Baptism: 18 years old. Or something like that. I was a different person then.
First semester of seminary done, and I can say that I am a different person now that I was when I was first baptized. Not simply because of seminary. Age. Relationships. School. Questions. Mainly the questions. These are what shaped me.
In this picture, I thought of my faith as something very steady, that I’ve been building for a while, that I know I should have. I even made a testimonial about how my faith was like vegetables– I learned to like them and feel that they were good for me and I can’t imagine my life without them. It was a funny speech, and a simple one. I still err on the side of funny and simple.
Now, my faith and my life is becoming less about the “shoulds.” And more about the “ares.” I’m less concerned about the way things should be and more about how things are. This shift has been multi-layered. Partly, I’m less concerned about doctrine– what a manual might say or what a book might prescribe, and more in tune with what my experiences are telling me about truth. I’m no longer a fan of Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye or Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge or Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. This is an understatement: while Harris and his book’s name are unfortunately etched into my brain, I forgot the titles and author names for the later two books and had to search for them on Google with the terms “princess desired christian dating wild,” all the while praying that no disturbing images would pop up. I am also very disillusioned by Focus on the Family and boundless.org– while they served a purpose in my life at one time, I find that their stances on gender and sexuality are constricting and limited, and fail to account for identities that lie outside of the heterosexual, cisgendered married/seriously dating/single and seeking norms. And the purity culture that they espouse is damaging.
One of my professors, Dr. Kristen Leslie, once asked, “Do you miss the certainty that you used to feel?” When I was sure that Focus on the Family and boundless.org held answers, and if I followed all the guidance of these books and my mentors, that everything would turn out according to plan and I would be happy, and loved, and fulfilled? Yes. Yes, I do. But I’ve outgrown that, because I see how those sources don’t provide answers anymore, and they are biased in sometimes wrong ways, and if I am going to seek a vocation in which I help diverse types of people, these “sure answers” will not work. They will not be sure, because we are not all the same. I went home, and then thought to myself, She spoke to my soul. A professor asked a question that cut right to my soul.
I used to sometimes just flip open the Bible, and see what answers it would have for my present situation. It’s a living text, right? Augustine did it, and it worked out for him. And I still believe that the Bible has truths that transcend time and place, but I think less about the idea that all answers lie within the Bible and that the Bible should be my first source of guidance, than the concept that the Bible contains overarching themes and motifs that have spoken to humanity for centuries. In addition, the messages we receive from sacred texts and faith leaders are partly powerful because of the way we react to them and interpret them. I have not randomly flipped open the Bible for answers in months. I am not sure if I want to anymore– not that I don’t consider the Bible sacred anymore, but my approach is much more informed and thus will be more targeted.
I know which areas of the Bible speak to experiences of exile and to the feeling of being isolated and foreign, and I know which areas aim to project images of triumph and hope. I know the parts of the Bible that speak about doom in order to make sense of suffering, and warn about the repercussions of cultural/religious compromise. And I know the parts that envision peace despite histories of war and conquest, that seek to undermine colonizers and subvert attempts to oppress with patriarchal imagery. The Bible is more than the words themselves. The Bible is its history, and the interpretations and criticisms made throughout the years, and my interpretations and criticisms today. I, too, am a theologian. Heck, I wrote a paper on genocide in the Bible that explained it beyond shit happens, but God said it was fine so it’s fine. Because divine excuses for murder always go over so well /sarcasm.
And then there’s the personal growth, not necessarily tied to seminary, and possibly more as a function of age and experience. Planning things out and wishing to be 30 years old with everything figured out didn’t work out for me, in the sense that my plans didn’t pan out, and trying to control my life trajectory didn’t make me happier. Instead of who should I be? I’m trying to ask who am I now? I have no answer for what I’m going to do with my (oh it sounds so pretentious prepare yourselves) two degrees, but for now, I am trying to learn what I think I should learn (ok, I’m going to throw a should in here now, so sue me, but please don’t because I’m trying to minimize my debt) now, and figure out the career/vocation stuff later.
Anyway, I guess I got this super energetic second wind to write this blog post, partly because I have no more work for seminary, and partly because I drank three cups of tea, and partly from a hunger high (prawn chips + banana + hawaiian bread =/= dinner). Now I’m super hungry; almost hangry. So I’m going to abruptly end this blog post (because I’ve never done THAT before) and leave.
But mainly, I started this in order to post my slightly inadequate thank you letter to the Roblee Foundation:
I am grateful for being one of the recipients of the Roblee Foundation Scholarship for the MDiv/MSW program. Without your financial support, my education would not be possible.
This marks my first semester at Eden Seminary, and I have already started to develop a deep appreciation for this dual-degree program. In Pastoral Theology and Care, I have particularly appreciated Dr. Kristen Leslie’s devotion to rigorous theoretical psychological/sociological/theological foundations for practice and our weekly role-plays that have prepared me for pastoral care with diverse populations. In addition, I have enjoyed Dr. Laurel Koepf-Taylor’s instruction on Biblical Studies I, and my learning on the historical-critical approach to Bible as sacred text. When colleagues have sought to make simplistic critiques of Scripture in reaction to recent culture wars, I have challenged their thinking with my knowledge of how ancient cultures and history have informed Biblical narratives, and thus continue to contain truths that are applicable today, even in a postmodern context.
My understanding of Scriptures has strengthened my conviction that social work should inform faith in practice and faith should inform social work practice. Specifically, I have found the importance of the dialogue between social work and divinity to be true in my Equipping the Saints class, also taught by Dr. Kristen Leslie. In this class, my peers were treated as colleagues in work that sought to inform military sexual assault trainings for Navy chaplains, and we discussed and challenged each other on theological issues surrounding trauma, the ethics of seeking change in an institution that hinges on hierarchical command structures, and the nuances of forgiveness and the nature of humanity within various faith paradigms. This class particularly threw into sharp relief the importance of theological studies in filling in the gaps where social work is silent. For instance, how does one address a victim’s desire to forgive an unrepentant perpetrator when there are few, if any frameworks in the social sciences for addressing this conundrum? My studies in divinity offer me a variety of perspectives and more importantly, frameworks, Biblical pericopes, and theological language with which to wrestle with such issues.
With this scholarship, I hope to fulfill the vision of the Roblee Foundation by continuing with meaningful ecumenical work that promotes systemic change by breaking down cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and identity barriers on the basis of my Christian faith. Currently, my dual-degree studies are helping me write grants and design programs for Faith Aloud, my contextual education placement, an ecumenical non-profit organization that is committed to bringing about reproductive justice in St. Louis and is the only nationwide pro-choice provider of spiritual counseling. I look forward to what the future brings, and hope you will continue your much-appreciated support.