was really hoping to do that for both classes this summer. So I cancelled my JetBlue reservations for Orlando…but something (someone?) told me not to cancel my Delta reservations for Lexington.

At the end of the week, I had a second message, this time from the Registrar herself: my Christian Ethics class would meet on campus after all. And I was elated.

I don’t think I’d realized how much I want to travel again. I don’t think I’d realized how much I look forward to being able to go on campus: to get on the road, to be among others studying for their own career changes, to fly, to focus…all manner of things I get to do during residential weeks that I miss.

In a related vein, we’re trying to figure out when we can get to Vermont this year, perhaps later this month? But also, what should our next vacation be? I know we can’t go to Europe all the time, and since we just visited the UK in 2019, it’s time for something else. A warm beach sounds really, really good right now. But I can’t even reasonably plan for that, because of the limitations on everything.

I think that’s another effect of the coronavirus lockdowns: the inability even to plan for something that gets us, gets me, out of the house, out of the neighborhood, for the first time in weeks. I think the cancellation of the on-campus classes hit me harder than I had anticipated, and I think it had to do with a sense of “you’re never gonna get out of here, are you” that I think many of us are feeling.

I really wish I knew when all this would end; and I understand the frustration of so many who want it to end immediately. I’m more cautious; I don’t want my own personal desires to get out to contribute to any second round of infections. And right now I’m getting very tired of all the food choices we have for delivery to the house…what I wouldn’t give for a nice dinner out at the Bistro.

I know we have to wait. But little sparks of hope, like the un-cancelling of the campus time for one class, give me encouragement to keep going.

Advent: Taking a Breath

Advent is a season of anticipation. There’s the anticipation of Christ’s birth, and with it, the anticipation of his Second Coming. And all the more, there’s the anticipation of everything that the holiday season brings with it–the food, the shopping, the errands, the food, the cards, the food…

Often, the holidays are an insane time for us. Well, sure, isn’t it for everyone? There’s all the holiday parties, the shopping, the various church services, all the obligations of the season. And for me at work, layered on top of that is the fact that OMB’s passback of the next President’s Budget always occurs the week after Thanksgiving, and can linger well into December as we work towards final settlement. Late nights, stress, unpredictable days… And this year, of course, I’m taking two classes at seminary, both of which will wrap up in the middle of the month, with all that entails.

And yet? The early part of Advent 2018 has been surprisingly…calm.

In one of our classes, we’ve been talking about (and I’ve been convicted by) keeping a Sabbath, creating a dedicated time of rest in God. Sabbath?!? Are you KIDDING?!? Have you SEEN my to-do list?

But yet, I feel God is breaking through with a word of rest, a word that reminds me that my to-love list had better be more important than my to-do list. Case in point: We reached settlement with OMB in a surprisingly early, and easy, fashion this year. We didn’t have any ridiculously late nights at the office during passback week itself, and since then things have gone fairly smoothly. I might not have to stress at work this year!

And! The two classes I have are pretty well in hand at this point. For Old Testament, I have an essay due Sunday, and a discussion board posting to make. For Vocation of Ministry, I have a final paper, an essay that just became optional (!), and a quiz, but all those will be done by the 14th. I might not have to stress over classes this year!

And! With the unfortunate passing of President Bush, I even have an extra day off to  do things, yes–but perhaps to rest a little too! As I did: Starbucks in the morning, Christmas decorating in the afternoon, and smoking, slowly, a rack of ribs for dinner tonight. A leisurely pace.

Now, I know all this can be knocked aside in an instant. Work can get crazy again, or it’s harder to finish classwork than I anticipate, or any of a hundred other things could crop up. But y’know, for today, I’m able to rest. I’m able to be at peace, and I can see God’s hand at work in teeing up a wee bit of Sabbath for me.

Thank you Lord. Come into your Sabbath. Come into your world. Just…come. Amen.

A Week On Campus

Today wraps up my second-ever week on campus at Asbury Theological Seminary.  I had two classes this week, Vocation of Ministry and Intro to the Old Testament, splitting the week: Vocation Monday through Wednesday noon, and OT Wednesday afternoon through Friday.

These were two very different class experiences, akin to going from a warm bath into a raging Class V rapid.

Vocation of Ministry is all about helping us understand the concept of “call,” and how we may be called into God’s service. We spent a lot of time in small-group accountability groups, and so I had the chance to come to know Mark and Justin better than just online. Pastor Don would also love some of the takeaways from the class:

  • If you build a church, you might not make disciples, but if you make disciples, you’ll definitely build a church.
  • Don’t sweat your ministry. God has far more invested in it than you do.
  • Our job is climate control: creating a set of conditions in which God can do something.

I felt especially convicted in our discussion of Sabbath. I don’t rest. I just don’t, not in the way the Bible calls us to. I do need to be more intentional about that: carving out time to do nothing but to sit and be in Jesus’ presence.

Old Testament moves at a firecracker pace: pop pop pop pop. The class has been a ton of reading (about 648 pages last week to get ready for this week), and I took more notes in these 2½ days than I’ve done in a long, long time. College Boy would have loved the archaeological discussions about various sites (is Mt. Ebal Joshua’s altar, or an Iron Age I barbecue pit?). We also waded into more controversial lanes:

  • What if the Exodus event wasn’t all of Israel, but only the tribe of Levi? And the rest of the tribes never left Canaan?
  • What if “the law” in the Old Testament wasn’t prescriptive, but a set of statements that defined a general approach that the society was supposed to take?

Rolling around on the floor with those kinds of questions was fun; I only wish some of the quizzes in the class weren’t so much a Bible trivia gotcha.

* * *

I also drew reassurance once again at just being here. This does feel like a good place to be. I do feel comfortable here. I can see myself at this kind of work now. And hey, it’s a great place for a selfie with a life-sized John Wesley…

New Year, New Opportunities!

I love the cartoon that shows someone making a list of New Year’s resolutions: “1. Gain weight. 2. Keep smoking. 3. Make lists. 4. Set reasonable goals.” I think that person went 4-for-4!

Already in 2017 I’ll have a couple of new opportunities to help bring about the Kingdom, and I’m looking forward to them. This weekend I’ll start teaching a new class at our church, intended for young adults who are either new to the church or who are reengaging with church after awhile. Called “Navigators,” it’ll be a chance for folks to explore Christianity–not a Christianity 101 class, but more of a 102 or maybe a 151 class, basic enough to make sure no one’s overwhelmed but engaged enough with where people are in their walk to make sure we’re covering what’s relevant. Sunday mornings at 9:45…come on by!

The other happens the following weekend: I’m fortunate to be able to have my daughter and my godson both walk at Chrysalis weekend C-94. As you may recall, in the spring I took part in an Emmaus weekend; Chrysalis is the teen version. I’ve been getting more and more excited for them as it draws near: I remember the incredible power of the weekend in revealing God’s love and in the work his Spirit still can do through me, and I’m praying they’ll be able to enjoy it similarly. Stay tuned!

But in the end, this is what a new year needs to look like: new opportunities to engage with Jesus, to be open to where he may be leading in building his kingdom. I’ve never taught a class before; I’m nervous about it, but also looking forward to it. In the same way, I’m excited for the kids to walk and to have powerful experiences of Christ, and to strengthen themselves as part of the Kingdom.

How are you opening yourself to hearing where Jesus needs you this year? How are you making yourself available to the Spirit to build the kingdom here and now?