Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rockin' Class

There is no way to fully capture the awesomeness of St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center, but this is a picture I took today when I went for a walk. It's HUGE. Notice the doggie playground. And, they also have a large field for agility training...they were having a agility training today, and as some poor soul took her dog through the course, he got loose and decided to play with with another dog...both owners were flailing around after their dogs, and I stood on the road for a minute and laughed at them. They looked funny, and I've so been there in the dance of training a stubborn little dog. Obedience training with Peanut? Tough, let me tell you.

The other funny thing about my mental health walks is my music. I don't normally listen to music when I walk, but since I'm by myself, it is kind of fun. My collection of music is just weird - I mean, today, I heard Mozart, Twisted Sister, and Etta James. What a soundtrack.

Loved, loved, loved class today. This professor is GOOD. We talked about generational issues today and the historical cycles that we find ourselves in, and how our churches fit into all of that, if at all. What I am learning is that "the times, they are a'changin'" and some churches are preparing and engaging and trying not to let fear get the best of them, and some churches are digging in and putting up walls to keep the changing times out.

And, what do we do with all of that? How do we embrace changing times and changing people and changing rules and still be faithful? How do we have faithful conversations with those who may not agree with us? What are our priorities? Do we build stronger walls or set out into the wilderness to see what's there? And, where is the Holy Spirit in all of it? Pay attention to that Spirit, because that's the direction my little dissertation project is going.

Lots of stuff to ponder...and papers to write. Have turned in two so far this week, and we've only had two days of class! But, I'll try not to complain. This is just the kind of class I hoped to be in, and I am loving it! Maybe I'm a nerd, but this is exactly the stuff that I like to think about and read about...these conversations keep me excited in ministry. Here, they are safe conversations to have.

That's it for tonight. And, praise God and Hallelujah that I only have 3 more nights in this dorm!

Monday, July 30, 2012

A beautiful day in the neighborhood....

A great day today! The weather was gorgeous - low humidity - low 80's. I had to wear jeans to class instead of my usual shorts for fear of being cold.

And, speaking of my class, WHOA! IT ROCKS!

I say that after having to do a class intro of 'sharing.' You know that when someone makes you "come out from behind your tables and sit in a circle" you are in trouble...especially if you are introverted. But, we each had to spend one minute giving a small-talk introduction of ourselves, and then we had to take a breath, and give a one minute introduction that included something we would not normally tell. I was skeptical at first, but I have to say, the exercise upped the level of trust in the class and that set the tone for the rest of the week.

The class is called Ministry on the Frontier, and it's all about what we are called to do in relationship with "post-modern" people - it's about the church. The professor is the really cool dude who seems very knowledgeable and very realistic about what ministry looks like in our post-modern world. I just love that I got to write "post-modern" in my blog! The one remark he made today that really struck something in me was this: Ministers feel the tension of being called in two directions. You are the mid-wives helping give birth to a new kind of church. You are the hospice chaplains serving and ushering other parts into death.

YES! That is it. He said a bunch of other stuff, too. But, I thought he really nailed the dual nature of ministry today (and not just from us clergy). We ARE trying to give birth to something new - as one of our authors wrote, "we find ourselves in the middle of something real and something wrong in Christian faith." And figuring out how to be faithful during this unraveling is no picnic - lots of obstacles, lots of unknowns...and lots of people don't give a hoot about the church - "hoot" is my word, this professor dude was not as polite. His point was that the church has lost influence and respect - so, what do we do?

This is going to be a thought-provoking class. It is going to be a strong finish!

The only downside is that the music building is locked by the time I get out...so no piano. But, the upside is that I took a walk this evening and saw lots of dogs...can't wait to walk Mr. Max.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Happy Sunday! Blogger seems to be working a little bit better today. Earlier this morning, I went back to Peapack to attend the "Guiding Light" church. They have a lovely sanctuary. Their minister is not long-winded at all - I think she wrapped up the sermon in less than 10 minutes. She used a phrase that I liked (so you WMCCers' might hear it again): "There is no place that God is not." Well, I'm not sure about this dorm.... Seriously, that thought kind of feeds into my dissertation project - the Spirit of God is indeed everywhere, and we must do what we can to plug into it. "There is no place God is not."

