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Entries in Seminary Notes (114)


Eating lunch with ten men

In 2012, I went to the Together For the Gospel conference with my husband. When I got back, I blogged about a week in a man's world. I had another one of those last week.

When the spring class schedule came out, I eagerly registered for the course "The Old Testament in the New Testament." After having finished hermeneutics, this seemed like a very good follow-up. A bonus: the prof is one I've had before, and I really like his teaching. He's also my academic advisor, and just a really nice guy. The class was run last week, every day from 9:00-4:00, thus compressing all of the class hours into five days. It was a spring course, so I anticipated that it wouldn't be a big class. I really didn't expect to be the only woman in the class. Perhaps I should have, but I didn't. 

I sat at the back of the room and watched as the other nine students arrived, and none of them was a she. There was a mix of ages, from the two 60+ gentlemen at the front to the 22 year old theology prodigy who sat directly in front of me. And then there was me. 

They were all very nice, of course. I started talking to a 30-something fellow who mentioned reading Berkhof. After that, it was like finding a kindred spirit of sorts. We chatted about B.B. Warfield, our thoughts on dispensationalism, and the joys of the reading the Puritans. On the last day, he told me that he and his wife had found an OPC plant to attend. 

Yes, they were all very nice. We all went for lunch together on the last day. While I was eating my lunch, my husband texted me to say he was having lunch with our son. I texted back: "I'm having lunch with ten men."

While there was a lot of learning going on, and everyone was very nice, there were times when I could see that there is a certain comeraderie that exists among young men who are all going in a similar direction. Most of these young men have ministry in mind. Some of them have already been in a pastoral role. They had similar experiences to share with one another, and they all see similar paths ahead of them. While I, too, have a path of serving the Lord ahead of me, it's not exactly the same. While we had things to talk about, it's not the same as having another woman in the class. And let's face it; to the young men, I'm more like a mom. And that's understandable. They were polite. They were respectful. The theology prodigy held the door for me when we went into the restaurant.

We need more women in seminary. Women are attending higher education in huge numbers. I think I read somewhere that there are more women in the law and medical schools than there are men. If women are pursuing higher education, why are they not in greater numbers in seminary?  Is it because there is more possibility for a career in another field? 

If I thought telling others than I am going to seminary was amusing or awkward, telling them that I'm taking Hebrew in September is even funnier. Usually, the response is, "You mean, like the book of Hebrews?" What was really nice is when I told the 30-something Puritan lover I was taking Hebrew in September, he was encouraging, and said, "You'll have a lot of fun."  Now, if I told someone I was in seminary for counselling, there would be less surprise. It seems more natural for women to want to counsel than study theology. I, however, ought never to counsel anyone.

All in all, it was a great week, occasional awkwardness aside (especially when we had to find a partner to do an assignment). My mind was full, and my resolve to do well spurred on even more. The weeks ahead are going to be filled with a lot of hard work. But I love it, and as I said to my friend on Saturday, I feel like I'm right where I'm supposed to be.


I wish you could have all come with me

There were more than a few times this past semester when I wished that I could have had taken some of my friends to seminary with me. The content of the course, studying and interpreting the Bible, is one that I know many of my friends, on-line and face-to-face, would have loved. 

Aside from learning biblical interpretation skills, I also learned a lot of other things, and one thing continually came up: this book is amazing. The Bible is amazing. And several times, it occurred to me that not every Christian has a copy of the Scriptures in her own languages. My husband and I support missionaries in Papua New Guinea who are in the position of the tribe they live among not only lacking a Bible, but they lacak a written language. This is a huge challenge. I can't even imagine what that it like.

There was a time when owning one's own copy of the Bible was frowned upon. Even 150 years ago, not every family had its own copy of the Bible. There was a day when the Bible was chained to a pulpit in a church to protect it. Books were expensive. Women did not have the kind of time to study that we do now. They had no modern conveniences to wash their clothes or cook their meals. Likely, they were juggling more than 2 children. Likely, the daylight hours were filled with work, not study, and when evening came, there may have been no electric light. We are priviledged.

Yet, for all that priviledge, there are still many who don't put Bible reading and study on the top of their priority list. There are many other things that interfere. We have technology that is meant to give us more time, but are we using it to get into the Bible? This should be an age when biblical literacy ought to be at a high, but it isn't. We have hundreds of different kinds of specialty bibles, but are we studying them? And I don't mean the obligatory chapter a day. I mean sitting down and asking ourselves, "What does this mean, and what are the implications?" Yes, we have pastors whose job it is to preach the Bible, but since we have our own Scripture and the resources to study, why don't we?

