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Entries in Seminary Notes (127)


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. 


Turkey, wedding dresses, and power studying

This week was very intense. It started last weekend, actually, and was made worse by my own laziness. To be fair, the cold I had a couple of weeks ago did not leave quickly. I was very lethargic for quite a while after that razor-blades-in-the-back-of-the-throat feeling dissipated. In short, by this time last week, I was behind in my reading.

Last weekend was Thanksgiving here, and its business was increased by the project (albeit a joyful one!) I had on Saturday: buying a wedding dress for my daughter. With that accomplished, I was able to focus on  Thanksgsiving celebrations. All the kids were home, and it was wonderful.

However, by the end of the holiday Monday, I was only about 80 of 266 pages into the book Hard Sayings of Jesus. I needed to have it done by Tuesday so that I could meet with my fellow group members for an assigned project. When I arrived for the meeting, I still had about eight or nine pages to go, but in the end, it was okay. The book wasn't overly difficult, but it wasn't exactly a breeze. It required thought. After the meeting, I had a class from 6:30-9:15 pm. I arrived home by 10:30 that night, feeling a little fried. 

That left me with Wednesday to finish a Greek Exegesis assignment and study for a quiz. Some of the material, I had only given a cursory glance. I also had another group project meeting (another class, another group project) on Wednesday afternoon. As I drove the hour there and back, I was wishing there was a way to quiz myself on Greek vocabulary while driving. 

I basically spent all of Wednesday night working on Greek. I try to get to bed early on Wednesday nights because I leave here at 6:45 am on Thursdays, but it was 11:30 when I stopped. I was very thankful to hand in the assignment and do the quiz. Even though I wanted to stay for chapel, I went home and crashed.

The difference between an introvert and an extrovert is how they are energeized. My husband finds discussion and interaction with people very tiring. He gets energized by being alone. I am not on either extreme. I am an "on the fence-trovert." While I loved the discussion in the meetings I had with my group project members, and I thoroughly enjoyed my class on Tuesday, I was so exhausted by Thursday evening that I didn't mind one bit that my husband had decided to go watch a concert my sons' band was doing. I blissfully watched the Montreal Canadiens' home opener (clarification: I watched them lose their home opener) on my own.

I cannot imagine how seminary students with young children manage. One of my classmates, another woman, has four children; and they are at that stage where she's driving them around everywhere. One of the other students, a man, has five children. Perhaps the difference is that I'm not used to having a lot of activity anymore, and when I do, I find it tiring.

My game plan now is to avoid the situation where I'm doing five or six hours of Greek homework in one sitting rather than spreading it out over the week. 


Battling the Distraction Demon

Last fall, right when school started, I started to experience a worsening of my GERD symptoms. It was not anything major, but it was frustrating, because I was taking medication daily. In the midst of getting started in school, my mind had to start pondering food triggers. What was it now? I went through the rounds of herbal teas (which, I'm sorry to say, all begin to taste the same after a while: blech) and increased my water intake and basically eating bland foods. Nothing.

This was annoying because I wanted to focus on my first few weeks of school, not wonder whether or not I was going to have start eating differently. Eventually, however, I went to the doctor and had a chat with his physician's assistant (whom I love). She was not sure what was going on, but ordered a gastroscopy and took some blood. My blood results came back with being positive for the H.pylori bacterium. Easy peasy solution: take some antibiotics, which I did. Gastroscopy came back clear. Distraction over. My GERD is no longer an issue. In fact, I've been off the meds for almost a year now.

This fall, when school started, there was another distraction demon. This one came in the form of some family issues which have surfaced over the past four months. These involve my extended family, including my parents. These are issues which I see now have been one of the most significant contributions to many of my own struggles, especially as it relates to trusting other people.

I don't want to think about these things right now. I recognize that I can't change the past, and that in all likelihood, there is no solution except to lean on God, to find my strength in Christ. What better place to do that than in seminary, right? Nope. The distractions still come. They come on the hour long ride to and from school, as my mind wanders. They come when I'm feeling tired and it's harder to concentrate. They come because these are family issues, and you can't get away from who you are. 

One of my friends suggested to me once that such distractions in the midst of seminary is a spiritual attack. Satan does not want me to be in seminary. It's much better for me to be obsessing about the past and dealing with struggle in the here and now. Satan does not want any of us to succeed in knowing God more.

I know I am right where God wants me to be. Being in seminary is the one place I actually feel like I belong. Last Thursday, I had a wonderful conversation with a fellow student as he shared with me his thesis research on the atonement. He spoke to me like a colleague, not like a silly little woman who was only at seminary because she needed a hobby. Talking to people about the deep things of God is enjoyable, and when I'm doing that, the other problems are far from my mind.

