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Friday, July 26, 2013

In Honour of My Grandmother (Feast Day of Sts. Joachim & Anne)

Today is the feast day of Sts. Joachim & Anne and is celebrated as Grandparents' Day in many countries.  In his Angelus today, celebrated with the church's youth in Rio, Pope Francis devoted especial attention to grandparents: "How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogue, especially within the context of the family."

My grandmother with my first son
While all of my grandparents have been very important in my life, my Grandma Hughes was someone who was particularly special to me.  She passed away on October 30, 2011, and while I was sadly unable to attend her funeral, I did write something about her for my family.  In memory of her on this Grandparents' Day, I'm posting my brief tribute here.  While it does not go into the amazing details of her life, a life lived with seemingly limitless generosity and love for others, I hope it gives some sense of who she was.  Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.

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My grandmother, Erma Grace Hughes, was one of the most important people in my life.  She was for me more than my grandmother.  She was my spiritual director, my counselor, and my friend.  And I miss her immensely.

Before moving to a room where she no longer had a telephone, Grandma and I would often talk on a weekly basis.  And whenever I asked her how she was doing (including when I spoke to her three weeks ago on Skype), she would almost always reply with words that I know are familiar to many of you: “I’m just great, now that I’m talking to you.”  From her this was not a platitude.  She really meant it.  And she really meant it whenever she said these words to anybody.   For Grandma quite simply exuded love, a love that showed itself as a caring selflessness for others and a desire for the well-being of those around her.  In this, she showed what it means to be a Christian.  As a theology professor, I tell my students that the great mystery of Christianity is not that we believe in a God who is all-powerful, all-mighty, and omnipresent.  Rather, the great mystery, taught to us by Jesus Christ, is that God is at heart, at his very essence, a God of selfless, humble, love.  He is a God who leaves 99 sheep to find the one that was lost.  He is a God who runs out to, and lovingly embraces, the son who has insulted him and squandered all his money.  He is a God who chose to become a human being like us to show us what love really means.  Grandma knew and knows this God intimately.  She spent hours with this God, and was and is an intimate friend of God.  And the result was that she was transformed to become like God, manifesting the selfless and humble love that is God.

This did not mean, however, that Grandma was a pushover.  She was never afraid to let me know when she disagreed with something I thought or something I did.  She once told me a story about when she was a little five-year-old girl that shows something of her character.  She was the pastor’s daughter, at a small congregation that had very strict rules about what women could not do.  At this church, women could not wear make-up, nor could they wear jewelry.  Little five-year-old Erma, however, desperately wanted to wear jewelry, and she secretly and dutifully saved up ten pennies in order to buy ten penny candies, all of which had little rings around them.  When Sunday came, she went to Sunday school, placed her hands underneath her legs until the opportune moment when she placed her hands on the table.  To her Sunday school teacher’s horror, all 10 of Erma’s fingers had rings on them.  “Erma,” the Sunday school teacher said, “don’t you know that you are the pastor’s daughter and that you are to be an example to the other girls and boys?  Why, you’re leading them all straight to hell!”  Five-year-old grandma simply looked at her Sunday school teacher and said, “Well, if these boys and girls can’t make up their minds for themselves about what is right and what is wrong, then they can all just go to hell!”  I love that story, because it shows something of Grandma’s willingness to speak the truth when necessary, something she did consistently through her life. 

It seems like a cliché to say that Grandma was special, but the reality is that she was and is special.  Throughout a life that included some tremendously difficult times, Grandma clung to the promise of Proverbs 3:6, a verse she always recited for me whenever I came to her with my troubles and concerns: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”  Her love of God was deep and profound, and I loved hearing how movingly and feelingly she sang her favourite hymns (in fact, one of my best memories of her is listening to her sing along with a Johnny Cash album of hymns that I put in the car stereo when we were driving late at night when she visited Kim and I in Ontario).  She can now sing in the community of love that is eternal life with the God who is love, and I await with eager hope the time when I will hear her sing again (and this time I shall join in with her).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Turns out I'm an Incense-Loving Prophetic Radical

I'm a relative newcomer to the United States, having moved here five years ago, and so a newcomer to the Roman Catholic Church as it exists in this country.  Since moving here from Canada, I've endeavoured to figure out American Catholicism, in no small part in order to understand my place within it as a theologian.  This has not been an easy task.  Roman Catholicism incarnates itself somewhat differently in different cultures, and for one who has not grown up within American culture, it is difficult to map out and navigate the ecclesial terrain of American Catholicism.

