I’m doing what I normally do during my holiday break – grading.

For over ten years while my family has these days around Christmas and New Year’s “off” (or at least some version of being on vacation), I have work to do. It’s hard to see my work because I do not head into the office or have meetings, but my time between the fall semester and J-Term is filled with something important – grading papers. With a January 4th deadline looming, I have work to do and people waiting to hear how their semester turned out. Yet during this holiday season, the thought of grading does not get me excited. (In fact, I can usually find many things to do to put off grading each and every day.) But grading is part of my job, and it is part of the learning process that I value. So I press forward.

When I finally get mentally (and physically) prepared, I open my computer and lean into the work. Looking at the rubric for the assignment, I remind myself of what we were doing in the course and I open a paper – glancing at the student’s name, I start reading their work. These assignments are their final ones, so I not only read the words on the page, but also see their faces and remember the encounters we have had throughout the semester. I now have a relationship with these students having spent 13 weeks together. Therefore, these assignments are rich; there is more to them then what I read on the page. Maybe one of the questions a student asked in class has found its way into their paper or echoes of the ministry situation we talked about in break sits behind what is described in their work. I read aware of how personal and taxing this work of ministry is for many – and the price some have paid to lead and study Christian public leadership. Grading these assignments is only partially about the content of the course, it is more about their call to lead. Over time I stop watching the clock and let myself be transported to various ministry settings – literally around the world – and into the lives of these students.

Grading in my line of work is never solely about a grade. Grading is simply one way I join current and future leaders of the church in discovering who they are, what is happening in the world (and church) today, and wondering what God is up to. Assignments provide the opportunity to reflect and put on paper new learnings on a particular topic and grading is one way I offer them my feedback. Both are snapshots in a dynamic learning process that breaks down previous understandings and opens new possibilities. The tearing down is real, and hard. Deconstructing – understandings of the church, the world, and ourselves – opens up wounds, is confusing, filled with pain, and is a journey of letting go and lamenting. Building up is exciting and scary. Constructing is creative, filled with joy and epiphanies, invites dreaming and makes space for new possibilities. Learning needs both. And learning in a seminary recognizes that both movements are truly human or embodied (they are not just theoretical) and God is present. The pain and the joy are real. The tears flow from deep within, the people involved have names, and the situations matter. And at the same time God is with us. Healing happens, hope is found, and love expands and is deepened.

So as I grade, holding these assignments as a sacred trust to be stewarded. I treasure the way students offer their lives to this calling and trust me with their stories. And I try my best to faithfully serve my calling as a teacher of the church. #thankful #blessed #WeAreLutherSem

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