Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1st Semester Wrap-Up #ccgoestoseminary

I'm getting ready to start my 2nd semester of seminary next week. I've enjoyed my break (immensely...) and all my grades from my 1st semester came back in (way better than I thought, thank you Jesus, for that unexpected blessing), so I feel like I can finally recap it. Isn't that odd that I needed to wait until it was officially "done" before I could post this? It feels super weird. Totally understand if you want to click away.

Seriously, 2nd chance.

Ok, since you're still here, you might as well keep on reading...

Actually, back to weird. That's a good way to sum up my first semester - it felt weird.

It was discombobulating to go back to school after being out of the classroom for more than a decade. (yes, I've done graduate and certification work via "distance learning," so I can say with some degree of authority that it's not the same thing to do homework in your PJs from behind a computer screen)

It was uncanny how I both so strongly identified with my classmates and professors, while I also vehemently disagreed with them at the same time. (the diversity - of ages, backgrounds, races, genders, denominations - at this place is incredible)

It was strange to hear about lines of theological thought that I had no idea were out there. (don't believe me? Google "Jesus as corn mother." I'm sorry or you're welcome.)

It was extraordinary to have literally more than a million books on all things theology available to me at the library. (our school has the second largest collection behind the Vatican... or so they say on the tour.)

I'll step away from my thesaurus now - I'm sure you get the drift.

After a few weeks off to process the semester, I realize that seminary changed me. "Wrecked," is probably a better term to use, but in the best ways possible.

I gave up labels.

Good grief, I went into seminary wearing so many self-drawn labels. "Perfectionist," "type A," "straight-A," "politically independent," "smart," "leader," "evangelical....." I wore them proudly - like so many badges on a supermom sash. Like a flag I could wave with pride. Like they did something to get me a little closer to God. Like they mattered. Until. Until. Until I realized they didn't matter. Not to God, not to my professors, not to my classmates. Who all had their own labels, their own flags to wave, their own badges. That were as important to them as mine were to me.

As the class hours morphed into days that stretched into weeks, God started peeling away my labels. I got my lowest grades ever in my entire academic career on papers (including my unfortunate 7th grade year in which I decided I'd rather be cute than smart, so intentionally threw my grades...), my speech teacher told me basically that I'm a terrible public speaker (and did NOT seem to care that I regularly won public speaking competitions in college...) and I met and befriended theologically super-progressives, super-conservatives and everyone in between (and enjoyed our conversations immensely, learning it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable...).

At some point before finals, a now-close friend and I were talking about our shared experience in this area and we realized at the same point that we'd both become who we really are at seminary. Children of God, who deeply desire to pursue and love Him with our minds during this season, who need no other labels.

I stopped labeling others.

A few weeks into the semester, I realized that because I'd covered myself with labels, I automatically project them onto others. I wasn't super happy to realize that I make assumptions about other people all the time - I stereotype based on age, race, class, spirituality, you name it. I've done it. And I get the argument that "we do it because we're human." But I did it as a human and let the label get carried away.

It's not that anyone ever accused me of being judgmental - and I make a very concerted effort to welcome diversity into my life and constantly attempt to check myself against any prejudice toward anyone. And yet, I learned this semester that accepting my only label that matters - child of God - allows me to accept that as the only label that matters on anyone else as well.

I broke - and busted open.

This semester was crazy hard. My kids got sick (Lyme disease and chicken pox - including a 2nd round for one of my kiddos, which is technically impossible...), I threw my back out and had to spend the 2nd half of the semester standing in the backs of classrooms and taking midterms standing up. Add in a commute that can't figure out if it wants to be 25 minutes or an hour, a friend who needed to move in with us mid-semester, active ministry work with Read Pray Move, the emotional energy required to sort through and integrate (or work to not integrate) all the crazy different theology I was exposed to, and I was kind of an emotional basket case most of the time.

And it all broke me.

And busted me open.

I realized that the only way I was going to get through the semester was to fully and completely rely on God. Not just pay lip-service to that effect, but to really do it. The effort to work through the semester brought me to the realization that I've been super hypocritical. It's one thing to say I rely on God - when everything is going well and stress levels are low. It's quite another thing to run hard after a very inconvenient call on my life (going to seminary as a mom to two very young children, with an autoimmune disease and adrenal fatigue, and after 9 moves in 8 years, was not convenient....) and have to rely on His strength and energy completely.

As I continued to break and bust open, I felt a confidence and sense of calm that was new to me. I just knew that the adage is true - what God calls me to, He will bring me through. It's not just a cute saying on framed home decor or a desk plaque. It's the truth. It's my truth.

