On Tuesday of this week, I typed the final sentence of the dissertation I have been working on for the past two years. As soon as the last stroke of my MacBook Pro’s keyboard, I had this very surprising sensation come over me. On one hand, I couldn’t believe that I was finally done with this project. I have spent hundreds of hours reading books and academic journals and hundreds of hours thinking about and discussing my topic with others and hundreds of hours writing. That’s probably not all that impressive considering there are approximately 17,531 hours over the course of two years, but you have to remember that this has been in addition to my life as a husband, father, and pastor. Not to mention I’m fairly involved in the denomination our church is a part of. Truth be told, my family has sacrificed many hours as I have had to go into my office and spend the afternoon or evening reading a piece of literature that just might make it into a footnote… or, as is often the case, doesn’t make it. The relief of having a writing project like this done feels, well, fantastic!
Yet on the other hand, I was literally on the verge of weeping.
So for the past two days I have been thinking about why I have such strong emotions related to finishing this writing project. The word that has come to mind is pathos. Pathos is the only word that comes close to describing the type of emotional state I was in upon completion. Having talked to other people involved in academics and major writing projects, I’ve come to a number of conclusions as to why there were some powerful emotions that came over me…
First, as I’ve already stated, my heart and soul have been involved in this project for two years. This dissertation, focused on moving toward a Vineyard sacramental approach to theology, has been my sixth child. Well, technically it is my fifth child because I had already started the program when our youngest, Soren, was born. But since I didn’t complete the dissertation until after Soren was born, it shall remain my sixth child (plus, I love Soren way more than a piece of academic writing!).
But the amount of time that I’ve spent thinking about this subject means that it is pretty personal. I’ve put, for lack of better words, my heart and my soul into this! And I’ve been significantly shaped by the interaction I’ve had with a number of my professors, especially Drs. Allan Anderson and Mark Cartledge. Both have challenged me to become a better pastor, a better theologian, and a better student. I’m indebted to them for that and because those areas of my life are so personal, my gratitude for them is also deeply personal.
Second, there is a great deal of interest in my subject and it relates to the denomination/movement that I am a part of, the Vineyard. I long to see the Vineyard become a robustly theological movement. I believe sacramental theology will serve her as a helpful resource. I have been working on doing scholarship to that end… and there is the possibility that my dissertation will have very little influence toward that end. I know that’s not being very positive, but let’s face it… I can be a pessimist sometimes! 🙂
Third, this is a vulnerable place to be at because I now have to await a grade! And after a grade, I’m sure I’ll have friends, peers, and others read it. What if this dissertation is a tragedy? What if my scholarship is weak? What if my arguments are grounded in seriously weak methodology? What if the foundation of my argument is off and therefore everything that follows is a waste of someone’s time? These might be discouraging questions to ask but I honestly have these questions in the back of my head. Who am I, a pastor, to write theology?!?!?! I know that question is wrong and I deeply believe that pastors should be theologians and I am certainly an aspiring theologian… but… what if my theology is bad?!?! Okay… enough already. We’ll have to see what happens when I get my marks back.
Anyway, these are some of the reasons why I’ve been a bit emotional. Tears of joy, tears of fear, and tears of wonder. Well, okay, I haven’t actually cried (yet) but I have these feelings… on the inside… of my heart…
So now I’m onto the next phase of being a would-be theologian: writing projects. Being done with the dissertation means I can now start to work on the three book projects I’ve had on hold, not to mention I’m back to blogging… so I guess there will be more tears in the future!
Keep calm and let’s party. The dissertation is done!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.