living through death

"The only way that you can accept life is if you can accept death.” –Leo Buscaglia

The risk of the unknown

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This morning I read a post by a woman who works as a nurse describe her painful decision not to get the vaccine.

Here is what she said:


I will not put myself at risk, with an experimental V that does in-fact have risks associated with it, and long term effects that have yet to be known.

I have been threatened to lose my job over this. I have been put in the terrible spot of deciding whether to A)put something in my body that I am not ok with and that I do not agree with at this moment in time. A treatment that carries its own risks, just so that I can continue in a career that is difficult but so very rewarding. A career that I love and That I am gifted at. One where I know I make a difference. Or B) stand up for what I believe, stand up for my freedom, stand up for my safety and well-being. But then lose my career and the ability to provide for my family, including medical insurance.

I believe everyone deserves to know the benefits and risks of anything involving their body and they should have the right to decide what to do with it. I am not willing to tell me kids one day, I am sorry we no longer have freedom in this country and I sat and watched it happen.


I have read a number of these from people who work in the medical field. I find it hard to believe. I don’t know how to respond, so generally I don’t. But this morning, after reading the dozens of supporting comments any seeing how many times people were sharing her words, I felt like at least trying to meaningfully connect. Below is what I wrote to her:


Oh Wow. I have so much empathy for all of those like you who have been put in this painful situation and who yet continue to care for all of us everyday. Thank you.

I hear in your post themes that we are all grappling with, particularly the threat of the unknown as it relates to our bodily integrity and how our freedom factors in responding to that. It is your freedom that I wish to speak to, as one human being to another.

This situation has the shape of a crucible. There’s really no way out of it. We either have to face the threats implicit in the unknowns of the vaccine long term, or we have to face the threats implicit in the unknowns of the virus long term.

There are also quite a few things we do know in the short term. We know the vaccine is incredibly effective at preventing severe disease and death and has a remarkably low rate of side effects. (5.8 billion doses administered world-wide gives ample opportunity to assess its safety in the short term) We know that preventing severe disease and death helps hospitals stay below capacity. We know that keeping the healthcare system running helps all of us, including those who work within that system. We know that the virus carries with it both short-term and long-term risks of disability and death.

So it’s not as simple as A) choosing a risky unknown vaccine and keeping your job or B) choosing well-being and freedom and also losing your job.

It is more like A) choosing a vaccine with demonstrated short-term efficacy at keeping you safe, helping to our communities address the known risks we are facing, keeping your job, and accepting the unknown long-term risks of the vaccine. Or B) choosing the known AND unknown risks of the virus, endangering yourself and our community on the level of those risks, potentially losing your job in the process, but at least keeping yourself safe from the statistically small known risks and completely unknown long-term risks that the vaccine might pose.

Even phrased like that, it doesn’t suddenly become an easy call. As one who is super sketched out by anyone doing things to my body, I eventually had to accept that there’s really no way to avoid the risks in this whole situation. Ultimately, it seemed unwise to let unknown long-term risks outweigh known short- and even somewhat long-term risks (long-haulers). This is one of those times when things are going to happen to our bodies whether we like it or not, but it seems to me that the risk calculus is in favor of getting the vaccine so as to have the whole process do as little harm as possible within the limits of what it is possible for us to know at the time.

All the same, so much respect for the work you do, and I wish you and your husband the very best navigating these perilous times.


Over the years I have become increasingly skeptical about the value of these attempts to reason across significant divides. But there is, I suppose, always hope.

Written by Alex

August 26, 2021 at 10:24 am

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Written by Alex

August 6, 2021 at 8:47 am

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Death or Life? A Meditation on Spiritual Becoming

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What is more fundamental, death or life?

The warm water fades. Contractions begin…

In the context of some self work recently I was brought face to face with the fact that I had some very definite convictions on this question. And they were not at all what I tend to claim.

I knew this. I swear I did. But did I? Between, or better, through death and life we ARE.

But knowingly or not we strain towards one end or the other. I’m sorry, friend. You are, like me, but a child.

…who, for understandable reasons, does not want to be born.

death-or-life

At the risk of slaying the spirit with the word, allow me to unpack some of this. Fundamentally, I am talking about the development of the human spirit. In this case, my own. By “spirit” I simply mean the human capacity for self-transcendence, the ability to look back on oneself, to question one’s self and the conditions of one’s own becoming.

