Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anything But Dissertation?

Enough time has elapsed since I've talked about my dissertation that some of you have probably begun to wonder . . . has she quit? or is she stuck in the quicksand that threatens every doctoral student who is "ABD"? 

ABD technically indicates that a student has completed "All But Dissertation." Perhaps "Anything But Dissertation" is more accurate for most of us. It's a strange season in academic life that requires a tremendous amount of self-motivation. Many enter it . . . and far fewer emerge with a degree in hand. It's so easy to let all sorts of other things crowd out productivity in research and writing (um, like this blog post, which is interrupting dissertation work. sigh.).

I've done all sorts of things since moving to Oregon that might be interpreted as an avoidance strategy. I bought a grain mill, studied and experimented with breads and grains, started making my own yogurt and chicken broth, and signed up for a class at the local community college entitled "Backyard Chickens" (really!). I've planted trees and painted trim, hemmed curtains and played with my children. We've camped and hiked and driven to the beach. None of these activities appear on the list of what one must do if one is to succeed in academia. But academics are real people, too (at least some of us try to be!). This has been an important season of slowing down, settling into our new home, and developing healthier eating habits.

Meanwhile, I have continued to work on my dissertation. It started off slowly over the summer, but since the kids started school this fall I've been carefully reading a 300-page German monograph on my topic, diagramming a dozen chapters of Exodus in Hebrew, and reading up on cognitive metaphor theory. I sit at my desk (or at Multnomah's library) working at least 6 hours every day. Since you can't see me sitting here, I thought I'd reassure you ... I haven't quit. It's just a long process. And I trust the end product will be worth the wait (and all the hard work).

Tomorrow I'm heading to San Diego to reconnect with colleagues and meet with my advisers. As usual, the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society, the Institute of Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature are being held back-to-back in the same city. Thousands of professors and students of the Bible from across the country and around the world meet under one roof every November to reconnect and learn from each other. Academically speaking, these conferences are always the highlight of my year. This conference will be especially significant since I have been working remotely. My days will be packed with one-on-one meetings, attending sessions, networking, and browsing book tables. When I arrive home next week my brain will be so full it hurts. It happens every year. But I can't think of a better way to invigorate my research and writing than to spend 6 days with a community devoted to the study and teaching of God's Word.

When the shelves of my fridge are filled with leftover turkey and stuffing, you'll find me back at my desk cranking away on the biggest project I've ever attempted. With God's help, one day those three letters - ABD - will become PhD.




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

and the winners are . . .

After many happy hours perusing possible textbooks for my spring course on the Gospels/Acts at Multnomah, I have selected my favorites.

Because I have had little training in New Testament Greco-Roman backgrounds, I found The New Testament in Antiquity to be especially helpful. A trio of esteemed Wheaton professors - Gary Burge, Lynn Cohick, and Gene Green - pooled their expertise to produce a beautiful volume filled with crisp photographs, clear maps, helpful diagrams, and the latest in New Testament research, written for the non-specialist. Although the other volumes I considered would have worked, this seemed to be a book students could continue to use for years to come as they study the rest of the New Testament. It includes the right amount of information, written at the right level for college students.

It's a special bonus to know each of the authors and to have grown personally from interactions with each of them, but what was even more important to me was the testimony of a recent MA graduate from Wheaton who said this was her favorite book from grad school. The New Testament in Antiquity is the next best thing to taking students on a tour of the holy land. Having just been there myself in May, it was easy to tell that the photos in this book (as compared to others I saw) were the most up-to-date.

One of the strategic priorities of Multnomah's new president, Dr. Craig Williford, is to cultivate a diverse learning community. This not only includes variety in the types of students who populate our classes, but also variety in the authors and perspectives to which students are exposed during their studies. For this reason, I'm delighted to introduce students to Kenneth Bailey's Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels.

Bailey lived and taught in the middle east for 40 years, and his book helps readers take off their western lenses so they can read the text from a cultural perspective much closer to the ancient New Testament world. More than anything else, Bailey helps us consider new ways of reading and understanding the Bible. His book is endorsed by an impressive cadre of New Testament scholars, including Lynn Cohick and Gary Burge (above), Craig Keener, and Craig Evans.

