Because life is a series of edits

Archive for July, 2005|Monthly archive page

His Own Best Friend

In Seminary Tychicus on July 31, 2005 at 8:37 pm

Learner and his family have been rather extroverted this weekend: a seminary ice cream social on Friday night, a 24-hour visit on Saturday from Learner’s father (for grandchildren and tourism purposes), and church on Sunday morning (with spur-of-the-moment lunch invitation from another family and a planned dinner with Albert and his clan – both meals very enjoyable), and that’s that. Weekend over.

All-out extroversion is rare for Learner. Make no mistake, he’s good with people, but easily exhausted by them as well. Much of this comes from his temperament (not a hint of sanguine in him); other parts come from a healthy degree of selfishness and a propensity to be by himself whenever possible (Mrs. Learner swears he’s his own best friend because he likes to be alone so much).

After getting his kids in bed (though not yet asleep), Learner made the comment that he might have overdosed this weekend with the wee ones. A statement like this never goes over well with Mrs. Learner, but after a week full of half days in the morning and a weekend of 24/7 presence, he says the library’s looking pretty good.

One highlight of the weekend: Learner taught his oldest to ride a bike, an experience that he says was both wonderful and anticlimactic at the same time. Wonderful in that his desire to turn it into a teachable moment of trust (i.e. his oldest trusting him in the process) was fulfilled; anticlimactic in that the whole thing only took about 20 minutes or so and, while he’s glad for the short length, he wonders if anybody could have done it just as easily as he did.

By his own self-inflicted, semi-ridiculous thinking, the guy can’t win.

The Learner Equation: C=MDiv

In Seminary Tychicus on July 28, 2005 at 1:59 pm

Learner just got his Greek grammar exam back.

70%. A nice round number, he says.

Mouth Wide Shut

In Seminary Tychicus on July 27, 2005 at 10:04 pm

From Learner’s reading tonight – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (ESV):

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'”

Very much what Learner needed to read/hear this evening, as he is surrounded by people who are seemingly and consistently at least ten times smarter than he is. It’s humbling, he says.

The good news is that he’s grown enough in the past ten years to not open his mouth and pretend he can keep up; the other news is that he’s not sure he could even if he tried.

Living with the Messiness of the Bible

In Seminary Tychicus on July 26, 2005 at 10:36 am

You’ll pardon me for yet another entry concerning Learner’s Greek class, but it is, after all, what has consumed his summer thus far. Last night was his grammar final exam and, he says, it was a doozy. He thinks he may have passed it, but that’s as far as he’ll hope.

As has been typical all summer, after the exam and a drink break (not the kind Learner could have used at the time, but it was liquid at least), there was still an hour of lecture left of the three-hour class period. Learner’s professor – a gracious man whose stated grading goal is to give Learner and his classmates points whenever possible rather than take them away – began a discussion on more complicated Greek syntax with a brief historical analysis of 1 John.

Concepts. Ideas. History. Controversy. Perspective. Truth. Finally.

The highlight for Learner (and, it seemed, for the rest of the class), was a brief discussion on the translation of 1 John 2:2, which says (according to Learner’s own translation):

“And he (Christ) is the propitiation for our own sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the whole world.”

“For the Calvinists in the room,” the professor said, “you need to wrestle with this.” There was a slight murmur among the Calvinists which, at this seminary, is just about everybody. Then the professor, disclosing his own Calvinist alignment, gave this passionate admonition: “You must learn to live with the messiness of the Bible. Our theological systems are maps; the Bible is the actual ground.”

The room was silent, that is until Learner, feeling a desire to respond out of gratitude for the professor’s words, simply said, “Thank you.”

Last night, Learner dreamt about living with the messiness of the Bible. He says it was good but fitful sleep, which seems about right.

Mrs. Learner Goes to School

In Seminary Tychicus on July 25, 2005 at 11:18 am

Today marks the first day of Mrs. Learner’s academic exploits, as she starts an intensive month-long, two-and-a-half-hour a day, five-day a week class on ancient and medieval church history. As she did for him seven weeks ago, Learner took her picture this morning before she headed off, a new student for the first time in roughly ten years.

It was a moment…sort of.

