Grace in Sutherlin

After driving for about 6 hours, leaving right after church, we decided to have dinner at Taco Bell.

We needed a break and something more than quick business at a rest stop. Had about three and a half more hours to go until we arrived at Amy’s mom’s house and I’d been driving for about 4 hours.

In late afternoon, we drove through the shocking scene of the fires from last summer. Acres upon acres of devastation north of Lake Shasta. The forests started returning when we got into Oregon but we started losing light.

At dusk we drove through Grant’s Pass. We kept going. For another little while at least, until Roseburg. That’s the end of the twists and turns and ups and downs, and around the time we usually switch drivers.

How about Denny’s, I asked, as we drove through Roseburg.

Amy has a thing against Denny’s, so it was more of a joke than a suggestion.

We drove through Roseburg without anything grabbing our attention.

There was another town only a bit farther, smaller and more set up for those just wanting to eat a little, gas up, and get back on the road.

Saw Taco Bell listed among the dining choices on the handy blue next exit sign. Vianne likes burritos and Taco Bell has at least a passing resemblance to those. I was tired of driving and there wasn’t another town too close. This was it. We exited, made a left, and wound our way into the parking lot.

It’s next to a Subway that has an empty store front on one side of the building, making it look like the Subway isn’t yet finished. It has been that way for at least a few years.

We’d been to that Taco Bell before, don’t let me fool you. I like Taco Bell too, I’ll admit. I also like Mexican food. They’re not the same.

It was a nice dinner, a welcomed break. My mom texted, “How’s the journey?” just as we were getting a table, after we had ordered. I responded, “Good! Stopped in Sutherlin for dinner!”

We ended up staying in Sutherlin for a couple more hours, at at an even less appealing place, on the side of I5.

Amy took over driving as we left Taco Bell. We stopped for gas at Shell. Going to Shell means using a rewards card, don’t you know, for those times we don’t have a handy Costco for cheaper prices.

Remembered to stay in the car. Time to start getting used to Oregon again.

“Fill it with regular,” Amy said to the attendant, handing him our credit card. He goes to the pump, puts the card in, pushes the appropriate buttons, puts the nozzle in the car, hands the card back. Same as you and I do in most every other state, but in Oregon, it’s a specialized job not allowed to civilians. The gas tank fills up, the nozzle clicks off, wait a minute or two, the attendant is back with a receipt. Off we go!

Amy started the car up. There was a curious little flash on the dash board. I didn’t see it, but Amy says the battery light and another light flashed quick. They didn’t stay on, so no worries. Right? Amy was more worried and rightfully so, but we kept on. Places to go and a grandmother to see, after all. Wanted to get to Canby before it got too late.

We got on I5 (which is what they call the 5 in Northern California and Oregon), and the dash lights flickered a bit, and the battery light flashed on, then off, then on. I saw it and it was more troubling as it didn’t quite stop.

Then the headlights shut off. Everything else stayed on. The radio, the interior lights, the engine, the windows, the little lights on the shifter, all working fine. The car ran great. It was just now dark in front of us, thick with clouds and no significant settlement for quite a while.

“Should I pull over?” Amy asked, rightfully concerned.

“Yes! Pull over,” I answered, hiding my concern a lot less. Not really panic, but definitely not suave confidence.

We pulled over to the side of the freeway. Fortunately, it was a nice wide shoulder. The kids were now getting concerned.

I got out. A fuse? Something else? Lights going out but everything else running wasn’t something I’d dealt with. I’d just replaced the headlights a month before. Both out at once? Amy and I traded places.

I tried the ignition. The car turned on great! Tried the lights. Funky flashing and flickering on the panel and now the radio, but no headlights. Can’t drive on I5 at night without headlights. Not with kids at least.

I turned the car off, opened the hood, checked what I thought to check, which is me basically looking for something out of the ordinary. The battery was new, and all the cables looked fine. I also checked the oil. Our year of Subaru Outbacks doesn’t have a helpful oil light and it doesn’t have a volt gauge. Low oil is signified by a seemingly random flash of other warning lights on the panel, and, of course, your engine eventually seizing up.

So, that came to mind. We had plenty of oil and there wasn’t anything obviously amiss with the engine.

We had just paid about $1700 to fix our front and rear drive shaft assembly among other things, so maybe something to do with that? Our finances were stretched very thin and I didn’t want it to be anything big. I wanted to see something easy.

But why the lights? Didn’t make sense. We pay AAA every year, and so I gave them a call.

“We’re stuck on I5” I told the very helpful operator. “About a mile north of Sutherlin,” I added. “I can see the Motel 6 sign,” I added some more.

They must hire operators who are skilled in both crisis management and organization. They’re always very friendly and helpful. “Help is on the way,” she said.

About 40 minutes later, I called back, wondering about the help. Usually it’s quicker, and I hadn’t heard anything. “They’ve not gotten in touch?” she asked. Nope. She put me on hold, and then said, they’ll arrive soon.

I was impatient. Vianne was starting to get really nervous and even had some tears. Amy was calm and encouraging, as frustration started to build up in me.

Oliver was sound asleep.

Amy spoke words of faith and hope and peace. I needed that, needed a calming presence as I felt the responsibility weighing down on me.

I had a thought. How about the high beams? I turned the ignition. Car came right on! Turned on the lights. Nothing, except the panel flashing. Switched to high beams. They came on! I got to thinking we could make it to Canby even still, then get the car repaired the next day.

