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The Solid Rock

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.


On Christ the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other grouns is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide his face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, his covenant, his blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in him be found;
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.


Where the seminary rubber meets the road

I began reading a volume by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It's been a while since I read something by him, but after re-organizing my bookshelves over the weekend, I was able to remind myself which books are read and unread. His book  The All-Sufficient God is a compilation of sermons on Isaiah 40, originally given in 1954. Compared to the regular fare I'm given in seminary it was vastly different. And in a very good way.

Sometimes, seminary students can be a little over the top. We enjoy picking apart arguments, looking at critical discussion and parsing verbs. For the nerdy, it's a little wonderland. But regularly, we must be reminded that the point of a theological education is not the pursuit itself. It's to be better equipped to serve God. And that means being able to take something complicated and make it understandable for a general audience.

My major paper for Synoptic Gospels has three options: first, take an account that is present in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and do a 14 page paper; second, prepare a sermon manuscript and exegetical outline on a passage from one of the gospels; and third, do a children or youth lesson one one of the accounts in one of the gospels. 

Now, that first one sounds like the cadillac of seminary papers. It gives a student a chance to show off her research skills, her ability to hunt down resources that provide compelling commentary. It gives her a chance to show she's a real seminarian. I'm not going to do that option. As fascinating as that sounds, it occurs to me that it is a good thing to be reminded about why I'm doing all of this. Even if I was a man and was going to have the freedom to be in pastoral ministry, it would be good for me to do this. To take something complex and distill it into something that a teen can understand is difficult, but proof that I understand it.

Seminary students need to be pulled back down to the everyday on a regular basis. 

It's so tempting to make ourselves feel smart and above others by spouting off the difficult things we're learning. And I'm sure I'm as annoying as the next student. But what is the purpose of all of this? Even something without saving faith can do that. Even something without saving faith can read Greek and Hebrew and talk about theological matters. As a Christian who teachers, it means so much more than providing intellectual thrills. I need to take what I'm learning and use it to help others understand it. 

I was undecided about my paper until yesterday. As I sat in our classroom full of high school students who are just beginning their lives, I remembered how confusing that time was for me, and because I was not a Christian then, I had nothing to hold on to. These kids have something at their disposal: teachers who care about their spiritual growth. Sure, I'll probably look at some academic commentaries for my preparation, and yes, I'll use the Greek text. But it will be for a purpose: to bring it to a place where a teen will understand and learn. I'll probably use my class as a "test run" before I hand in the paper just to see how they respond to it. It's where the rubber meets the road. Maybe it doesn't seem as elite as the other options, but isn't that why I'm there?


It isn't a matter of "can" we be friends . . . 

Over the summer, I skimmed parts of Aimee Byrd's book Why Can't We Be Friends? I had other reading which was more pressing, so I didn't spend long on it. Sometime when I am able, I wouldn't mind re-visiting the book after I've had more time to think about the question. 

Of course men and women can be friends. But all friendships need boundaries, both with men and women. And sometimes, we tend to assume that female friendships don't need boundaries.

Many years ago, I was friends with a woman at my church who has since moved away. At the time, I did not see it, but it was one of the most toxic friendships I ever had the misfortune of being in. It started at a very vulnerable time for me. We had just moved here, and my husband mentioned to her in passing how much I was struggling with being away from my family and friends. Over the years, it was the source of more angst than it was worth. She was hot and cold. She simultaneously sought me out and pushed me away. I never knew what kind of reception I would get when I saw her at church. I thought I had done something wrong. I turned myself inside and out trying to be the perfect friend.

When I began to see what was happening, confronting her was not an option. Call display meant that if she didn't want to talk to me, she simply ignored my calls; and she did that frequently. When we began using email, that was even easier to ignore. She would avoid me at church, or worse, freeze me out when I spoke to her. After about six years, I'd had enough. She moved away, making it easier to simply end things. After she was gone, I discovered that I was not the only woman who had struggled with her.