Our psychologist friends tell us that one of the early brain systems to develop is basically evaluative. Its job is binary and straight forward: determine if the the object of attention is “good” or “bad.” We do this throughout our life, btw. Its the first impulse that flashes through our mind when encountering anything new, and the way this deliberation resolves organizes our response from that point forward. Pay attention to your mind the next time you get an email from your boss, or a phone call from your mother at some unusual hour.

All animals have at least some analogy to this sort of mental processing. It’s obviously survival adaptive. However, humans go places with it that no other animal we know of does. A human does not stop at evaluating some external state of affairs. We have the unique capacity to generalize from concrete experience into handy mental abstractions. What was once simply an object that may be good or bad from an immediate survival standpoint becomes for the human mind a “stick,” potentially useful as a spear, a stake, or a special conduit to the life-powers of the forest itself.

We create for ourselves mental worlds.

In fact, from the standpoint of spiritual development, we become our mental worlds. Our answer to the question “who are you?” is likely to be exhaustively answered from within the context of this very human system of abstractions. My own work has focused on the religious aspect of this uniquely human practice. I have come to see that the way that we relate to our religious tradition can manifest in more or less self-transcending ways.

There are times in our lives when we evaluate ourselves and the world as good or bad almost exclusively through the lens of our religious tradition (or failing an explicit religious expression, at least the implicit moral traditions of our community). Many of us live our whole lives in this place. Yet, for whatever reason, some find themselves in a place where they no longer look through their tradition, but look at it.

This can be the beginning of a more mystical awareness. It recognizes that no human abstraction is ultimately adequate and that there are dangers in leaning too heavily upon our generalizations. One feels drawn back to the immediate and the particular with a renewed openness. The former system of abstractions and hardened symbols by comparison feels constricting and false.

We can get carried away with ourselves here. Old brain systems die hard. You see, the beauty of a mature mystical awareness is the way it interrupts our penchant for evaluating every experience as “good” or “bad” for a more compassionate “being with” experience. Yet it is quite easy for the old evaluative mind to, in the act of reflecting on its former lens, label that lens “bad.” Those who still inhabit that way of seeing are then all to easily seen as likewise “bad.” In my own case, this was extended all the way to myself. I was “bad” for having been involved in that way of seeing. Or, in seeing my own response, I am now “bad” for being unable to mystically transcend my own negativity. You might call this a reactivity spiral. I can be quite skilled at it.

The shift came in the context of cognitive behavioral therapy. I was encouraged by my therapist to try Kristin Neff’s self-compassion meditations. It was immediately clear to me that I did not like this. Why should I be compassionate to myself? Reality is not compassionate! I’m not interested in being merely instrumentally kind to myself. I want to be with what is real, but I have seen through the gods!

It has taken time for this to sink in.

It would seem that contrary to my explicit claims that my allegiance is to a love that develops and expands through undergoing a series of deaths to our old ways of seeing. I have for quite some time been emotionally nurturing something significantly darker. In much of my life I was not “being with” reality. I had picked a side. I was instead with my own deep evaluation. I had chosen death and was regularly engaging in heroic efforts to overcome what I feared could not be defeated.

It is this that I now sit with. For years I have struggled with the emotional consequences of critically reflecting on the religious tradition of my upbringing and community. In the process I have leaned quite heavily on the negativity of life to protect myself from false positives. “And soon we will die.” is a corrective that I am known to casually toss out whenever I get the sense that we are becoming a little too needful of a hopeful solution to life’s problems.

And yet, compassion is not itself an evaluation; it is a posture that quite naturally flows out of a mystical awareness. As a child in the womb might naturally assume that labor is an ultimate “bad,” I am learning more deeply that sometimes losing your world is neither good nor bad, but just part of growing up. And perhaps the best response echos that of countless mothers throughout the ages: “Come, dear one, draw close. I know it’s hard, but I’ll be right here the whole time.”

May we be with ourselves as we would wish to be with others.

Written by Alex

February 16, 2021 at 11:50 am

Nondualism, God, and the Sacredness of Everything

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Is God a being that may or may not exist? Is faith belief in an uncertain object? Is the point of religion to arrive at the good place after death? Much in our culture says yes. It was not always so.

The other day I was asked on Twitter about “nondualism” and why that practice and pattern of thought is not present in most American Christianity. For the uninitiated, nondualism is a state of consciousness in which the hard distinctions between self/world, good/bad, etc… are transcended in the form of a unitary way of seeing. In the East it is referred to as enlightenment, in the West it has been called the beatific vision, or mystical union. It has ancient roots but was a path that was largely lost in western Christianity during the end of the Middle Ages. Recently, however, it has been given new life by Christian contemplatives like Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and most recently Richard Rohr.

