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Entries in Seminary Notes (140)


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!


Seminary Notes - 2018/09/21

It was a good week in school, even though I felt very behind because I was away on the weekend. In Synoptic Gospels, we had a quiz, and upon reading something in the book of Mark later, I realized I got (at least!) one wrong. I thought I was a careful reader. Maybe I need to re-evaluate that.

On Tuesday evening, in Synoptics, we talked about how diverse the Jewish community was in the time of Jesus' life. Just like our evangelical churches today have shared distinctives and divergences, so Jewish religious groups had elements of cohesion, but areas of difference. As an exercise, we got into small groups to discuss that. In the course of my group's conversation, we talked about whether or not an egalitarian could be an "evangelical." There were three in my group, and I was the old lady alongside the two younger (and probably smarter) guys. One guy was adamant that an egalitarian could not be an evangelical. The other was not so quick to draw that conclusion. It was fun watching them debate while keeping to myself my own wrestlings. There is benefit in silence.

I bought a book about Greek prepositions. I truly am becoming a Greek nerd. I find prepositional phrases difficult at times, and it can make or break whether or not I understand what I'm reading. It's all fine and good to know what the main verb is, but those phrases are important. I haven't actually read much yet. Today, I will be reviewing 14 different ways the genitive case can be used and wondering if I'm ever going to be able to get them straight. It's one thing to de-code Greek, but to look at it from an exegetical point of view is another. I am trying to remind myself that understanding is the crucial aspect, not whether or not I can keep my grade point average up. That said, I need to be less distracted. By things like this blog, for example . . . 

As I scanned Twitter this morning, I was discouraged by some of the dialogue. Do the pastors out there who go on and on about politics, and just seem to look for things to moan and groan about talk like that in the pulipt? Or is that their "social media" face? Twitter is one of those distractions I was referring to.


Don't think of Herod before bed

I had my first class in Synoptic Gospels last night. I'm really excited about the semester. We have to do a group project and when I heard that, I inwardly cringed. The class is large, and the thought of having to find someone to get together with generally brings back memories of high school rejection. Thankfully, a classmate whom I already know suggested we pair up and add another to form our threesome. And it's not an all-women group. That was my initial angst: having to introduce myself to people. I don't know any of the other women in the class. So, I and two classmates I know already will work together. God is good.

I haven't had a night class since my undergraduate days. Evening is not always the most productive time for me, but I really wanted to take this class. I have an hour drive, so by the time I got home, it was almost 10:30. My husband was away on business, so I arrived home to two excited dogs. The He Beagle generally greets me by barking without taking breath for about 90 seconds. Every time I come home. No matter how long I've been gone. Both proceeded to run around with abandon at my arrival. After an evening full of information, followed by a drive home and ending with hyper Beagles, I was not ready to sleep. This is problematic, because I'm usually in bed by 10:30. Oh yes, I live an exciting life.

My sleep felt interrupted, I had strange dreams. In class we had talked about the Babylonians, Cyrus, Hellenization, Herod, the destruction of the Temple, and the Roman Empire. My prof read a passage about the social conditions in the Roman Empire; the lack of sanitation, the disease, the fact that most people were abjectly poor beyond our ability to imagine. So my dreams were a combination of that and the episode of Grey's Anatomy I watched before bed in the hopes that my mind would slow down. And the He Beagle was not aware that I was still tired when he began his whimpering at 5:17 this morning. Thankfully, he quieted down until the prescribed wake up time of 6:00 a.m., but I didn't really get back to sleep. I foresee a nap this afternoon.

Tomorrow morning, I have Greek Exegesis. We have our first quiz. Today will be vocabulary review time and verb form review time. I am thankful that I have that class first thing in the morning when my mind is well-rested. I wonder if I had Greek at night if I would dream in Greek.