What should I do? I felt a rising panic and chaos. I decided to give it a try. Merged back into traffic, the lights stayed on, but the panel started flickering again, more nervous, more chaos, peace fled entirely.

I can’t do it, I told Amy. I don’t trust it.

She called AAA and told them we were about a mile farther down the freeway than originally said.

Waited a fair bit longer. I felt the frustration, discouragement, irritation, all the cues of impatience and chaos poking at me. Amy had a lot of peace. Vianne was nervous. Oliver was still asleep.

I kept fighting the urge to turn the car back on and just go, just go, get back going, push pass my caution. Be bold! Grace whispered to me, and had just enough momentum that it blunted the impatience, and I waited. Finally, I saw the flashing lights of a tow truck approach and then pull over in front of us.

Chaos had taken over the evening. We were stuck on I5 with a broken car, a mystery problem, financially strapped because of our recent bills, financially uncertain because of a very tenuous job situation in 2019. Lord I don’t believe. Help my unbelief!

I got out, waited by the front of the car for the AAA tow truck driver to get out and come over. It was a familiar scene. I’d done this quite a few times before. Cars are a weak area in my menagerie of faith issues, since I’ve run into a lot of breaking down and falling apart.

Indeed, had two major repairs around Christmas 2017–one for our Subaru and one for our Civic–which tapped our finances for much of the year. Added to this, my old Honda Civic stopped running in November, and we got tired of throwing more money we didn’t have at it, so were now down to one car.  We thought it was dependable.

She said hello as she got near. Every other tow truck driver I’ve had were men. So, this was a change. I shared what was going on with the car.

Grace began to abound.

She was a voice of calm. There we were on the side of I5, chatting about possible issues, and as we talked I felt more and more peace. Usually I’m impatient about trying to sort out possible solutions when the obvious isn’t working. But, she was so nice, and suggested we check the fuses again, try a few other things.

She was flummoxed, and yet it was a peaceful flummoxed, not the kind I had. All things are possible when you have a large tow truck and have seen much worse situations on much worse nights.

Nothing worked, she called her husband who is a mechanic, and he suggested some things, but it wasn’t those. I asked if we could make it to Canby. She nor he wanted to venture an opinion about that possibility, though it didn’t seem an absolute negative.

I decided to give in. Canby was outside our 100 mile limit, so that was right out. I had originally told the AAA operator we would go to Motel 6 (it was within view! or at least was until I made things slightly worse) and find a mechanic in the morning.

In our wait, in experiencing a moment of grace, I thought I’d look for a nearby Holiday Inn Express. These are handy places, serving us well in times of stressful long roadtrips and occasional business trips.

We have had a membership there for a while (more points!), and they have dependable rooms, breakfast and other amenities. Not much more in cost than Motel 6. If you can’t afford a hotel, you might as well not afford a somewhat nicer hotel and get some points for the bother.

We transferred the kids, car seats, and other items into the four (or five) person cab of the tow truck. Vianne was distraught but is always adventurous, so getting into the big truck perked her up.

Oliver stayed asleep.

The 10 mile drive back to Roseburg was, grace-fully, actually pleasant. The tow truck driver–whose name and company escapes me since when I should have paid attention I still had a lot of chaos bouncing around my head–was extremely nice, and we chatted about Oregon and California and things she’d seen and cars she’d rescued.

Got to the Holiday Inn. Amy had called ahead about a room. They had a lot, so we weren’t too nervous. But, you know, at this time of year, it can be difficult to get a room at an inn. I’ve read about that happening.

Took a bit of time to check in since as we got there another family had just arrived at the front desk, and they had some complications to sort out.

Amy, and the kids, waited in the car.

I got a room. The tow truck driver drove to the edge of the relatively empty parking lot, lowered the ramp, backed the car onto the asphalt. We said our very heart-felt thanks, and then good-byes. Grace abounded from her the moment she pulled over to help on I5. I really want to hunt down that company and say even more thanks.

I reparked the car. It ran great, just no lights.

We unloaded the kids and unloaded what we needed. Not too easy since we didn’t expect just a quick overnight. And we hoped that’s all it would take on this eve of Christmas eve.

View from our hotel

My experiences, though, had me uncertain, and quietly faithless. Things that start well end poorly in far too many of my memories.

And this trip had started well, and now we had encountered the poorly.

Though that tow truck driver was sure nice and we found a good hotel to stay at.

Even better than I expected. Third floor room, two queen beds, and all the rooms faced one way and had a balcony, which overlooked the Umpqua river. That’s a nice view! Weather was cloudy but not rainy, and I’ll take that anytime I’m in Oregon.

After getting settled, we fell asleep. It was about 10. I slept great for about 4 hours, woke up around 2:30, then my thoughts started, then my uncertainty blossomed, and chaos entered my soul. I pulled out my phone and started looking for a mechanic, since it seemed something I needed to do.

Had a few listings, and one stood out. Five stars on Yelp. That’s a good sign. The reviews were helpful and it happened to be less than a mile away, just across the bridge and a couple blocks. I felt a lot of peace, decided that’s the place I’d risk (I’ve had bad mechanics before), and fell back to sleep.

We woke up around 7:00, we got some breakfast at the nice buffet, then went back to the room. I had a surprising amount of peace, and had burgeoning hope.

Waiting room at the mechanic

When it turned 8, I called the mechanic, they answered on the first ring, and were happy to help. I drove the car over (it ran great! just no lights).

