Love that transcends

Chicago Theological Seminary is a different place now than it was when we were students. I’m tempted to go into a “Back in my day . . .” routine.
Back in my day we were required to live on campus. These days the seminary doesn’t even own dormitories or apartments. It doesn’t operate a dining hall or a lab school.
Back in my day we had cubicles in the library. These days the campus is set up as a commuter campus and most library work is done online.
Back in my day we walked through cloisters to get to a gothic chapel. These days the chapel is an open room with large screens for projection.

You get the picture. Things have changed. One of the big changes is the style of teaching and learning. When we attended seminary we were required to have two full years of full-time residential education before beginning our internships. A common pattern was two years of residency, followed by a year of internship with a capstone year of residency after the internship. The academic work was demanding, post graduate work. It was expected that one learned study, research and writing skills during one’s four year undergraduate experience and seminary was rigorous graduate education. We were required to not only attend classes, but also to live in community. We were expected to discuss assigned readings among our peers and employ group study skills to master challenging material.

I don’t know if today’s commuter campuses with their focus on part-time education are better or worse. They are simply different.Times change and education has changed as well.

One of the things that occurred in the style of education in which we were engaged is that we developed lifelong friendships with our colleagues. After all we had spent so much time together engaged in intense learning that we learned to rely on each other.

One of the friends that we met in the first hour of our first class at seminary was a doctoral student from Australia. We soon became acquainted with his entire family. His wife was a nurse and they had two elementary school-aged children. Over the course of the first two years of our education, we spent hours upon hours reading books and discussing them with our classmates and Tony, our Australian friend was always in the midst of the discussion. While he worked on his specialized research and wrote his professional paper, we were working on our classroom work. We engaged in intense discussion and debate over meals and long into the evening. At one point, Tony’s wife, Shirley, instituted a tea time at the end of the evening. She would make tea and sometimes serve cookies or another snack as a symbol that it was time to stop working on our theologies and prepare for sleep. Those tea team conversations occasionally drifted back into the work we were doing, but they were most often filled with talking about family and home. Being from Montana, we felt far from our homes, but we were nowhere near as far as Tony and Shirley from their home in Australia.

During those two years they made two trips with us to Montana and got to know our families very well. We had a lot of different adventures.

Then, as is the case in such relationships, the time came for them to go back to Australia. We continued our education for two more years and then accepted a call to serve churches in North Dakota. But we didn’t lose track of our friends. They came to visit us when we lived in North Dakota. Their departure flight was from Rapid City, so we also toured the hills together during that visit. They visited us again in Idaho and a third visit coincided with our move to Rapid City, so they got in on the adventure of moving, helping us move into our new home and unpack. In 2006, we traveled to Australia and spent a month touring their country with them. They subsequently returned to the US for additional visits as well.

The thing about the relationship, which now has spanned more than 40 years is that we learned that our unity in the spirit transcends both time and space. We are always able to pick up a conversation where we left off and don’t experience any awkwardness even if we have been apart for years. Whenever we are together we know we can trust one another, that we are accepted and that we are loved.

That is an important lesson to remember. Yesterday our morning began with a call from Australia, where it was evening. After a wonderful day in which Tony and Shirley had been making travel plans to attend the wedding of a grandson in Greece, Shirley came home and took a shower while Tony caught up on some emails. When he thought the shower had been running for a long time, Tony went to check and found Shirley collapsed. She had suffered a large brain bleed. She never regained consciousness. Less than 24 hours later she had died.

The anxious phone calls during the day depended on our having already having made deep connections. We didn’t have time to say all of the things that needed to be said, but we were able to express our love and our prayers and to feel connected to the events in Australia.

There is, of course more. What we know is that we have remained connected to each other even though we have been half a world apart for most of our lives. We also know that we are close to one another even when there are long gaps between our conversations. We have talked about life and death and resurrection so much that we share a common belief.

So this separation isn’t the end. Death is not where our stories stop. Yes, we are stoked and grieving and it is painful news to absorb. But we know that the love that has grown over the years and proven itself to be bigger than distance and time will continue. Love is stronger than death. We are one in the Spirit.

And we give thanks to God for the gifts of the time that we have had together. It has made all the difference in the world.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!