Friday, November 29, 2013

How a duck helped me be happier with who I am.

As seen from Sky City, the Space Needle restaurant.

My ambitions border on arrogance. And my passport is stamped with too many crossings between the two.
When I read theology, I long to have the hours to pursue, prepare, and present my own perspectives. When I see Christians in conflict I want to step in to resolve the core issues and reconcile their relationships. When I sit with the dying, I wish that more families would accept the spiritual care facilitation and counseling that our Hospice offers. When I preach, teach, visit, and counsel at The Glenburn Community Church, I simply want to be the best pastor ever. When I interact with those who are employed full-time in death education, bereavement intervention, and grief counseling (part of my work in Thanatology—the study of death, dying, bereavement, grief, and mourning), I strongly desire to keep current on the research and its implications for my doctoral program. (Which reminds me: I also want to be the most scholarly, pastoral, culturally-engaged, relevant and deeply spiritual Christ-follower Multnomah Biblical Seminary has ever seen.) And when I spend Thanksgiving surrounded by the ten people I love most in this world, I want to be attentive, loving, patient, generous, kind, and especially not distracted by whether I remembered to print out the bulletin inserts for Sunday, or whether I can sanction my guests for putting powdered caramel-vanilla creamer in 100% Kona coffee. (So, let’s not ask how that worked out for me, okay? I really am sorry I said anything.)
This was our duck for the day.
Here’s what brought these competing, overlapping, and exhausting pursuits to a head recently.
In the course of two master’s degrees, I actually had to take the same course twice. I was blessed by two vastly different sets of content (Major Prophets in one, post-exilic Minor Prophets in the other), taught by two eminently qualified Old Testament scholars (Dr. Mark Boda and Dr. Bruce Baloian—real experts: as in, these guys write commentaries, etc.). Now, in my first assignment as a “real” seminary professor (I’ve been guest-lecturer and co-instructor at Multnomah, but now I’m “the professor of record” for my alma mater, A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary.), I am teaching a similar class. “Old Testament: Kings and Prophets” (OTK&P) is a course I am uniquely suited to teach, but having studied under Boda and Baloian, I wish I had another master’s, or even just an article or two published in JSOT (The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament). I don’t. Nor will I. My Hebrew skills are not the reason I’m teaching OTK&P, and I think it will be a better experience for my students as a result. But I still wish there was time to jot a few notes for JSOT, just the same.
Offering easy single-file loading.
In the midst of all this, here’s how a duck helps me keep my sanity, despite my arrogant ambitions.
In 2009, as part of our twenty-fifth anniversary vacation (finally taking us where our honeymoon trip was supposed to have, instead of the Kaiser Hospital in San Diego—another story for another time), my wife and I spent a couple of days in Seattle before embarking on an Alaskan cruise. There in Seattle, to get the quickest tourist-oriented overview (and in honor of my wife’s long-held attraction to all things “rubber-duck”), we “rode the ducks” at a business unsurprisingly named “Ride the Ducks.” Piloted by Captain Credible (“Please, use my full name: Justin Credible.”) We toured Seattle in an amphibious World War II landing craft, including a plunge into and cruise past the sights of Lake Union. The major difference between the equally fascinating land and sea portions of the voyage? On Lake Union, we weren’t holding up traffic.
You see, Sparkman & Stephens are competent marine architects. They make good boats. GMC makes reasonably useful trucks, and did so especially during WWII. The result of their collaboration, the DUKW six-wheel-drive amphibious truck (more information here:, was described by Roderic Stephens, Jr. (Yes, one of those Stephenses.) this way: “She’s not very fast, but she’s better in water than any truck, and she’ll beat any boat on a highway.”
Captain Credible drives (not too) deep into Lake Union.
During our tour through Seattle, we saw no other trucks on Lake Union. There were no other boats cruising along the streets and highways. But I can imagine that Mr. Stephens’ assessment is accurate.
Is it possible to be the best Conservative Evangelical pastor among the Thanatology and Hospice communities? The fact is, there’s not a lot of competition there. Is it possible to be the best Thanatologist among Conservative Evangelical pastors? If my experience is any indicator, then I’m alone in that endeavor. So, instead of trying to out-scholar McGrath, Carson, Erickson, Witherington, Wright, and others, or out-thanatologize Doka, Worden, Rando, Klass, Neimeyer, the Corrs, or anyone else—can I simply accept who I’ve been made to be, and do what I can uniquely provide to each group I’m called to serve? Yes, probably. But only to the extent that I accept the expertise and experience of others, and the privilege of communicating their excellent work between those two communities.

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