Decided to wait as they diagnosed it. Took about 40 minutes for them to get to it. But they had a problem to fix. Overcharging alternator.

I’d had bad alternators, but when that happened the car doesn’t run and definitely doesn’t get started. Bad alternator meant “no charging” to me. I’ve not had too much charging. But I was a bit stuck, gave them the go ahead, then googled the issue.

Usually googling a problem makes things worse, but this time it actually described what we were dealing with.

My mom called me (she doesn’t call that often) to check in. I gave her the update. Then started the walk back to the hotel.

It was a misty, cloudy, but not rainy day to walk through an older part of Roseburg, across the Umpqua River, back into our hotel. Vianne and Oliver were in the indoor pool, and Amy was calmly reading a book nearby. The kids were thrilled. They love to swim.

The car wouldn’t be ready until 2 and the desk clerk said it would be entirely fine to have a late check out set for 2.

Good mechanic. Indoor pool. Food to eat. A room with a view and the freedom to stay for the day. Kind driver, kind staff.

Grace abounded again and again.

View of our hotel from the bridge over the Umpqua river, as I walked back from the mechanic

Had a nice morning of it, decided to go to lunch. The only place within walking distance? Denny’s.

Fate had its way.

I ordered a nice breakfast for lunch, and Amy ordered a Cobb salad. Vianne had chicken fingers. Oliver wanted a cheeseburger and a side salad.

When the plates came, we all were pleased, except for Oliver. He was bordering on ecstatic. It was a big salad, with everything he likes (tomatoes, lettuce, etc.)

Vianne has always loved eating and food. Oliver has been much more laid back about it all. Until the time we had Denny’s in Roseburg. I have never seen him enjoy his meal more.

He ate it up, every bite a moment of joy. The salad fulfilled his dreams and the cheeseburger his hopes (“It’s so cheesy!”). All the bother might have been worth it just to see his joy upon feasting on salad and a cheeseburger at Denny’s.

Car got fixed a little before the expected time. I walked back over. It was raining a bit now, but I didn’t mind. All is well, and a walk in the rain across the river does a soul good.

The cost was less than expected, so good, but a new alternator, new headlights, one new taillight, and labor isn’t cheap.  Somehow, I still had peace.  A lot of peace.  I may have even been cheery.

Everyone was very friendly, and to get it diagnosed and back on the road in a few hours on Christmas eve was beyond welcomed.

The car started right up, and even as it started it sounded a lot healthier, no longer having that burst of extra gusto it had been starting with for the previous week. I didn’t tell the mechanics about that, but they apparently fixed it by replacing the alternator.

Back on I5. This time the car kept running. We drove to Canby, getting there for dinner.

We didn’t get there in time for the Christmas eve service, but truth be told, we had our own Christmas eve service. Grace abounded in a time of frustration, peace came through when we were stuck and dependent on others. As the time in Oregon continued, we experienced more and more grace at each step.

Oregon Coast in late December

Lord, thank you for helping my unbelief. I thank you for your grace, for your hope, for your bounty that you showed us during what might have been a very discouraging time. Thank you for bringing people of kindness our way, for the generosity and encouragement.

Thank you for the hope you brought us on Christmas eve. Thank you for the grace we experienced that started in Sutherlin and carried us into the new year. We had a great time in Oregon, feeling rested and excited about what you will do in the midst of our continuing questions about 2019.

The weather in Oregon continued to be great, by the way. We even had some sun and relatively warm weather when we visited the coast. Vianne got to experience her happy place again, by dancing in the Pacific.

Amy and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary with a quick getaway to a hotel in Washington.

Amy Oden

It was just off of I5 and we had a 3rd floor balcony that looked right out over the Columbia River.

Posted in adventures | Leave a comment

Filled with the Spirit

This past Sunday, I preached on the topic of the Holy Spirit, seeing how the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament leads into how we understand the work of the Spirit in the New Testament. Which leads in what it means for us as a specific community of those “filled with the Spirit.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

on ordination

As part of my ordination examination, I was asked to provide a further response about ordination. Indeed, while I was affirmed in almost every way, the lingering question at the table was whether my calling included the particular element of ordination. This arose because I was not as forthright about ordination in how I talked about my self and my calling. (Now I’m over-using the word “ordination” a lot in this first paragraph — it’s hard to find balance in life)

In this short supplemental response [originally sent to the examination board and which I am now posting here], my goal is to discuss ordination in more depth, both how I understand it and how I see it as fitting into my calling.

Ordination is a expression of commitment. It is a commitment of a person to a particular denomination and a commitment of the denomination to that person. It is thus not to be entered into lightly by either side. More than a simple job agreement, ordination is a shared commitment in light of Christ’s calling.

It is a testimony that this person speaks in a way that reflects the denomination and a testimony that the denomination trusts what this person will speak, ordaining him or her into a public pastoral ministry. As a public pastoral ministry, an ordained minister is giving the task of edification, formation, and outreach, a shepherd to those who have been saved and a messenger to those who need salvation, as well as responsible for the pragmatic functions of a church community.

My calling in life is to serve the body of Christ. This is a calling affirmed throughout my life and in how God has shaped opportunities and formed my development. It is a calling that involves a passion to help others experience fullness in Christ, wherever their starting point, and to help them express this fullness in the ways God leads them.

I am a teacher, and exhorter, able to write and speak in ways that reach a variety of audiences. In both training and gifting, I am led to express God’s life into and for this world.

