Because life is a series of edits

Archive for June, 2005|Monthly archive page

Fear and Destiny

In Seminary Tychicus on June 29, 2005 at 11:15 pm

With regard to the whole seminary idea, Learner has two main fears:

1) “Believing his own press” and overestimating his academic faculties that he’s really cut out for this. He so longs to learn and grow, to write and teach, but he does wonder sometimes if he just has hermeneutic or homiletic limits (among others) that he will never be able to exceed.

He’s experienced some of this before in other areas – sports, music – in which no matter how hard he practiced or how long or passionately he gave himself, he hit his plateau and there he stayed. Being around some of the folks here, he wonders if that will be the truth academically. He’s always felt much more “street smart” than “book smart,” but there doesn’t seem to be much place for “street smart” in a world of grades and degrees and programs.

2) Not having the courage to, if it’s all wrong, recognize that what he had at one time thought would be a good fit really isn’t. Then, instead of gutting it out for the sake of pride, convenience, or a healthy dose of penance, actually decide it wasn’t the right move after all and go in a different direction without feeling totally defeated and discouraged.

While he’s not at that point of moving yet by any means, the main reason probably has more to do with thinking about his wife, his family, and what others would say rather than any felt desire to persevere and gut it out for the sake of Greek (and the Mdiv). Oh, and the fact that he has no other idea what he would, could, or should do – that’s probably another big reason.

One thing Learner is reconsidering is the idea of doctoral work (Craw just told him tonight that there’s a glut of people with doctorate degrees out there right now anyway, so it’s not like the world needs anymore). The question he’s trying to ask now is not “should he or shouldn’t he,” but rather “does what he want to do require it or not?” He’s trying to get time with certain profs here he’s heard can help in answering that question, but he says he wishes he were more confident in what he knew God wanted of him.

It’s weird, Learner says: he had such a strong sense of rightness about making the move to seminary (and he still does not regret at all having done any of that). He wonders, however, if the path through seminary might be shorter or different than he had originally planned? Of course, there’s some pride there, particularly when he thinks of having to justify his existence to his donors as to why they should still support Learner and his family, but he’ll still send out the donor newsletter he’s been working on all week.

Ever since he was a kid, and especially since he came to Christ at the age of 14, Learner says he has always had a huge sense of destiny on his life. His hope here is that this destiny isn’t a destiny to fail.

The Sound of Music

In Seminary Tychicus on June 28, 2005 at 12:32 pm

In moving to seminary, Learner and his family gave up quite a lot. While hardly complete, an initial list might go something like this:

  • life in an attractive city with beauty right in the backyard
  • a home in a great neighborhood
  • an involved and influential role in a respected ministry
  • twelve years worth of good friends
  • a good church
  • familiarity
  • memories

Before moving, Learner had prepared to deal with the loss of most of these and, for the most part, has felt their loss more indirectly than directly as he’s been so focused on his studies. But there’s been one loss he’s experienced more directly that he had neither anticipated nor planned for. That loss was the sound of music.

You see, due to a delay in the housing situation, Learner and his family have two more weeks of a six-week sublease to fulfill before they can move into their own apartment. By themselves, six weeks wouldn’t have seemed that awful, save for the fact that the delay came on the heels of eight weeks spent at Learner’s family’s farm.

Thus, when they finally move in, it will have been over three months he and the family have not been in their own place and missing a majority of their things, music being one of them. Granted, Learner and his wife have hundreds of songs stored on their respective computers, but they have lacked speakers through which to share any of them together, which has always been important to the family.

If anyone has listened to music, it has been through headphones (too exclusive) or on computer speakers (too tinny). Thus, van trips are more enjoyable for the simple pleasure of being able to play songs at a decent volume so all may interact with them. Unfortunately, because they live on campus, they haven’t had need to go anywhere.

As mentioned, Learner didn’t think this unintentional fast from music would be that big of a big deal (or any kind of deal, period). However, being without music and a means to share it with others in the midst of transition has reinforced the thought that, when they move again, stereo and speakers get packed separately (if at all).

Influence (or Lack Thereof)

In Seminary Tychicus on June 26, 2005 at 8:55 am

True to form (and very much like the stock market), Learner is the self-correcting type, as the optimistic thinking documented in the previous post yesterday has turned into a bit of a pessimistic funk today. It seems this morning that the hope of his idealism to bring about world change has once again met head-on with his inability to do so in any practical way, shape, form, or timely manner.

