I am living in a hotel room this week.
The wallpaper in my hotel room is textured, and patterned to look sort of like bamboo or rattan or something. It was hung circa 1989, along with the colorful parrot portraits that preside over the two full sized beds in the room. Said beds are festooned with perhaps the most garish bedspread I have ever seen in my life.
Check that. I’ve seen worse. I’m pretty sure Elvis had bedspreads more garish in the Jungle Room at Graceland. I saw a photo once.
The television in the room was state of the art—never. It’s one step lower than the sort of set that I had when I was a kid that had a dial on it to change the channel to one of the three channels (if you didn’t count the UHF channels) that were on television.
And I am listening to Taylor Swift.
How did I get here? When did I begin to settle for this sort of thing? I am terrified of what this room would look like if I pulled out a portable black light and shown it all around. Perhaps someone was killed in here. Or worse.
And how the heck did Taylor Swift get the lead singer for Snow Patrol to sing on her new album?
Why am I asking you any of these questions?
The truth of the matter is that I am spending yet another week away from home in the picturesque environs of St. Petersburg Beach, Fla., in pursuit of a doctoral degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary which happens to have a relationship with Eckerd College (where we are meeting for our seminars), a college that happens to be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), which happens to be the denomination within which I am ordained as a Teaching Elder (which is what we are supposed to call ourselves these days, I gather).
And, since we are being completely honest, I don’t really believe any of these things just “happened,” which is a result of the fact that I am slightly Calvinist and definitely Reformed in my theological underpinnings and I believe that all of these things sort of work because God has this plan not just for me but for everything and sometimes we are fortunate enough to see just a little tiny bit of how intricate and freaking awesome God’s plan making abilities.
I enjoy writing long sentences sometimes.
This path toward learned-ness has not been without its challenges.
First, I am paying for almost all of it myself. It’s a long story, and a sad one. I’ll tell it to you some other time.
Second, I have to spend what amounts to nearly a month away from my family every year for what amounts to three years of seminars.
Third, I still have my day job which I have to keep doing long distance, only I am doing it between the hours of 6:00-8:00 a.m. and 4:00-9:00 p.m. every day.
Fourth, I have to write papers, which are actually graded. Meh.
Finally, I have to write a dissertation of sorts that will be like more than 100 pages long and will be read and dissected by some Ph.D. types. Double Meh.
This week, while I have been spending seven hours a day in class learning how to properly interpret the Old Testament my family and my church are doing life without me there.
My wife has been managing the family schedule while I am gone, adding to the millions of things that she already does during the day, including running two businesses, handling three boys of various ages, doing pastor’s wife stuff, and so much more.
My church is having a busy week with the launch of a ministry to moms who work out of the home, bringing on a new staff member to lead our ministries to youth and young adults, plus all of the many things that just happen at church each and every week. And mine is busier than most, I can tell you.
I have two funerals on Saturday and am in the middle of working on the sermons for both. On Sunday we are launching our seasonal worship service to bring our total of services up to three. And I’m preaching at all three. Oh, and I am also working on a sermon, too.
And all of this with the knowledge that I am turning around and coming back next week, with an assignment due that I have to get finished by then.
So, like I said before… how did I get here?
I have wondered this myself more than once. It all just sort of happened. But then again, you already know that I don’t really believe that. At this particular moment I have to say that it’s hard to think positively about what I am doing. It’s been a long, hard slog through this process, and this part of it has been the most challenging.
Especially when I see how my wife (most of all), my children, and so many other people have had to take up the slack while I am pursuing this degree.
Then there’s this…
When I was six years old I remember sitting in a hard wooden pew in the tiny sanctuary of the Fairfield Road Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C. The pastor at the time was a man by the name of William Swink, who we called “Preacher Swink.” Baptists in Greenville, S.C., in the 1970s didn’t call their pastor, “Pastor,” or “Minister,” or “Reverend,” they called them “Preacher” because that’s what they did.
One sweltering summer Sunday, I sat upright in the pew with a pen and a paper listening intently to Preacher Swink’s sermon. I don’t exactly know why this was so, to be honest because most of the time I didn’t pay that much attention to the fire and brimstone presentations he delivered for upwards of 45 minutes. But on this particular day I did. And I took notes–detailed notes. So detailed, in fact, that my parents actually showed the notes to him afterward and he exclaimed that I had basically captured his entire outline.
I know what you’re thinking. “Must have been some awful sermon for a six-year-old to outline it!” Before you go down that road, my friend, I challenge you to try to follow the sermon of a really fiery smal ltown Baptist preacher who constantly goes off on tangents about women wearing pants, the evils of television, and the perils of rock and or roll while he’s preaching.
So he stood there after the sermon with my notes in his hands, and he looked at me sort of quizzically and kindly all at once. Then he stuck out his big sweaty paw and enveloped my hand in a solemn handshake.
“Dr. Leon,” he said to me. “you’re going to do something special one of these days.”
That was 38years ago.
And I am about to make that prediction come true–one that has been in the way-back part of my heart for most of my life.
So… how did I get here? I need not think about it too hard.
I only need to think of all of the amazing people who have shown they believe in me the same way that Preacher Swink did when he gravely shook my hand and spoke some prophecy into my life.
I only need to think about the wonderful woman that God has given to me as a partner in all of this crazbeautifullifestuff. I only need to think about my loving, supportive parents who have always been behind me.
I only need to remember how the actual President of Pittsburgh Theological seminary sat in my office a year before I applied (he was visiting friends in the area at the time) and spoke some truth into my life about how I needed to apply to the D.Min. program at only the best seminary to prepare pastors to be pastors.
That’s how I got here.
I just wish the wallpaper was better.
But then again, maybe it’s perfect.
By: The Rev. Leon Bloder, D.Min. Student
Leon Bloder is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He married his high school sweetheart, is a proud father to three boys, and is currently serving as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Eustis, Fla. Find out more about Leon at http://www.leonbloder.org./Leon_Main/Welcome.html.