In my 20s, I explored this calling in light of church ministry, utilizing my seminary training to help develop a members class, to develop and lead a young adults ministry, to organize and plan special events like a multisensory Stations of the Cross that transformed our sanctuary to a walk through the crucifixion narrative.

I was excited about this ministry and felt validated by those I was ministering with and those I was learning from. However, my calling was discouraged by some others in leadership, who were themselves dealing with significant dysfunction.

My attempts to respond in light of faithful Christian dialogue were rebuffed and having no recourse to denominational support (it was an independent church) I did not have other roads open. Ordination was an interest but not an opportunity at this time.

Over the next years, I realized I needed to deepen my understanding and experience of faith, and turned to a season of writing, reading, praying, seeking God with all my being.

This transformative season addressed my frustrations and reinvigorated my love for the church, resulting in two very pastoral oriented books which were published by Barclay Press: It’s a Dance: Moving with the Holy Spirit and How Long? A Trek Through the Wilderness.

I entered into PhD work with a dedicated interest in ecclesiology and church history, better grounding my understanding of why the church is the way it is and what it is called to be.

I am critical of many aspects about the church, but I love the church, and see it as an expression of God’s radical work in this world.

In short, the church is my passion. In a season where I was discouraged in participation, it was like my soul was torn from me. In finding my way back in the leading of the Spirit, I have specialized in church life, adding to a lifetime of church experiences and ministry experience.

My dissertation (now published book) is titled The Transformative Church and expresses a dynamic transformative ecclesiology that understands the expressions of the church in a holistic way, in which people become in the church who they are called to be throughout the whole of their lives.

This has a theoretical basis, since I focus on the work of Moltmann, but also extremely practical expression, as my use of missional writings throughout emphasizes.

This interest in the theoretical intersecting the practical continues in my work at Fuller, where in addition to teaching classes on theology and church history, I also teach a class on Practices of Christian Worship (indeed this very quarter) and a class on Practices of Christian Community (next quarter).

These all feed into each other, informing and shaping how I teach, how I pray, how I lead.

This has not entirely addressed the “why” of ordination for me, of course. In the process of the last few years, it has become clear that I am led to teach in a variety of settings. I am not content with simply teaching in a seminary environment, though I am happy to have this as a vocation.

I also am passionate about revitalizing catechesis, teaching Christians about the faith in a planned developmental approach.

I have been affirmed in my preaching, leading, and teaching. I have been affirmed in and value the opportunities of pastoral counseling. While I get these in academic teaching, teaching at a seminary does not provide a constant community in which to develop deeper relationships and conversations.

While I have the chance to write and research in academic ways, academia does not give the chance to explore how all this translates into transformative living in accordance with the calling of Christ in a particular time and place.

In content, in passion, in interest, in hope, then, my calling resonates with ordained ministry. Whether I work full time as a minister and part time teaching in a classroom, or whether I work full time as a professor and part time as a minister, both sides benefit from each other.

My academic work utterly needs continued orientation within church ministry life, and my church ministry calling needs the continued reflection and deepening that is part of my academic life. I do not see these as separate callings but as an integrated calling with different expressions.

The question for me is not whether I am called to contributing to the church and God’s missio in this world. These are part of my core self. The question, as I see it, is if the Wesleyan Church, can use one such as me at some place in its many ministries. If so, then I am excited to be a part and to be a minister in a way that participates to, from, and within the church.

Posted in academia, church, theology, Transformative Church | 1 Comment

Gathering, Sending, Living: Week 2 of Fall Quarter

This past week was the second week of Fall quarter at Fuller Seminary. I generally make the first week into an introduction of the topic and an introduction to the course structure. There’s always a lot of adds/drops/questions in the first week, so wait until the second week to really jump in to a deeper discussion.

For my HT501 class (which is on God: Three Persons, One God in Trinity), I begin in a somewhat unusual way. The tendency in theology is to begin by talking about God in general terms, a notion of divinity, then talking about God’s characteristics, and revelation. Maybe proofs about God.  Theism works its way to the Biblical revelation and then that opens the door to more specific discussions about God’s work and nature. The Trinity, of course, also gets mentioned, as that is how Christianity understands God’s nature.

I don’t begin there.  Mostly because while that’s a logical place to begin a discussion about God in an academic way, it’s not really how most people encounter God. It’s also not the reason we’re talking about God in the way we do.

This first focused week I talk about Christology, the formal study of the person and work of Christ (some theology terms are more self-evident than others).  But that too can have a lot of different starting points. I choose to start with the resurrection.

Because, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15, the event of the resurrection is the fundamental argument of Christianity. If it didn’t happen, we’re all wasting our time talking about the rest. If it did happen, then everything–literally everything–changes how we need to understand and live in this world.

I also have a discussion on introduction to Christology, providing a basic framework of history and approach.  Such as how there’s two general patterns to approaching the study of Christ: From Above or From Below.  The “From Above” approach emphasizes the divinity and overarching revelation, then looks how the incarnation fits into that.  The “From Below” approach emphasizes the incarnation and then looks how divinity is reflected from that.  The latter is the way people originally encountered Jesus and seems to reflect the approach of the Gospels.

In starting with the resurrection, I’m mixing the two approaches a little, but I think it creates a useful starting place. My overall approach in the class is to teach on the Trinity with a Trinitarian method.  I’ll talk about Christ this week, then the Father (the usual starting place) in week three, then the Spirit in week 4. In week five, I start the cycle over again: Son (week 5), Father (week 6), Spirit (week 7).  In week 8, I start  the cycle again for the third time.