Frankly (and as a result), he’s not been all that fun to be around.

Part of his struggle, I think, has much to do with what he’s been reading: Bono in Conversation with Michka Assaya. Two-thirds of the way through the book, Learner expressed his envy of Bono’s brilliance, eloquence, and platform earned/given as voice of the world’s biggest band and spokeman for D.A.T.A. (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa). Nice work if you can get it, Learner says.

While he doesn’t think it’s fame that motivates him, Learner says he’s not sure about that, either. After all, when you have dreams of influencing millions of people, it’s hard not to think of celebrity as a means to that end. Of course, those who are celebrities always try to play it off that they are not. Bono does precisely this in the book:

Assayas: “So you don’t see yourself as a celebrity, then.”

Bono: “No, I’m not a celebrity.”

Assayas: “Who the hell are you, then?”

Bono: “I’m a scribbling, cigar-smoking, wine-drinking, Bible-reading band man. A show-off [laughs]…who loves to paint pictures of what I can’t see. A husband, father, friend of the poor, and sometimes the rich. An activist traveling salesman of ideas. Chess player, part-time rock star, opera singer, in the loudest folk group in the world.”

When thinking about celebrity, Learner does not contemplate the vices that often accompany being well-known; in his idealism, he always and only imagines the good that could come from such a given platform. This vice-less dreaming is due to a degree of naivete (not to mention the fact that he doubts he’ll ever have to worry about it).

So, this morning, he is going to church to blend in and try to let go of his delusions of grandeur at the altar of a local assembly, to try not to lose anymore of the momentum in his studies pining to God about lack of brilliance, eloquence, and platform.

Faith, Learner says, is a long, dusty road to a place of influence. Celebrity, he says, seems a shorter, more appealing route.

Solving the Problems of the World

In Seminary Tychicus on June 25, 2005 at 7:54 pm

Along with “Brock,” “Little R” and “Mrs. Little R,” Learner invited me over for dinner last night. Mrs. Learner (whom I will write much about soon, as she is a woman worth writing much about) prepared a tasty meal, and the evening was pleasant in a way people eating together for the first (but presumably not the last) time can be.

Brock and Little R are in Learner’s Greek class and, according to Learner, doing quite well (both got 100+ scores on the aforementioned Greek exam; Learner only pulled out an 88). While conversation initially touched on Greek studies, it soon transcended prepositions and perfect verb forms as Learner, Brock, and Little R engaged in a good hour’s worth of conversation around the question of what THE moral issue of the day might be, who seems to be on what side of it and why, and what might be done about it and how.

As one intriqued by their ideas (as well as who once spent a good amount of time around Paul, a master debater), I must say it was a rather spirited conversation. Brock was sure the defining issue was abortion, which one could certainly make a case for considering the millions of helpless babies killed since 1973. Little R didn’t so much name a particular issue, but talked of how political viewpoint affected the church and people’s moral compass. Again, a valid observation and contender for the title of “issue of the day.”

Learner, just trying to keep up with his younger (by 10 and 7 seven years, respectively) dinner guests, posited that the defining issue of the day was not abortion or the political spectrum, but a leaving out of the full scope of issues in the name of the one (i.e. conservatives being “pro-life,” but in denial about poverty and health care; liberals protecting “inalienable rights” at any cost, but in denial as to where those “rights” actually came from or might go if left unchecked).

As a listening bysitter, I was impressed by the tone and direction of the discussion, as well as the hearts of concern that emerged as a result. Granted, these were three young, semi-idealistic men whose convictions far outweighed their experiences when it came to things like governmental policy. But their understanding and analysis of what the real issues are (instead of what the political parties say they are) came out of a wisdom far beyond their years and for which none took credit, but instead pointed to the Scriptures as their rationale.

Yet, while they may have had the weight of moral authority on their side, the humility with which they swung that particular sword was somewhat inspiring. This conversation was not about who was right but about what was right, a discussion rarely entered into these days (at least cordially) among believers.

As a result, I think Brock, Little R, and Learner felt the same tinges of inspiration I did last night, namely that as long as we can talk earnestly and graciously about issues with a listening ear to what the Gospel says, there’s hope we might actually resolve some of them.

