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Entries in Seminary Notes (102)

Wednesday
Nov182015

Give yourself 90 days

I began reading through the whole bible on August 17th. I will finish sometime at the end of this week. Not exactly 90 days, but given that I was away on a couple of trips during that time, it's not surprising.

My prof assigned the reading. Because he's my academic advisor as well, I knew it was coming, so I started early. I'm glad I did. After I'm finished the reading (which is 20% of the course mark), I can focus on studying for the final exam.

My prof warned us that we may not find this kind of volume of reading what we're used to when bible reading. I think he was surprised when one of the students shared that he thought it was the best part of the class. He was getting up an hour earlier every morning and loving it. I, too, found this one of the best parts of the course.

I think there is a misconception that reading at such a pace excludes any "devotional" aspect of the reading. When we think of devotional reading, we automatically think of sitting over a passage for a time, rolling it over in our heads, and perhaps praying over it. There is no reason when reading a faster pace we can't do that. Every day when I read, I selected a few verses to record in my journal and later reflect on. Often, I would do my reading in the afternoon, and then as I walked with the dog afterward, I would think about what I had read. A couple of times I listened to the bible in the car when my car trip was longer. On one trip, I was able to listen to the entire book of Daniel, and I thought about it for the rest of the day. No, fast reading doesn't mean we're not reading "devotionally." I've read slower and felt very little devotion. I think devotional reading starts with an open heart, not necessarily the perfect time frame for reading.

I thought of some of the longer books I've read, especially novels. One of the longest ones I read was The Stand, by Stephen King. It's over 1,000 pages. I read it in five days. Now, while King is a great story-teller, it's not complicated reading like parts of the bible, but I think sometimes, we automatically think the bible will be hard, so we balk at the thought of reading it from beginning to end. When my husband read Les Miserables, another tome, it was definitely more than five days. But other than the three month break from the book (Hugo really did ramble at points so he put it down for a while), he finished it in under a year. It is possible to finish the Bible in a year.

One thing this exercise did is reveal to me which biblical courses I want to tackle first. Once I get some required courses out of the way, the first course I want to take is on the Pentateuch, and after that the Poetical books. There were so many questions I had which we couldn't stop to answer because we had to plow on through.

It was an excellent exercise. It did eat into my reading of other books, but that was not a bad thing, either. Theology books, commentaries, and Christian living books are great, and I love them. But it was good for me to spend more time in the word alone. I am pretty sure that I too often simply give assent to someone else's conclusions before properly coming to my own.

It's definitely not something I'd do every year, but if you have a chance to do it, go for it. You'll really enjoy it.

Monday
Nov022015

Supernatural pre-suppositions

My seminary class is a survey of the entire bible. Part of the content is examining presence of contradictory views on Scripture. Competing views exist, and it is the prof's responsibility to discuss them with us. One of the matters we discussed as we studied the Pentateuch was the numbers in Numbers, specifically, the census numbers.

There is an objection raised from some areas that if we take the census numbers literally, the number of people is much too large for the ancient world. One critique pointed out that if we took the numbers literally, the population then was bigger than the Gaza Strip today. There were also objections regarding the logistical matters of moving such a large group of people, and matters such as sanitation and livestock. Some critics of a literal reading of the numbers believe that the numbers are an example of hypberbole.

One could spend a lot of time wrangling through such arguments. My prof's motive for discussing them is not to question the integrity of God's word, but to ask us to think about why we believe what we believe. As I thought about these issues, my reaction was, "God is God. Of course he could manage such things."

Our pre-suppositions are important. Do I believe that God is a God of the miraculous? Of the supernatural? The same word that discusses these numbers in Numbers is the same word that a few books earlier said that God created the world, that God opened the way for the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea, that Noah was preserved in the flood. These things are supernatural. If God can open up the Red Sea, he can deal with large numbers in the desert. If God can raise Christ from the dead, he can take care of livestock and waste matters. If we cannot accept a supernatural God, then yes, we will struggle with biblical matters.

A few years ago, I had a young person ask me for a book about the bible that was written from a completely objective viewpoint. I told this young person that I did not believe for one minute that there was such a thing. Everyone comes to the Bible with pre-suppositions. When I read the Bible, I read it with the pre-supposition that it is not just a handful of paper, leather, and ink. It's an inspired word; it is a revelatory word. It is God's word. Belief in that alone demands a belief in the supernatural.

If we want to persuade someone that the bible is God's word and we try to persuade them using the bible itself, we will be in for a struggle. There must come a moment of faith when we approach the bible for what it is. And God must give us that faith. As for our witness to others, all we can do is continue to live according to its truth, to continue to believe. No, we do not suspend our intellect, but neither do we exalt it above God. 

I have to read the entire bible by December 5. I am almost finished the Old Testament. In reading it in such large chunks, and at such a pace, I have seen the miracle that is the bible. It really is far too amazing for someone to have thought up on his own.

Saturday
Oct242015

Behind every seminarian, there is a supportive spouse

This past week, I finally caved. I decided that next semester, I will have to use a Sunday school curriculum that is prepared. I generally do my own studies, but with school this semester, I'm finding it a bit more work than I anticipated. And I am only taking one course. I don't know how others do it.

There are a few young men in my class this semester who have young children. In adddition, some of them have to work to support their families. When I think of the number of men and women with children who attend seminary, it occurs to me that it is crucial to have a supportive spouse or, if the individual has children but is not married, a supportive friend or family member.