And I know a heck of a lot more of the other truths in His Word, now, too, thanks to all the book learning I got, in addition to all the character formation.

Class-by-class my favorite moments or lessons from my classrooms and books:

Intro to Old Testament: by far my biggest surprise of the semester - I loved this class in so many ways it deserves a separate blog post. Dr. Lapsley introduced me to theology of ecology in Genesis, Dr. Olsen always preached a good word, but make a particularly big impact in the way he prayed over his lectures and showed us how we can love God intensely and intentionally with our minds - that there is space for those of us who want both the emotional mountaintop experiences with God, as well as the daily rigorous studies that ground us. I was warned about this class - that hearing the theories about how the Bible was assembled might ruin my faith. Instead, they blew my mind. The fact that we even have a Bible is just so impressive - that it's made it through all the centuries, through so many crazy human situations to continue to speak to us and bless us today. Seriously - the book only exists by the grace of God. I love it more passionately than ever. My "preceptor" (aka small group discussion facilitator) introduced me to beauty of Biblical Hebrew and the power of the Shema. I've never ever ever considered taking "the language classes," and chose the seminary I did because they dropped the language requirement for my degree, but after a semester with Hamille, I can't wait to read the Bible in it's original languages and will probably also brush up on my Latin.

Early and Medieval Church History: I had so much fun with the readings in this class - we not only read about historical church figures like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, we read what they actually wrote. And got to talk about it. Like every week. Insert nerdy squeal of delight here. It was so fun and I emerged from this class with a deep and sincere appreciation for the church. As modern Christians, we stand on the amazing shoulders of those who have gone before us - those who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible, and protecting it, through wars, famines, plagues, political infighting, dark ages, enlightenments, reformations.... I'm so thankful for the "cloud of witnesses" and deeply grateful for the legacy the church fathers left for us. I'm also more mindful of legacy in general - and the one I want to leave for the generations that will come behind me.

Systematic theology: Loved the teacher as a person, couldn't wait to end the class. Systematic theology classes, from my understanding, are supposed to introduce you to theology from a high-level overview type level. This one was supposed to be team taught by two professors at opposite ends of the theology spectrum, which I think would have been a brilliant way to teach and learn - from multiple perspectives. But the more conservative of the two had a medical emergency and wasn't able to teach, so we got the other. While I appreciate the lines of thinking I was exposed to, and really did enjoy the readings (particularly Faith Seeking Understanding), we spent too much time solely looking at theology through the professor's chosen lens. Note: lots of folks in the class totally disagree with me and loved the class. I acknowledge and respect those opinions, as well as those of my professor and preceptor - both of whom worked hard to lead us through the class.

Liturgical Shape of Christian Life: I loved the perspectives and discussions in this class. I've grown up primarily in the American non-denominational church, and although we lived and went to church in the Netherlands for three years, I never really took the time to explore the more liturgical church traditions before this class. I've attended church services as several local "high" churches ("high" meaning they still practice many of the "bells and smells" rituals practiced by the more structured denominations). And, of course, I also learned that "denomination" = "tradition." This class helped me round out the dictionary of terms I carried around campus. In my non-denominational-ness, I learned that the Presbies (this seminary is Presbyterian) have a whole other language they use to talk about church stuff. I think I'm caught up now, but I was most definitely lost the first few weeks!

Speech: Ahhh, speech. It's so interesting to have a journalism degree, several public speaking awards tucked away in boxes and a corporate communications career that includes media training and get told that you're a terrible public speaker. To have your voice and diction torn apart, to hear that the warm corporate tone you've honed for more than a decade "needs improvement" and that you "need lots of time in serious practice." Um, what? This was by far the most jarring of all my classes, but I somehow squeaked out an A-, so there's that.... Although I have been spending a significant portion of my time this break reading up on public speaking and even signed up for a speaker coaching program on my own time. So I guess that's my version of doubling down and going all in to prepare for Speech II next semester.

Speaking of next semester, which, you know, starts next week, I'm taking...

Scripture and Food: and am GEEKING out about it. I don't even care what you think about it - I'll be out at the Farminary (yep, the seminary bought a farm and plans to use it to study the link between the Bible and agriculture).

Intro to the New Testament

Care of Selves, Care of Congregations

Grace and Trauma

Speech II

I'm so thankful for the opportunity God's given me to be here, in this place, and take these classes. I'm not sure what will unfold from here, or how this semester will continue to shape my walk with the Lord, but I can honestly say now that I'm looking forward to it.

Thanks to all of you who continue to read my posts, cover my journey in prayer and support this process in so many ways! I firmly believe it takes a village to raise both kids and seminarians. Without the support of so many, I wouldn't have made it this far.

I pray....

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you, 
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

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