Ministry While in Seminary? (Gasp)

In Seminary Tychicus on June 24, 2005 at 12:13 am

A few weeks ago, when Learner was just getting started in his studies, he received this email from a previous acquaintance:

“I barely know you, yet you’re the ONLY Christian I know in your area. So, I’m writing in hopes that you can help. A friend of ours moved there last fall to attend chiropractic college. He is not a believer, but IS a seeker, coming out of a Mormon/Catholic background. When he lived here, he would attend church with us and really liked it. He wants to get plugged into a church there but doesn’t have the first clue where to start. Neither do I. In your time there, have you found a church or two that I might suggest to him? I so appreciate any help you can offer. Hope you’re adjusting well to seminary.”

Wanting to help, Learner responded that he knew of several good churches and was happy to recommend them. Better yet, he replied, he was glad to invite the friend to go to church (though Learner and his family – more on them soon – had only been here for a week). His guess was that it would be better for the friend to make a connection personally before wandering through a slew of churches when he wasn’t even a believer yet. He might need someone to walk along with him, process, ask and answer questions, and be a friend.

A week later, another email from the initial contact:

“He responded quickly – and positively! – to the possibility of hearing from you, being invited to church, talking about spiritual things, etc. He is completely open and I think looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks again. Whatever the outcome with him, I’ve already been immensely encouraged by your heart to reach out.”

So now it’s up to Learner to follow through. And while part of him has high hopes for the opportunity of ministering in some way to this “seeker,” part of him is skeptical that anything might come of it (remember how I mentioned he holds his idealism in tension with his realism, rarely letting one get the better of the other?). Well…

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Learner’s Second Home: The Library

In Seminary Tychicus on June 23, 2005 at 11:44 am

I must confess I am impressed with what the concept of “library” has come to mean since my day; what is in existence now compared to what we had centuries ago is rather extraordinary. And, since Learner is spending most of today in the seminary’s library studying, I thought it appropriate to make note of his surroundings and a few of his reflections on them.

As Learner will tell you, the most gratifying mark of a good library is the patrons’ commitment to the covenant of silence. Granted, there are moments when this covenant is broken, but typically these are few and far between; thus, when little more than the white-noise hum of the ventilation system floats in and throughout the stacks of books and corners and crevices of the facility, ah…

In addition to the sanctity of such silence is the positive peer pressure of going to the library to read and study and little more. This, of course, has become complicated in recent years by the technological advance/regress (depending on one’s discipline) of Wi-Fi, but Learner does well balancing his studies and his surfing, “rewarding” himself every 45-60 minutes with a 10-15 minute Internet break.

Another benefit of libraries is they are generally free, with patrons needing only a library card to check out its resources. Whether rich or poor, one’s access to ideas is without charge, one of the most beautiful and powerful concepts to Learner in all of existence.

Libraries, of course, can be both inspiring and discouraging; inspiring in that the culture has produced so many books on so many different ideas, and discouraging in that no one could fully tap into the wealth of information in the course of a mere lifetime. Ecclesiastes 12:11 comes to Learner’s mind often regarding this: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”

Still (and for the most part), libraries are an introvert’s domain. Unlike so much of culture and its emphasis on the loud and the brash and the public, libraries are quiet, courteous, and private, much like Learner can be himself (and the way he often wishes the world was). Still, the good ideas will eventually end up in here, where Learner can deal with them on his own turf and in his own way and time.

And that’s a quiet little idea that makes him very, very happy.

Of Stogies, Port, and Denominations

In Seminary Tychicus on June 22, 2005 at 8:11 am

Having provided a general introduction to Learner’s seminary, let me be more specific and introduce Learner’s new neighbor (I’ll call him Craw), with whom we enjoyed an evening of cigars, Port (burgundy wine with Portuguese roots), and discussion of church government of the aforeveiled denomination.

The funny thing is, of course, that Learner has never been much of a smoker, a drinker, or a denominationalist. Craw, on the other hand, is very much all three (though not to a point of cancer, drunkenness, or religiosity). Of Japanese descent and from Los Angeles, Craw says he never read a book until he was 19, didn’t finish his undergraduate degree until he was 27, joined the Marines because he was bored, and ended up converting to Christianity. Now about to turn 39, he has a wife, three kids, and a confidence of calling to the pastorate that seems genuine enough.

Being a second-year student, Craw is knowledegable about most things (or at least more so than Learner) with regard to the seminary and denomination. Even though Learner only has one professor this summer in Greek, he now “knows” (or more accurately, “knows of”) more thanks to Craw’s honest but fair profile of them. While there is opinion in his thoughts as to views on doctrinal positions or teaching styles, there is respect in his tone for the men as pastoral professors, and that balance counts for something in Learner’s book.