So, I'm going to keep praying for the distractions to stay away, and I'm going to forge ahead. 


Bible teacher or biblical teacher?

I have been studying the Bible for over thirty years. I've taught the Bible to others for over twenty. I've read books by authors who are marketed as Bible teachers. There is a difference between someone is a teacher with a bibical mindset and someone who is there to help the student open the Word of God and learn from it. The two are not synonymous.

I can write a post on this blog about an issue from a biblical point of view; say one on parenting or vocation. I would refer to the Bible, but that's not the same thing as taking a passage of Scripture and teaching it. The latter means picking it apart, staying in context, focusing on the individual phrases, taking into consideration the background, the setting, and if it's a narrative, the characters, plot, and resolution. I think a good Bible teacher will show the student how to study and learn from the Bible. There is a lot we can learn about what the Bible teaches simply by reading a book written from a biblical point of view, but to know the Bible deeply requires really opening it up. It's work. 

In preparation for my Synoptic Gospels class this week, I've been reading from three different places: Mark 1:16-8:6; Matthew 3-10; and Luke 3-9:50. I've read each of those sections four times now. The last time through, I did some comparison between how the authors presented various accounts. I read carefully. And I'm not done. Because the sections are relatively large, I really could not stop to focus on one specific spot. Bible study means getting into the Bible. 

Books about the Bible won't do that for you. Reading a biblical perspective on an issue is good and such books help us to wrestle through our own ideas on issues. But unless it's a book about a specific doctrine or a commentary, a book on a topic is going to open up the author's interpretation of the biblical material more than the Bible itself. If I am looking for a book that will help me understand the Bible more, I need to look for authors who have clearly been in the Bible; a lot.

This whole area of how we read, interpret, and teach the Bible is one I'm very interested in. If there was ever going to be an area of dedicated research that I would pursue, that would be it.


The Bigger Impact: Television or the Internet?

Yessterday at my school, our preaching lecuture day featured Dr. Kent Edwards. I was only able to stay for two sessions because I've got a bad head cold and I had to get home for some rest, but the two sessions I saw were excellent. I bought two of his books on preaching, justifying to myself that if I couldn't hear all of his sessions, I could still hear him in his books.

Dr. Edwards' specialty is preaching narrative. He did an excellent exercise and asked us to find all of the epistles in the new testament and (if we had print bibles) to take the pages between our fingers and measure how much of the Bible is epistle and compare it to the rest. Then he asked the pastors how much they preached in the epistles compared to the rest. 

One of the things he did, which I thought was very helpful, was discuss how preaching has evolved. How has preaching changed over the years in light of how people receive communication? Surely, one of the most influential things to happen to preaching was the printing press. Suddenly, sermons could be printed and compiled, not just spoken. Edwards pointed out that sermons became literary forms rather than oral forms. That affected how preachers preached. And then there was a another significant change to the culture. He asked us to suggest what was one of the more recent things to significantly change culture. Naturally, most of us thought of the internet. He said the answer was television, and after thinking about it, I agree with him.

If you want a great resource on the impact of television, you can do no better than read Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman. I have often wondered what Postman would have thought of the internet. And while the internet has changed communication, I wonder if it what it has done has simply intensified what television already started. 

Dr. Edwards pointed out that there is a glut of television shows being made now, so much so that Hollywood can't find enough stories to meet the demand. There is a dearth of good storires, which is why there are such things as "reality television." Perhaps that is why viewers entertain themselves with programs featuring people trying to lose weight or why viewers partake of shows featuring the "Amish mafia." We love stories, but no one is writing good ones, it seems. Furthermore, Edwards pointed out sitcoms especially influence our attitudes. "You laugh at what you agree," he said. It was a compelling point.

Edwards demonstrated to us how the entire Scriptural narrative is the most significant story in the world. It is the story which provides the model for every other story; conflict, protagonists, antagonits, crisis, tension. They're the stuff of a good story, and they are all in the biblical story, and within the individual stories within Scripture. He encouraged us to give attention to the narratives in Scripture by looking at them as stories. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that most of us (including myself) focus on characters and not the story. We look for moral lessons. But that does not go deep enough. 

I am no preacher, but I am a teacher, and it is my desire to be a good teacher, and that starts with being willing to learn how to improve. One of the most dangerous things we can believe as Christians is that we have nothing left to learn. I see how I have barely scratched the surface!