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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An Academic "Geek-Fest" on philosophy and theology

I discovered a quirk in my college experience after my first semester. I could take 5 courses for the same price as 4. (4 was the normal, as you needed 31 courses to graduate in those days. In 4 years. I understand that things are different nowadays.) What that meant for me was that I got to take 7 more courses (basically another year) for free. I finished with 39 credits in 4 years.

You might ask, rightly, why would anyone do that? First, I like going to school. I liked taking classes in college and learning new things. That's fun for me. Secondly, I have a lot of interests. At my college, Gustavus Adolphus College, we had "minors." Everyone needed a major to graduate. (I had mine in English), and you could have minors as well. A minor was a field of study where you had 5 courses (majors were at least 8). I had 4 courses in each of these fields of study: Theatre, Music, Physics, and a minor in classics. I also was able to study Hebrew, German, French, and Swedish. Pretty good deal for $22,000 total. All 4 years.

Notice I did not mention Religion, Theology, or Philosophy. That's because I only took one course ever in those three fields. The Bible as Story was a Religion course that satisfied the Religion requirement we needed to graduate. So I took it. That was it. I realized in my second year that I was not going to be able to take every course I wanted or a class on every field of study I was interested in at the time. So I spent my free time studying Religion, Theology, and Philosophy. And I read them all. I started with Kierkegaard. Then Nietzsche. Then Freud. Hegel. Marx. Heidegger. Sartre. Foucault. Derrida. Russell. Whitehead. Wittgenstein. Popper. And then I went to graduate school.

My roommate used to joke that I never read a book published after 1700. In a way, he was right. And that only got worse when I went to the University of Texas-Austin for a Ph.D. in Rhetoric. Turns out as I was getting a degree in reading (that's basically what "rhetoric" is) that my professors noticed something: I liked to write about God. So they sent me to Chicago (long story) to study Theology. (I had read 2 books by Martin Luther in his battle with the philosopher Erasmus, a lot of Augustine and Aquinas for Latin classes and that was about it. I knew nothing about theology.)

In seminary, my first course had me read Paul Tillich. I liked Tillich which means I read a lot of his stuff. Turns out his last Graduate Assistant was one of my professors. So I asked him which I should read next, and he is still helping me sort through Theology. My Master's degree at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago was a crash course in Theology for 2 1/2 years. I went out into the parish as a pastor, and had a lot of fun. (I love congregations it turns out. that's another blog). But I felt as if I didn't know enough.

I went back to seminary and asked a former professor to write me a recommendation for Graduate School in Philosophy and Theology. He asked me why I wanted to go to Grad School if I liked being a pastor so much? I told him, "because I don't know enough to be a good pastor." So I went to Grad School and received a Doctorate in Philosophy combining the work of a German theologian (Eberhard Jungel) with the sociological research just beginning to be published on congregations, mostly using the early work of Nancy Tatom Ammerman. In my day there were no "Congregational Studies" programs, so I made one up. Other than one little hiccup concerning the Gospel of John, and my reading of it (another blog), it went pretty well.

That's me. Although a lot of people don't know this side of me. (This is the first time I've ever published this.) Most people don't know that I considered writing a dissertation on Feminist Literary Theory at one time. Most people don't know that I once met a theologian named Douglas John Hall, and told him I thought he was pretty good. He asked me what theologians I was reading, and when I told him, he said, "It might be wise to just pick one or two." So I did. 10% of my dissertation was on Douglas John Hall.

Although I was trained very well by the Academy, I am not in the Academy much anymore. I'm in congregations. There are many reasons for that (yet another blog), but the main one is this: what all the philosophers, theologians, theorists, writers, and storytellers I have read have all known is that you must live. Even if it's just to read another book...

Congregations are where people live. And God. That's why I'm there too.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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