But, that’s getting ahead of things.  Another pattern I use is to include introductory material each week for new students and more advanced material for (you guessed it) advanced students.  That way everyone has something.

Here’s a portion of my (introductory level) discussion on the Resurrection (know that this is likely among my least visually interesting lecture notes… I’m working on spicing up the presentations this year. As is, this is more of a podcast with posted notes):


Meanwhile, in my IS501 class (Practices of Worship) we talked about “Gathering and Sending” this past week. While this may not on the surface seem as worship focused, it really sets the tone for those involved (in the class and in a worship setting).

Simply understood as the welcome blessing and benediction in a service, it really is more than that. We’re gathering people from a wide variety of stories and experiences. In this gathering is also welcoming, a way of including and recognizing people for who they are.  But the message of Christ isn’t a rubber stamp.

It’s an invitation into the story of God’s renewal. So, we’re inviting people to remember the story of Christ, to be renewed in this, and to then go out into their week in tune with God’s rhythms.

As part of the class, students actually have to practice the practice of the week. I try to get them thinking outside the usual church service mentality, so have a weekly “beyond the boundaries” task that has them engage the practice in a non-typical, but still worshipful way. This week, I encouraged students to pick one or two people in their life they did not know well, to learn about their stories and more of who they are (thus ‘welcoming’ them) then encourage them in how God is working in their lives (‘sending’).  I then had them write a short post saying what they did.

I had some great responses, encouraging to me that we really are called to the particular and specific people in our lives, not some passive general patterns that other people do.

One student wrote and posted this as part of her longer description:

With the mindset of gathering and sending for this task I felt better focused on listening and uplifting instead of trying to solve issues. Understanding the blessing of benediction in conversation through positive comments is a meaningful addition to the worship event of meeting together.

Here’s an excerpt from my lecture on Gathering and Sending:

Posted in academia, education, Fuller, seminary, teaching | Leave a comment

Fall Quarter begins with asking “What is…”

I’ve been teaching full-time for 6 years now.  Just about every term over the last six years I’ve had a new class to develop.  Maybe 1 or 2 where I didn’t have a new class, but then there was some kind of other major change, like moving to a new online learning management system.

This quarter I am teaching 2 classes I’ve taught before and do not have any major changes. They did throw a new modality at me (online live!) but it only requires some minor shifts.

Which means for the first time in six years I can spend more time making adjustments and reflecting on the courses.  As part of that, I decided I’m going to add a public element, and talk a little about what I’m doing each week in my two classes over the next ten weeks.  A little peek into seminary teaching and topics.

The quarter started this last week and I’m definitely enjoying the diverse and thoughtful posts from my students all over the country (and some are even in different parts of this world).

I don’t quite have students from all the states this quarter, but I have a student in Hawaii and a student in Alaska, so that’s a pretty good reach.

I’m teaching two classes, HT501 and IS501. That doesn’t mean anything to most people, of course.

HT501 is a systematic theology class on the topic of God. Of course, isn’t all theology about God?

Well, in a way. But not all theology classes focus on God specifically.  There’s theology about church, and theology about salvation, theology about creation, and even theology about people. At Fuller those are separate classes.

HT501 is about God, specifically as Christianity asserts that God is Trinity: three-in-one. So, it’s a class about God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit.  God is a big topic, to say the least, or rather God is a substantive subject, infinite even.

The first week we don’t even get to our main subject.

It’s the first theology class for many students after all, and so we talk about approaches to Christian theology in general and how systematic theology fits into that and into what each student is doing in their ministry/vocation.

Here’s a look at a small part of the discussion from this week:

IS501 is called Practices of Worship.  It’s about practices that we engage as part of Christian worship, not surprisingly.

As one of the four “Integrated Studies” classes (that’s the IS part) , the goal isn’t just to say “Here’s how to lead worship songs” or here’s “10 steps to better communion.” The goal is to provide a big picture exploration of very immediate experiences.

So, each week we look at a different ‘practice’ (such as “gathering and sending” in week 2), and explore it in light of Scripture, history, theology, and practical ministry.  Understanding how a practice fits into all these helps each student better grasp the overall place each practice has and gives them tools for creative/deepening development in their setting.

This first week, though, we don’t get to those. We talk big picture, “What is Christian worship?”  Sometimes seemingly easy questions like that can have a lot more complexity than first realized.

Here’s an extended clip from the first week’s IS501 lecture:

Another big step for me this quarter is beginning to learn video editing. I’m new to this, so am starting with the basics. Which for this quarter is streamlining the discussions and getting everything neater.

It’s not very dynamic yet, so really it’s more like podcasts with accompanying text. I have hope for continued development!

Posted in academia, classes, teaching | 1 Comment

Songs of Lament

In late July, I preached a sermon on Psalm 88, which is one of the most lamenty of lament passages in the Bible. I sought to dig into the place of lament in our lives and how lament actually functions as an expression of faith. Its not something to be avoided. We should embrace it as part of our authentic journey with God.

Amy opened with a lament she wrote a number of years ago:

Here’s my sermon:

Here’s the sermon notes:

Psalm 88 Lament

Posted in Scripture, sermon, speaking, theology | Leave a comment

Types of Students

As I go into this Fall, I’m considering student expectations and how to navigate these in light of my own growth and, honestly, my own sense of calling. It occurred to me that students really fall into three basic categories of expectation, and these are part of why it’s hard to please all the students all the time.

