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Day 78: Ode to Dennis Olson (Princeton Gratitude series)

[Context for Princeton Gratitude series can be found here...]

I settled into my hermitage spaces last night, deciding to do a bit of sermon prep for the following Sunday I agreed to preach. I can’t remember the last time I preached, to be honest, given I don’t really value the form anymore. But events have conspired to place me into the pulpit July 10th, easing my husband’s return from leading a 12-day Holy Land pilgrimage. The text? Numbers 6:22-27, the Aaronic blessing with which he concludes most worship services.

I prepared my gin martini—an accompaniment to bible study that would have horrified my Grandma Ruth, impish smile—and dove into the digital library stacks. “An Interpretation series commentary on the Book of Numbers?” I searched and found. Another smile. Author? Professor Dennis Olson, Professor of Old Testament at Princeton Seminary, but more importantly, a man of grace.

One of the last things I remember saying to him as I bowed low before him by the journals in the library stacks was “Oh man of grace, man of God, blessed are you for the gifts given and received…” or something like that. I had a shy grin on my face, and he laughed out loud, which for a Minnesotan-Lutheran kind of guy, was something.

Senior year of my MDiv, I was in his Pentateuch class, alongside a hefty challenge of writing an independent-study masters’ thesis, seed of my dissertation. I elected the pass/fail option for Olson’s class, so to give myself some wiggle room. I attended faithfully at first, deeply appreciative of his pedagogy and the class itself. It was over half African-American students, which for Princeton was unusual. As my thesis heated up, my class attendance—and attentions—went down. I kept track of the final paper for the class, though, and completed it diligently, proper length, on time.

The end of the semester came and went, with all the pomp and circumstance of graduation weekend. I remained for summer German, one of the first steps toward doctoral requirements as I entered the PhD program in the fall. About a week after graduation, I got my final paper from Olson’s Pentateuch class. It was marked P for Pass, and there were handwritten comments.

“Lisa, a marvelous overview of the material and good connections with the article. You would have found even more connections, however, had you read the correct article!” His comments went on, but I remember going stone cold. He had passed out an article for the final paper in a class I had not attended. Nor asked anyone about. I felt the waves of grace and not a little shame, embarrassment. … Yet I was headed into the PhD program, affirmed by all the professors who nodded at me appreciatively now.

About a day later, I wound up in the library stacks and saw Professor Olson by the journals. I giggled to myself, approached him, lowering down on one knee…”Oh man of grace, man of God, blessed are you…”

Still makes me laugh.

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