Finally, students will need a good atlas as they follow Jesus' steps through the Gospels and the travels of the early apostles in the book of Acts. I considered a number of atlases, but in the end my favorite happened to be the most compact and affordable as well (that should make students happy!). It's paperback and slightly smaller than our main textbook. My biggest priorities were crisp photos, pleasing graphics, and maps that would give students a sense of the physical topography of the land of Israel. Now that I've been there, I feel that this aspect is so important. Carl Rasmussen's Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible provides all of these and more.

Here's my personal favorite, shared with permission from Zondervan:
Just a few months ago I sat on the edge of the ridge just south of Nazareth, looking out over the Jezreel Valley at Mt. Tabor and the Hill of Moreh. Now I can see that just over the ridge beyond Mt. Tabor is the Sea of Galilee. That would have been quite a hike!

I'm grateful to Zondervan and IVP for free exam copies of these books and others as well, and to Zondervan for providing free access to digital photos and maps for use in teaching. While I was not required to write a review of these books, I felt compelled to share these great resources with you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dear Professor Imes

A few days ago I shared the happy news that I have been asked to teach a course on the Gospels and Acts at Multnomah University in the Spring. {insert happy dance} One way to tell that you're doing what you were born to do is that you completely lose track of time while doing it. Last night I stayed up far past my normal bedtime, devouring the stack of books that arrived yesterday from Zondervan. Publishers are eager to share their latest publications with professors, in hopes that they will require students to buy and read their books. (I've already received several emails addressed to "Dear Professor Imes" -- music to my ears!) Here are the latest additions to my library, complements of Zondervan, InterVarsity, and Bible Places:

Since I've focused almost entirely on the Old Testament for the past 3 years at Wheaton, my New Testament library is a bit thin. This will go a long way toward equipping me to equip students with the tools they need to understand the Gospels and Acts.

I can hardly wait to get started teaching. But first I need to craft a syllabus, which entails choosing which books will be most helpful to my students. That means I must spend many happy hours reading. {insert long, satisfied sigh}

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

spiritual disciplines for busy moms

Have you struggled with having consistent time with God? Most people do, and it's especially tricky for parents with kids at home. My dear friend, Heather, is publishing a series of guest posts on her blog about spiritual disciplines for moms. I thought this was a fabulous idea -- we all have so much we can learn from each other! Heather invited me to write the first post for the series. Here's how it begins -
It’s 6:56 a.m.  There’s a scramble as lunch bags are filled, zipped shut, and piled by the front door with coats and backpacks. Chairs slide across the dining room floor and I hear my husband’s footsteps on the stairs. In a moment we are all gathered around the breakfast table, getting settled and filling our plates.
 “May I start the chapter now?” Our 13-year-old checks to see if we’re all ready. We are, so she goes to the computer and clicks the play button. We eat silently, listening as the current chapter of Proverbs is read.

When it’s over, my husband asks, “Did anybody notice anything in particular this morning? Any questions or comments?” For a few minutes we comment on the text we’ve heard. Often the kids ask what a certain word means. Sometimes there’s a prayer request.

Then I announce, “Okay, we’re having five minutes of quiet now. I’ll call you back when it’s over.” This is a family favorite. The kids are free to sit at the table and keep eating or move to an adjoining room to spend five minutes praying, reflecting, journaling, drawing, or reading the Bible. Five minutes isn’t much, but we hope it’s habit-forming. These are precious moments to collect our thoughts, to tune our hearts to His, and to take a deep breath before the day begins. 

To keep reading, visit Unending Mercies. Thanks for reading. And thanks, Heather, for taking the initiative to help us all think through this important issue.

Austin, Heather, and David visited us
in our new home this summer!

Friday, October 17, 2014

full to bursting

Has your heart ever been so full you think it might burst?

I remember the moment as if it was last month. I think it was the fall of 1999. The trees were golden yellow. The air was sharp and crisp. The sun's angle cast a glow on the fluttering leaves, the well-trimmed hedges throwing long shadows. I walked down the campus path, drawing a deep breath of autumn. It was the same path I had walked dozens of times, past aging buildings toward home, but that day everything swelled with rightness. 