Afterwards, I located the cemetery where many of the GL funerals were held, and look at the good company I had!

After poking around Peapack - how's that for alliteration - I drove back to Madison, gassed up the car - I don't think I'll be driving too much before I leave on Friday, and I can tell you this - I don't want to run out of gas on the New Jersey Turnpike!

I've spent the afternoon reviewing the books that I have for this week's class and finishing up some papers. My goal is to come home with only one paper due...even better if I can get that one paper down to half a paper. But, what that means is that I have to work really hard between now and then because I have four others to finish! Writing is the key to this program. Those students who struggle with writing are struggling with the whole thing. It's non-stop - so it's a good thing I like to write! (Well, ok, I'm tired of it now, but you know what I mean).

It looks like the sun is peeping out - maybe it will stop raining long enough to get a walk in...need to escape from behind this computer!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Groundhogs and Hogwarts

I have a few more pictures for you tonight. Of course, I have another groundhog photo!

And, this is the first lecture all at Drew. It looks a lot like Hogwarts, I think.

I have a couple more to post, but Blogger is not wanting to work tonight. Suffice it to say that I have spent the day reading and writing. I will blog tomorrow if blogger is working...it just stops typing for not reason tonight.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Groundhog Day!

First of all, here are those big fat groundhogs that I've mentioned before. They live underneath the sidewalk, and they have little places all over that area of campus where they just disappear. Now you see them, now you don't. Wouldn't it be great if we all had those little places where we could just disappear at will?

Today marks the 2/3 point of this little adventure. And, I am feeling it. I am tired and kind of grumpy, so I'm glad tomorrow is Saturday. If the weather is good, I hope to take a long walk and then spend the afternoon in the library and the evening in my tiny, sad room writing! I can't believe I can't watch the Olympics! Planning to go back to Peapack on Sunday for church.

Now, the interesting class is coming next week. It's called Ministry on the Frontier, and it's had some odd readings. Plus, we have received more than one email from the professor saying that he uses 'raw' language, whatever that means. I have spoken with some of his former students who say that he is a great teacher, but that he uses the language to make the case that it is the language of the world, and we have to be able to speak the world's language...that may be, but don't be expecting a potty mouth in the WMCC pulpit! I just find it curious that he keeps sending warnings.

Whatever the case, I need to review my books for that class. It has been a while since I read them.

I'm not sure who, if anybody, is really reading this blog. But, if you are, thank you.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


A rainy day and a stormy night in New Jersey today. I had hoped to get a picture of the two fat groundhogs that live on campus, but they were not out in the rain. We also have a large supply of chipmunks. Lola and Boo would love it.

Tonight was our best class in our night class. As I have mentioned before, it is a class called "Reading as a Spiritual Discipline." We each had to put together an 'illumination' of a Psalm, which very simply, was a way to read the Psalm without emphasizing words on a page. My classmates were very creative! We had pictures and singing and all kinds of stuff. But, I loved how it brought the Psalms to life and into 2012.

One Korean student chose Psalm 137, which is about the Israelites weeping by the rivers of Babylon because they have been defeated and are in captivity. He likened this Psalm to the Christian church in North Korea that is, in some ways, held captive. They cannot worship in the open, and there are grave consequences for being found with a Bible. He had pictures (faces were blurred out) of these North Korean Christians reading the Bible in small circles, with the windows covered, and only a small light. I forget that even in 2012, we have religious persecution. I cannot imagine the necessity of hiding just to read a Psalm. It is a privilege to be able to read and pray and gather without fear of harm.

So, I was glad to hear the presentation, because I had no idea of the extent of the raw fear of practicing your faith.

My illumination was on Psalm 100 - not as serious as my Korean classmate's presentation, but I think it had some creativity!

Tomorrow, we have to turn in our prospectus and bibliography for our projects. These will change over the course of the next year, but we now have a start.