I’ve come to these categories after being a student at various places for most of my life, and from teaching students, specifically at Fuller and APU. At various points in my life, I’ve been in each of these categories, so these aren’t offered as judgments, but as a way for me to better come to terms with student expectations. This post is me thinking out loud as I sort out how to help students, so feel free to make suggestions.

I. The first category is what I call Minimizing students.

The key question they ask is, “What is the least I need to do?
Now they may not always ask this out loud, but this is a driving question. They are intimidated, and sometimes even offended, by course requirements, and so will tend to push for doing less, getting more time, wondering how to cut corners.

What they should know: A class is not just about their time and their goals. They should bear the burden of not having enough time, energy, or concern.

What they should do:
1) Know the syllabus, so they know how to best use their time and focus.
2) Learn how to read books without reading every word
3) Don’t make others bear the burden.  Own it.
4) Pick a research topic they already know something about and with a strong focus so they don’t get overwhelmed by research and either give up or just not do adequate research.

Comment: Even when a course has been vetted for how much time assignments and readings take, these students will complain that it’s too much. Some students are honest about this, and don’t offer problems. The trouble comes when a student is both a minimizing student and a perfectionist.Which sounds like a paradox, but it’s not.

They sometimes want to be perfect at a minimal level of expectation, so they tend to complain about the reading, about paper length, about lectures.I’ve even had students complain about how much optional material I’m posting.

Which confused me at first–since it’s optional–until I realized they felt a need to be perfect, felt some inner pressure to do it all, so having that optional material stressed them out. They were confronted by the fact they couldn’t do it all, and thought it was a problem with the class.

I’ve been a minimizing student in courses throughout my life. Sometimes because I’m overwhelmed with life, sometimes because I decided to prioritize another class.  It’s not a judgment, but it is a distinct approach, so a student should own it and do what they are willing to do.

These students are going 55 in the fast lane and don’t think about moving to the right. They might be arrogant about what they know and don’t think they should do more, or they might just not know how to go faster, or they might be in car that’s having trouble so they’re doing the best they can.

II. The second category is what I call Middling students.

The key question they ask is “What do I need to do?

What they should know: They shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the material.  If they already knew it, they wouldn’t be in the degree program.  They should know their strengths and their weaknesses, so they can organize their energy in a way that gets the most out of their efforts.

What they should do:
1) They should know the syllabus, charting due dates, and how much each assignment is worth, utilizing their time accordingly.
2) They should find a few aspects they’re particularly interested in and focus on those, rather than get lost in the weeds of too much information.
3) Ask clarifying questions.
4) Pick a research topic they are particularly interested in, something based on questions they are asking or people they know are asking. This helps academic research have a sense of real-world purpose, which can be a good motivator.

Comment: These students are generally going to ask useful questions about clarification or about a topic. They generally won’t complain and if they do, it’s probably something to be addressed. They do the work as well as they can, and while it may not always get top scores, it reflects interest and commitment. They won’t go above and beyond in either research or material, but they’ll do what they should do in an enriching way. These students are going the speed of traffic, and move to the right when someone is coming up behind them.

III. The third category of students is what I call Maximizing students.

The key question they ask is “What more can I do?

What they should know:
A class is not just about their time and their goals. They should bear the burden of their learning and do the course tasks well while also seeking out added information and research.  If a class is too easy or not covering a topic/direction of particular interest, a student has the freedom to do more, add more, read more, matching the content to their interests.  If you want fish, and are good at fishing, don’t wait around the docks for someone to give you a fish.

What they should do:
1)
Know the syllabus, know where there’s space to be creative and do more, and ask about policies related to making assignments longer than assigned.
2) Follow the “rabbit trails.” Whether recommended reading, references in lectures or footnotes, there’s no end of material that can be added to the required. Follow those trails and see they can discover.
3) Research thoroughly.  Read as much as they can about a topic or by a particular author, becoming an expert in the time they have. For instance, my first “maximizing” student experience in my sophomore year, I read all of Tertullian’s writings for a research paper. That reading has served me extremely well since.
4) Ask good questions that relate to their actual curiosity and interest, including asking about research directions or more reading. Don’t ask questions to show off what they know or because they want to show they have questions.  I love eager students, but I’m not fond of students that monopolize time.
5) Help other students. Maximizing students may be called to teaching, so they should try it out if there are forums or opportunities. Be a benefit to the whole class, not just yourself.

Comment:
Whether because they have experience in a topic or because of a strong passion for it or because of a standout work ethic, these students see the requirements of a class as as starting place. Their research paper might add a huge amount of reading to their course work, but they’re thrilled with the chance to do it, and they want as much feedback as possible. They’re doing 80 in the fast lane–or more if no one gets in their way.

Some added thoughts:
I’ve learned that different institutions tend to have different student cultures. And it generally doesn’t reflect overall intelligence or capability.

Fuller has a mix of all three, which probably makes it more of a “middling student” school in general. In large part because most of my students are working other jobs.

Which again is to note these categories aren’t judgments about anyone personally, but how they shape student expectation. I have some students who are very capable and passionate, but are overwhelmed with other parts of their life. They’re minimizing students but really good and interesting people.

The tricky part about teaching at Fuller is that I have think about each kind of student in my course design and assignment instructions. I need to be able to provide clear guidance and introductory material for the minimizing or new students, while also having advanced material and additional resources for maximizing students.