Some might think the two of them insane to try this – that is, earning two full degrees (Learner’s four-year Masters of Divinity; Mrs. Learner’s two-year Master of Arts and Theological Studies spread over four years to give her a fighting chance) while raising a family of four children six and under stuffed into a three-bedroom apartment.

Perhaps they are (insane, that is), but the fact that the seminary offers a full-ride spouse scholarship is something Learner and his wife have determined they at least need to try to take advantage of; if it doesn’t work for their family (and especially for their children’s own education, the homeschooling of which rests largely on Mrs. Learner), they’ll let it go and readjust.

Still, Learner thinks, how well-used this time would be if he and his wife came away earning two degrees for the price of one? Even if it did not make much long-term difference in terms of ministry path or opportunity (though how could it not?), at least they’ll have been good stewards of their minds during this unique time at seminary.

The Lord’s Prayer (a la Yoda)

In Seminary Tychicus on July 24, 2005 at 6:45 pm

Recalling The Rule of Yoda, here’s Learner’s ultra-literal translation of The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV):

“Thus, therefore you pray:

Our father who art in heaven
Hallowed be your name
Come the kingdom of yours
Be done your will
as in heaven and on earth

Our bread that is daily this day to us give
And forgive us our debts as also we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”

Wooden his translation is. Still, progress he feels he makes.

Greek Comedy

In Seminary Tychicus on July 21, 2005 at 10:09 pm

Last week, I audited Learner’s 3-hour Greek class, and did so again this evening. As you might imagine, my Greek is fairly up-to-date (having lived in a culture that speaks the langugage always helps), so my reason for going was different from Learner’s. He goes because his course of study requires it; I go for the entertainment.

Lest you think I’m speaking in some strange middle voice (which, of course, Greek has), let me clarify: the entertainment has little to do with the language, but rather with those who are trying to learn it. The suspects are hardly usual (names changed to protect the guilty):

  • Cig – a skinny guy who spends his mid-class break outside lighting up for a smoke (it will be interesting to see which church signs him up to be their youth pastor)
  • Buzz – a guy who, without exception, has worn a different rock concert T-shirt to each and every different class meeting (and who has a DVD collection that rivals Blockbuster)
  • Lars – a big guy who mysteriously shows up early for class, leaves his stuff at his seat, exits, and then consistently re-enters 10-15 minutes after the class has started (all this while getting the highest grade in the class)
  • Brock and Little R – two aforementioned acquaintances, both of whom are super-smart and doing super-well in the class (though they consistently deny this fact to Learner, probably to keep him from feeling badly)
  • Albert – Learner’s study buddy and all around great guy who happens to be breezing through Greek, due largely to his insane 4:30 a.m. study habits (as well the fact that he learns best by teaching others, and Learner needs a lot of teaching)

And then there’s Learner. The poor guy is struggling, but it’s not just with grades; it’s with his motivation. After tonight’s quiz, he’s probably pulling a C in the class, but all that could drastically change for the worse with the upcoming exam on Monday over the entire 30 chapters of the Greek grammar they’ve been using. His goal is to pass it, nothing more, as his aspirations aren’t that high right now.

I suppose what’s most interesting to me about Learner and his mates is that, with their baseball caps and scruffy shaves, it’s hard to imagine ANY of these young men as pastors of a church. Granted, that’s what seminary is for, but it seems they – Learner especially – have a ways to go before becoming shepherds of any flock.

Never What It Could Be

In Seminary Tychicus on July 18, 2005 at 11:12 pm

Picking the hottest, most humid day of the summer to move, Learner and his family made it into their own apartment this past weekend.

Just as he did when they subleased for the past six weeks ago, Learner says he idealistically envisions this new place as a sanctuary and base camp for great thoughts and actions to come. He says he pictures himself rising early to meet with God; he sees his offspring eating and playing and growing up into godly children; he imagines Mrs. Learner growing in her studies (which start on Monday) as well.

All this idealism is in the front of his mind, he says, and yet he fears reality sucking him back into life as “normal,” which tends to be equated with “average” in Learner’s mind (and Learner doesn’t do “average” all that well, at least not for an extended period of time).

