“Some things you know all your life,” writes the poet, Philip Levine, in his poem, “The Simple Truth.” 

“They are so simple and true they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme, they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker, the glass of water, the absence of light gathering in the shadows of picture frames, they must be naked and alone, they must speak for themselves.”

I first read these words as a senior in college in the first of two creative classes I would take that year. I remember it as one of the first times a work of great art spoke to me on what I can only call a spiritual level.

In many ways, Levine’s words describe my own faith. Though it has changed and been challenged and grown through the years (which I hope will continue), it is something I have known all my life. Raised in the church. Learning stories from the Bible even before I knew what a story was. My mother humming hymns around the house. The rhythms of congregational life. Worship on Sunday, returning on Wednesday, covered dishes for anniversary Sunday, candle light at Christmas.

Yet, in recent years as I’ve reflected more on this poem and many others, I have come to appreciate just how much poetry and literature are some of the more effective and enjoyable doorways I have to matters of the heart.

They are the lens through which I tend to view most of my writing and preaching for you (the inclusion of esoteric poems in sermons being among the clumsier expressions!).

In short, I have come to see my ministry, and my own faith, as a creative process. It is also how I have come to understand the church, as something that we make together, with the help of the same animating, creative spirit that hovered over the waters of creation.

So it is in that spirit that I am beginning a new degree program this fall. I have been accepted into the low residency MFA program in creative writing at Queens University in Charlotte. This masters of fine arts program is a two year degree that will provide a community with which to hone my craft, but also training in literary criticism and the teaching of writing.

Since it is low-residency, most of the coursework will be done remotely, with a week’s residency on campus in January and again in May.

Nearly ten years (!) into my time as pastor I am at the point in my career when continuing education becomes more and more a necessity to keep the work and the call fresh. I am excited to see how this program renews my spirit and expands my toolkit of creative expression, and the ways it will shape my ministry in the years to come.

I am grateful for the support of the Personnel Committee and Church Council in pursuing this degree, and grateful to be a part of a congregation who understands the gifts, not only of continued education, but of art. 

I will look forward to updating you along the way, but I hope before long my experience in this program will begin to speak for itself.


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