I need to make space for student initiative and interest, so can’t be so narrow in assignments or make busywork, while trying to make sure no one gets left behind. I often teach classes where I have both brand-new-to-seminary students and last-quarter-before-graduating students, as well as the mix of student expectations for all sorts of reasonable and unreasonable causes.

It makes things tricky but I really do think it’s an interesting challenge both because I’m intrigued by strategic organization and because this is also the situation for churches.

There’s people with a mix of expectations, and far too often the minimizing attendees get all the attention, with the middling folks becoming the backbone of the community, and leaving the maximizing people out altogether–unless they’re on staff.  People can, I’ve learned, actually mature out of a church community. They’re needing more than milk, but there’s no meat or bread to be found. So they wander.  Sometimes wander away if they don’t know where to find more substantial guidance.

The challenge in teaching both in seminary and church is to find a way to pull the minimizers along (and hope that they get charged up) while also encouraging the middling and the maximizers to continued growth.  Create space, maintain space, allow space.  I think that’s a good mission for a teacher and a pastor.

That’s my challenge and maybe even my calling in both arenas, as long as they’ll have me.

Posted in teaching | 1 Comment

Testimony

When I was 6 or 7, I wrote a personal testimony of faith:

As of this past April, now age 43, I am a licensed pastor in The Wesleyan Church.

The process wasn’t that difficult. I started it late last summer, when I casually asked Chris Snider, the pastor of my church, about the ordination process.  He got me in contact with some key district leaders, and all  of a sudden, I was caught up in the momentum.  It just started happening. Which made me laugh a bit, because it is a lot like so much in life. Things take a long time to start, but when they do? Whoosh!

My actual professional training (MDiv ’02) is in ministry (an MDiv is a 3 year professional ministry degree).  Much of my work experience is connected to ministry. My PhD dissertation (PhD Theology ’13) was on Jürgen Moltmann’s understanding of church in conversation with missional church writings. And I teach ministers or soon-to-be ministers for a living.  Getting ordained wasn’t part of the story up until recently, however.  I’m not sure why. God had me on other paths and when I finished seminary I was pretty burned out with the thought of ministry. Which had nothing to do with what I learned, and nothing to do with the ministry work itself, it had everything to do with my frustrations about church politics. I’ve not had a lot of success with leaders in my life. I didn’t like the idea of being a vocational pastor, even though that was my professional training. Quite a quandary.  God wasn’t finished with me yet.

A winding road later, here I am, moved to Sacramento in summer 2015, began attending a church that is in our community (that was my priority) not long after, and it happened to be a Wesleyan Church.  We attended a Nazarene Church when we got married and up to moving. Before that I was variously non-denominational, Conservative Baptist (with a Gen-X flair), Foursquare,  Conservative Baptist (with no flair), Assemblies of God.  Before all that, I was Wesleyan.

My family history going back generations has mixed religious roots, but there’s Methodist in there, though they left the Methodists when it became too liberal, roundabout the late 19th century.

I started reading Wesley’s writing in college, in a junior year Christian ethics class.  His theology and passion clicked with me in a way that few others had up to that point. Indeed, my encounter with the Ante-Nicene Fathers my sophomore year and my re-discovery of Wesley in my junior year radically changed my understanding of Christianity, the Christian life, and my own self in this world.

To be licensed, I had to take one class on Wesleyan Church history and discipline (while teaching a Wesleyan theology class for Fuller at the same time, oddly enough).  I had to talk to some folks, fill out some paperwork.  I also formalized my participation at my church, becoming an assistant pastor (unpaid) of Christian formation (eternal pay), which teaching, doing some online writing, and occasionally preaching.

In getting licensed I’m acknowledging the journey I’ve been on, and while I still bristle a bit at the title ‘pastor’, I know that God has clearly led me in ways that keeps me on that path. My role as a theologian teaching in a seminary and my volunteer work at my church teaching and preaching are what I do, so I might as well embrace it.

Becoming licensed is a bit like a second (or third) baptism for me.  It’s a public acknowledgment of my confession of Christ as lord, and all that entails.

I’m owning my story, and what Christ is doing in my life.

What Christ did in my life, from a very early age, involved the Wesleyan Church.

I remember sitting outside of San Dimas Wesleyan Church during an Easter service in 1979, when I was four, repeating the words of the pastor to accept Jesus into my heart.

I don’t have a picture of that, except in my mind, but I remember it so clearly.

I became a (junior) member of that church the next year.

I was baptized at that church (or at least a nearby swimming pool) in 1980, when I was five.  I have evidence of that:

Here’s me (in the middle) with Pastor George Jenewein (who preached that Easter sermon and baptized me) and my friend Brandon (who I don’t remember at all).

That’s a long time ago (just look at the shirts in the picture), but things have come just about full circle, at least in terms of denomination. A lot has changed, but there’s been a clear trajectory from that time to now. And things I thought I left behind have come back into the scene.

Very interesting to see what comes next.  Very interesting to see what God takes from the past and makes new.

Indeed, even my testimony isn’t much different after all these years.

Before moving to Sacramento, Amy and I lived in the house right next door to the address listed on my baptism certificate (which my family moved from in late 1980).

I’m back involved in a Wesleyan Church. I have pretty much kept the same fashion look (just with shorter hair).

I’ll just have to update a couple of things in my testimony, but even it is mostly the same:

My name is Patrick Oden. I am teaching at a seminary. Jesus became my savior when I was 4 years old. I love Jesus. 