Not everyone needs to attend seminary, but all Christians should be invested in study of the Scripture. And we ought not to be afraid of throwing ourselves into the pursuit. A while ago, someone asked me why I was attending seminary if I have no plans to become a pastor (because I don't). I said I wanted to learn more about God and the Bible. The answer was: "Aren't there any ladies bible studies at your church?" I had a hard time explaining that yes, there are, but I wanted more than that. I suspect that I am occasionally looked at as if I'm getting above my station.

Some of the best moments of the class this semester was when our prof went out on a bunny trail about a biblical principle and got a discussion going. It was wonderful to learn among others who are just as invested in learning as I am. Not everyone needs this, but I think everyone needs to be invested to some extent if we as the church are going to survive in a culture that is not our own. Christian womanhood involves caring for our loved ones, our children, our husbands. Yes, it involves being hospitable and keeping a good home. But surely there is time for study. Surely, with all the ease we have, there is time. 

I'm getting off my soapbox now.


Who'd of thunk?

On a day very much like today, twenty-nine years ago, I was a bride. The tulips were in bloom, the sun was warm, and I gave very little thought to the future. It was a day to be a bride.

Many of my friends are watching their children prepare to be married, or are welcoming their first grandchildren. I kind of thought that by this age we'd be getting closer to that stage. Recently, when I heard about one of my son's friends expecting a baby, I grumbled a little to my husband that at this rate, we'll be in our wheelchairs by the time we come grandparents, and we'll have to be careful our oxygen tanks don't get in the way of holding the baby. 

With all serioiusness, however, I'm a little glad there are no babies just yet. The one thing I never anticipated was that on my twenty-ninth anniversary, I would be spending the bulk of the day preparing a seminary assignment (plans for a meal with the kids is later tonight). I was about forty when I began to have inklings that I'd like to do this, but even two years ago, I wouldn't have thought it would be happening now. 

If there were grandbabies, I would be torn between time with them and time with school. And just like I didn't really want a job competing for the attentions to my husband and kids (yes, I'm setting back the progress of women's rights by centuries; sorry), I am glad there is nothing distracting me at the moment. My kids are young, and have time. They are doing things now they wouldn't be able to do if they had spouses. I have no problem with young marriages, but their situations are much different than mine was at their age. Besides, their future plans are not about me.

I could not do all of this without my husband. I am so grateful to God for a husband who supports what I am doing. He is not threatened by a woman who studies. He's not afraid that if I study he will somehow become less in my eyes. He's not afraid that I'll become more loyal to my seminary profs than to him. Last year, when I struggled with anxiety, I saw the depths of my husband's faith and support for me. I know you don't need a seminary education to have that, and having a seminary education doesn't guarantee that.

I'm grateful to be where I am. When we got married there was no promise of this particular outcome. I could have been widowed; he could have been widowed. One, or both of us, could have been ill or disabled. The fact that we are where we are is all of God's grace and goodness. And if instead of celebrating today with my husband I was ill or widowed, God would still be good.

And I don't need seminary to understand that.


Random thoughts while being buried

Buried under by school work, that is. Honestly, I don't know how the students in my class who are taking multiple classes do it. One of the guys in my class is taking four classes. I figure I'm either too old for this, am not using my time well, or I'm too fussy about my work.

I'm immersed in Colossians at the moment. I spent the afternoon at the library yesterday. I've decided that I need to avoid the library in the afternoon. When I was there in the morning last week, it was beautifully quiet. Someone behind me spent a great deal of time eating his contraband Cheetohs. I decided to be cool, and ignore him rather than do what I, as a mom, was tempted to do, and point out that his noise was not supposed to be in the library, and if we was going to break the rules, could he be a little more understated with it?

Some people just don't know how to whisper. A young man -- and I mean, the guy looked twelve years old -- came in to speak to another student. His attempts to whisper were ridiculous. I now know that the gentleman he was speaking to has just become a father, that his wife is doing well, and yes, he watched the Blue Jays the other night. I saw the young man later as I headed to my car. He was going into the dorms; ah, a first year student probably. He'll learn.