To your average scientifically minded person, it sounds like nonsense. Nondualistic seeing is presented as seeing things “as they really are,” but we know that we’re not going to fly in a plane designed by meditation. Obviously, there are different targets here.

There was a time in my life when I was very keen to sort out whether or not God existed. I did not realize that in framing my question as such, I was heir to a tradition of thought that had made a spiritually disastrous turn. You see, prior to the late Middle Ages the dominant mode of theological reflection conceived of God as being the power at the center of all things. That changed. And when it did, God became thought of as a thing within the world of things. God was therefore no longer the beginning of thought, but a thing separate from ourselves toward which thought aimed. This intellectual mood persists to this day. It forms the target against which the (no-longer) “new” atheists shot their arrows, as well as the reactionary idol of the “God’s Not Dead” battle cry.

Nondualism is a relic of that largely forgotten way of feeling reality. Here God was not a dubious external object, but the mysterious heart of reality in which we ourselves participate. What is meant by God is prior to us. Not an object we reflect on. We ourselves are reflected. This is incredibly hard to feel for us moderns, but should you ever take a non-object focused meditation class (or try out Centering Prayer), you will get a taste of the well from which these ancient thinkers drew their water.

This is no mere academic meditation. We are living in the midst of a crisis of authority. We recognize that the leaders, the influencers, the apologists of all sorts are shot through with conflicts of interest and, more often than not, are shouting just to drown out the beating heart beneath their own floorboards. We long for the ultimate truth of our lives, but it is a time of deep despair if we are looking to some external authority to establish it for us.

This is a mistake.

God—if God is to be truly the ultimate reality—cannot be an individual separate from us and mediated by some questionable authority. So much more fertile is that ancient image of God as the power at the center of everything, including you! No one can establish the ultimate truth of your life from the outside, not even Christ himself (assuming you’re of Christian stock)! But we can be taught to listen for it in every open handed interaction we have with the world and with ourself (which is a better reading of the Christ tradition IMHO).

This is THE spiritual paradigm shift.

It is like going from playing a game only for what you can get from winning, to losing yourself in a love of the game-itself.

Written by Alex

February 13, 2021 at 8:06 am

Faith Against Conspiracy

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It’s been a nutty year to count yourself among the “believers.” As the inauguration of Joe Biden approached the conspiracy theorists were crawling out of the woodwork en masse. Hushed conversations around every corner encouraged each other to “keep the faith,” “wait for the signal,” etc… It was honestly spooky. But that, I suppose, was largely because it was novel. Just as spooky, but less shocking due to its normalcy is the fairly average cocktail of young earth creationism, intelligent design theorists, and end times adherents that we also rub elbows with on a daily basis.

The other day I read an article by Paul Braterman entitled Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory. Braterman puts two and two together. It should be no surprise that people who are trained since childhood to aim their faith poorly continue to shoot for the wrong targets when given the opportunity. I don’t know if I have it in me, but I’d like to help… for the sake of all of us.

The energy behind this ‘debate’ is, from a theological perspective, largely misdirected. A person of faith wants to give themselves completely and unreservedly to God as the object of their faith. Nothing about this should get in the way of scientific analysis, because science analyzes certain objects within the world and their relations, while God by definition is not a thing in the world, but rather the depth/ground/source/end/etc… of the world.

There is some skill necessary here. For it can be asked, “what does one love when one loves God, if God is not a thing in the world?” It’s a disarmingly simple question that leads to the fundamental problematic of faith.
Christianity might seem to make this issue even more acute with its imagery of Christ as the Son of God. Unfortunately, this is just what afflicts the faith constructs of many in our time. This mistaken way of framing the issue leads one to think that there is an easy answer to our question: “Jesus!” But this leads to people attaching their faith to all kinds of things that are decidedly “things in the world.” For example: people rising from the dead, the Bible as divine information about history and cosmology, sicknesses being spontaneously healed, etiological conceptions of certain people groups, world-wide floods, talking snakes, etc.

But that’s all a big mistake that leads, at the very least, to a great deal of anxiety when those skilled in investigating the objective nature of things occurring in the world (those cocky scientists!) start asking questions. And those scientists might be tempted to get nasty, because they will see such a person as committing the highest sin against their methodology: Namely, starting with a desired conclusion, then constructing some kind of method to justify it.