During the move, Learner’s friend (I’ll call him The Renaissance Man, as he knows a little about a lot of things) made a rather brilliant observation about him. That afternoon, in the midst of the heaviest rain of the summer, when Learner begin moaning about how “nothing can be simple” (a mantra he lives and swears by), The Renaissance Man made the comment that “it is what it is.” Learner shot back some melancholic remark, to which The Renaissance Man (an optimist) said, “For me, it is what it is. For you, it’s never what it could be.”

Busted. The Renaissance Man nailed him. And Learner knew it.

In the time since, Learner has thought of The Renaissance Man’s statement as both a compliment and a curse. Sure, he has high standards, but he also has issues that come with those standards, and he’s not sure if/how he’s to change on this front. For now, he’s just glad for friends who know and love him in the midst of his person and situation. Complicated as both can get, I suppose I’m one of those.

Found in Translation

In Seminary Tychicus on July 14, 2005 at 9:39 am

Learner just translated the first chapter of 1 John.

The key to translating Greek, he says, is to think like Yoda talks.

Suddenly new this day has become.

Weariness

In Seminary Tychicus on July 14, 2005 at 6:25 am

Learner is dragging this week, physically and mentally exhausted from studying Greek, preparing to move into a new apartment, and not sleeping well. He says he feels he’s been hit by a truck. I don’t know for sure, but I can’t imagine that would feel all that great.

Ecclesiastes 12:11 comes to mind: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” Believe it or not (and according to Solomon), physical weariness can come from intellectual exercise. Learner feels like the poster child for this verse right now.

O For a Closer Walk with God

In Seminary Tychicus on July 10, 2005 at 1:55 pm

Sung at the church Learner and his family attended this morning (and the one they will probably become members of soon):

O for a closer walk with God, a calm and heavn’ly frame
A light to shine upon the road that leads me to the Lamb!
Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void the world can never fill
Return, O holy Dove, return, sweet messenger of grace!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn and drove thee from my breast

The dearest idol I have known – whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from they throne and worship only thee
So shall my walk be close with God, calm and serene my frame
So purer light shall mark the road that leads me to the Lamb

– William Cowper, 1772

With a wink, Learner mentioned that God seemed more exciting than Reformed this morning. It did my heart good to hear him say this.

When God Seemed More Exciting than Reformed

In Seminary Tychicus on July 10, 2005 at 12:12 am

Over the past five years, Learner has verbally and literarily ascribed to more of a Reformed perspective when it comes to big issues and looming questions involving sovereignty, justification, and sanctification (as well as the rest of life). And yet in the past 6-8 months, he says he has wondered if any of it really matters, as he’s not sure his Reformed theology is really helping all that much.

It’s not that Learner has fallen off the faith wagon. Not at all. But he does say that he wonders if his four-and-a-half-point Calvinism (really five-point in mind but not always in heart, he says) is helping him walk any closer to and with God. Some of his dissatisfaction, he says, goes back to the whole fatalism mentality that he always struggles with theologically and emotionally – if it’s all planned out anyway, then who really cares (or should)?

Some of it is his own suspicion that, despite his love and desire for total and complete order and answers to all the questions, the Reformed system of theology (along with any and every other system of theology) is nothing but man’s attempt at understanding an un-understandable God. And that seems rather futile (and therefore, in keeping with the aforementioned theme, fatal).

Of all the theological systems, the Reformed perspective seems to make the most sense to Learner logically and theologically (and it certainly has some great men and minds on its side historically and apologetically). But, if it’s the best, it doesn’t seem to be doing much for his sense of relationship with Jesus, and this bothers him. If the theology (and the God of that theology) is so great, why no greater sense of worship, of desire, of love for it (and for him)?

Maybe it’s his semi-whitetrash background, his childhood of growing up in dispensational Methodism, or his early conversion and borderline charismatic exposure at the camp where he came to Christ – he doesn’t know. He does know that he sure seemed and felt closer to God back then than he does now as an experienced Christian worker pursuing a Masters of Divinity at a conservative Reformed seminary.

Whatever became of the times when he would stand in his father’s bean fields, longing for the winds to whip across the plains as a memory and (seemingly) a message of God’s presence? Where, he wonders, has the confidence and courage to pray expectantly and in faith for people, for healing, for plans, and even for rain, gone? If God is sovereign, why does he not “lead” Learner to pray (and then answer) those prayers which used to give him such bold faith? If God is sovereign, why does Learner need to pray for any of that at all?