Craw’s thoughts go beyond the scope of seminary; he seems well-versed and street smart as to the workings of particular church governments, noting where (at least from his perspective) each might be a little too tight or too loose in relation to the Scriptures with regard to what each interprets and does. Again, while it wasn’t too hard to discern Craw’s perspective on the issue at hand, it was presented in a fair enough manner.

All in all (and despite the pseudo-headache in the morning presumably from the port/gin and tonic/unimaginably low tolerance trifecta), Learner enjoyed the evening and looks forward to visits to “Che Craw” to gain perspective from this older, more-informed neighbor/student.

A Unique Environment for Studying and Living

In Seminary Tychicus on June 21, 2005 at 6:50 am

Learner’s seminary environment is an interesting one. It’s not a ridiculously big student population (say over 25,000 like his undergraduate experience was) in which one sees mostly different people everytime one walks outside. Instead, walking around on this small campus of twenty acres, the faces remain mostly the same, enabling more familiarity and (sometimes awkwardly) community.

There is very much a sense of safety and trust, with bags and laptops and the like being left on tables for longer-than-usual periods of time without much thought given to the possibility of theft (Learner’s family have yet to lock the door of their three-bedroom apartment or their two vehicles in the parking lot). The facilities are well-kept (though Learner has been disappointed in the student body’s sense of responsibility for trash), and while there are rules and guidelines in place, none seem peculiarly over-the-top in terms of legalism.

Other observations? People are very focused, not at all like the undergrad world. Men are here to study; women are here to ensure that the men can (and do). Children serve as both distraction and relief from the workload, and literally all parents seem to care and have great concern about the children being here, not just from a perspective of making sure they are not hit by a driver in the parking lot, but that the children are mindful and respectful of others with whom they interact in any and every situation.

With a range of ages anywhere from 22-52 in campus apartments, seminary is a unique environment for studying and living to be sure. Differing marital statuses (in every campus apartment building there is one apartment reserved for singles among the families occupying the rest) and a variety of backgrounds and nationalities round out the demographic makeup of the student body.

If groceries and worship were not a consideration, one could go for months never leaving the property (a thought that appealed to Learner and his family from the very beginning, though they have “gotten out” plenty of times since moving in three weeks ago). Still, they recognize this existence for what it is – a novel one they probably will never experience again in the course of their lifetime as a family – and thus are pinching themselves trying to comprehend it.

Enjoying and making the most of this environment is precisely what makes studying and living here so easy…and so hard.

Greek to Him

In Seminary Tychicus on June 20, 2005 at 7:15 pm

Tonight is Learner’s first Greek exam. After only two weeks of four actual classes, he’s had three quizzes, covered ten chapters, learned the alphabet and over 120 vocabulary words, and memorized (sort of) almost ten different verb paradigms for present, imperfect, future, and aorist (1st and 2nd) forms, all with active and deponent variations. This is not your everyday language course (or at least not Spanish, which he took 13 hours of in college, never to speak again).

Back in my time, of course, Greek was the language of the day, much like English is now; thus, when I was delivering Paul’s letters, I never gave much thought to the reality that so much work would need to go into making his words known to so many. When you really think about it (and Learner has), it is an amazing thing that so many translations have been made for hundreds of different languages, and that so many of them have been in existence for hundreds of years. The world has benefited from some very smart and committed people in the discipline of language translation over the years.

While Learner’s glad from an educational perspective to be learning Koine (or “common”) Greek, he did mention in between flashcards that he wonders as to the actual value of devoting an entire summer (with an entire course of exegesis in the fall) to this historic language, particularly with the software and concordances available to aid in translation nowadays. Wouldn’t it be more effective and a better use of time to teach students to use those tools to get at the nuance meanings and ideas?

Truth be told, I’m a bit worried for my friend. He says he comprehends the concepts of what’s being taught but, while he knows his vocab inside and out, the verb conjugations, contractions, and parts of speech parsing are eating his lunch. His average score on the first three quizzes (45 points total) is 75% (a solid C), but this first exam is worth 100 points and covers it all. He’s studied, but he’s not sure what he really knows or if he can regurgitate it accurately and in the allotted time (an hour) on an exam.

He’ll find out tonight, I suppose.