Posted in church, journey, personal, pictures, Transformative Church, Wesley | 1 Comment

A Fuller Move

This past week, Fuller Seminary announced they are going to move from their campus in Pasadena to a new location in Pomona.

I learned of the final decision only a couple hours before, though there had been talk of this for a while, so it was not entirely new to me.  It’s been something I’ve been praying about with so many others for a while.

While this is obviously very transforming for those attending or working at the Pasadena campus, it’s also very important one for distance students, alumni, and scattered persons of interest (like remote faculty)

The decision means that counter to decisions made about a decade or so ago, Fuller now will view itself as a dispersed campus with a physical presence in Pomona (and to a lesser extent in Houston).

There will be significant investment in the local Pomona campus, and attention paid to local students, but the design and investment will maximize online learning and other modes in a way that hasn’t been done as much before.

In effect, in this way, Fuller is repositioning its vision of how it best trains students, ministers, missionaries.

That’s not the only important element for those connected to Fuller or interested in its role. In moving, Fuller is re-asserting its vision for why it trains students, ministers, missionaries. The Pasadena neighborhood it is now in has become significantly gentrified in the last couple of decades.  It has gone from a relatively diverse, low-income area with old homes, old apartment complexes, old restaurants, to being a high-end shopping and living neighborhood.

Fuller was intended to be a place that trained ministers in the midst of an urban environment.  It was intended to be in close proximity to churches, missions, and social causes, so that students could have ready access and so these could keep Fuller constantly aware of the call of Christ in our contexts.

In its current location, with its current transformation, Fuller is in the middle of an unaffordable neighborhood (condos next door sell for $825,000), and increasingly caught in the tensions of political forces that talk about affordability while encouraging maximizing new income.  Everything has changed and Fuller’s financial position keeps it from being able to fulfill the changes, transitions, in a creative way.

Pomona is a very different place. I should know, I grew up not far away from Fuller’s new location.

I didn’t live in Pomona but visited it regularly as it was a larger city with all the benefits of movie theaters, etc. that my towns didn’t then have.  It had a reputation of being poor, with a high crime rate, etc. Lots of gang activity.  It hasn’t changed.

It exists on the eastern border of LA county, far from any benefits you might think about when you think about Los Angeles. It has more desert temperatures, and no access to any water. You can get to decent skiing or the ocean in about an hours drive (depending on traffic) but that’s still a distance.

It’s in part of the 909, a widely ridiculed zip code in Southern California, the symbol of hicks, ne-er-do-wells. Meth central, low-culture.  I have a 909 area code on my cell phone still, so I’ll let you decide where I fit in those categories.

In short, Pomona is still what Fuller’s Pasadena neighborhood used to be.  The expected new location is not in a flashy part of town and the city is one of the least desirable places in LA County.

There are some nicer neighborhoods in the city to be sure, and some good institutions, so the city has its bright points, but they’re still pretty dim as far as an overall reputation. Even its major university, Cal Poly Pomona, is considered the lesser sibling to the ‘real’ Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo (even though both are good schools).

Why am I sharing this less than stellar portrait of Pomona in an email that started off by sounding like it was selling the move?  All because Fuller is asserting its mission as dedicated to being in the midst of ministry, mission, and social action.

When the realities of needing to move became clear, one option was for Fuller to do what a lot of other institutions have done, which is move out to the suburbs, or a rural location, leaving the area for where property and growth could be easily developed.  The leadership at Fuller decided very early on not to do that.  They wanted to see Fuller continue to fulfill its historic heritage.

Pomona fit for all kinds of reasons. It’s in a season of renewed civic leadership, a big fight against corruption and a big interest in revitalization that Fuller can help with.

Pomona is getting excited about itself and wants to see good things happen and has leadership that really can see these good things happen. It will never be a trendy place like near the beaches or Pasadena, but it can easily become a nice place, filled with diversity, opportunity, livability, active ministry.

Indeed, while Pasadena has increasingly seen Fuller as a bother, Pomona leaders are ecstatic as they see Fuller’s reputation as a benefit for their city, and Fuller’s presence a way of energizing a new era for Pomona.

How’s that for an Evangelical reputation in our day and age?!

Fuller is going to where it is being highly welcomed, in a very diverse city that has had a lot of troubles over the years.  When I first heard Pomona mentioned as a possibility, I was honesty giddy. That’s my home region (my family has been in eastern LA county for generations), and I know exactly how Pomona and Fuller can find a healthy future together.

Fuller is, in this move, investing in new patterns of education while reaffirming its historic commitment to engaged theological education that trains women and men for service in God’s kingdom.

It’s not retreating, its advancing, with expanded funding and possibilities going toward developing what this means in our era and future eras.

Needless to say, I’m excited. It really does seem this is a work of the Holy Spirit in its initiation and its continued progress.  Even local papers seem to agree. (Indeed that’s my local paper all growing up!)

I don’t honestly know what my role will be with the future campus as I only have another year on my contract, and was sent to Sacramento back in 2015. Southern California is still my “home” but my work life isn’t entirely up to me these days.

That said, we all will benefit from Fuller’s intent to be true to Christ’s calling and committed to its 70 year mission in ways that match the needs of future generations.

For those of you who haven’t followed the news elsewhere, here’s Fuller official site for its future plans: fuller.edu/future.

Posted in academia, Fuller, teaching, theology | Leave a comment