It's officially fall in Princeton and we've made it to "reading week" at seminary this week, marking the end of the first half of my first semester of my Master of Divinity program. 7 weeks down, 83 to go 'til graduation. Related side note: massive party at our place in mid-May 2018. You're invited.
We're supposed to be catching up on our assignments and studying for midterms. I'm doing some of that, but I find myself also reflecting back on the first half of the semester.
I've learned more in seven weeks than I could ever share in one blog post. Seriously ... this experience has been amazing in so many indescribable ways. The teachers are incredible, my colleagues (aka, "students") are amazing and the relationships among all are inspiring. I'm just hands-down grateful to be there and still stand in amazement that God opened the doors necessary for me to be there. For real.
While I can't possibly sum up all that I've learned, I have some general thoughts on the whole deal, and some specific lessons I've learned from each of my classes. I'll share them all below, along with a few unexpected blessings and my goals for the rest of the semester.
Regarding the overall experience of going to seminary...
- It's hard. Duh. It's grad school ... wasn't ever going to be easy, right? I'm not sure what I expected, but I wasn't prepared for all the ways grad school as a mid-30's mother-of-2 ministry leader was going to be hard. Keeping all schedules balanced, maintaining some semblance of household happiness while also keeping up with ministry and schoolwork is mind-blowing, staggeringly hard work. Add in the commute that keeps me in the car for about 7 hours each week and the whole deal is basically impossible. It's only by the grace of God that it's working at all.
- It's refining. I've felt my feet in the fire this semester, for all the reasons I mentioned in previous sentences. Through all the hard, though, God is stripping away all the junk that cluttered my life pre-seminary. Commitments and obligations that shouldn't have been mine have fallen out of my life. Relationships that weren't working well have ended. This felt really hard at first, but I realized that I now actually have more time for the relationships that matter to me most, and God is blessing me with the deepening of friendships that have been surface-level for longer than necessary. He's again pointing me back to the lessons I learned a year ago in Lysa TerKeurst's book The Best Yes. Because I literally have no time for anything "extra," I've been forced to critically evaluate what's essential.
- It's liberating. Paradox, right? Hard and refining, yet liberating? As I continue getting deeper into my studies, and seeing what the Bible really has to say (and picking up bits of Hebrew and Greek along the way), I feel so free to ask the hard questions. The kind that annoy "safe" Christians in many "safe" churches. If I have a hard question that I wouldn't dare ask of most pastors, I can now do so freely and, in almost all cases, get pointed right back to Scripture to find out for myself. I no longer feel bound to commentaries or the opinions of "professional" theologians. Nor do I feel embarrassed for having questions about my faith or the Bible - I now know that questions are a starting place for answers. I no longer have any problem seeking, knocking and continuing to question until I find that which I seek. God is big enough to handle all my questions and He's always faithful to provide answers.
What I've learned so far from each class...
Early-Medieval Church History: This class has been the biggest surprise, hands down. I'm not particularly great with names or dates, so obviously, history classes have always been thorns in my side. I literally cringed when I saw the history requirements on our program schedule. But, I have to say I am LOVING it. So much of what we do as a modern church started in the decades immediately following Christ's death and resurrection, it's so cool to see where our traditions started, and also to see that some things we believe in the non-denominatioal tradition to be "Biblical" are actually "traditional." Pointing again to the importance of doing thorough Bible study. It's also amazing to get to know historical figures through their own words. Augustine, for example. We hold him up as one of the most articulate theologians of all time, and yet, he was just a guy going about his business of being a pastor and started writing theology on the side. ON THE SIDE. What?!?!? And his writings have been read by millions across the centuries. He was faithful to the calling God placed on his life and God used his efforts in mighty ways. You never know what "side thing" might have historical implications.