But it needn’t be so. Jesus as the Christ is a proper theological object only because he pointed not to himself, but through himself. “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in the one who sent me.” Jesus gave us the most profound answer to our question possible: What do you love when you love God? You love everything and everyone, including yourself, for all are embraced by God as source and end of our existence.

We good now? Super. [dusts off hands]

Written by Alex

February 6, 2021 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Theology

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Religious Truth, Left and Right

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I have a friend who is a bit of a radical. He’s a poet, a therapist, an actor, a Buddhist, and just generally the best. He’s about as leftist as they come both politically and spiritually, but recently he’s found himself frustrated that so many on the left seem unwilling to allow religious aspects of conservatives to have anything to do with a shared truth. The result is that there is not nearly enough outreach being done to those who might otherwise wish to be a part of enacting more humane policies. This is more complicated than imagining that godless lefties need to tone it down and be more tolerant of religious conservatives.

Truth be told, I don’t think that the left is in any way essentially irreligious, but I do think that left leaning religion functions differently. Conservative religious truth tends to take the form of an inerrant text, well justified historical arguments, the proofs of miracles, and other forms that require exterior validation, and are fairly “earthy.” Religious truth can in this way be, at least in principle, laid hold of in a straightforward way. As such, religious truth is exclusive in the same way that a person cannot be the king of England and NOT be the king of England in the same sense at the same time. God can for this reason also be felt as near; and his (because God’s a dude, here, right?) representatives can emerge quite tangibly in history before us. That’s true either of Donald Trump or Jesus.

On this point the conservative will want to emphasize the resurrected Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. It’s a catchy earthy image, and it is justified by way of historical arguments, fulfilled prophecy, and now with the colorful president fulfilling his promises. (Have you ever gotten into a debate with the tea leaf reading prophecy folk? Wow.)

Left leaning religious truth tends to emphasize divine transcendence. While no less religious in its intensity, the stress here is on the inability of anything created or “earthy” to adequately capture the divine. They will be on the lookout for idolatry in all its forms—the elevation of anything conditioned to the status of unconditional. If they are Christian, they will likely want to stress Christ’s refusal to be made into and idol and eventual self-sacrifice for all. Divine truth, because of its transcendence cannot be laid hold of fully ANYWHERE, but at the same time can appear fragmentarily EVERYWHERE. Not dealing with creation but with the Creator, it does not operate by creaturely logic, but rather by paradox, silence, and darkness.

For these reasons, left leaning religious people will be fundamentally allergic to conservative religious sensibilities. What the right will see as religious piety, the left will see as idolatry. And what the left sees as piety, the right will tend to see as godless atheism.

As one might imagine, this makes it difficult to find a shared space on which to engage each other. Since the Reformation when Christendom really fractured into self-selecting sects, these religious styles have been allowed to form their own little clubs. Gone is any notion of a recognizable spiritual path that gradually raises the attention from the creation to the creator. This is a vocabulary that was once recognized. I would imagine some version of it needs to be attempted again. But before that is possible, a whole hell of a lot of work needs to be done to build good will and trust.

I would want to say more about how this all tracks with developmental psychology and the provision or lack of super high quality early childhood environments, exposure to the natural world etc, etc, etc… but we’ll save that for another time.

Written by Alex

December 19, 2020 at 10:06 am

George Floyd: Love, Power and Justice

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We belong together. All of us. We all emerge from the same undivided mystery. Our first act is separation and it proceeds, from Being, our mother, our family, our friends. The rest of our lives will be spent coming to grips with and responding to this fact. 

I hope I am not being too philosophical for you. Witnessing a man plead for his life until his body goes limp while another calmly presses his neck to the ground with his knee has a way putting me in a certain frame of mind. Profanity and destruction of property are probably more appropriate. Bear with me, I’m about to paraphrase one of Martin Luther King’s teachers: Paul Tillich.

Love is reunion, the partial overcoming of our separation.

Power is the self-affirmation of life overcoming the external and internal forces of disintegration and separation.

Justice is the form of life adequate to our reunion, of love.

Love, Power, and Justice belong together.

Love without power and justice is sentimentality, or codependence.

Power without love and justice is tyrannical, destructive, and violent.

Justice without love is legalistic, merely self-preserving, and uncreative.

We belong together.

In the footage of George Floyd’s final moments we see a total absence of love. The officer seems almost bored, ignoring both Floyd’s pleadings and the onlookers begging him to give Floyd air. We also see no justice. No concern for a creative reunion. Every officer of the law ought to see in the face of everyone they encounter a potential friend regardless of the actual situation they meet. Failing this, they become instruments of a self-preserving corruption of justice without love. Such individuals should never be entrusted with coercive social power. The military style training advocated by Bob Kroll the MPD union representative is a shining example of stripping love from policing. Fear and mere self-preservation dominate and degrade what ought to be a noble and honorable profession.