And, quite frankly, I am hoping to sleep tonight. I keep waking up early in the morning, and then my mind takes off.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big houses and old books

This morning, on my walk, I noticed a HUGE house (I walk through a neighborhood that is like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"). But, this particular house had a sign out front that identified it as being built by some person whose name I can't remember, but it served as quarters to the Continental Army and was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. I'll try to get a picture.

We spent all afternoon reviewing projects for our dissertations. And, then, the theology school had a little picnic for us. It was nice - free food! Great opportunity to talk with the other DMin students who are in other classes. We are really a diverse group. One fellow is from St. Kitts - I'd love to be the faculty person assigned to HIS site visit

Then, my Reading as a Spiritual Discipline class went to the library to look at some books in their special collection - which is quite impressive. We saw several Bibles, one dating back to 1550. And, we also saw one book of writings by Jerome that had a print date of 1478. Our professor, of course, got to handle them all and pointed out things. He noted that one book had belonged to a woman, which was apparently a big deal back in the day. In this age, when books are so easy to get - digitally or in print - it is moving to see books that old...some with names in them and personal study notes. People have been trying to understand our sacred texts for a long, long time.

Well, it is 11 PM and I've been up since 5 AM. I did not have to be up that early - I just woke up and started thinking about what I needed to accomplish today, so I got up. That said, I'm ready for a good night's sleep. I have a presentation tomorrow evening, so you know, I need my beauty rest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

200 books

Almost halfway through with this summer adventure and only two more nights of this night class - Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

At lunch, I met one on one with my methodology instructor about the dissertation project. He is a very quiet man with a very dry affect...but he smart! And, you will talk to him and think he is not listening, and then he comes out with something brilliant. I feel very lucky to have him as a teacher because when I leave, I will have a solid start on this project. He is all about planning, and he has to be. There are time lines for everything here.

Just as a teaser...my project will take place during Lent 2013 (although I'll be working with my team this fall to develop it), and it will be centered around the Holy Spirit and use small groups. I think it is narrow enough to complete in the allotted time frames, but the subject is big enough to do meaningful research. Would you believe that the library allows doctoral students to take out 200 books??? 200 BOOKS? That's a lot. And, it would not even make a dent in the library here, so that's another thing...working on this project is just a big reminder of how much I don't know. I'll know more when it's over, but I won't know it all....there is so much information out there.

But, this I do know...I saw a dog wearing a dress on her walk.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mysterious ways

Apparently, Drew hosts a lot of camps for children and teens during the summers. A brand new group of soccer campers rolled in this morning, and we've also had Governor's School kids. But, the interesting group to me is the Shakespeare group. These are teenagers interested in learning and acting Shakespeare. I've seen them outside learning how to do some of kind of dance, and I've seen them learning how to do stage fencing.

That was a blast from the past. For three summers in my own teen years, I went to a 6-week drama camp at the N.C. School of the Arts. Living in a dorm was WAY more fun back then. But, I, too, learned how to fence - at least how to fence for theatrical purposes. Those were some of the best summers - making new friends from all over the country who were interested in the same things I was interested in.

I watched the kids practicing for a little while, and I wondered what they would grow up to do. I had all intentions of being the greatest thing to hit the American stage, but as it turns out, I'm a pastor in rockin' church in N.C. and a doctoral student at Drew. But, you know, those summers weren't wasted. I learned how to speak in public. My skills as a drama queen were finely honed. And, I learned how to step out of my comfort zone. All of those things have served me well in my adult life.

I guess God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

That' all I've got for today. It's been a long one.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

One week down...

Today has been a most productive. It started with a drive to Peapack, NJ. I must say, Peapack is a lovely little town. Rollings hills. Quaint little buildings. A little park with a pond and 2 swans. And, this gorgeous church. I was a Guiding Light fan for a number of years, and this is the church that hosted their baptisms and weddings and 'almost' weddings. So, it was a lot of fun to worship there this morning and then walk around the town. I spent some time with the minister who showed me the various places in the church that were filmed the most. She also talked about how nice the cast and crew were and how generous they were to the town. I had a good time, and I might just go back to worship with them next week.

