Here is what a day in seminary is like:
You wake up, and read. It doesn’t really matter which book or for what class — you have a pile and you know you have to read them all, so pick one up and just start reading. Get coffee, actually. Then start reading. Or study on Quizlet (thank you to You Know Who You Are for telling us all about that app!) to learn the 52 verses from the Hebrew scriptures you need to have memorized by Saturday. Put on the clothes that are still wrinkled from your suitcase, but everyone else’s are too, so it doesn’t matter, except the lawyer who dresses like Tiger Woods when it rains, and who has become one of your good friends so you tease him about how he’s never wrinkled and he laughs at you and the rest of your crew when you decide to drive the two inches to the main building because thunder.
There is a lot of laughter at seminary. Because if you didn’t laugh, you’d probably just sit in the middle of the hallway and cry. And if you did that, you wouldn’t be able to read, because mascara in your eye hurts.
Then you walk into a room filled with people who are completely different than you. You nod politely and smile. You catch the eyes of your small crew — the few people you’ve already bonded with — and they offer comfort. You know what’s coming: hard discussions about what the Bible really means. About biblical authority. Translations. Embedded theology and deliberative theology. About race. You look around the room at all the different faces — different backgrounds, denominations, races, sexual identities. And you think,
Oh, shit. Somebody’s gonna get pissed.
The professor starts talking. He says, (and I am about to paraphrase here):
Jarena Lee was a born a free woman in Cape May, NJ, in 1783, but at the age of 7 — think about that, 7! — she was sent 60 miles away from her parents to be a house servant. When she was a young woman, in the 1800s, she heard the call to preach. Think about this: a house servant. Black. A woman. In the 1800’s.
And she did — she preached the gospel. And she said, “For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man.’
“I want you all to think about this, today, as we start our journey’s together. Women, I want you to think about this. And men, I want you to be challenged by it.
I know it’s not church, but I cried anyway. I have never felt so affirmed in my life.
All week — and I’ve been here since Saturday — I have had numerous men look at me both as a member of the class and as an individual and say:
You can be a pastor if you want to.
You deserve a space where you can talk about your support of gay rights.
You’re only not a pastor yet because you’re not doing it yet. You have everything you need to be a pastor.
You can and should preach the gospel.
Don’t think for a second I ever needed anyone’s permission to be a pastor. I never believed that. But I also never realized how deeply I held a message that this was something I couldn’t do, because I am a woman. Every single time a respected Bible scholar, theologian or pastor has said these things to me today, it was as if they were carefully sweeping up the shards of a heart I didn’t know was shattered; as if they were tenderly gluing them back together with beautiful molten gold leaf.
I’m not even sure I want to be a pastor, but knowing that, at least from this crowd, it won’t be a fight means the world.
Anyway. Back to class — now the discussion starts, and it’s deep and rich and loamy like the most fertile soil. It’s discussion that you can dig your hands into deep, pull up rotting roots you didn’t even know were there. It’s hard conversations about racism and sexism. It’s challenging those things in ourselves and each other. It’s being courageous to speak, courageous to shut up, and brave enough to correct and challenge, to be humble and learn. It’s about hands across tables, bear hugs in the corner. It’s about caring enough to put our own rightness aside for a hot second and listen. By then end, you are exhausted, the way you are after having run a good race.
You go back to the hospitality house you are staying in with your crew — the liberal Baptist, the attorney, the youth minister from Houston who likes to dance in the hallways, the beautiful pastor’s wife from Michigan with whom, you later discover, you have more than 20 Facebook friends in common. You go out to dinner and you laugh, then pretend to read later in the common room before you collapse into bed, satisfied, exhausted, with maybe just enough energy and working synapses to write a slightly incoherent blog post.
These are the things that happen in a day here at seminary. I’m an OPEN Network MDiv student at Christian Theological Seminary, and I feel as if I have found a home I didn’t know I missed.
But I think something more is happening here. I think there is a new, brighter future happening in our classrooms. I know that sounds a little Pollyanna and it may well be. But if the Bible is anything it is a book of subversive and radical hope.
When I see people engaged the way we are engaging in these classrooms, willfully choosing to love people very different from us, who hold different views, it restores some of the hope I thought maybe I’d lost for our nation, for the future, for our world. If we can do it here at these tables, maybe we can do it out there, with all of you.
One of the beautiful things I learned today is that in the time of Jesus, it was considered incredibly improper for a man to run in public — I mean, it would be considered shameful. But Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son, and said the father ran to greet the son upon his return. What I take from that is that Jesus wants us to know that the minute we want him, he comes running.
So what, in turn, is my proper response? The only thing I can think is to love the world like that — like Jesus, running.
And seminary — well. I guess this is my training ground.