I don't have a lot of extra responsibility, but I am active in my local church, and I do make time to visit with children who live an hour away from me. I have a home and husband to take care of. Perhaps I'm getting addled now that my 50's have set in, but I am really glad I don't have anything else to be responsible for. As it is, there are things I don't have as much time for. Yesterday was a gorgeous fall day; a perfect one for a photo walk, actually. The breeze was enough to toss the leaves around, but not strong enough to make walking unpleasant. It was sunny and the air blazed with colour. After the 30 minute walk with the dog, where was I? Inside finishing my Sunday school lesson so I could continue studying for my mid-term exam, which is next week. After studying for a while in the late afternoon, it was time to prepare dinner. After dinner, it was time with my husband. Sure, I could have studied, but I'm sort of funny that way; I think nurturing my relationship with my husband is a good idea. And there was a hockey game on, during which time I knitted so that I could finish a gift on time.

How do these young families do it? 

There are sacrifices involved in everything we do. If a woman chooses to work outside the home, there are sacrifices that the family accepts. If she stays home, there are sacrifices the family accepts. It is the same with education choices. The young husband and father who goes to seminary full-time needs a supportive wife, because I suspect she spends quite a bit of time parenting on her own. How could he focus on his work and accomplish everything without that kind of support?

I'm very thankful that I was unable to attend seminary until now. Aside from the fact that I think being older influences my attitude toward learning, I'm thankful I was able to focus on the kids during their younger years. Other women are good at juggling schedules and workloads. I'm a wimp, and would have been a miserable failure at that when my kids were younger. I'm especially glad I was at home a lot during those teen years. We sometimes think that our kids don't need us as much when they get older, but they do.

Many of my friends are becoming mothers-in-law and grandmothers. Every now and then I wish I was, too. But then I think to myself that I've finally reached a place where I can get back to school. I'm going to be thankful for the time I have to pursue this. And on occasion when studying means we have to eat take-out, or the dust bunnies build up, I'm going to be thankful for a husband who really doesn't notice dust bunnies, and is always up for having take-out.

Friday
Oct162015

Blogging lessons in middle age

I think I'm probably more than middle aged. The average lifespan of women in Canada is not 100 years old as far as I know. Late middle age is a better designation, I guess.

I love how God continues to teach me lessons as I get older. Perhaps it's because I'm in seminary right now (and I am definitely not the oldest in my class at the moment), but I feel like I'm learning a lot about many things. Maybe the estrogen deficiency induced brain fog that seems to have taken over has lifted somewhat. At any rate, I'm learning.

I have been blogging for eleven years. Lately, I don't blog much, and that's largely because I'm busy with other things and because I have finally (and I am sure there are many who are relieved!) reached the point where I realize that I don't need to express every thought that comes into my head. I did that in the past because I felt obligated to blog every day. However, there is no crown in heaven for blogging every day. Actually, on occasion when I tried to blog every day, there were one of two end results, and maybe two of two results: first, I took time away from something I needed to be doing, probably paying attention to my kids or my husband or my home, and second, I blogged about something that didn't need to be blogged about.

In the past ten months, I've blogged less than ever before, and it hasn't been such a bad thing. I've spent more time reading and thinking. I've actually written quite a bit. There is a lot of value in writing for oneself rather than an audience. But most of all, I've realized over these past ten months that I just don't need to add to the noise. Who cares what I think about the latest controversy? When Christian scandal breaks out, hundreds, if not thousands, of responses pop up, and usually there is usually only a handful which are helpful or even necessary. Too often in the past, I jumped on the bandwagon. And what did I gain from it?

We can't change the foolish decisions we made in the past, but I trust in the fact that the majority of what I wrote is largely forgotten by those who read it; unless of course, it was really bad, and in that case, I don't want to know about it. I tend to react quickly (which can be good in some situations) and that has not always served me well. I'm learning how to be more thoughtful, and that means speaking less. This past week I had to answer the question "What do we learn about God's sovereignty and human responsibility from the Major Prophets." In 200 words. It took me all of the five days I had to complete it to finish. I really had to stop and think and I definitely had to choose what was most important to say.

I am sure most people have learned this lesson much earlier in life. I tend to tak a lot longer in learning such things. But I am thankful that the lessons come eventually.

Friday
Oct092015

How blogging can adversely affect a seminary student

Seminary is teaching me a lot; and not just the course work. It's giving me insight into how I've changed as a student.

In my undergraduate days, there was no social media. There was email, but there was not this continual glut of information screaming for our attention. We could close the newspaper, turn off the television, and have silence. In recent years, though, as I have engaged in blogging and social media, I, like many, have noticed a deficit in my attention span.

This was really brought to my attention this past week as my class discussed wisdom literature. As I read through the class's answers to the reflection question -- which are supposed to be around 200 words -- I found myself getting impatient with those answers which clearly went beyond 200 words. I forced myself to concentrate, because part of this class is interacting thoughtfully with others.

And that brings me to something else I noticed. Just how thoughtful am I? I was in a hurry to get my answer completed, not think deeply. I am more used to blogging, which features a lot of fast responses. Do most people spend a week or more contemplating every blog post? Some do, but judging from the way post after post popped up in the wake of the drama surrounding Douglas Wilson, most often, people post quickly. I have been guilty of that myself more often than I would like to admit.

Critical thinking takes time and effort. It takes silence, too; and not just audible silence, but the kind of silence we get from unplugging for a couple of hours; or days, if necessary.

There is a need for thinking fast on one's feet. I can do that, but I want to be more thoughtful about things. I am glad that there is something which is forcing me to do this.