Two days ago, I finally submitted my dissertation to the University of Aberdeen for my Ph.D.. My "Viva Voce" (that's UK for "defense") is scheduled for September 20th, so I still have some work before me, but, obviously, this is a big milestone! I do hope to eventually have it published somewhere, but since it's quite possible that only about 6 people will ever read it, I thought I would just share what I wrote for the acknowledgments section...
After more than five years pouring so much energy and anguish into the pages you are about to read, perhaps these few words preceding the first chapter will have been the most difficult for me to write. How does one go about acknowledging all those who supported, mentored, counseled, and tolerated them through a project like this? Like any good work of theology (and you will be the judge as to whether or not this qualifies as such), there is an autobiographical element to this thesis. These pages are chalked full of my own wrestling with not only the perplexing academic questions that drive the argument, but my own personal doubt and confusion in regards to my own experience. This project is mine and therefore it is shaped by the relationships that make me who I am. It is my sincere hope that this will be more than a mere academic achievement, but that it will somehow be a blessing to the church—so that those who work with young people will be liberated to truly encounter the living God in the lives of young people.
I want to thank a number of the people who have helped shape me and have thus helped shape this project. First, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Justin Forbes, for tolerating countless hours of rambling phone calls. Perhaps it will be some time, now, before I need to call him to hash out my swirling confusions regarding developmental psychology or interdisciplinary methodology. Justin journeyed (sometimes literally) with me throughout this entire project, and for that I am truly grateful. I also want to thank Marcus Hong for his friendship and mentoring, especially during the germinating stages of the argument you are about to read. I am also indebted to Rev. Dr. Ed Davis and the First United Methodist Church of Toms River family for their unwavering support and friendship.
Several friends and mentors have read and offered feedback on various portions of this thesis, including Erin Raffety, Abigail Visco Rusert, Andrew Esqueda, and Nate Stucky. And this project would surely be cursed with even more spelling errors and punctuation issues if it were not for the impressive (and intimidating) attention to detail of Katie Wall. I also want to thank Kenda Dean for empowering me, encouraging me, and helping me to keep curiosity and joy at the center of my ministry and theological reflection.
If you had told me ten years ago that I would one day have the privilege of working with John Swinton and Andrew Root (either one of them, let alone both of them) on my Ph.D. thesis, I would not have believed you. I am so humbled to have had the opportunity to work on this project under the supervision of two giants in the field of practical theology. I am beyond grateful for their profound insight, their patience, and their persistent encouragement.
Finally, I want to thank my wife, Amanda, and my kids, Bonnie and Henry. The completion of this thesis would have been truly impossible without the love and support of my family. Amanda loved me and encouraged me through the most difficult seasons in the life of this project, not least the little speed-bump we like to call the Covid-19 pandemic. There were times when her love carried me through my own self doubt, and that you are reading this now is in no small part because of her.
Congratulations and best wishes for the viva!
Thank you, James!
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