I’m A Seminary Graduate (But)

I'm a seminary graduate

I’m a seminary graduate. See? It’s right there, on that nice piece of paper hanging on the wall.

It means I’m a leader; I’m confident and I’m capable. I’m informed and I’m persuasive in conveying my (so-called) wisdom about God and life. I can preach and I can pastor; I can build a church and lead it forth.

But wait… Can I?

Because I am a seminary graduate. CS Lewis lives on my bedside table, and NT Wright is what I might call a kindred spirit. But, honestly, sometimes I don’t give a damn about my person quiet times.

I’m a seminary graduate, and I been moved to tears while translating the book of Revelation from its original Greek. But later that same week at church, I couldn’t pay attention because I was counting down to when the service would be over and I could check my fantasy football score. God knows what the pastor was saying (but Jamaal Charles had one hell of a day!).

I’m a seminary graduate and I yearn for the unity of the church. But a snide comment or subtle remark in a blog post is not beyond me. Even when it’s aimed at another Christian. Because although I am a seminary graduate, sometimes I care more about the “like” button than I do about the well-being of another’s soul. (If I’m being truly honest, then that’s most of the time.)

I’m a seminary graduate. You can sit in my office and you can tell me about your brokenness and cry and swear God could never love you. And I will tell you something about how Christ’s grace can heal whatever you’ve done or whatever’s been done to you. But when you leave, I’ll remember that I have scars and skeletons which- deep down- I’m not convinced this Jesus I like to reference can actually handle.

I’m a seminary graduate and I’ve preached a sermon on “do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth.” But last year I saved about twice as much money as I tithed. Granted, I am a seminary graduate, so that’s not saying much. But it is saying something.

I am a seminary graduate. I can parse all the Greek verbs in 1 Corinthians 13. But tonight I got into a fight with my wife over- and yes, I’m serious- who should do the dishes. We made up just in time for me to start another one over taking out the trash.

I’m a seminary graduate and when I say a prayer in public my words flow eloquently; they fall like poetry off the tongue. But last night, when the hour was dark and my heart cold, I couldn’t pray. No matter how hard I tried.

I’m a seminary graduate, dedicated to living a life of moral uprightness, purity and fear of God. But I have internet filters on my computer; when I’m angry, I swear like a sailor; and- let’s be honest- sometimes I’d just rather have a drink (or two…or three…).

I’m a seminary graduate. I mentor younger Christians. I formulate discipleship plans for college students. Numerous people call me their “accountability partner.” But if I’m mad at you then I have trouble telling you to your face. I’m more liable to talk behind your back, and spiritualize by placing it between the parentheses of a “prayer request”.

I’m a seminary graduate but I might as well be Job’s friends. I tend to be quick to speak, slow to listen and – why should I be the one saying sorry?

I’m a seminary graduate. I’ve taken counseling courses and read endless case studies. But still don’t know what to say when you ask me: “why did God allow my miscarriage?” If I say anything it’ll probably be something cliché, stupid or even hurtful. Because I’m a seminary graduate, but my daily bread tastes a little too much like my own foot in my mouth.

I’m a seminary graduate. I know God is beyond my reach- yeah, duh. And I know that I’m no wiser than the next guy. Still, I like to talk about God in absolute terms, in subtle ways to inform those around me that I have a direct line to the Almighty, one they haven’t been offered. They don’t have a Masters of Divinity, you see.

I’m a seminary graduate. But there are a few bottles of pills at my bedside. I need them to get through the day.

I’m a seminary graduate and I wrote my own Statement of Faith. It was fifteen pages (and that’s without the footnotes!) and had words like soteriology, eschatology and dispensationalism. But if a stranger on the subway asked me what I believe about God, I’m not sure what I would say.

I’m a seminary graduate. See? It’s there on my resume. But I’m scared to death that you might actually hire me, call me ‘pastor’ or (dear God!) ask me to preach.

When I started seminary I had a great deal of admiration for graduates. Sure they didn’t have it all figured out. But more so than me. Still, I was getting there. At the end of each semester, I crossed off the classes and eyed the remaining requirements with an executioner’s stare. And I looked forward to when I would finally ‘get there.’

And now I’m here.

I’m a seminary graduate. I’ve got the letters by my name; I’ve got the classes under my belt. But I still look in the mirror and see the same puzzled, hurt, lonely, excited, wandering, arrogant, startled, and confused eyes staring right back.

Somehow I flew under the radar and I’m not the person I should be. I’m scared; I’m insecure; I’m arrogant; I’m greedy; I’m broken; I’m lustful; I’m stressed; I’m busy; I’m wrong; I’m right…all at the same time.