I'll tell you, though, two things felt very odd to me in worship. It was odd to be sitting in the congregation. I can't remember the last Sunday morning when I sat in a congregation. We had a responsive reading, and I almost read the 'leader' part! Glad I caught myself. My southern accent was already drawing attention. I also missed communion this morning. The service felt incomplete without it. I did not realize until today how much that weekly celebration feeds me.

This afternoon, I practiced a little piano and went for a walk. But, I spent most of the time writing papers. I've still got a lot of reading to do before I go to bed tonight, so I'd better get started.

One week down. Two to go.

Oh, and here I am at the gazebo that was used in lots of the Guiding Light scenes. I had to take it myself, so you see more of my nose than the gazebo. Notice the WMCC shirt.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday! Finally!

So glad it was Saturday today and no class...and the SUN was shining!

I got an early start this morning. Keeping a coffee pot in my room helps (with Cafe Bustelo, of course). I spent the morning looking at scripture for my next sermon. And, yes, I know that is 2 weeks away, but given my schedule during those two weeks and the amount of time I'll have in Wilson's Mills to prepare (1 day), I thought it best to at least look at the scripture.

Then, I completed my 'illumination.' This is a project for my reading class, which simply described, an illustration of a Psalm. I'm going with Psalm 100. The women's retreat is still a source of inspiration when it comes to a joyful noise! I had started working on this project earlier in the week, but I think I finished it today.

So, about 2 PM, I took advantage of the gorgeous weather and went for a long walk. I think I went about 7 miles, and of course, I passed by St. Hubert's again. A bunch of dogs were outside having a class in obedience. I found out why this facility is is impressive - it's funded by the wife of the CEO of the Dodge company. Really, it looks like a small campus. I'd love to go inside.

After my walk, I sneaked into the music building and practiced the piano. Edith will be proud!

My classmates and I went to dinner tonight, and then I've been hunkered over my desk working on the first draft of my project 'prospectus.' 'Prospectus' is just a fancy word for plan. The good news is that I have the first draft done, and now all I need to finish up is a proposed bibliography. Of course, all of this will be hashed out in our fall seminars, but I feel very lucky to be as far along as I am. Some of the other methodology classes are struggling - I've got the right teacher for this class!

Tomorrow, I head to Peapack for church, and I imagine I will spend the afternoon working on another paper. It's amazing the amount of work you can get done without the TV...or a dog...or two cats being cute.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Psalm

I am so glad that it's Friday! Not that I have anything exciting planned for the weekend, other than my trip to Peapack to see the church where Guiding Light filmed its weddings. But, we've worked hard this week, and I have a lot of writing to do this weekend - I'm glad to have a couple of days to catch my breath.

Tonight, we discussed the Psalms. As part of that, we were given the assignment of writing a Psalm with a partner. Greg Williams was my partner, and this is what we wrote in response to the shootings in Colorado.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my bloody grief.
The innocent have gone down to the grave.
Their families scream out for your comfort,
and there is none.

Where are you?
Are your eyes blind?
Are your ears deaf?
Has your heart stopped beating for us?

Our hearts still long for you.
With each breath, our spirits stretch out for you.
We wait for you.
We wait for your eyes to see.
We wait for your ears to hear.

O God of justice and mercy,
Lift us into your heart again.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another day

I may not have exercised my best judgment in signing up for this night class! It is called "Reading as a Spiritual Discipline." I thought it would be a lot of 'spiritual' readings and exercises, but it seems to be more theory and history from two very smart professors who like to talk...a lot...when it's 9:30 PM and time to go! Tonight, I finally had to say that I had no idea how our discussion related reading as a spiritual discipline. But, I only have one more week of night classes with those guys, and during my third week, I have classes that run during the day.

Today, in my methodology class, I had to give a more detailed presentation of what I hope to accomplish with my project. I was very pleased with how it was received. For so long, this project has been a scary mystery hovering over the future, but I am starting to get excited about it now. Hopefully, it will be a meaningful ministry at WMCC.

