PATHWAYS: Deep Gladness

“The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  Frederick Buechner

Dennie_c(web)The challenge to commit to a two-year theological journey was daunting.  Would I be able to maintain the time commitment?  As an adult learner, would I complete the readings or would I skim through some topics as I did in high school and college?  As the oldest person in our cohort, I wondered how I would fit in.

Over a decade ago, along with 8-10 other people from my church, I enrolled in the Theology among the People (TAP) program sponsored by the Southeast Conference.  Over the months our numbers dwindled and we abandoned our meetings after completing year one of study.  I had always finished anything that I every started and felt that I had not fulfilled my commitment.  Or perhaps God was saying that I needed further work?  In any case, when I heard about the PATHWAYS Program I knew that I wanted to be a participant.  Since I did not feel a call to be ordained or licensed I made a commitment to complete Level I, which included 11 online courses over a two-year time period.

The program was structured using a cohort model, which theoretically means we would advance from course to course as a group.

Naturally life circumstances change which prevent people from continuing. Our cohort consists of people from Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Iowa. This cross-section of participants has been beneficial since we have people from small to mid-size congregations; from liberal to more conservative theological backgrounds; and from predominantly LGBT to traditional ones.

The first course was learning to think theologically and in our last course, the “capstone” course, we have read a book titled, Everyone’s a Theologian.  So, I guess all members of our cohort have been successful: we are theologians! Included in the curriculum were courses dealing with religious pluralism; the art of worship; and re-imaging Christian Education.  In perhaps the most laborious our six week classes we read two-volumes of 500+ pages each for the history of Christianity course.

There is a Sufi story about a student who asked an elder if there was anything that could be done to become enlightened. The elder replied, “As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.” In a typical student fashion, the next question was of what use are the spiritual exercises we have?  And the elder’s response was, “To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.” C.S. Lewis is credited with saying that what is important is to come awake; but still more important to remain awake

As my two-year commitment draws to a close and as the last assignments are completed, I’m reminded of a quote from a book we read in the art of worship course.  In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor quoted Louis L’Amour: “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”

Although ‘everyone may be a theologian’, I feel I’ve just began to awaken to God’s call and to realize that all is not finished; it is only the beginning. Hopefully this is the new beginning where I will discover where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Submitted by Dennie Kelley, PATHWAYS Level I