This was not entirely her fault. I had not put up proper boundaries with her. In my desire to have friendship, I had allowed her to cross boundaries that other friends would never have been allowed to do. The Church sometimes puts so much pressure on us women to have these perfect, wonderful friendships with other women that we don't think about boundaries. If we are not out shopping with our friends, having coffee and chocolate (I prefer potato chips and I hate shopping) we're not doing it right. I have come to see that perfect friendships of any kind only exist on television.

It has been my experience that my friendships with men never unfold in such an acrimonious way because going into them, I know that because I am married, there are boundaries. This is not something my husband and I have sat down and outlined; it's just something that has developed over 32 years of marriage. I have many male friends at seminary, but they are not like the kind of friendships I have with women, and that's not a bad thing. Men and women frequently differ in the way they conduct their friendships, anyway, so it makes sense for them to look different. And that includes the ones with our siblings. I love my brothers, but there are things that I wouldn't confide to them, because frankly, they would be embarrassed, and I would rather spare them that. The only man in my life who is going to be on the receiving end of my intimate expressions is my husband. Even the relationships with my sons differ from that between me and my daughter. Boundaries with our adult children are necessary, too.

All friendships need boundaries. Boundaries represent a desire to respect the other person. When it comes to male friendships, of course we can be friends. But they do require boundaries. When it comes to women, with the tendency to ignore boundaries, I am thinking that the question is less "are we allowed" to be friends and more of "are we able." That's a book I'd read.


Why Are You In Seminary?

More than once since I began seminary, I have had people asking what I'm planning to "do" with my education. By far the most popular question is: "Are you going to be a pastor?" 

Some people are very encouraging. One of my former Sunday school students, when I shared with her my current course load said, "You rock, Mrs. Shay!" When other people hear that I'm taking Greek, there is a look of suspicion. Am I learning to "break the code" so that I can usurp the authority structures in my life? To be fair, when we have really good English translations, why would I need to take Greek? It is an honest question. I generally don't explain that question much. I just let them think I'm nerdy, weird, or quaint; whatever suits them.

A few weeks ago, my husband met a Trinidadian farm worker who is here for the harvest season. He invited him to church, and afterwards, we had him back for a meal. He saw my bookcases and asked why I had so many. When I told him I was in seminary, and that it involved studying the Bible, he said in a very strong Caribbean accent: "You gunna be a preacher lady?" When I said no, he could not fathom that. In his country, there are quite a few female pastors, apparently.

This weekend, while out shopping for a dining room table, my husband and I went to a Mennonite furniture store not far from where I attend school. As we were chatting about the possibility of coming back for one of the tables, I mentioned that I am in town twice a week. The sales lady asked why, and I told her where I was going to school. "That's great! Are you going to be a pastor?" I said I wasn't, and her follow-up question was the second most common question I'm asked about seminary: "Why aren't you going to be a pastor?" And that is an answer that takes more time to explain.

This woman's opinion was that women add something to the Church. I agree with her. Women do have something to offer the Church. Yes, it is in discipling women, helping them raise their children, and be good wives. But it is about so much more than that. In the examples we older women set, are we setting the example of thinking deeply about theology? Surely, with so many women in the Church, and with so many different personalities, it is about more than saying: go ask your husband or your pastor. The Church needs women because the Church has women in it! 

And really, for all those men who are learning to be pastors, does it not benefit them to understand what it means to minister to women? Who would be more able to help pastors understand just how that is done? 

It's a no-brainer. 


My Jesus, I Love Thee

I looked for a rendition where all four verses are sung, but I did not find one. I have no idea why people would skip the third verse.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know thou art mine,
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious redeemer, my Saviour art Thou;
If I ever loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first loved me
And purchaed my pardon on Calvary's tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.

I'll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath.
And say, whe the death dew lies cold on my brow,
"If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, 'tis now."

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I'll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright.
I'll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,
"If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now."