Sure, he says, they’re all the same old questions, but he’s not the same young Learner he used to be. He wants to grow to know – to really know – God as a person and not just as a personality; to love Jesus’s teachings and not just try to live by them; to walk by the Spirit because the Spirit is noticeably walking next to him. Is that too much, he questions, to ask of a sovereign God? Can God accomodate these request as part of his already-laid-out plans? Or were they ever part of the plan at all? And if not, why not? And if so, what gives?

Learner says he longs for the days when God seemed more exciting than Reformed. He doesn’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but he says he feels (and fears) more and more that they might be.

And he doesn’t necessarily like it.

The Search for Church

In Seminary Tychicus on July 6, 2005 at 12:13 pm

Though it’s mid-week, Learner and his wife have Church-on-the-Brain Syndrome these days as they continue to try to find one here. Of course, it’s not that they haven’t found one; it’s that they have found more than one (actually, many more than one); thus, the problem.

What is so difficult about finding a church? For starters, Learner says, it may be the vernacular used in describing the process: “finding” a church makes the activity seem so much more elusive and mysterious than it probably needs to be, and this plays to the “grass will perpetually be greener” mentality Learner already struggles with. He prefers to think in terms of “identifying” a church, which takes away some of the pressure of visiting so many in hopes of not missing the absolute right one (which he is sure he would never “find” anyway).

Another complicating factor, Learner says, is the fact that churches are more different from one another than they are alike these days. This was not the case 100 years ago, when the amount of variation was minimal in terms of church building design, worship service direction, and even pastoral personality in the pulpit. Back then, church just was; today, however, every aspect of church is an element for variation and branding. This drives Learner crazy.

What else has been difficult? Considering the children always seems to muck things up a bit, not because it isn’t a necessary consideration, but because Learner and his wife tend to evaluate it so differently. From Learner’s perspective, that no child dies or gets pregnant, but merely learns a song or two as well as a short story from the Bible is about the extent of his expectation for children’s Sunday School.

For Mrs. Learner, however, there are higher expectations, namely all of the above being in place, as well as a stimulating craft, an engaging time of interaction, healthy snacks, timely diaper changes, a sense that each child is loved and looked out for on an individual basis, and absolutely NO cartoon animation featuring certain vegetables who sing and dance. It’s not that Learner disagrees with any of this; it’s just that the process and degree of evaluating it all each and every Sunday can be rather redundant.

Couple this with the quest for sound doctrine, authentic worship, and some semblance of community (another topic on which Learner and his wife have varying degrees of opinion as to need/want), and it’s a veritable coin-toss as to where and when the search for church might end. In a city the size of this one, the family could realistically attend a different church each and every weekend for the entire course of time they are in seminary. But this is not the goal, and this is not the plan. With a few more churches on their list to visit, Learner and his family hope to make a decision by the end of summer at the very latest, plug in, and never look back…for now, at least.

Retreat

In Seminary Tychicus on July 3, 2005 at 9:05 am

For the Fourth of July holiday, Learner and his family are heading out of town to his family’s farm 100 miles north of here. The children are looking forward to time with their grandparents; Learner is looking forward to time not being at seminary.

But it’s not just a retreat from the seminary that Learner is anticipating (after all, his next Greek exam is Thursday, and he will be taking his studies with him). Rather, he is looking forward to getting away from the city, from the busy interstates always filled with traffic that criss-cross and roar right next door to this place.

While Learner has never been all that much of a farm boy, he certainly has the mentality of one much more so than a city boy. Things in the country just make more sense to Learner: the idea of seeing and knowing people more than just randomly; the responsibility of being a good neighbor; the sense of respect and connection with the land; and the quiet – oh, the quiet, he says – that comes with living on gravel roads and not gritty highways.

This will be Learner’s first trip back to the farm since he and the family left it to come here a month or so ago. It will be interesting to see if it “feels” different returning as a student again like he was when he came home periodically from college. Of course, with family in tow, it will definitely be logistically different from those days, but he imagines some of the same feelings will be present.

Retreat. There’s nothing like it, he says, and he’s asked me to come along with the family to experience it. I’m honored to be invited.