Then there is the public response. Here we see an eruption of power. It is a scream of self-affirmation in the face of a whole history that began in a basic denial of that fact. At the heart of their cry for justice is the demand to be regarded as an equal, and therefore treated as an equal, as one to whom the other essentially belongs. When the justice system routinely treats people of color more severely than it does white people it denies itself, leaving the task of justice up to someone else.

Wherever love, power and justice are separated a reaction will eventually be triggered. It is a predictable law of reality. We belong together. LISTEN to what reality is saying.

Written by Alex

May 29, 2020 at 12:06 pm

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From where does my help come?

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I’m still in the wilderness, so this will be short.

For those of you who feel as though your world has been torn open by the results of yesterday’s election, I offer, without comment, three items worth wrestling with/meditating on:

1. Richard Beck’s short post: The Kingdom of God, November 9, 2016

2. This:

anger

“What do most (if not all) of the emotions under the surface have in common? A sense of powerlessness. So which emotion in the graphic leads us to feel powerFUL? Yep. Unfortunately, angry behaviors just tend to lead to more of those emotions below the surface, fueling a cycle of powerlessness and the reactive, often control-bent, pursuit of (false) power. But true power comes through courageously embracing what’s below the surface—embracing our vulnerability.” -Shane Moe

3. And finally, this:

“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, H/T Sara Mohs

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Written by Alex

November 10, 2016 at 7:22 am

Posted in Life, Uncategorized

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Building Our Own Home: Three Months In

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In the months since defending my dissertation, I’ve changed gears a bit. I haven’t been reading much and I’ve done next to zero writing. That might sound bad, but I assure you, I’ve not been completely idle. You see, my family and I broke ground on our new home on June 30th. We’re building it ourselves. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

1. Believe the people who say that it’ll cost more than you think. “Yeah, that’s just suckers talking,” I thought, “They don’t know me!” Yet, even though I meticulously budgeted everything I could possibly think of, tried to overestimate a number of things, AND included a $10,000 “extra stuff” line item, we are still just barely in budget… I expect that to change in the near future (This is in part because I recently decided to go with spray foaming the rim joists and doing dense pack cellulose for the walls and cathedral ceiling).

2. What the space of our home “feels like” during construction changes all the time. We dug the hole and thought, “uh oh… we’re building a closet!” The footings went in and it felt even worse! Now, with the framing complete, what we thought was a quaint little 24×30 home feels gigantic! Very disorienting.

3. These new little impact drivers are FANTASTIC! Also, I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Bosch compound gliding miter saw with gravity rise stand and accompanying roller stands. Last one… I can’t get enough of this little “Snake bite” nail puller tool. For a guy who has only had a flat bar in the past, it’s like I’ve discovered a magical tool crafted by the elves!

4. Some phases of the build are impressive and dramatic. Others are so very very not. For example, I just spent the last 8 days (10 hours a day!) installing roof venting on our cathedral ceiling. Were you to walk in there on day one and again today, you’d be hard pressed to see that I’ve done anything other than fill the house with sawdust and wood scraps!

5. I need to constantly remind myself what I’m grateful for since there is ALWAYS the next absolutely crucial thing to be very worried about. “I’ll calm down once we dig the hole and have finally settled on the orientation of the home. Then I can just relax and build!” “I’ll calm down once we get the walls poured so the cave ins don’t knock over my concrete forms. Then I can just relax and build!” “I’ll calm down once we get the structure dried in. Then I can just relax and build!” Now here comes winter… etc, etc, etc. Unless I check myself, I will NEVER calm down.

6. After nearly a decade of graduate school in theology, working long and hard doing physical labor while creating a very tangible object feels so very good!

7. Stacking all your Sheetrock right next to the wall in the basement, while being space efficient, comes with the liability that you’ll now have to move it all again when it comes time to do the electrical.

8. You can’t make all your decisions on the front end. Learn to make place holder decisions that allow the project to move forward and work to be flexible as the work continues. I so very badly wanted to have everything perfectly planned out from the beginning, but this desire nearly led to a mental breakdown. You can’t possibly have everything decided for at the outset since so many of these decisions are interrelated and depend upon actually feeling a space that, at best, is represented only two-dimensionally at the beginning. Make decisions that are “good enough for now” and revisit.

