It was first year of seminary and I am at lunch with my mom and sister. My mother is expressing her shock that I am back in school for a master’s degree. “How come the one who hated school is continuing and the one who loved school is not?” (aside: my sis is a teacher and now has her masters) What she really meant by “the one who hated school” was, the one who struggled, and in many ways, was bad at school. And I was.
I got okay grades, but struggled. I was not smart. At least not in the traditional ways. On top of all that, school was boring. Yet here I am today sitting in Decatur, Georgia at Columbia Theological Seminary and just finished the morning session for my first class of doctoral studies. DOCTORAL STUDIES. I’m just going to let that sink in a little…
So how did this struggling student get here? She got here carried on the back of some people I would like to thank, and I would like to dedicate these studies to them. This is by far not an exhaustive list, but they are at the top.
Patricia Scott- Mrs. Scott was my High School English and History teacher. I cannot put into words my gratitude for her. She saw me. She saw past a girl who even at 14 struggled to read at an appropriate level. She saw past a girl who had many emotional problems. And she saw an artist. There were many times that she and I would talk music and she would stand in awe of me. I could barely write a paper, I made C’s in her classes and she would be in awe over my musical abilities. I learned more from her than any other person who came before. She taught me. She actually taught me things. I learned from her. Seriously, probably the first experience of my life where classroom teaching actually worked for me. I valued her opinion, I actually took her advice (and trust me, I was (am?) a stubborn pain in the ass). And she taught me one of the most challenging lessons of my life, that I am interesting and valuable. I am forever in her debt.
Dr. Jack Ashworth- Jack was my early music and music history professor at the University of Louisville. I love early music. I love harmony and disharmony, the exploratory nature of music at that period, the strange and complex instruments and what the composers at the time were asking musicians to do with their voices. Renaissance, baroque, chant. Beautiful. But more than the music, Jack taught me joy. Jack exudes joy. He even bounces when he walks, he probably doesn’t even know he’s doing it. Like every step is in rhythm to the joy that beats in his heart. He has a passion for what he is teaching, when he taught or played I felt the presence of God. Really. Pure Joy. He showed me what joy looked like. I truly don’t think I had ever experienced joy in human form before. And I have never forgotten that gift.
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Ray- Stephen was my theology professor at Louisville Seminary. He scared the crap out of me. My friends worshiped him, I was scared shitless. He was so smart. Seriously, seriously smart. I just knew he was going to figure out that I was an idiot and my cover would be blown. That he would go to the administration and say, “Why did you let this stupid girl into this program?” Then one day a paper was returned to me. There were some notes in the margins and at the end of the paper was written, “You learn well, grasshopper”. I smiled. I cherished that paper. I am sad I did not frame it and no longer know where it is. Stephen introduced me to Paul Tillich, my favorite theologian. He listened to my questions and lack of understanding, we argued for hours about the meaning of the Matrix movie. And a year or so ago he reached out to me and told me that I had once called him out in class over something that profoundly impacted him as a teacher. I do not remember this, but he does, and he had the grace to tell me. He respected me as a minister, even before my ordination. He saw something in me I wasn’t yet ready to see. Each week when I write sermons I think of him and his call to me to never take the easy road when God is calling me to greatness.
So if this Doctorate of Ministry program were a book, this would be the acknowledgments chapter. I usually skip over that chapter (unless my name is in it…) but I am beginning to understand that it might just be the most important chapter of the book. Thanks be to these and so many others for carrying me to this place. For carrying me still. Thanks be to God.
Okay… back to class.