What's Tony Thinking

The Season of Passages


I think of May and June as the season of many passages: graduations, end of school year programs, retirements, weddings.

There’s a biblical text for these movements from one place or state to another. Psalm 121: 8, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” There’s a preciousness and a vulnerability in these moments between.

We “go out” from one place or state and “come in” to another. Such passages are important but fraught. Perhaps that is why we ritualize them so extravagantly. They threaten to overwhelm us.

I’m still in the after-glow of one, Laura’s ordination on May 5. I had the clear sense that there was more going on here, than I understood or even knew. Such is the fulness of these moments.

I took part in another passage today, one somewhat peculiar to the academic world. It was an event to honor a friend, Rob Wall, on the publication of a festschrift. That’s German, meaning “a celebration in writing.” The idea is to write scholarly essays in celebration of the work of a colleague at the climax of his career. Yeah, I know, a book of scholarly essays is not everyone’s idea of a festive time.

This festshrift is titled, The Usefulness of Scripture: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Wall. “Rob” has taught for 40 years at Seattle Pacific University. He is a prolific scholar, one who has influenced the field and direction of biblical scholarship. He and I have co-authored two books.

It was a touching event, a tribute of friends to a friend, a tribute of scholars to one of their own. I was glad to be there, as I was to be included as a contributor to the volume.

Rob and I have been friends for a long time. Like so many things, this friendship was sort of an accident, a good one. Back in the days when I was at Tolt Congregational Church in Carnation, Washington, someone gave me Rob’s name as a potential speaker for a church retreat. He came. We hit it off. He even followed me, at that church, as an interim minister when I accepted a call to Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu.

The wonderful thing about our friendship and collaboration is that we are of different ecclesiastical tribes. SPU is an evangelical school. I am part of what is arguably the most liberal of Christian denominations. We’ve reached across those lines to connect for a long time, writing and teaching together, and sharing a frequent pint. It was good to see Rob honored by those he loves and who love him, including me.

A third passage is upcoming on my calendar this June in Salem, Oregon. My college roommate at Willamette University, Mike Bennett, is retiring after a 40 year career there as a member of the university administration.

Initially, I sent my regrets in response to the invitation to the event. I had another commitment that day. But then I thought, “These things are important — go.” So I am. And yes, I admit, these things do seem more important as I grow older.

When Mike and I were room-mates we would occasionally do what we called “going inverted.” When Sunday evening came, we had a ton of studying to do (having done zero all weekend). But we were also bushed by the rigors of our weekend social and athletic exertions. “Let’s go inverted.” That meant, hitting the rack immediately, like 7:o0 or 8:00, with the idea that we would get up at 3:00 on Monday morning to study. Well, that worked a time or two.

Back in the day, Mike and I would say things like, “Let’s make a plan to meet each other in New York, a certain intersection, fifty years from today.” At that time “50 years years from today” might have been a million years from today. That’s how it is when you are twenty. But now it’s here, fifty years from those days.

Such schemes and dreams never came to pass. But I’ll be there on June 10, to mark the moment of Mike’s passage. Forty years of serving a school he has loved and which loves him.

I expect, dear reader, that there are also some such passages, some “going out” and “coming in” in your life, and the lives of those you love, these days. Be there. And remember, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”


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