I've been reading books and essays by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. a great deal lately.  I've found his forthright, yet irenic, tone to be refreshing, and I've benefited tremendously from his writings on ecclesiology as well as his essays on the relationship between theologians and the Magisterium.  I'm currently making my way through his collection of lectures in Church and Society: The Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, 1988-2007, and came across an essay there called "Catholicism and American Culture: The Uneasy Dialogue" that I found helpful for understanding American Catholicism (this essay was also published in America 162 (January 27, 1990): 54-59).

After outlining some of the characteristic features of American culture, Dulles describes with broad strokes four major strategies of American Catholicism that developed in response to American culture.  It was this aspect of the essay that I found most interesting, as it helped me make some sense of the diversity of theological and political expressions down here.  Most of this is likely going to be old hat to a large number of you.  Dulles describes the four strategies as follows (keep in mind that the representatives Dulles cites are somewhat dated):
  1. Traditionalism
    • Highly critical of American culture
    • Want restoration of a more centralized and authoritarian Catholicism
    • Church needs to be a 'sign of contradiction' and the church must run the risk of being considered a ghetto.
    • Emphasis on the Latin mass and time-honoured devotions as a way to pass on an experience of living faith
    • Doctrine must be clearly taught and moral norms, particularly in the area of sexuality, must be maintained
    • Representatives: James F. Hitchcock, Ralph Martin
  2. Neo-conservatism
    • Understand the American experiment to have roots in Catholic natural-law tradition
    • While recognizing that the church's first task is to proclaim and embody the gospel, proponents of this view focus attention especially on the second task, the removal of American democracy.
    • Believe that the church, with its long tradition of moral reflection on the proper ordering of human society, has unique resources for the renewal of the American experiment
    • Representatives: Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel
  3. Liberalism
    • "Not satisfied to concentrate on what the Catholic tradition can contribute to the American experiment, Catholic liberals are primarily intent on showing how Americanism can help modernize the Church" (32).
    • Particularly focuses on democratizing the church
    • Representatives: Richard P. McBrien, Charles E. Curran, Daniel Maguire, Jay Dolan
  4. Prophetic Radicalism
    • Calls for total conversion of church and society, frequently invoking historical precedent for their positions
    • Focused on the church being a 'sign of contradiction'.
    • Counter-cultural
    • Verges on the 'sectarian' (according to Dulles)
    • Representatives: Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan
Dulles' descriptions could undoubtedly be more nuanced, and as he himself notes, very few people slot into only one of these groups.  But his depictions ring true to me, and certainly help me to understand better the foundational ideas that lie behind the perspectives articulated on various political and theological issues in the U.S. today.

His descriptions also helped me understand more clearly where, perhaps, I fit within contemporary American Catholicism.  First, it is clear to me that there is almost nothing within Neo-conservativism and Liberalism, as Dulles describes them, with which I sympathize theologically or politically.  Second, there is a great deal within Traditionalism that I find compelling.  For example, I'm deeply attracted to beautiful liturgy and to the 'time-honoured devotions' of the faithful, and I do believe that each has the capability to transform individuals and communities through the 'beautiful.'  And while I don't sympathize with the Traditionalist emphasis on hierarchical authority and centralization, I do take seriously the teaching Magisterium within the church.  As a theologian, I'm generally inclined to support the Magisterium, with the understanding that the Magisterium permits dissent that is presented humbly, prayerfully, and carefully (a viewpoint that Dulles himself promotes).

Third, I am perhaps most strongly drawn to Prophetic Radicalism.  This is due in part to my study of Mennonite history and political theology, particularly the writing of John Howard Yoder.  But my viewpoint is also heavily influenced by my study of pre-Constantinian patristic political theology.

