Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery.
The most exciting discoveries happen at the frontiers.
When you come to know something new, you come closer to yourself and to the world.
Discovery enlarges and refines your sensibility.
One of my favorite photographed images is an archway leading into the next courtyard. Over the years of traveling and exploring, I gravitate towards those sights – broken down churches that still hold their entryway leading into mounds of grass and rubble or cobblestone walls with their Romanesque arch that picture frames what’s next in the place beyond. Joining Cohort 5 in the Leadership and Global Perspective DMin track, I began my journey of moving from one threshold to another. The purpose of the next terrain remains uncertain, other than the bit of picture I can see, but I anticipate a much fuller perspective once I walk through the archway. In this movement, the discovery of learning enriches my past, my present, and my future, a combination of old perceptions of Christianity with current explorations of faith and community that build into a hopeful integration of my future.
When I first began my foray into a doctorate program seven years ago, the motivation derived from a conventional next step as part of a church staff. However, with abrupt life changes, which included no longer participating in a traditional ministerial position, I ended the pursuit of further education. Over the subsequent years, my desire to continue in a disciplined, life-long learning, and challenging environment deepened. In fact, the original motivation for the doctorate degree transformed into a heart-felt and soul-filled longing that proved to be quite compelling, while a bit cloudy in purpose.
In this framework, I entered the George Fox program with anticipation for God’s revelation as to my own purpose in pursuing more education. What has surprised me was not the revelation that has yet to be discovered, but rather the community that has challenged, encouraged, and invited me into a greater understanding of God’s work in this world and our lives. Outside a traditional church perspective, I did not anticipate being brought back into a richer complexity of ecclesiology with appreciation. Interestingly, through interactions on posts and the advance in Cape Town, my love for the church has grown in the midst of painful past memories and frustration from my local setting. My cohort and advisors, without pretense or bravado, have revealed to me the depth of what it means to love God in the calling on their lives. The community of God lived out in my colleagues – NVMQVAM SVPRA, NVMQVAM INFRA, SEMPER IVXTA – surprised me in generous ways.
As a result of the enfolding of the community, I too want to serve God more, not only within my own purposes but also in the greater scope of God’s Kingdom here on earth. One of the most significant ways that the Kingdom calling has surfaced is in the definition of my voice. Prior to George Fox, my voice grew with those in agreement with my perspective in life. However, until starting last fall, I don’t know that I could wade into conversations with those that think differently than me. I remember asking Dr. Jason Clark about wanting to be a better critical thinker. He assured me that I would be. With a bit of doubt because of my timidity in challenging others, I stepped into our cohort chats and posts with a desire to be distinctive, not for the purpose of merit but for the hope of defining my voice. Typically the listener, I determined to speak out, as best I could, to expose my own thoughts and beliefs. Coming to the close of the first year, I notice new places of confidence in my voice.
The qualities of a leader include being willing to go first. By definition, going first does not mean self-serving exposure, but rather, going first means transparent exposure in words offered before another so that grace and freedom augment the conversation. My willingness to be authentic, perhaps in ignorance or prejudiced understanding, actually can be my most significant contribution to creating an environment for others to follow. Phil has an amazing strategic mind. Jon sees from fresh and pointed honesty. Brian, wry with humor, carries a compassionate heart. Nick reflects a wisdom built on humility. Dawn presses in with new perspectives and knowledge. Dave holds onto truths with a loving heart. Travis reminds us again and again of who God is, regardless of what the world wants to tell us. Together, all of my cohort corporately love God and love others. My gift? While I don’t serve a congregation or an organization, I can serve my cohort by going first in asking the questions. From there, I try to cultivate other places to create environments whereby people are safe enough to wonder, to hold onto mystery, and to honestly seek God. That’s my contribution as a leader.
Finally, as I reviewed the year, I came across some favorite texts – How to Talk About Book You Haven’t Read, both Visual Ethnography books, Consuming Religion and Being Consumed, sprinkled with books I’d read prior like Who Needs Theology, How to Change the World, Bad Religion, ending with Broken Futures and Social Geographies. Seeing a pattern through those books, I recognize my love to challenge what has been acceptable to see how things are. And then as I consider our advisors’ work such as Dr. Caroline Ramsey, Dr. Stephen Garner, and Dr. Len Hjalmarson, I realize that their works help me move into the future practical reality of what’s next. In all, the books and articles interact and build upon the sensory experience of the Cape Town Advance, challenging posts and chats of the cohort, and focused attention on my potential dissertation. God continues to build each piece into an archway of anticipation. With the focus of the doctorate program, I see God’s revelation through the threshold of what’s next.