Systematic Theology: Seminary is apparently where crazy theology comes to get worked out - and it seems like all the thoughts come up and through my systematic class. I've heard more crazy theology in this class (Jesus as transgender, there is no such thing as spiritual warfare, double predestination, and the list goes on and on) than I ever knew existed. Stuff that's way way out there in both liberal and conservative directions. What I've learned most from this class is how to speak truth with some degree of love and a way to disagree without being disagreeable. I've also learned how important it is to really know the Bible and what I believe, so I can clearly articulate truth in situations where wrong teaching comes up. Conversely, this class has also humbled me further into the realization that no one knows it all, when it comes to the nature of God, revelation, Scripture, nature of Christ, and all the other definitions we invent to describe the indescribable. There are people who devote their entire lives to full-time Bible study, pastoral leadership and academia and still end up without all the answers, which means it's completely ridiculous for anyone anywhere to claim to have "all the answers" and "know all the stuff."
Intro to Old Testament: Another major surprise - this class has been AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! So many non-denominatioal Christians in my present and recent circles shy away from the Old Testament at almost all costs, or pull it out when needed, but only to illustrate a point in the New Testament. I guess I fell into that trap without really knowing it, although I have always loved the book of Psalms and really enjoyed the "Major Lessons from the Minor Prophets" sermon series from my mom's church. The professors in this class team teach and are amazing - and they pointed out early in the semester that the Old Testament was what Jesus knew as Scripture and referred to throughout His teachings. All the knowledge in this class is gold and, over Christmas break, I'm going to distill some of the messages from the class in a separate blog post series (see goals list below).
Intro to Speech: If I could summarize this class in a word, it would be "meh." If History and OT were pleasant surprises, this one was a surprise in another direction. We read depressing poems, the discussions wander, it's at 8:30 in the morning and I honestly learned more in a 2-hour speaker review session at a conference this summer than I've learned in the entire class so far. I find myself really having to work hard at getting motivated to do my assignments, which is a shame, because I really do enjoy the art of speech communication. We have the same professor for the two semesters of the year-long course, so I'll have to keep reminding myself of Paul's example in Philippians 3:13-14 and PRESS ON.
Liturgical Shape of Christian Life: I wasn't sure what to expect from this class, and honestly took it mostly because it fit into my schedule in a way that kept me off campus on Wednesdays (one less day to commute - yay!). It's been somewhat interesting to look at liturgical practices, but I didn't read the description closely enough during registration. If I had, I would've realized that it's basically an introduction to Systematic and there's a lot of overlap between the two classes. So, the most important thing I've learned from this one is that I need to prepare more carefully for next semester!
Beyond the classes and lessons, this semester has brought with it some very beautiful and unexpected blessings...
- The kids have done so well. We were really worried about Big Girl. She hasn't done school or daycare and tends to prefer staying at home, with her people and her toys. We prepared ourselves for the worst and have been so surprised at how well she's done! She was a little nervous the first week or two, but just settled right in after that. To the point now that she asks for school if we happen to have a day off school. Similarly, we were worried that Big Guy would have a hard time with aftercare, but nope! He enjoys the extra time with his friends two days a week and calls it his "school playdates."
- Our community has blessed our socks off. Our good friend "Mr. Marty" brings Colin home twice a week, so I don't have to spend that extra time in the car, we have friends who offer to babysit and the kids are involved in classes that keep them engaged and busy enough not to notice how much time I really need to spend in my books or working on papers.
- We've been blessed with a new addition to our household. Our friend Crystal, who I met through seminary, needed a place to stay for a while and moved in with us last week. She's become an amazing part of the family in this short time and we're so grateful for her presence in our lives!
My goals for the rest of the semester:
1. Prepare for the Christmas break post series on lessons from the Old Testament. I really can't wait to share some of the great info I've been learning and I feel like knowing that series is coming will help motivate me to keep up with the reading and note-taking!
2. Continue my time management strategies and resist the urge to over-schedule the holidays. This is going to be a hard one for me!
3. Get to chapel more often. I honestly thought I'd go all the time and I love going, but it's amazing how easy it is to fall into the trap of busyness that prevents chapel attendance. I'm making it a goal for the back half of the semester to attend every Thursday and Friday.