Both Traditionalism and Prophetic Radicalism have as their foundation a fundamental distrust of American culture, and propose that the church needs to be a 'sign of contradiction,' though each differs about what that looks like concretely.  To a certain degree I share that distrust, though my sense of distrust more closely approximates that articulated by such figures as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  That is, it's a fundamental distrust of the political and socio-economic structures of the United States and elsewhere, and an understanding that the church is a 'sign of contradiction' to the degree that it rejects those structures in order to instantiate a society structured around the generous love proclaimed and incarnated by Jesus Christ.  This is an understanding of the church as a sign of contradiction that is moral, but not moralistic.  In other words, I am not nearly as concerned by issues of sexuality (pace Traditionalists and so many American Catholics) as I am by issues of injustice caused by prevailing structures and modes of thinking.

But precisely because the church is to become a society of love shaped by the sacrament of love - the Eucharist - I take seriously the Traditionalist exhortation to celebrate the Liturgy beautifully and with dignity.

So, I guess in the end, on the basis of Dulles' essay I can perhaps classify myself as a prophetic radical who likes incense.  Anyone else out there like me?

Image from www.nytimes.com

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Trinity and Community: Some Thoughts at an Ordination

I had the pleasure today to attend the ordination of one of my former students, Adam Quine.  I met Adam almost three years ago shortly after he began his M.Div at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Adam became my student when he decided to complete an M.A. in Spirituality at Bellarmine University, where I teach, concurrently with his studies at LPTS.

Adam graduated with his M.Div and his M.A. in Spirituality in May of this year, and very quickly prepared for the transition to parish ministry.  First Presbyterian Church of Lincoln, IL saw in Adam precisely the candidate for which they were looking, and three weeks ago he began as their pastor.  Today Adam was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA), and he asked me to deliver the 'charge to the congregation' as part of the service.

I've had the privilege to teach some amazing students over the past five years, and Adam was one student who became a friend very quickly.  In addition to sharing a love of baseball, Adam is enthralled with Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry, and has an insatiable theological appetite.  Most importantly, Adam is someone with immense depth spiritually who longs to grow ever deeper in his relationship with God.  Might I suggest that you take a look at his blog called "Taking a Break from Civilization as We Know it"?

I was honoured that Adam asked me to deliver the 'charge to the congregation' at his ordination, a beautiful feature of Presbyterian ordination services.  Because the Presbyterian ordination service revolves around baptism, I chose to focus my 'charge to the congregation' on the ecclesiological implications of God as Trinity.

Loving with a Love that is Yours because it includes You:
On the Occasion of Adam Quine's Ordination and Installation
First Presbyterian Church - Lincoln, IL

I was honoured to be asked by Adam to provide the ‘charge’ to the congregation at his ordination, but I had to admit that I didn’t really know what the ‘charge’ was, not having previously participated in a Presbyterian ordination (I'm Roman Catholic).  I learned from my colleagues at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary that the charge to the congregation is, in fact, a central part of this service, for it is in the ‘charge’ that I am to create a vision that gives an outline of that which should govern the life together that you as a congregation and you, Adam, will share with each other in the months and years to come.

Now, I don't know you and I'm not even Presbyterian.  Nor am I a pastor.  But I do share with you a common baptism in the name of the Trinity.  And I'm a theologian who believes that theology, done well, has something pivotal to tell us about what pastoral care should look like and about how we as Christians are to exist and live together in communities of generous love.  The vision I am about to lay before you demands a great deal of you as a congregation and of you, Adam, as the pastor of this people of God.  Indeed, it demands nothing less than your very selves.  But I think you’ll agree that it is a vision that is as beautiful as it is demanding, for it is a vision based on nothing less than the beauty and love that is God in God’s very essence.

It is a vision, in short, that begins with what it means for God to exist as Trinity, and it is on the implications of God’s existence as Trinity that I want to speak in this charge; a fitting topic for an ordination in the Presbyterian church given that at this service all of us are called to remember our baptisms, baptisms that took place in the name of the Trinity.  But despite the fact that we are all baptized in the name of the Trinity, we as Christians, in our various traditions, don’t always know what to make of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The first Sunday after Pentecost is always called Trinity Sunday, a day on which Christians are supposed to come together to praise God’s triune existence and on which the priest and/or pastor comes before her/his congregation and explains the depths of meaning to be found in the idea that God exists as three-in-one.  But, as Adam has heard me often say in class, some of the worst sermons I’ve ever heard have occurred on Trinity Sunday.  Such sermons usually amount to the preacher stating that she/he wishing she/he didn’t have to preach on Trinity Sunday and that all that could really be said about the doctrine is that it is a mystery.