I went for another pretty walk this morning and still had about half an hour to get in some piano practice time before heading to the library. Although I don't have free access to the music building, if I get there at the right time, a nice man unlocks a practice room for me. They have a Steinway in there!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another day in the life...

The high point of today was having lunch with Dr. Donna Ciangio. Some of you may remember me talking about the professor I had for our January class who was a Dominican Sister. Most of us would call her a nun. Well, that’s Dr. Donna. She is leaving for South Africa tomorrow, but she wanted to see all of us while we were here. Dr. Donna is a person who has such a sense of calm and competence. My classmates and I have been worrying and fretting about our projects and our assignments, and Dr. Donna seems to take everything in stride. She's nothing at all like the stereotype of a nun. She looks normal, dresses normal, and she has a wicked sense of humor! Can you believe that? After sitting with her for a few minutes, I think we all felt better. What a witness to the calming presence of Christ that I suppose we can all carry inside.

That said, dorm life is an adjustment for this introvert! I knew the accommodations would be sparse, but I did not realize how inconvenient some of the little things would be…like not having a sink in your room. You have to be presentable to walk to the restroom to brush your teeth – we have males and females on the hall, and even though the males are on the other end, when you're out in the hall, you are out for all to see. If you need water for your coffeepot, that’s another trip down the hall. And, if you forget your towel or your shampoo in the shower, you're out of luck! Thank goodness for shower caddies.

There is also a positive side of living in this dorm. It feels very safe. My biggest fear is forgetting my room key and being locked out in my bathrobe. We are also right in the center of campus, so it is easy to get to class, to the library, or to the cafeteria…but I sure do miss Joe’s cooking. We are also close to a lovely 3 mile walking path. I pass St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center each time I walk, and it is a beautiful facility. They care for cats, dogs, and they even have a doggy day care. The dogs are outside each morning either being trained or playing in a happy little ‘playground’ complete with toys. They seem to be having a grand time. It seems like a fun place. And, finally, dorm life is good in that we don’t have TV. I know that sounds odd, but for this three weeks, no television is a good thing. Without the distraction, I can concentrate so much better. Although it might get really quiet this weekend, I am hoping to get a lot of work done. I don't know if I'll make it into NYC or not - we'll just have to see.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Method to the Madness

Because I am taking a night class for the first two weeks, I have mornings free. So, this morning, I ventured out to a recommended bicycle route that is also used by walkers and runners. I think it is 3 or 4 miles, but it felt very safe. It surrounds some sort of business campus, so it has a 7 foot fence on one side and a well traveled road on the other. It was good to walk without a backpack weighing me down.

Today was also the first day of our Research Methods class. This is the class that leads us into our dissertation projects. I enjoyed hearing the initial directions that all of my classmates are going. Tomorrow, we have to present four things. 1) Our proposed title (which sadly cannot be anything creative - it has to be clear statement of what we are trying to learn or discover. Some will be testing theories; others will be learning new skills. 2) The statement of the problem we intend to address. 3) The purpose of the project which basically answers the question of what difference we hope to make, and 4) a brief paragraph explaining our scope - the limits of what we are doing and how we plan to do it. I'd share mine with you, but I have a feeling it may change over the next few weeks. We also have to propose some definitions, evaluations, time lines, beginning bibliography, etc. All of it is subject to change once we began to meet with our church advisory committees...

The whole things seems a little daunting, but what gives me hope is how the project is explained in our D.Min. Handbook: "an act of ministry designed, planned, executed, and evaluated within a specified time period." While there are lots of "i's" to dot and "t's" to cross, I am encouraged by thinking about the whole thing as a ministry. Still, you'd better get ready!

Here is a picture of our chapel in Seminary Hall.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Today in pictures...

