From Winston-Salem North Carolina, to Princeton, New Jersey, to New York City, I’ve been on the road, and today I’m sharing a short travelogue introduction. I want to tell you some stories about my work of teaching, research, friendship and mentoring.
It’s been a while since I shared an introduction. And this trip, which I’m still making, seems like a perfect opportunity to tell you about my work. To get there, we’ll take planes, trains, and automobiles. And I’ve calculated and purchased an offset for this trip to help reforest the planet and reduce the carbon impact of my travels.
Last Wednesday morning, I hosted the Writing Table as I do most mornings. It is a time that I do my own writing. And it is also a time when I hold space for other writers, and I support them in building solid writing habits. We all share encouragement and accountability with each other. It does not matter whether someone needs to write a sermon, a book, an article, an accreditation report, a blog, or a poem. They find the magic they need to help it happen at the Writing Table.
From there I left for the airport, hoping I had packed most everything I needed. I left behind a slightly discombobulated family. If you are someone who travels for work, then maybe you know how families don’t always love it when you go? But saying so can be hard. Thus, they do other things (mostly unintentionally) to show you how they feel. If you know, you know. It was one of those mornings.
And it was also one of those afternoons. My headphones for my computer were the thing that somehow did not make it into my bag. So I resorted to using my phone for Zoom meetings. A weekly check in for 3MMM tech with Adam DJ Brett. And a field meeting with my faculty colleagues. We made it through.
Then my flight was delayed three times. And I could see I was going to miss my connection. I usually build in some margin. This time, I was fortunate that I could catch a later flight from Charlotte to Greensboro. Arriving after midnight was not amazing, but I made it. And my next morning did not begin officially until 10AM.
A meeting without responsibilities meant I could simply show up. I was happy to meet Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez in person. And hear her challenges about history, culture, and the contest for meaning-making.
And I got to hang out with other really cool, really smart, really wise women. Then I returned to my hotel to teach my online class for Union Theological Seminary where I am in my fourth year as a visiting associate professor of pastoral theology and care. Trauma Informed Pastoral and Spiritual Care is such an important class for future chaplains, ministers, rabbis, imams, and religious leaders.
After class, I walked around downtown Winston-Salem, and I ate dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. The weather was perfect springtime, and sunset did not disappoint. I put the final touches on my workshop for the next day and sent a print order to the local FedEx.
Packing up and getting out of the hotel and feeling ready for my workshop went a little slower than I might have liked. But the FedEx was right next to Trader Joe’s and I got a banana for just $0.19. Bargain breakfast! I needed to park a block from the church, but all in all, I felt glad to arrive in time to spend my energy on some lovely conversations with more CBF of North Carolina Baptists.
I met people face-to-face that I’ve only known virtually. And I also caught up with people I’ve known for 30 years. Friends told me about their research projects. And I learned from more than one pastor and seminary student about how they’ve been following the work of 3MMM, and how they appreciate the #PandemicPastoring Report. Gracious, it was encouraging and invigorating.
I didn’t catch up with everyone I hoped to see. But isn’t that life? We certainly cannot ever really do it all.
A room full of people – seminarians, lay leaders and ministers – came to learn how they might collaborate more fully. I introduced material from the new #PandemicPastoring Study Guide, written by Erin Robinson Hall. We did a fishbowl conversation to share stories. And we talked about how each church has an organizational life cycle that needs renewal every few years. Finally, we talked about the ways we sometimes need to give ourselves permission to do small caring things like cry, read a book, go outside, take a nap, dream, or thrive. Those are the things that give us renewed energy for the big things.
For the workshop, I had terrific assistance from a Wake Forest Seminary student and Intern at First on Fifth Baptist Church, Zack Jackson. He was helpful in every way, and he introduced me to more seminary students. Love that!
Somehow deep in my bones I am a networker. So that makes it unsurprising that before I got out the door, I made a few more connections. When I reached the airport, there was one more good conversation. That’s one thing about Baptist meetings: you never know who you’ll see at the airport.
The flight to Philadelphia was on time. Connecting with the Uber driver took 20 minutes longer than it should have. But Norma was lovely, and she told me stories as we traveled. She lost her job in the pandemic, and is currently trying to return to the workforce while caring for an elderly parent. She delivered me to the Princeton Seminary campus in under an hour. I said a quick hello to a few folks at the Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference. Then I called it a night.
Saturday was a day full of misty grey skies and bursts of rain. It was also a day of presentations and conversations over food. I enjoyed talking with doctoral students about their projects. This is especially energizing since I am unlikely to oversee doctoral students (something that requires tenure).
Nevertheless, some of them do find their way to me, and it is a joy to support them. I’m currently coaching several doctoral students working on their dissertations, and new scholars writing their first books. It was delightful to see a few of them at the E&E conference.
One of the other joys of the E& network is the tradition of live music played by conference attendees. It was lovely as always!
Facetime with my daughter reminds me just how much I love and miss her. Sigh. And a quick check on social media gave me the grand news that our 3MMM team member Elizabeth-Anne Lovell welcomed her baby safely into the world. Love.
By Sunday evening as I write this, I’ve had a day of hit-and-miss connections and some disappointments. I turned off my alarm and slept another 40 minutes this morning. So I missed the first connection of my day at an early breakfast. Yet other relational connections through the final morning of the E&E conference seemed so good and easy and life-giving.
I loved watching people turn to their field notebooks in the final debriefing session. I talked with more students, and new faculty, and a friend of many years who is not a scholar. Surprisingly she got some really significant insights from the weekend. It was rich. I was not feeling smug over all this goodness, but settled and at ease. I had been able to show up, learn from the projects, and enjoyed excellent conversations throughout the weekend.
Then I made what I hoped would be a good mental and emotional choice not to rush to the train, but to take another Uber. It seemed better than dragging my suitcase with the broken piece for several blocks and only cost a few dollars more than the Dinky Train.
However. The Uber driver was full, I tell you, full, of opinions. His nick name for his wife is “Evil.” His daughter informed him, upon earning her PhD, that he must address her as Doctor for the foreseeable future. Hum… Fortunately the ride was short, and I mostly refrained from adding any opinions of my own.
The train ride to New York was not terribly short, but it was terribly crowded, yet efficient. And I did stop myself from exiting at Penn Station in New Jersey. Whew. Why are their two Penn Stations on just one train ride?
Not all the News is Grand
In the afternoon I learned that my mama’s fall resulted in three broken ribs. And another important person in our life lost her father. And I disappointed and hurt a friend who called to tell me about it. I needed to apologize. And other things fell apart. When I tried to get some dinner, someone else took my order. And the blisters on my feet hurt. And the video I shot in the quad was glitchy.
Such is the way of travel. And life. And we patch it all back together the best we can. Ask for forgiveness. Put bandaids on the blisters. Edit the video. Get some sleep and try again tomorrow.
Not all the news is grand. And not all the travel is glamorous. Far from it. But it’s real. It’s privileged in so many ways. And to be honest there are plenty of moments that make me pause and wonder, is this combination of callings the thing I ought to be doing? Does it any of it really matter? Would anyone notice or care if I stopped doing this work?
Such questions are necessary. They keep humility and learning at the heart of the work. And I hope that my sense of feeling engaged in the struggle and purposes of this vocation will keep luring me to go deeper. So many friendships and my family form a net of love and support and laughter and connection. At each stop on these few days of travel, I encountered holy presence in the people and places. I am deeply grateful for this work.