A mystery the Trinity surely is, and I won’t here pretend that I comprehend this mystery fully.  ‘For now we see in a mirror, dimly,’ as St Paul reminds us (1 Cor 13:12).  But our ancestors in the faith didn’t formulate the doctrine of the Trinity because they wanted to be intentionally difficult, as if they wanted to play a grand theological joke for posterity.  Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity formed out of concrete experiences of the Divine, experiences that shaped the kind of language our ancestors used to express their understanding of God.  And throughout the centuries, great theologians like Augustine, Athanasius, Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, and John Calvin have endeavoured to come to terms with the implications of God’s triune existence not only for our understanding of God and our relationship with God, but for our understanding of how we are to exist one with another.

Peel back all the complicated Trinitarian language of persons and essence, hypostases and ousia, important though that language is.  To say that God is Trinity is simply to say that God exists, eternally, as a community of love.  It is to say that God exists eternally giving Godself within Godself, that God exists as an eternal embrace of self-giving and generous love where each person of the Trinity gives the totality of themselves to one another in a dance of love so profound, so complete, so generous, and so unifying, that threeness comes to equal oneness.  This is what it means to believe that, as St. John says in his first epistle, ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4:8).  God is love.  God exists as love.  God, in God’s very essence, exists and has always existed as an eternal community of love, and it is God’s very existence as eternally loving that explains why the created order came to be, and particularly, why God gave the gift of God’s very self to us in the Incarnation, when God became human.  We know that God exists as love because that is how God lived on earth.  Jesus’ example of a totally generous and self-giving love, a love that led him to the cross, reveals to us that love is at the heart of who God is.

Why give you this mini lecture in theology?  This understanding of God as a community as generous love is vitally important for understanding what kind of community First Presbyterian Church of Lincoln, IL is called to be, and is equally important for understanding your role as a leader of this community, Adam.  The Trinity, I want to suggest, not only shows what it means to say God is love.  The Trinity also provides an icon that vividly shows us how we are to live in community.  If God in God's essence exists in community, and if we are created in the image and likeness of God, then we too are created to exist in community with one another.  We were not created to live lives of isolation, focused solely on our own well-being to the neglect of the welfare of others.  We were created for one another, to exist relationally just as God exists relationally.  We are, in other words, most fully ourselves, most fully human, when we exist in the kind of community that God is as Trinity.

I don't want to speak here only in terms of abstracts, however.  I want also to paint a picture of what the concrete implications are of God's Trinitarian life for this community of First Presbyterian Church and for you, Adam Quine, its new teaching elder.  A community that imitates God's Trinitarian life is a community characterized by unity in multiplicity, in which people of various life experiences, perspectives, and temperaments love and embrace one another regardless of the differences that may exist.  It is a community in which each person becomes fully known by the others, in which each person - including your new teaching elder - makes her/himself fully open to becoming known, in which each person is willing to be totally vulnerable and open.  It is a community in which each person knows their own and each other's strengths and weaknesses, joys and hardships, character qualities as well as character foibles, and is fully - fully - embraced and accepted and helped and cherished and loved as they are.  It is a community of radical equality in which, regardless of wealth, expertise, abilities, gender, orientation, or race, each person is understood to be absolutely pivotal to the community's life.

You should know that your new teaching elder has been profoundly formed by just this vision of a community that imitates God's Trinitarian life.  One of Adam's favourite books, a book I'm happy to say I introduced him to, is Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow.  This book, it seems to me, is a parable that beautifully expresses what a Trinitarian community could look like.  It is a novel told from the viewpoint of an unmarried barber in a fictional Kentucky town called Port William.  And the account Jayber gives of the community of Port William is one of the most beautiful accounts of the meaning and purpose of community I’ve ever read.  Not everyone in the community was loving or even lovely.  Some, like Cecelia Overhold, actually refuse to accept the generosity and openness of the town.  But the community itself held together because, whether you wanted it or not, you became known.  Jayber describes Port William as a place where your business simply is the business of everyone else, with the result that the community shares in your gains as well as in your losses.  It’s a community in which a crop is harvested for a sick farmer, where cooked food goes where it is needed, where fuel is provided to those who need it, where toys go to kids who wouldn’t have any otherwise.  And it is this community that teaches Jayber to love all in the community with, he writes, "a love that was mine merely because it included me" (165).