9. When exhausted, dirty, and overwhelmed, remember why you’re doing this. In our case, we want to be here. We love our community. We wanted to build ourselves because we want to learn, grow, and increase our self-sufficiency (and we could never afford this house otherwise!). And finally, we wanted to build THIS house because we want to live in a space that facilitates a life rich in the values that are important to us.

It’s happening, it’s hard, but it’s worth it!

sunset-on-the-land

Written by Alex

September 25, 2016 at 9:05 am

It Is Finished!

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Yesterday, Monday, April 11th, between 9:30 and 11:30, I successfully defended my dissertation (I link to the full-text at the end of this post). It passed with no need for further edits and with a surprising amount of enthusiasm! It’s been nine years since I started my academic journey in theology. To be honest, the emotions are still trying to figure out what what they should be doing!

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The run up to my defense was chaotic. The person in charge of scheduling the defense was on maternity leave with no auto-response associated with their email address, so our request to schedule my defense (now already after the spring graduation deadline!) sat for an additional two weeks unanswered. When we finally got in touch with someone, things moved fast. Much faster than I was emotionally prepared for!

I was given essentially a week and a half to prepare. I’d never been to one of these before, so I was faced with the added difficulty of not really having a concept of what I was preparing for. At the very least, I knew there was to be a 10 to 20 minute introduction that I would have to give. Seeing that fairly objective, and also feeling the most anxiety about the presentation element of my defense, I got busy cranking out a stellar presentation.

I worked my brain to exhaustion repeatedly over the next ten days. Then, with two days left to practice and read through my draft one last time, I finished my presentation and gave it a test run…

It took me THIRTY EIGHT MINUTES to talk through about a THIRD of it!

The word “doomed” floated across my mind. I imagined myself walking into the defense hall, shrugging my shoulders and saying “Well, I tried to put together an intro, but I screwed it up. What say we just state the title nice and clearly and move on to the questions?”

Instead, I got up early the next morning, retreated to the detached garage in the back yard, stoked a nice fire and proceeded to craft a stripped-down version of both my talk and slides. I began practicing that night. More practicing the next day was combined with an afternoon of reading my dissertation again (while Megan sewed the button back onto the only pair of dress pants that fit me anymore!) Megan and I hit the road at 3:00pm to stay with her sister and our brother-in-law near St. Paul. To bed early, then awake, unable to sleep at 3:30 am. And finally, after some tense traffic, we were alone in an empty auditorium awaiting the arrival of my committee.

“The work is done” I kept telling myself. “All that’s left to do now is relax and be responsive to your readers.” My body seemed altogether unwilling to take my mind’s sage advice, so I fumbled around fretfully arranging the podium and occasionally walked to the window to get my mind off of the stark surroundings. There was a bronze sculpture called “Living Hope of the Resurrection” in the small garden just outside. Its presence was a gift.

The gift was to increase, for just then Megan returned to the conference room with a number of my friends and colleagues who had arrived. The room quickly filled with graduate students, recently graduated friends, and finally my committee, Dr Lois Malcolm (my adviser) and Drs Amy Marga and Mary Hess (my readers).

The actual defense was a blur. I recall feeling deeply relieved that things were finally underway, and pleasantly surprised at the general enthusiasm and encouragement of my committee. My only regret is that I once caused Dr Marga to forget her question when a certain topic she touched on led me to turn and wink at my good friend Derek Maris in the audience. Maybe regret is too strong of a word, but I did feel a little bad about it.

In the end, my committee helped me to reconnect with the possibility that there may well be something important going on in my work. After years of these ideas being couched within a process that we’ve just been trying to just get through, it’s been easy for me to lose sight of what led me to these ideas in the first place. They pushed me to really think about how the theological method I’ve begun to chart has validity for both religious communities as well as for a culture that has largely ceased to give a rip about religious communities. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Megan and I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief as we walked to the car, only to discover that we had gotten, not one, but TWO parking tickets… which turned out to be letters of congratulations that my Aunt Debra had snuck over sometime during the defense. 🙂

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My Facebook feed has been a non-stop accumulation of well wishes and congratulations ever since the first word went out yesterday. What a tremendous feeling. Thank you all!

And now, for those who are curious, I present to you the final draft of my dissertation: Dying to Live: The Paradox of Christian Salvation, The Terror of Death, And Developmental Stages Theory. It is a mix of personal narrative and academic reflection. Many of you have been a part of the narrative it contains. It is my hope that the narrative will only continue and deepen. Thank you!