I created deepintheburbs.com to chronicle the research and writing of a PhD dissertation. The dissertation is PhinisheD and the degree earned…and there was much rejoicing!
Now it is time to say goodbye to this site. It will remain online indefinitely as an artifact of the project. I knew this day would come, so about a year ago I transferred the site to my personal website, stevethomason.net, and began multicasting to both sites. In other words, everything on the deepintheburbs site is on my site.
This post is my final multicast. If you happen to follow deepintheburbs and are interested to see where I go next with my research, I invite you to follow my site.
I defended the dissertation last Friday. That was an interesting experience. It was, for the most part, a very life-giving and affirming event. There were a couple moments when I felt like I was getting punched in the gut, but, I guess that’s part of the process. (think Klingon pain stick ritual)
The three members of my panel each played different roles—a sort of Trinitarian thing. They were all very affirming to begin their statements, but then each played a different nuance of the grill-the-Candidate game. I might write about their different approaches in another post.
This post is about my encounter with Dr. Keifert. He was ill, so he had to Skype in to the event. There he was, a disembodied head, appearing on three screens, two of which made his head about eight feet tall. It was much like encountering the Great and Powerful Oz. His role seemed to be the find-the-weak-spots-and-kick-them person of the Defense Trinity.
He found two glaring errors in my dissertation. Both errors expose my neophyte status in the Lutheran Tribe. The first was in my use of prepositions regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the eucharist. The correct answer is “Jesus is in, with, and under” the elements. I put some ridiculously redundant words like over, around, above. Duh. I knew this. This blunder was the result of the pass-the-paragraph-along error in dissertation writing. I wrote a paragraph about the possible hindrances of the ELCA regarding a missional imagination in a paper that I wrote in the first semester of the PhD program, back in 2011. Remember, I was in the process of transferring my ordination into the ELCA at that time, and had not even known about the ELCA as of 2009. (Can you say “greenhorn?”) I remember, when first writing that paragraph, saying to myself, “I know that’s not right, but I’ll come back to fix it later.” Then, the paragraph got copied and pasted from one iteration of my research to the next, without ever fixing it, and was eventually pasted into the final draft. The I’ll-fix-it-later paragraph became so familiar that I was blind to it. I read the dissertation again on the night before my defense and the error jumped out at me like a little gremlin, mocking me mercilessly. Keifert caught it. Busted.
The second glaring error was one that completely caught me by surprise during the defense. Please realize that I have been profoundly impacted by Dr. Keifert’s theology and it is evidenced throughout my paper. However, I don’t think I really understand most of what he is truly saying. My error is exhibit A in this regard. What was my error, you ask? Sprinkled throughout my paper was the bold proclamation that the missional imagination was inviting people to lean into the “promised and preferred” future of God. I tossed this phrase around repeatedly throughout the dissertation. Then, in the defense, he looked at me, from three different screens, and said, “I assume that you did this intentionally. Because, you mention the Law and the Gospel, the left hand and right hand of God, but you say the promised and preferred future. The correct order of this phrase of the preferred and promised future.”
I stared back at the two giant heads on the screens, dumbfounded. I honestly had no idea that preferred and promised was code for Law and Gospel. In that moment I had to make a decision. Do I come up with an excuse? Do I try to save face?
“Well, I think what you’ve discovered,” I replied, “is that I’m a terrible Lutheran Pastor.”
Laugher erupted in the room (15 people attended).
“I am new to the Lutheran tradition,” I continued, a little red in the face, “and I had no idea that the order of these words had significance.”
“Well,” he said, “I’m actually relieved to hear that. I thought I was dealing with a Barthian.”
He moved on to critique other parts of my dissertation. I hope to meet with him to understand his critiques more fully.
The irony is that I always copied it correctly in my class notes, but, for some dark theological reason, transposed it in my memory. See the class notes to the right.
These blunders did not disqualify me from passing, and for that I am grateful. However, I needed to fix them. It is easy to do a find-and-replace fix in a Word document. I did that. The dissertation is better now. However, I realized that I had the dreaded “Promised and Preferred” peppered throughout the deepintheburbs.com website.
What to do?
I dreaded the idea of searching through every blog post and page to fix the error. I have been working with WordPress long enough now, that my default thought is, “if I have a question of whether I can do something in WordPress, someone has probably made a plugin for it.” I did a Google search for “find and replace in WordPress,” and BAM! First hit. I found this plugin, downloaded it, and in one click replaced every occurrence of “promised and preferred” with “preferred and promised.”
This event marks the end of a 21 year journey. My Dad and I visited the Bethel Seminary campus and met with Dr. Clark to discuss entry into the In-Ministry program in the summer of 1994. We lived in Vegas and were visiting my parents to show off our tiny little Micki, only a month old. I had a wide-eyed dream to be able to teach college and help people grow in the love and grace of God.
Since that day I have journeyed side by side with many wonderful people. It started while I worked for Fasen Arts. Steve Fasen graciously allowed me–for two years–to share my attention with his business, the church, and school. I walked 8 years with Central Christian Church while completing my M.Div. at Bethel Seminary, ((two of those years still in Fasen Arts, in case you’re doing the math)) 5 years with Hart Haus while teaching at Bethany University ((neither of these entities exist any more)) in Las Vegas, 3 years floundering with Spot Studios while we transitioned to Minnesota, and 5 years journeying with Grace Lutheran Church while completing my PhD in Missional Leadership at Luther Seminary.
Thank you to my wife, Lona, for sticking with me and encouraging me every step of the way. Thank you to my children–Jamin, Micki, Ethan, and Leah–for not getting too annoyed when I went on theological rants. Thank you to my parents for supporting us SO MUCH in so many ways. Thank you to the members of these three congregations for loving, supporting, encouraging, and making this process financially possible. And thank you to Dr. Craig Van Gelder for advising me through the PhD course work, and to Dr. Mary Hess for being a wonderful thesis advisor who empowered me get to this moment.
And now, as my first official post as The Reverend Doctor Steven Paul Thomason M.Div. Ph.D., I launch this chapter of my life with the same life verse that has been my prayer for you as we continue to journey together.
“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight; to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
My thesis advisor returned the third revision of my dissertation to me last Saturday. She said I had two options. (1) If I am really tired of working on this paper, then I should turn it in. In her opinion it is defensible and should pass. (That’s good news) (2) If I want it to be “publishable” then I should rethink my final chapter and try to make it “sparkle.”
I asked her what “publishable” meant. After all, who really wants to read a dissertation, right? She said that, essentially, it means, “We can’t think of any way to make it better.”
Since my window of opportunity to graduate this May has already closed, I decided to take a little more time to work on it. A new thought came to me on my walk this week and I spent all day writing it yesterday (19 pages). I sent her the rough, rough draft of it and am curious to know if it makes any sense.