Friday, July 13, 2007

Formerly Known As....

Today was my last day as dean of students at North Park Theological Seminary. It has been a very long good-bye! It all started with an announcement last January to free up the seminary to search for a new dean at Midwinter. It was followed by goodbye's with students in Mid-May, with faculty and staff in late May, with NPU staff in June, and finally... a quiet exiting of the building at about 3:00 pm today.

There are so many different feelings associated with leaving a position like this. As with most jobs, the work is on-going and so much is left undone. Yet, unlike many jobs, there has been a sense of accomplishment over the years. Watching students graduate, find their first call, and live into the ministries they have been called to. Students, faculty, and staff were incredibly generous with their support and praise over the years. I realize how much of a blessing that has been. And it is a privilege to be in the depths and at times mess of people's lives and to see them come through, grow, and change through the process. And of course to see God at work in the midst of it all.

I am leaving a community that I have been in the heart of for the last seven years. I am scared about moving into new communities and trying to start over again. I am unsure at times how to negotiate the changes in roles. I wonder which of my friendships were based on work and which will endure. I wonder how to negotiate the move from dean to.... well, it will be different for different students. For some I will always remain the dean. For others a mentor. For others friends and peers. Some, I am sure, will be my mentors in the near future. Yet it is always difficult to explain to some students that I am different as a friend than as a dean. That I expect different things. To be honest... I am not nearly as compassionate as a friend! I don't really enjoy being the care-taker all the time!

Some of you know me well enough to know that I am a gift person... in the sense that meaningful gifts are important to me. I like to give... and to get... gifts that are thoughtful and appropriate. And I was overwhelmed with the gifts that were bestowed upon me by the seminary. I'll just share three:

The first was a stone.... yes, many people were confused by this! The Association of Covenant Clergy Women sponsored the art stone project. Various organizations commissionsed artists to decorate paper mache stones and then they were auctioned off at Midwinter and the Annual Meeting. Three of our students were commissioned to decorate one of the stones: Katie Rose (from Alaska), Katia Kozlova (from Russia), and Ileana Garcia-Soto (from Puerto Rico). Here is a picture of the result... the words of a poem by Edward Munch are written on the stone. Jay Phelan went to a lot of trouble to make sure he was the highest bidder on this stone!

The second was a book complied of letters from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and even a few from denominational leaders. My staff did an incredible job putting it together. It was perfect. I was moved by stories of moments where I had touched people without even knowing it. I was also amazed that others had seen and valued the things that were most important to me in my work... especially in the areas of advocating for women and students of color.

The third was a brick. Yes... a stone and a brick. They gave a donation to the seminary and had my name engraved on a brick to go in the pathway in front of Nyvall Hall. Next to those honoring former deans of the seminary, this one has my name, title, and tenure.

So now I am know as the person who was "formerly know as" the dean of students at North Park Theological Seminary. I have no new title to replace it. I am just a student again. It is a little difficult to adjust to! But probably good for my ego.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Quote of the Day

“We tend to repeat customary actions unaware that when we do today what we did yesterday we actually do something different since in the interval both we and our environment have changed; unaware also that we now do without conscious definition of purpose and method what was done yesterday with specific ends in view and by relatively precise means."

From the forward to H. Richard Niebuhr's The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, 1956

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Outdoor Education

When I moved to Chicago seven years ago, I felt like I was losing something. For those of you used to the outdoors, you might understand what I am talking about. I knew that nature was important to me, but I don’t think of myself as an outdoor woman. I don’t do a lot of hiking or camping or fishing. I don’t own hardly any outdoor gear. But there are little clues around my house… the vases full of shells from California and Florida. Another full of rocks from the north shore of Lake Superior. The plants that fill my dining room. And, of course, the jeep I own.

The wilderness and faith trip allowed me to reclaim some of the outdoor in me… and to explore some of the reasons why nature is such a part of my soul. A lot of it has to do with where I grew up. Our house was surrounded by untouched hills filled with oak trees, poison ivy, and deer… Deer everywhere. So many that they spilled over into our streets and gardens. Less than a mile from our house was the San Francisco Bay. We’d climb the rocks that protected the roadway. My brother would fish out on the points. For a few years we had a boat in the harbor.

My school nurtured this love of nature. One of the benefits of growing up in Northern California. There was a salt marsh out back we would explore. Several times a year we would go on field trips to see Mrs. Terwilliger, a local naturalist who would gather us kids in a circle and teach us to flap our wings like the various birds from the area. We’d explore Ducksbury Reef, wandering through the tidal pools looking at anemones, mussels, and small fish. I still remember when the bee keeper came to school and I was the one who got to dress up and attempt to smoke the bees out of their hives (there weren’t really any bees, but I didn’t know that at the time!) And there were the trips to the aquarium, wandering along the ledge that allowed us to be eye level with the fish. I was sure I wanted to be an oceanographer. I even did one of my junior high reports on Jacques Cousteau.

And my parents added to this love of the outdoors. Some of my favorite memories are camping with the family. They were always short trips… but my family would drive down a dirt road in the midst of nowhere and park alongside a stream. Trout fishing. Campfires. And projects. I remember gathering leaves and making them into a book. Each page labeled with the name of the tree. We also used to go on an annual hike to see the Salmon spawning in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. It was almost always a misty or rainy day. We would pull off on the side of the road and start hiking up the trail along the stream. Back into the damp woods.

My mom had nature projects for us all the time. Collecting driftwood and making them into little creatures. Digging molds for sand candles. Making sun catchers with leaves, melted crayons and wax paper. Spray painting spider webs and mounting them on paper. She may have gotten some of her love of nature from her parents who do a fair share of birdwatching.

It is a heritage I am very grateful for. This love of nature. It is part of my culturally constructed understanding of the wilderness. It is part of the privilege of growing up in a world where wilderness is for beauty and recreation, not an entity to struggle with for survival. Those who struggle with wilderness may also have a love of nature, but it will be different, formed in a different context.

I wonder how Israel’s understanding of the wilderness was formed? Certainly witnessing to the plagues in Egypt, experiencing God as a pillar of fire, wandering for years in the wilderness shaped a generation’s understanding of nature. And their understanding of God. Jesus carried with him this heritage and then added his own experiences of the temptation and a life on the Sea of Galilee. Where do my understandings of nature and God intersect with those of Israel? And how does that change or enhance my reading of scripture?

It is this attempt to read context that I think is so vital to our understanding of scripture and theology. By examining my own context and that of those who are different than me, my own understanding of God is enhanced, widened, deepened. My own perceptions are questioned and I am able to consider and question the perceptions of others. And together, perhaps, we can come to understand more of this vast God that we worship and serve.