Mission MDiv Complete

On July 30 2009 I wrote:

An new era is starting in my life, so I thought I would start a blog

I’ve written a lot of words since then, a total of three hundred posts, most of them about the journey toward something, some of them struggling with what to do when that something was reached, and some about the things that have happened, or I’ve thought about over those years.

Today, I have reached the beginning of another new era. About half an hour ago, I finished writing the last exam required to complete the Master of Divinity degree. The goal which seemed always to be somewhere up ahead is now right here. I’ve got my arms wrapped around it and with some fear and trepidation, I’m looking at all the roads leading away from it. Some of them are of my own making. I did things to pave a path to this place for some of them, and now I need to try to figure out which one to actually put my feet to.

imagesI recognize the thing I’ve got my arms wrapped around, right now, is little more than a mile marker. We saw lots of those in Spain when we walked the Camino. These markers provide a sense of accomplishment, but are not the final destination. I’ve had my eye on this particular marker for so long it seems like it is part of me, part of my identity, a place where I might build, and stay a while, now that I’ve arrived, but, that would be an aborted trip rather than a completed journey.

What I need to do instead is try to see the next marker. There are a number of roads I need to look down and all of them seem to have hills, and trees, which are blocking my vision. I may need to stand on someone’s shoulders for a clearer view, or just start down one of them, to see what is over the next hill.

To be sure, I’ll be consulting with my travelling companion as a road is chosen. We’ve traveled together a good long way already, and I have come to rely on her keen senses to keep us out of trouble. I have no intention of leaving her standing beside the road,  and going on alone.  While I’ve been focused on the marker we’re standing beside now, she’s been keeping a good eye on the road, and everything around the road. She will figure large in the decisions we make as we choose one of these roads to walk.

When I first set up this blog, I put Ephesians 2:10 at the top of it. Some of you know the words of this verse, but for those who don’t, here it is:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

images (1)I may think I’ve done some things to get some of the roads we’re facing right now to come to this place, but in reality, the road we are to walk is already set out in front of us, ready for us to start walking. It would just be nice if it had a great big yellow arrow on it.

I also need to think about the future of this blog. It has become a great friend along the way. Should I change the name of it to The Farmer went to Seminary?


The Snails

One of the highlights (there were many) of our recent visit to Montreal was being part of the Christmas gathering of “The Snails”. The Snails are four women we traveled with on the Camino, in 2011. They became a sub group in our larger group, and would invariably be the last to arrive at our daily destinations, not because they were slow walkers, they really weren’t, but because they stopped to look at everything along the way. It could be argued that their experience of the Camino was deeper than those of us who were much more goal oriented. They also built strong, long-lasting  bonds within their group. They gather periodically, and recognized our coming to Montreal as a good excuse for coming together. There was also an ulterior motive….

You see, there is another trip planned, to Ireland this time, and at least three of The Snails have committed to go. It seems they would like us along as well. We received the full force of the creative persuasion abilities of these women. I think they are used to getting their way, but aren’t afraid to put in some effort to get it. There were colourful travel books, Celtic tattoo kits, informative DVD’s and finally, a personalized top ten reasons for us to join in on their merry adventure.


The handout for our intensive persuasion session

Here are the reasons (as they see them):

#10. They can improve their iron levels by drinking copious amounts of Guinness.
#9. They can explore modern Irish farming techniques.
#8. They will get lots of exercise climbing up and down the tour bus and crawling from pub to pub.
#7. They can finally use the rain gear they bought for the Camino.
#6. They can sleep together in a double bed, not in separate bunk beds with 50 snoring pilgrims.
#5. They can eat supper at a restaurant before 9pm.
#4. They won’t have to visit a farmacia everyday to buy blister bandages for their feet.
#3. They can wash their underwear indoors with warm running water.
#2, They can get a tattoo of an Irish harp on their ankles.
#1. They are important members of our communitas– and it just would not be the same without them. (tears fall here)
All of the pressure, however, was for naught. We had already decided that we would join the group. It was fun to watch them at work and really nice to feel wanted. The hugs when we revealed our intention to be part of the adventure were really heartwarming.
If any of my loyal readers are interested in joining us on this adventure the details are here. One thing I can promise is great company.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

I just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It took me more than a few weeks to finish it because there were just too many academic things that needed to be read, but this weekend, I put all of those aside for a couple of hours and drove to the end.

I really enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t say that I could identify very well with the main characters, Harold and Maureen. they just seem a little bit too simple. Their understanding of their own lives, revealed in bits and pieces, leave you feeling  they are just missing something. Their reflection on themselves seems too shallow, there is very little fight in it.

