Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nashotah Reflections

A week has now passed since I returned from my studies and I thought I would muse a bit on my time away. These are relatively random thoughts, placed in no particular order, related to no single theme.

1.) As I was researching my options for graduate study over the last year or so, I looked into a variety of possible arrangements and degrees, including online distance learning. With more than a few hours back in the classroom I see even more the value of residential programs, even if only for an intensive two week period. Interaction with fellow students and the professor in a live face-to-face encounter provides invaluable learning experiences I am not convinced online programs could adequately reproduce. Now I am not arguing against online distance programs. They have their place. I simply am observing a unique benefit and possible advantage of residential programs over and against these offerings. The 60 hours I spent in class exposed me to a variety of opinions, insights, backgrounds, and interesting discussions that at times directed the class time in ways we could not predict, yet proved to be quite helpful.

2.) The rhythm of education at Nashotah was framed by the cycle of daily prayer, something easily taken for granted. Each morning before 8:00 a.m. and each evening before 5:00 p.m. the bell would remind us of the coming service at chapel. This daily discipline proved for me a powerful reminder of my own need to renew the place of regular worship in my own life. The cycle of prayer over those two weeks was an overdue retreat away from the pressures of ministry and a chance to refocus. Undoubtedly I should have taken this time long ago, and now I will look forward to my annual opportunity to retreat in the quiet serenity of God's comforting word in this unique atomosphere. Many times as I juggled the unfamiliar books my attention would be distracted and I certainly missed more than a few things. Yet I realized that there is a benefit in the rhythm of word and prayer in itself. Too often we get caught up in the preoccupation of whether we "got something out of it." Can I recall the pastor's sermon? Do I remember all the details of the readings? Our minds are always wandering. Yet if they are wandering in the atmosphere of prayer, can all be lost?

3.) Being in the presence of other students and scholars is a humbling experience, as it should be. Pride too easily rises in the midst the pursuit of higher education. We obsess over degrees and accomplishments. Yet the experience of interacting with sharp minds reminded me of my own limitations and my own lack of knowledge. Still, far from discouraging me, this helped instead to spur me on to learn more and try harder. Again, being in that daily rhythm of prayer served as a constant reminder that this pursuit was ultimately for the sake of the church, not my own ego. I pray that the Lord keeps this focus before me.

4.) The people who were on campus during my stay came from an amazingly diverse array of backgrounds and provided an unexpected learning opportunity. One was a canon lawyer from a nearby Catholic diocese. Another was a former resident of Nigeria with a Ph.D in anthropology who now works for F.E.M.A. Some of the students came from several of the islands in the Caribbean - the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad. My professor was a priest from Norwich Cathedral. I discovered that all of the faculty at Nashotah are coverts to Anglicanism from other Christian traditions: Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Southern Baptism, etc. Each day at meals gave me a chance to interact with someone different who expanded my horizons and who often gave me the opportunity to share my life and experiences as a Lutheran pastor (and specifically of the LCMS), since I believe I was the only one on campus during those two weeks (besides one other man studying for the ministry from a breakaway synod from the ELCA). I was only three and a half hours from home, yet I often felt as if I had traveled to another country. It is good to step out of ones comfortable environment and be challenged by other traditions and experiences. To be a Lutheran among Lutherans is easy. To be a Lutheran among Anglicans requires a different set of skills!

Well, that's just a few thoughts. Many pages remain yet to be read, and many papers are still unwritten before these courses are completed. As these efforts unfold I will no doubt expound on my discoveries there as well. Until then......

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