This is the kind of community that Adam saw made manifest at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where another one of his favourite writers, Thomas Merton, lived his monastic life.  You need only read Merton's journals, or speak to any of the monks at the monastery, to know that the monastic community at the Abbey does not consist of a homogenous group of men, but consists of men with vastly different temperaments and viewpoints who, despite their differences - some of them profound - choose to live with and embrace one another.  And in the process they model to the rest of us what kind of community we can be.

This is the kind of community Adam witnessed when I took him in one class to The Healing Place, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in the heart of Louisville.  From the outside The Healing Place looks run down and dingy, but the profound beauty of this place is located in the people themselves.  The Healing Place is focused on the idea of recovering in community with the recognition that, for us to be fully human, we absolutely need the support and love of our brothers and sisters.  To be part of the community of The Healing Place, you have to be absolutely honest and vulnerable with others.  You have to be willing to have all your faults laid before the entire community and also willing to accept the faults of others in that community.  You have to be brutally honest and to allow others to be brutally honest with you.  But above all, you have to be willing to accept the utterly generous love of the community for you and to learn to love yourself and others in return with the same generous love.  Merton wrote often about how we wear masks that prevent ourselves and others from coming to full self-knowledge.  The Healing Place is a community where all the masks are stripped away, and yet, where you are fully embraced and loved anyway.

On this day of Adam's ordination and installation, a day on which we remember our baptismal calling - a baptism into the Trinitarian life of God - I charge this congregation of First Presbyterian Church and you Adam, its new teacher elder, to become a truly radical community characterized by the self-giving and generous love of God, a community that exists by the standards of Trinitarian love and not by the standards of the individualism that characterizes so much of human existence and is at the heart of the conflict that so often tears us apart.  Become known in this city of Lincoln as a community of radical love, a community of limitless generosity one to another, and a community that manifests the love of God to all.  Become a community in which each of you loves one another "with a love that is [yours] merely because it includes [you]."  Amen. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

St. Benedict, Thomas Merton, My Wife, & Me - On our 15th Wedding Anniversary

Today is a day filled with meaning for me.  It is, for one thing, the feast day of St Benedict of Nursia.  Why Benedict's feast day is important to me will be explained shortly.  More importantly, July 11 is also my wedding anniversary, and on this day Kim and I celebrate 15 years together as husband and wife.

"The Move in 1997" - Image from Google Maps
When I was 23 I read Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain for the first time.  Kim and I were newlyweds (yes, we married young) who, shortly after our wedding, moved 3500 kilometers from where we had grown up in order that I might pursue my dream of an academic life.  I was to begin a second Bachelor's degree at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, with the hope of going on to graduate school thereafter.  But within a few months of our move to Ontario, I started to question whether the academic life was for me.  I enjoyed the study immensely, but questions started popping into my head about whether this was the life to which I was 'called'.  I had, as it were, something of a crisis of vocation, made worse by the fact that I had just asked my new partner to move away from all she knew and loved in order that I might pursue that which I was now calling into question.

Merton came to my aid.  For whatever reason, I had a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain on my bookshelf, and I decided to read it, though I really didn't know anything about the author.  The book utterly transfixed and transformed me.  Although I look at the book somewhat differently now that I'm older, at the time The Seven Storey Mountain spoke to me about vocation.  At the heart of the book is the story of Merton's struggles to figure out what he was to do with his life.  Rejected by the Franciscans, continually rejected by publishers, and anxious that he was not called to the life he wanted - the life of a contemplative priest - Merton suffered through a crisis of vocation, and at the age of 23 I saw myself in him.  When Merton recounts finally walking through the gates of the Abbey of Gethsemani to stay, I breathed a sigh of relief and joy.  For although our crises of vocation differed tremendously - I was not (at the time) Catholic and was not, as a newly married man, going to become a monk - I was relieved to know that someone's vocational crisis was resolved, that such crises can get resolved.  In short, the book increased my faith.