Today, I walked all over this campus "with a knapsack on my back." Does anybody else know that song? It is really quite lovely. Lots of trees and lots of historical buildings. In fact, it is called the Forest.
We spent all day in Seminary Hall. We started at 8:30 this morning with introductions. There are about 40 of us from all over the country and then some! We have one student from St. Kitts and one student from Haiti. The diversity here is very good. This afternoon, we received our first instructions on formatting for our dissertation...mercy! That. is. all. And, then, we got a full introduction to all of the resources in the library. That was impressive. So many journals and even books are available from the library in an electronic format.
Now, such as it is, I am glad to be my dorm. I thought that my night class went until 9PM. As it turns out, it goes until 9:30 PM. The good news is that this was the class I was most dreading, and I do believe it will be interesting and even helpful. We have two professors who are very passionate about their subjects. That makes all the difference in the world. So, tomorrow, I have the morning off. I plan to go for a walk and then work on an assignment. If I get lucky, maybe I can fit in some piano practice!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Little Hospitality Goes a Long Way

Well, I survived the drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike and made it to Drew!  And, there is a reason that dorm life is for younger people…mercy!  My room has two beds, two desks, two dressers…and that’s it!  I’ll post a picture later, but suffice it to say that the dorm rooms here will not be making it to the cover of House Beautiful.  I did bring my snorkeling panda from my office, so he cheers the place up a bit.  Tomorrow, we meet at 8:30 AM for an orientation breakfast and we stay in orientation all day.   For those of us who signed up for the night class, we start tomorrow night.  Tomorrow will be a long day.

But, I am feeling ready.  Of course, I’ve done as much as I can in preparation, but that’s not why I feel ready.  I feel ready because I spent the weekend with Gil and Sheila and experienced such hospitality.  From the time I arrived until we went our separate ways (literally)on the interstate, they took care of me.  I felt so welcome and so at home.  We spent a couple of days and nights seeing the sights in D.C.  It was phenomenal.  They took me to memorials after dark – the PANDAS - the Capitol – the White House (and I was inside looking out the window when Marine One flew in and picked up the President)!  We went to see the Addams Family at the Kennedy Center, and boy, did we eat well.  All of that was fantastic, but it was the spirit that they brought to my visit that made the weekend more than a good sightseeing tour.   It was their friendship freely offered that took care of me, encouraged me,  and sent me off ready to face whatever the next three weeks may hold. 

That’s the power of Christian hospitality – it creates new friendships and those friendships give birth to another little corner of peace on earth.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I leave in a week!

Well, I think I've just finished writing my last sermon until August -  I still have to polish it up, but the bulk is done.  So, what's left to do before I start on my educational adventure?  Obviously, I have to pack, and I am so hoping that my classmates will be as casual as I intend to be for the next few weeks.  I know what to expect from my regional group that meets in Charlotte.  But, this summer, we will be in class with regional groups from all over the country...so who knows what their 'flavor' will be?  I also have to try to remember what it's like to live in a dorm - and what do I need to make that as good as it can be...extension cords?  A little refrigerator?  Ear plugs?  The last time I lived in a dorm room, I think I had a poster of Tom Cruise on my wall...and to think he has just turned 50!  It's been a long time.

Anyway, I've been really anxious.  Worried about the drive, the work, the reading, the writing, the being in class with people day in and day out.  But, I had moment at Christmount last week.  I went out on the prayer walk later in the afternoon, and I took my little travel Bible (which is just the cutest thing in the world).  While I am not one to encourage spiritual growth by closing your eyes, opening your bible, running your finger down the page and then believing you have received a message from God...that is exactly what I did!  I was just feeling stressed.  The passage that I fell upon was from Isaiah 43:1-2, 4.  It goes like this:

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;  I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you....

Because you are precious in  my sight, and honored, and I love you.

That passage hit home.  Do not fear.  I have called you by name.  You are mine.

I am not called by Drew University.  I am called by God.  I do not belong to my professors or my assignments or my successes or my failures.  I belong to God.  The truth is that I've been trying to power through all my assignments by will power - on my own strength.  Granted, I do have to be diligent in my efforts, but ultimately, it is God who steps in and pulls me through.  Somehow, that reminder gave me the push I needed.

So, bring it, Drew!