Needless to say, my hope is that every single member of our cohort finishes their dissertation, graduates with honors, earns the highly coveted title “Doctor of Ministry” and then is able to achieve all our hopes and dreams in large part because of the what we have learned together in the Leadership and Global Perspectives program. I fully understand that we are all completely immersed both in our weekly blog studies, and our dissertation research topics, with the end goal for some of us potentially less than 365 days away. Allow the soundtrack of our lives to cue up “Seasons of Love” from Rent while we discern how on earth we will measure this next year.
And yet, today I was discussing our beloved PDX DMIN program with a fellow Presbyterian colleague, a pastor of a 250 member church in southern Ohio, who had recently told her congregation that after a four and a half year attempt, she was ending her Doctorate of Ministry process, having completed all the necessary coursework, much of the dissertation research, but, alas, the dissertation just never came to fruition. She is not a Portland Seminary student and, to be more than fair, many elements of her journey were distinct and unique to her situation, however the final challenge of crafting the dissertation never came to fruition.
And yet, this highly accomplished pastor is one of the leading voices in our denomination. She is leading a church that has been revitalized in large part due to her visionary leadership. And even though she is not going to be a Doctor of Ministry, what she has learned through the study, research, hard work, and the sacrifice of keeping at it for four years has (in her own words!) made her a much more effective pastor, and a more fervent follower of Christ.
I believe the same can be said about all of us as we enter the second week of a Pinker reading. In Blank Slate, we delve into the realm of the origin of knowledge, and the fascinating concept of psychological and mental evolution. Pinker denounces the idea of a mental blank slate often throughout the book, but perhaps best when he says, “The Blank Slate is not some ideal that we should all hope and pray is true. No, it is an anti-life, anti-human theoretical abstraction that denies our common humanity, our inherent interests, and our individual preferences. Though it has pretensions of celebrating our potential, it does the opposite, because our potential comes from the combinatorial interplay of wonderfully complex faculties, not from the passive blankness of an empty tablet.”
I gotta say I feel a tad like my brother German Harry this week. It was hard to discern how best to put this into my dissertation. Pinkers’ last book had an entire chapter dedicated to the environment . . . but this one?
But then I think about my friend who just concluded her Doctorate studies with an incomplete. What we discussed earlier this week quite at length, was that even though she didn’t finish, she still learned a ton. She studied theology, different styles of worship, the intersection of psychology and religion, and in doing all of that it allowed her to better understand herself. She was provided the opportunity to better define her pastoral style, to come up with new paradigms for the way she led people to the promise and good news of a life with Jesus. In short, even though she didn’t finish, she still was able to gain a fuller sense of why and who and how and what and where she is as a pastor, as a leader, and as a person of faith.
And ultimately, that is what Pinker is doing for me this week. Though it may not apply directly to my research, what I am able to take away is a better understanding of preconceived notions I have about myself, about the way people think, and about how I can better provide spiritual care. My hope is that even as we work through our second week with this highly acclaimed academic giant, we can all do the same.
 Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 421.