Bread from Genesee (Image from Twitter)
I began reading Merton voraciously, particularly his autobiographical writings, and through him became fascinated with Benedictine monasticism and St. Benedict.  Kim and I began making retreats at the Abbey of the Genesee (I can't recommend their bread enough - amazing!) where I read Nouwen, Merton, and learned about Benedict's Rule from the monks.

So, you ask, what does all this have to do with your 15th wedding anniversary?  It has everything to do with my anniversary, for it is the background information needed to understand just how incredible Kim is, and just how much she has taught me about what it could mean to love with the kind of self-giving love that God as Trinity images for us.

Merton opened up a vista for me, as I began to explore monasticism, writers from the patristic period, and the spiritual classics.  And he kindled in me the first inklings of an attraction to the Roman Catholic church.

Kim and I were very happy Anglicans, both deeply involved in our parish.  I was a lay reader in the Anglican church, and so helped out liturgically and was given the opportunity to preach the homilies on occasion.  Our priest was great, we loved our fellow parishioners, and Anglican liturgy is beautiful.  But as the years progressed I became discontented.  My graduate studies led me to a focus on the Fathers - I wrote my M.A. thesis on Augustine of Hippo and my Ph.D. dissertation on Cyril of Alexandria - and during my studies, influenced as I had already been by Merton et. al., I gradually came to the realization that I was actually Roman Catholic theologically, ecclesiologically, and spiritually.

This was not an easy time for Kim and I.  She did not feel the same attraction to Rome as I did for reasons that I fully understood (and understand).  While I knew I would feel more theologically 'myself' in the Roman church, any transition to the Catholic church on my part would introduce a substantial rift in our familial structure, a rift particularly difficult to navigate given that we now had one child.  Moreover, although I did not want any transition I made to Rome to be seen as a criticism of the Anglican church, a church I understand to have immense beauty and a profound theological tradition and depth, I knew that it was difficult for Kim to hear me talk about my attraction to the Roman Catholic church.

But Kim demonstrated complete understanding and love during this time, and she willingly provided the means to allow me to become more fully myself, as she had always done and as she continues to do.  I therefore was received into the Roman Catholic church on Pentecost 2007, and while it was immensely difficult for Kim to witness me make a step that would place us in separate communions, she was entirely supportive and giving.  On that day, I took the name "Benedict" as my confirmation name, not only because of the influence of Benedictine monasticism on me, not simply because I was a fan of Pope Benedict XVI who was pope at the time, but because Kim and I were married on St. Benedict of Nursia's feast day.

In his rule, Benedict writes a great deal about the centrality of humility and love, and emphasizes that the entire purpose of the rule is to grow in love:
But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love (Prologue.49)
While it may seem strange to compare my marriage to monasticism, I have learned in my marriage to Kim what it could mean to grow in the inexpressible delight of love.  I am not, suffice it to say, an easy person with whom to live.  I don't here speak out of a false humility.  "I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me" (Ps 51:3).  I have many faults, not the least of which is my tendency toward a pride-filled selfishness.  Yet over the past 15 years, Kim has consistently - consistently - demonstrated the kind of generous love towards me, and towards others, that is at the very heart of our image of God as demonstrated through the Incarnation.

"The Move to Louisville (2008)" - Image from Google Maps
In addition to her countless daily displays of generous love, Kim agreed to our move to Louisville, Kentucky from our beloved Waterloo, Ontario (my Canadian friends perhaps understand how difficult such a decision to move to the USA can be for Canadians) in order that I might pursue an academic career at Bellarmine University, coincidentally enough, the home of the Merton Center and only a 50 minute drive from the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Please believe me when I say that I don't intend here to gush.  On this, our 15th wedding anniversary, I want to emphasize just how much Kim continues to teach me to become what Rowan Williams describes as a more fully human being, a person who lives into what it means to bear God's image and likeness and so exist and manifest the kind of generous love that God is in God's essence.  For Kim models what this could actually look like in reality.

And I thank God that she married me.