What I did identify with was the aspect of pilgrimage that Joyce describes. The leaving, the  self-reflection, the sore feet, the folks met on the way, the relationships that come and go on the road, all rang true to my experience of pilgrimage on the Camino in the spring of 2011. It was fun to read, feeling  the author had gotten it right, hit the nail on the head. Harold is an unlikely pilgrim, but aren’t we all?

When Harold sets out on his journey, he  carries with him a vision of what the pilgrimage will accomplish, but in the end he finds  the goal  he had intended is all wrong and a whole other result is realized. Pilgrimage, as we have witnessed, begins with a goal, a vision, which, very often, is unrealized, or, if it is realized, turns out to be insignificant in the end. The relationships built, and the self realizations that come on the way, become the important results of the journey. Harold recognized this and so did we.

The book is a wonderful read and a recognition that maybe we don’t have to head to the great pilgrimage sites of the world to experience something new in our lives. Maybe its right here. Maybe even part of the journey we are on right now.

A Year Ago Today

Burgos May 13 2011

A year ago today, J and I were in Burgos, Spain, at the beginning of an adventure that has marked our lives permanently. We were beginning a walk on part of the Camino so  we could learn about and examine the concept of pilgrimage. We ended up experiencing pilgrimage instead, and, as you could read in posts on this blog last summer, the experience affected the following months. It’s hard to describe just what the effect is, but its the kind of experience  you want to go back and find again, to hold it in your hand one more time, to be able to recreate the sense of belonging to something, to grasp again the feeling of achievement, the sense of community, the stripping down to basics that is the Camino.

I’ve just finished reading Jane Christmas’ book, “What the Psychic told the Pilgrim”. Jane does a good job of describing what happens of the Camino, the awesome scenery, the walking relationships, the group dynamics, the accommodations, and the sense of self discovery that comes with the experience. Many times, as I read her account, I could see myself in her experiences. Through her writing I was able to relive my Camino. It was good. It also made me want to go and do it again.

The book ended up in our house, because a friend had bought it for someone who was considering doing the Camino this summer. It turned out  this someone already had a copy, so our friend gave it to us. The book is not a travel guide. In fact, I don’t think it should be read prior to the trip. It is the telling of one person’s experience, one person’s journey, and each person will experience their own pilgrimage in their own way. Reading this book before walking will set expectations that will close the door to actually finding your own way through the journey. I think  each pilgrimage should begin with something of a blank page. Travel guides, listing accommodations, restaurants, points of interest, etc are fine, but reading books to tell you how you might feel or react to the pilgrimage, in my opinion, can reduce the experience to an attempt to recreate someone else’s.

In the meantime, we continue to treasure the memories, we live through the changes  the experience made in our lives, and we cherish the lasting friendships we made during those weeks in Spain.

Calvin Worship Symposium Thoughts

I wanted to write this post yesterday, but, I was just too tired. Tired really isn’t even the word for it. Exhausted fits more correctly. We arrived home from Grand Rapids around 10:30 on Saturday night which should have given the chance for a good night’s sleep in my own bed, but, the angst of preaching on Sunday along with all the cool things I could yet do to that sermon that were spawned at the symposium, had me awake at around four. By the time I gave the sermon, I had worked out a couple of those additions, but, rest did not happen. 

After the service, with its attendant adrenalin (Holy Spirit) rush, the crash was deeper than I normally experience. A sense of exhaustion, sickness with a sprinkling of depression settled in, so I did not go to my computer to reflect on the week’s excitement.

I would have reiterated how blessed I felt to have heard Walter Brueggemann, Anne Zaki, and Mary Hulst. I would have shared the way that Mark Charles used stories to bring the parable of the shrewd manager into today’s world and touched me. I would have mentioned the pieces that Scott Hoeze brought to this Sunday’s message. I may have waxed eloquent about some thoughts on funerals that come from a workshop with Tom Long. I would have spent some words on worship and the shiver that runs up your back singing Psalm 148, acapella, in four (or five or six) part harmony with six or seven hundred other people. I would have written about the great conversations on the way and around meals. 

But, I didn’t do any of that because I was just too tired, too used up, too empty. It’s a little better today, although I’ve been to the doctor, diagnosed with bronchitis, medicated, but the rush of the weekly schedule is upon me, time for reflection passing quickly. Like the wonderful things that I saw along the Camino, I couldn’t seem to stop long enough to enjoy, reflect, enfold. We needed to keep walking, the journey beckoned. So the images are held, the thoughts the concepts, filed, and they somehow, in a small way, become part of who I now am, a person affected by the journey who cannot accurately describe the sights and sounds along the way but know that in some sense they have become internalized.