Pillar Commentaries rock. Seriously. I have two of my own, and I spent time with the volume on Colossians, by Doug Moo. I coveted that commentary. I wanted to take it home, but alas, I got it from the reference room. I'm getting perilously close to really needing Logos, so that I can have such things without my house exploding from the number of books. But Logos doesn't come cheap. What is the point of having Logos if I can't pay my tuition or eat, or pay my car insurance?

Word Biblical Commentaries are totally unruly, despite being highly recommended. The paper is newsprint, which is ugly to look at. There is not enough space in the margins, so I feel like I'm reading Charnock. That is isn't a bad thing, but when the deadline is Tuesday, I need to be able to read more quickly. To really benefit from Word Biblical Commentaries, you have to know Greek. Note to self: add Greek Elements to your future plans. 

Reading commentaries can take the joy out of studying the Bible. We need the expertise of the men and women who handle the text, but sometimes, all the debate about why Paul couldn't have written this, or why that date clearly couldn't be the date everyone thinks, can take the pleasure out of learning about God's word. This is why having commentaries that are easy to skim is important. My prof said that some of the best commentaries are written by what he called "raging liberals," but those commentaries are not fun to read.

This is hard work, this learning to interpret the Bible well. And it's hard work to order my thoughts together for a coherent paper. It's not enough to just have an impression in my head. I dream at night of a special data cable that plugs into my head and then into my Mac, and magically reproduces my thoughts in a beautifully formatted paper.

But it is wonderful work. The Word of God is a masterpiece.

Time to get back to work.


And Irish immigrant and a middle aged seminary student

That kind of sounds like the opening of a bad joke.

En route to my weekly class, I have been listening to books on Audible. I listened to Angela's Ashes, and now I'm listening to the sequel, 'Tis, which depicts Frank McCourt's move from Limerick to New York. I am at the part where he begins attending NYU, after having served in the U.S. army during the Korean War.

From his early days as a custodian at the Bitlmore Hotel, McCourt looks on with envy and longing at the students who gather there. He comments frequently about how they look, with their white teeth, easy confidence, and learned conversation. He wants to have that kind of learned conversation. He wants to tell them that he's read Crime and Punishment. But his past, his poverty, and his accent hold him down to a place where he feels worthless. As an observer of this, I know he's not right. As I hear his poignant, terse prose, I know he's dead wrong.

Once he is at NYU, despite his composition professor taking note of his rich writing, McCourt still feels disadvantaged. But he presses on. Even though he is embarrassed at his accent, and secretly resents everyone who, immediately upon hearing it, assumes that he is an expert on Ireland, he presses on. He works two jobs, sometimes, jobs that keep him up all night. He has very little time for any kind of life outside of working to keep body and soul together so that he can complete school. It's inspiring.

My situation is nothing like McCourt's. I have had a very comfortable life. I know nothing of his hardships. I know nothing of the poverty he lived with or the discrimination he faced when he first arrived in the country that was actually the country of his birth. But I recognize that feeling, sitting in a classroom, feeling ill-prepared.

I have done well at seminary so far, but there are times when I have felt uncertain. There have been times when the younger students in the class have blown my mind with their analysis and their ability. I don't concentrate as well as I used to, and the younger students just seem so naturally astute. There have been times when I've shared something in class, and then agonized over it on the ride home, asking myself, "Why can't you just keep quiet?" I don't want to feel stupid. More and more, as I have attended seminary, I realize that one of my greatest fears is being stupid. I have no idea where that came from. And it's something I want to squash. I went to seminary to learn about God, and I need to focus on that. I need to just press on.

Another thing I have discovered as I attend seminary is that to balance the reading and studying I do, I really need books like Angela's Ashes and 'Tis. I need fiction, too. As much as I have enjoyed the books I have read this semester for class, they don't transport me the way memoir and fiction do. I don't find myself getting teary-eyed over a pssage in Introduction to Biblical Interpretation the way I did yesterday, listening to McCourt recount a story of sitting on a pier, sharing a sandwich with a Jamaican immigrant who was more like a father to him than his own. Fiction and memoir remind me that words create pictures in a way non-fiction doesn't. Being immersed in study all day is tiring, and my middle-aged brain needs these kinds of breaks.

I've always had a hunger to learn. When I see someone else with that hunger, I immediately feel a kinship. Even if he lives in the pages of a book.