I had just finished teaching a "lab" section of Advanced Bible Study Methods to upperclassmen at Multnomah Bible College. My heart swelled with gratitude for the opportunity to guide students on their quest to understand the Scriptures. I was doing what I was born to do. As I walked home under the bright canopy of leaves, with joy welling up inside, a seed of hope was born.

I didn't know how or when. But I knew that I wanted to return someday, not as a lab instructor, but as a professor. I belonged here. Teaching. Multnomah didn't hire women as Bible Professors back then. I had it on good authority that they probably never would. But I didn't let that stop me from dreaming. I watered that seed of hope with hours and days and weeks and years of graduate-level education. Maybe someday . . .

Multnomah has not had an easy road these past few years. President Dan Lockwood died of cancer just one year ago, in the midst of financial challenges and unhappy lay-offs. But then our road has not been easy either. Multnomah may not be not the same place it was that fall day 15 years ago. Neither am I. But God is up to something wonderful.

Dr. G. Craig Williford,
5th President of Multnomah University
Fast forward to this afternoon. Danny and I had the privilege of witnessing the inauguration of Multnomah's 5th president, Dr. Craig Williford. The faculty -- men and women who have profoundly shaped who we have become -- paraded by in full regalia to the sound of bagpipes. Retired Professor David Needham prayed, transporting us directly to the throne room, as he did countless times as we sat under his teaching. Luis Palau spoke. Surrounded by beloved faculty and staff, it was hard not to smile. But I had another reason to celebrate, too, because the man who took office today is not just leading my alma mater. In a few short months he will also be my boss.

Are you sitting down? This Spring you'll find me on campus twice a week teaching a Freshmen class on the Gospels and Acts. I keep pinching myself. I have spent the past 19 years getting ready for this moment. Now it's suddenly here and I'm full to bursting. What a joy to begin this stage of my teaching career at the very place it all began!


(No, I'm not finished with my dissertation yet. Revisions will take the better part of this year, at least. But I have the feeling that this experience will give it wings to fly. It has me!)



Thursday, October 16, 2014

leap of faith

"Leap of Faith" by Jasmine May
This is the third of three watercolors that Jasmine May shared with me — and I'm delighted to have permission to share it with you. It grapples with another dimension of faith. "Falling Into His Hands" portrayed the strong hands of God that are ready to catch us whenever we let go of control. This painting — "Leap of Faith" — depicts the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do what is far beyond our natural abilities. In this phase of Jasmine's walk with Jesus he was asking her not to sit back and watch Him work on her behalf, but to step out and take action on others' behalf with no guarantee of success. Jasmine explains,
"When we sensed God telling us to start an aftercare home for sex-trafficking survivors, it seemed impossible. God was saying, 'Jump off that cliff.' I asked Him, " ... so are You going to catch me?' But He answered, 'No. I gave you everything you need to fly. The wings are the Holy Spirit. The only way to experience how to fly by My Spirit is to jump!'"
The rhythm of our life with God includes both kinds of trust -- both quiet waiting and taking action. Is God prompting you to take a leap of faith? Is there an impossible task that awaits you? If God is asking you to do it, He has already supplied you with everything you need.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

falling into his hands

"Falling into His Hands" by Jasmine May
Today I wanted to share another of Jasmine May's stunning watercolors (with her permission). Describing this scene, Jasmine says, "Many times, in order to trust God, you have to let go of what you are holding onto. Trusting God often feels like falling into chaos and storm and losing solid ground. But only when you let go, do you find God's strong hands."

Take a few moments to think about your own life. Where is God asking you to trust Him? Does it feel like to trust you'll have to let go of everything comfortable and familiar and enter into a season of chaos?

Last fall I let go of the rope. In the chaos that ensued I felt God's strong hands cradling me, protecting me. Had I clung to the rope, trying to maintain control of my situation, I would have missed out on some priceless gifts.

Trust is easy when all is well, but it also isn't very impressive. Life's greatest difficulties are the true test of our faith in God. At the precise moment when life feels most out of control, God is inviting us to fall back into His hands. It would be easy to let go if we already felt the strength of His hands beneath us. But we can't. And that's where trust comes in — believing that He will be there to catch us, even when we can't see or hear him.

As Peter puts it, "Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold— gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away— and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:7 New English Translation)