In all but one area, this experience was a good one. Maybe next year, if I go again, that one piece of this part of the journey can be resolved as well.

Post Camino Reunion

This past weekend, as a way to start the new year right, we traveled to Montreal for a visit with the freinds that we made last May on the Camino. It seemed fitting somehow to start this year by remembering and reminiscing about the event of the previous year that impacted our lives in the biggest way.

From the conversations we had over the weekend, it would seem that we were not the only ones who still felt the impact of the time spent in Spain.  Some came home and made significant changes in their lives and we were glad to find that they seem content with their decisions. Others got tattoos to commemorate the event. We found that we were not alone in our struggle/quest to figure out what it all meant, what really happened to us there. The Camino, its experiences and lessons, seems to continue to live on in each of those who were part of the group.

The communitas

The one thing we know for sure is that we have developed a bond of friendship with these people that we never would have had if we had not decided a year ago to take the opportunity to join a group going for a walk. Our shared experience has drawn us close together. The internet and social media has kept us in each other’s lives.

We’re busy planning our next trip to Montreal, and hopefully some of our pilgrim friends will take the opportunity to come and visit us here in Western Ontario.

The Christmas Letter

Over the past couple of weeks we have been receiving Christmas letters from friends and relatives. For many, writing this letter is an annual event which chronicles the events of the family over the past year. I’ve often thought we should do one as well since our family, in my estimation anyway, is as interesting, or, in fact, even more interesting than those  recorded in these missals. I know, it all has to do with perspective.

Ours is a family of bloggers so , this format seems to be an appropriate one.

The Way

The one key event that 2011 will be remembered for is our walk on the Camino de Santiago in May. We travelled to Spain with a group from Concordia University as part of a course on the history and theology of pilgrimage.  Something happened on that journey. We went to look at, study, pilgrimage and somehow the experience changed us in ways that we have been unable to really quantify. It was a humbling experience filled with metaphors and symbolism. We only walked 270 of the 780 km route and talk about the day we will go and do the rest of it. J in particular would like to go back just to prove that her body is not going to hold her back.

The rest of our holidays paled in comparison to the Camino, We spent a week on the Bruce peninsula walking the Bruce trail, and some time with friends biking in Niagara’s wine country. We spent a week at a cottage in the Muskokas with all of our kids and camped Thanksgiving weekend as well. We are really enjoying the freedom that comes with a life without a real job.

Our family is also doing well . R (daughter) and JW continue to work on PhD’s at the University of Alberta. They are hoping to be finished at the end of 2012 and then see where life takes them next. They and their two cats, Molly and Jack, are enjoying their new apartment (south-facing) on the edge of downtown Edmonton.

J (son) and L announced their engagement this year. We are looking forward to a June 9 2012 wedding in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. L is a wonderful young woman with a great sense of humour. She is going to fit in well with the families other “crafty” women. Both J and L are employed by Google.

J (daughter) and M have had the most upheaval and excitement in their lives. They bought a little “fix-r-upper” house in Toronto and before fixing it up, moved in. With the help of family and friends they turned their little hovel into a very livable house and a two bedroom apartment. They live there quite happily with their dog Mocha and their cat Pekoe. J works as a technical writer for a medical software company and M as a junior engineer aiming for his PEng certification.

J (my wife now and not the daughter above) started working as a Wellness Instructor at a new YMCA that opened this fall in a nearby town. She enjoys helping people meet their fitness goals. She leads a cycling class and has started a running class using the indoor track in the new facility. The major downfall comes on Thursday mornings when she has the morning shift and gets out of bed at 5 am. We didn’t get up that early when we milked cows!

I have continued my journey into the world of academia. This year, I pushed straight through the summer with course work. Hebrew has dominated the last eight months. It was really hard getting this strange language to penetrate this old mind. I wouldn’t say that I in any way know Hebrew, but I do know a lot more than before. J and I disagree on the value of this learning. I think, in the end, it was good.

I have also continued to put in a couple of days a week working with Threefold Consulting. Much of this work is nutrition advice for sheep and goat producers. I am also doing a number of different sorts of training.

We put an addition on our house this summer. It’s really just a roof to cover our hot tub and an outside, covered, sitting area. The building itself was constructed by a local contractor. J and I put in the patio that is under and around it. It was very satisfying doing the manual labour and ending up with a pleasing result.

We have been blessed again this year. All of our immediate family has enjoyed good health. God has watched over us and continues to walk beside us as we journey on. (It would be nice to have some indication of the destination though)

I hope that you too can feel His leading and care in this coming year.