The Idolatry of Church

In Seminary Tychicus on June 19, 2005 at 6:17 am

I fear I may not have done Learner justice in my last post with regard to his thoughts and feelings concerning the Church. It being Sunday (and with Learner preparing to teach Sunday School this morning at the request of an absent assistant pastor), allow me to elaborate on more of what I know his thinking to be.

If you were to ask Learner if the Church was God’s only and ordained way to reach the world, he would say yes…and no…and yes…and then probably that he wasn’t sure. This comes from a variety of experiences (too lengthy to go into in this one post), as well as a self-recognized lack of ecclesiastical study over the years (another reason he is in seminary now). As mentioned before, he believes the Church is the Bride of Christ, and has in the past three years moved toward taking a fuller part in that analogy.

But he has not fully embraced the idea of what he has often called “the idolatry of Church,” that mentality that tends to serve as justification for people to do things in the name of the Church rather than in the name of God. Granted, he realizes there might not be all that much of a difference between the two (and forgive him, he says, if he’s splitting hairs), but he’s very sensitive (probably overly so) to behavior of pastors who seem more like small (or large) business owners of their churches than humble shepherds of God’s flock.

And yet (and this is part of what Learner struggles with in all this), loving the Church in the most passionate of ways makes total sense, certainly biblically as well as rationally. After all, if she is the Bride of Christ, we should want to love her because Jesus does (the old “Girlfriend/Fiance/Bride of our best friend, Jesus” argument).

Learner gets all that conceptually. But (and it’s not a question of ease in his mind), why doesn’t the idea of loving the Church with such zeal overwhelm him the way it does so many others? Why, if indeed he is seeking to follow and love God, a more passionate care and love for his Church is not manifest in his life?

More on these thoughts, I’m sure, as we go along.

Hope and Realism

In Seminary Tychicus on June 18, 2005 at 9:04 am

In talking with Learner, you might wonder just what exactly he hopes to accomplish by being at seminary. While a Christian and (thus also) a believer in the Church, he is hardly a “company man” from the perspective of most things denominational (which denomination that is, well…perhaps later). While he loves God and the Church, they are not equals in Learner’s mind and, if forced to choose, he would choose the former over the latter (which, of course, is the right answer, but as it’s a “straw man” question, let’s just be glad such a choice really doesn’t demand to be made).

From an academic perspective, Learner is not (nor has he ever been) your most brilliant of students; in college (a place where he was still very much learning to “apply himself” as they say), he was a solid B/C student. Though many may think of seminary as nothing more than a religious education (and perhaps this was his mistake as well), it is graduate-level work. As the seminary is (by most evaluations) a good, accredited school, Learner has been a bit overwhelmed at the idea of what lies ahead. Two weeks, he says, has felt like two years, but it’s only been one class (granted, a language) in the summer! From my vantage point, this could be a long road to hoe.

If you were to talk with Learner, you would probably come away with a very vague yet real sense of destiny in his description of who he is and what his hopes for this time are. The thing I appreciate most about him is the mix of hope and realism he constantly holds in tension. In most people, one of the two eventually overwhelms the other, but not with Learner; as long as I’ve known him (which has been for more than several years now), he has refused to relinquish neither his dreams nor his duties. While this can be exhausting for those of us around him, it can be inspiring at times as well.

Greetings and Salutations

In Seminary Tychicus on June 17, 2005 at 5:04 pm

It’s a strange thing, technology. Had I had more of it a couple millennia ago, life would have been grand (or at least easier) in accomplishing that which was asked of me (but that’s another blog). And yet, those tasks got done; after all, I made it into the Bible in a rather positive light, and Paul’s words survived well enough.

And yet, an even stranger thing is those who have technology (particularly of the communications kind) but are frightened to use it. Such the type would be my friend, whom I’ll call “Learner,” a seminary student as of merely two weeks (though he wonders if he’s the better for it). He thought about telling all this himself, but instead asked me to do it for him (after all, I’ve had a bit more experience of the “message carrying” sort).

Where exactly are we? Ah, that’s really not all that important, at least that’s what Learner tells me (something about “anonymity at all costs”). I’m not sure why the secrecy or what the risk (after all, it’s seminary – how exciting or controversial can it be?), but I’ve assured him he can trust me with his news here. While I’m afraid you’ll never reach Learner, if you’d like to contact me, you’re always welcome and I’ll be glad to pass on a message or two his way.