It seems incumbent to at least comment on turning 80, today, May 14, 2020. On the whole, getting this old is not as surprising as I thought it would be when I was 40.
In all fairness, however, I think I have made about as much impact on the world as I will. And I have to admit I’m a little disappointed not to have achieved some things I thought I might. I did not become an Eagle Scout, get inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, get a Fulbright scholarship, earn a PhD from St. Andrews University, become pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, get an honorary degree from my alma mater, be awarded a Royal Thai decoration, have a book published by a well known publisher, or become vice president of a university. All of those things were real possibilities at some point.
I feel much more keenly about a couple of other near-accomplishments.
In the 1980s I discovered how to transform pastoral theology seminary courses (preaching, church administration, worship, pastoral counseling) from performance-oriented skill-building into academically advanced courses with research potential. It could have improved and upgraded the seminary and the level of leadership in the church here in Thailand. But I didn’t get to continue on the staff of the seminary.
Twenty years later I finished the third re-write of a book, 40 years in the making, about holistic spirituality – how to assess what really is going on when one is growing and when one is deteriorating spiritually. I have the concept, and it is refined and compelling. Spirituality is a growing topic to which I could have made a significant contribution. But I have never been able to get a handle on how to present it in an accessible and usable format.
These two big ideas would have been very helpful to “the world”, but they will die with me. I’m resigned to that now.
At this point in birthday reminiscences I’m supposed to turn to positive memories and list things that turned out right. That list would be acceptably long. Failing to do it might seem like a ploy to coax others to shower me with reassuring compliments.
Let’s agree that those who know me can name reasons they are thankful for our relationship. For my part, I am satisfied that during the past 80 years I have fulfilled one of my high school teacher’s commandments, “Ken, you are part of the answer. Stay that way.”
I have been neither heroic nor historic. But as that philosophy teacher understood, the first task is to discern the real questions, and the second is to resolve to be part of the answer. In that I have done tolerably well.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.