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Lessons Only Seminary Could Teach Me

I'm procrastinating. 

I have read portions of (and in two cases, entire) eight books so far as I research my Apologetics paper. I'm writing about the problem of evil. I have such a mish mash of information in my head, but nothing really coherent to say just yet. The paper is due next Friday, and it is my goal to have my outline done by the end of the weekend so I can start actually writing. This is such a huge topic. I'm tempted to do nothing and fritter away the day, but I know I'll regret it come this time next week.

Researching an apologetics issue has introduced me to new terms: compatibilism, consequentialist, libertarian free will, modus ponens. While Alvin Plantinga's book God, Freedom and Evil, was very helpful, it wasn't an easy read. I'm probably the most not-logical person I know, and sifting through his analysis was challenging. Yesterday, I read a section of John Feinberg's book The Many Faces of Evil where he evaluates a selection of Modified Rationalist views on how to answer the problem of evil. Then I read his own answers to the problem of moral and natural evil; it was a long day. I'm thankful for complete silence during the day, because reading that kind of material taxes my wee brain.

Despite the fact that this has been a very challenging exercise, I'm so thankful for it. Being expected to read views I don't understand and possibly don't agree with is a good thing. Slowly, my thinking skills are improving, even at my age. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? This is not something I would necessasrily have chosen to study had I not gone to seminary.

Reading outside of our typical areas of interest is good for us. It opens our thinking to areas that we might never consider. It's like being willing to go outside our home towns. We can be very comfortable in where we engage our minds. Social media makes it possible to craft a safe little echo chamber where we don't let any of the bad guys in. But being in seminary has meant thinking about things from more than one perspective; and my school is theologically, more or less, in line with my own views. I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to go to another school that is outside my own circle. 

It's got me thinking.


Look beneath the floorboards

In Christian circles, the principle that we need mentors is one that is promoted frequently. It is promoted so much that at times, I have felt like I must be living a very marginal Christian life because I don't have that one person to whom I look for guidance. I sometimes think that is a good thing, because I have a tendency to make people more important than they should be.

People will let you down. Even the ones you think never will. 

This past year, I learned something very disturbing about someone who has been a huge influence in my life. My reaction and my feelings are nothing compared to what that person's immediate family has dealt with for many years, so I remind myself that this isn't about me. But it gnawed at me most of the summer. I began to question everything I knew about this person. At one time, I wanted to be like that person. I loved that person. I looked up to that person. I don't know how to feel about it all, even now, almost a year later.

People are skilled at hiding things. If they were't, then there wouldn't be stories of pastors and priests who were revered until they were discovered to have been sexually abusing some poor child or woman; the vulnerable people. No one wants to believe that the person could do such a thing; despite the fact that Scripture tells us that no one is righteous. After we are redeemed, our natures remain the same. We have the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean we will never hurt another person or let another person down. It is guaranteed that we will. 

Sufjan Stevens sings a song called "John Wayne Gacy Jr" that disturbed me when I first heard it more than ten years ago. I have only listened to it a handful of times. But I remember well the last four lines:

And in my best behavior 
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards 
For the secrets I have hid

Having a mentor is a true gift if you find one. But in our rush to direct everyone to a mentor, we should proceed with cautuion. For the one doing the mentoring, it can become a heady experience. Being a mentor is a huge responsibility. There is a fine line between control and influence.

I am unnerved when I see people on social media gushing over their admiration for another person, especiallly if they don't know the person face-to-face; "fan girling," I think they call it. Don't do it. Be careful about people you allow into your heart and mind. It can be so easy to give one man or one woman our loyalty at the expense of our loyalty to Christ. If people we know for years can hide their true selves from us, how much more can someone we see only on a screen?

Don't seek to be a protegé; seek to be a disciple.



Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel the old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts,
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, anad courts.
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight, "Your suit is granted," said, and died.

-- George Herbert (1593-1633)


Real Men Send Their Wives to Seminary

When I first began entertaining the idea of going to seminary, an older Christian woman voiced a concern: going to seminary and putting myself under the tutelage of other men would compromise my loyalty to my husband's authority in my life. That concern needs evaluation on many different levels in what it implies about me, my husband, and our marriage, let alone Scriptural implications. I was so stunned by the comment that I didn't say anything.

My husband is not threatened by me going to seminary. This well-intentioned lady was not aware that my husband's ego is not so fragile as to be uncertain about whether or not he's smarter than I am. Of course he is! He can do math that doesn't use numbers. What my very average intellect lacks in basic ability, I make up for with hard work, determination, and the Spirit of God. No, he's not afraid that I'm going to be disloyal to him. And the notion of his "authority" over me has never been something we've actually hammered out. Perhaps that is wrong of us. 

I don't respect my husband out of a notion of his having authority in my life. Of course, I embrace the biblical injunction to respect my husband. It's easy to respect him because he loves me and treats me as an equal before God. Again, maybe we're doing something wrong, but I don't sit at the feet of my husband as he holds open a Systematic Theology textbook and Bible and instructs me. To be honest, he finds Systematic Theology very dry and boring. Any kind of "teaching" is evident in the way he lives his life of faith before me and in how he sharpens my thinking and challenges me.

I had out of control anxiety four years ago; my husband's theology was evident in how he ministered to me. And it didn't involve answering my questions about the noetic effects of sin or the extent of the atonement.

Men of God desire for their wives to know God better. A man who insists on being the only one to teach his wife spiritual truth is not more godly than any other man; and he may actually be in a position where he's exerting control, not instruction. A man who insists that any other spiritual influence other than his own is forbidden is not a man I want to be in a relationship with. And my husband is not one of those men, thankfully. 

At my school, there is a regular event for seminary wives. I understand that there are particular needs and challenges in that area, but what about the seminary husbands? Do men whose wives are in seminary not face challenges? Like, for example, being perceived as being somehow threatened by the male professors? By appearing weak and simpering because they allow their wives to be taught by other men while they are out working so that their wives can afford seminary?

A man who rests in who he is before God ought not to be threatened by his wife going to seminary. He should encourage her. A theologically astute wife is a benefit, not something to be afraid of. As I said, maybe my husband and I are not doing marriage right, but after 31 happy years, it works for us.


The wishes of a mama over 50

There are many things about parenting which I wish I had known. When I see on social media the things that concern young mothers -- the things which consumed me at that stage -- I want to stay "stop!" I want to say that there are things they are obsessing over that are non-issues. But I would not have listened to me, so why would anyone else? I certainly didn't listen to anyone. 

  • I wish I had worried less about their behaviour and more about their hearts.
  • I wish I had taught them less moralism and more about who God is.
  • I wish I had not pressured them to attend youth group when they did not want to.
  • I wish I had respected their individual issues rather than seeking a "one size fits all" approach.
  • I wish I had NEVER taken part in the Gary Ezzo parenting classes.
  • I wish I had understood the difference between a desire to see them do right and my own desire to control.
  • I wish I had been better at distinguishing compliance from true spiritual fruit.
  • I wish I had listened to them more and anonymous online voices less.
  • I wish I had blogged a lot less.
  • I wish I had taken their emotional pain more seriously.
  • I wish I had known God's word better.
  • I wish I had worried more about teaching them how to defend their faith than I did in ramming "courtship" down their throats.

Is there ever any end of regrets? Probably not. But there is mercy. And thankfully, God and my children extend it to me daily.