Because I’m a seminary graduate. But I’m not much different from you. Save for the fact that my ass is especially familiar with the cushion of a certain library chair. Save for the fact that I was called out of the world- like a toddler on ‘time-out’- to help me figure out how to then live within it. Save for the fact that I may be slightly more aware of how small I am because I’ve been granted a slightly longer glance at the vastness of the God we worship. Maybe I have sunglasses while you’re eyes are closed to protect them from the sun. But we’re both floating in the same lifeboat.

I’m a seminary graduate. And yes, you might hire me. And yes, you might listen to me preach. And yes, I might lead you and yes, you might pay me (…please?). But I’m a seminary graduate. No more though sometimes less.

I’m a seminary graduate. But I’m on the same road as you. So please, won’t you take my hand?

Let’s do this life together.

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Sunday Quotes: Till We Have Faces

As referenced in yesterday’s post, one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors:

“The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, ‘Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.’

A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

CS Lewis; Till We Have Faces

Superman & Faceless Creatures

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Can I be honest with you? I’m not a good person. A decent person, maybe. I don’t indulge in any illicit substance, I’ve not committed a hate crime and the only thing I’ve ever stolen was Bobby Reynolds Superman action-figure; I took out of his sandbox, one pubescent summer day after he refused to share his fruit rollup with me (which is to say that the twit had it coming). So I’m a decent person, maybe- but certainly not a good one.

For example, this past week we travelled across the country to visit some family before Christmas. My wife, ever the economical guru, managed to find us the cheapest flight possible- meaning it left at zero dark thirty.

Now a good person, a good husband, would’ve been thankful for her financial prudence. Heck, a good person might even be allowed a few grumbles at first, but certainly wouldn’t have complained the entire trip to the airport and certainly wouldn’t have used manipulative guilt (“I sure hope sleep deprivation doesn’t spark migraines… and did you hear scientists have linked it to pneumonia?”) to make her buy him a donut at the terminal. No, a good man wouldn’t even consider these things.

At times I look in the mirror. Have you- and excuse me for asking so bluntly- ever really looked at yourself in a mirror? Have you taken in your eyes, the color of the line where your iris meets the pupil, the depth of the whites around them, the twitch and twitter of countless muscles pulling them to and fro? I’ll wager you haven’t- few of us do. And the thing is when I look at my eyes, I mean really look into them, I couldn’t tell you what I see. I want to call it a face- for that is the only name I know. But what I see is beyond faceness: in a way it’s the absence of a face- it’s an intangible form but an existent one nonetheless. It’s indescribable, really. Try it, you’ll see.

I think about the afterlife a lotdon’t you? It seems logical that some day I’ll be required to give account, not for my decency, but for all the not-good I have committed: words spoken in anger, teenage-backseat rendezvous, my potty mouth, that one night with that one(ish) handle of whiskey and, of course, stealing that twit Bobby’s stupid Superman. In this regard, I have much fear and trembling. For I am not good, as we have established. And should my faith in the justice of paradise’s gatekeeper turn out to be even remotely accurate, then I’ve earned my way to an eternity of early morning flights.

It was CS Lewis who once proposed that heaven will be realness beyond our capacity, more than we can bear. And that makes sense- doesn’t it? I mean if you think about eternity- truly contemplate neverendingness, time without a clock-well it’s rather terrifying isn’t it? I’d rather think about anything: tragedy, pain, heartbreak… the notion of having to catch a flight at the butt crack of dawn- I’d rather muse over all these things than think about eternity. I just can’t bear it. Because when I look into my eyes I see no face capable of smiling upon the suns endless rays. And with no face- what hope do I really have? How can we meet the gods face to face, Lewis will later ask, until we have faces?

I suppose it brings us to faith, hope for grace and mercy. Because I have no face- I am not good enough to know one nor am I powerful enough to make it.

And If I make it to the pearly gates, if I’m there when the clouds come down and veil of beauty around us is lifted, I suppose I shall break down weeping- weeping in the simultaneous sadness and joy known only a father on his daughter’s wedding day, or a mother as her child backs down the driveway, car packed to the brim for college- a feeling known to truly loving another, perhaps for the first time. I shall weep and I will beg for a face, a face to smile, a face to laugh, a face to praise and a face to behold the beauty stretching before me into everlasting. I’ll ask for a face not because I’m good; more than ever I shall know I am hardly decent. But I’ll ask because I’m before the Good, and if I can only behold it, have the face with which to see it, then nothing shall be lacking in me. And, if He is as wonderful as I believe, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a face. And I shall go my way, into forever.

But not before asking that He makes sure to also give one to Bobby Reynolds. That twit.