By Tom Ehrich

AUSTIN, TX — JP Java sits beside the University of Texas campus. In addition to an artful latte, it serves up an ether filled with the dreams of students and faculty who have pounded on laptops and debated ideas at its plain metal tables.

As I watch for signs of sunrise, I know I am not the first dreamer who, putting words on screen, has tried to imagine new reality into being.

And yet, to me on this morning in October, everything seems fresh, everything seems possible. God’s new creation isn’t once-in-a-lifetime magic. It is a promise every day.

Yes, I left my guest room at Seminary of the Southwest feeling mildly irritated at slow wi-fi and weak coffee, but that passed. No, I am not looking forward to a day of travel on US Airways, but that, too, will pass.

What remains firm is my gratitude for these two days in Austin and this opportunity to teach seminarians, and my eagerness to get home. Making a difference in people’s lives is a glorious experience. Going home to my wife is a treasure.

I suppose seminarians are like fledglings in any field, from medicine to business to starting a family. So much uncertainty, so many questions, and such daunting institutional burdens to shoulder or not to shoulder.

Salaries go to those who take their assigned place in institutional maintenance. Promising ministries, however, go to those who step out onto the pilgrim’s way, the pioneer’s terrifying path across the unknown.

I spent my pastoral career trying to do both: accept institutional burdens and chart a new course. I think now that I should have “gone West,” as it were, started a new congregation, tried fresh ways to bring people to God.

I would have made the same mistakes, bumped up against the same flaws in my makeup. But I could have learned more from them and not have them used as weapons against me.

Institutions, I now realize, don’t welcome health if it requires change. They’ll do more of what they know how to do — doubling-down on a losing hand, as it were — and they will accept the inevitable repetition of previous outcomes, with a mixture of surprise and sad resignation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I see more church folks imagining new reality into being, dreaming, embracing the freshness. Not just enduring another day of the same.

I loved being with the small senior class at Seminary of the Southwest. A few were clinging to old scripts of the priestly life. But most were asking penetrating questions.

Better days.

Photo: Chapel at Seminary of the Southwest

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