…and heard nothing, too. And certainly didn’t hear the new Bieber album.
…and heard nothing, too. And certainly didn’t hear the new Bieber album.
I have a confession to make: I littered this week. It was just an apple core (okay- sorry, I shouldn’t be justifying it). I ate it while driving to a meeting. I didn’t want to have it left sitting in my cup-holder. So I casually dropped it out the window of my car, hoping- praying– that the butterfly effect wouldn’t mean that I’d just killed the remnant of some exotic orangutan in Malaysia.
I dropped it just before coming around a bend; I figured I’d be well out of sight within a couple seconds and I wouldn’t have to give my transgression another thought. But then traffic stopped. And- because God’s justice and humor are mixed- I came to a halt with my side mirror perfectly focused on the apple core lying in the street. The pavement suddenly looked remarkably clean and kempt; the core was it’s only blemish.
Thus was my sin, resting on the street like a pimple on the tip of one’s nose come school picture day.
I also saved a life this week. This too while driving between meetings. I’d seen her from a distance, lying halfway across my lane, in just the spot so that car wheels wouldn’t hit her- unless she tried to move further. I threw on the hazard lights and dashed between cars. I lifted her and carried her from the road, gently laying her in the grass. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes caught mine. And in that moment, I felt brave.
I think she was a box turtle. Possibly an eastern painted. I’ve never been able to tell the difference.
I was out for a walk when I came upon a small pond. It’s situated just off a local back road, between the pavement and some forgotten railroad tracks that parallel it’s northern shore. To be honest, it’s less of a pond and more of a disgusting scum hole. The water is murky and mud of various colors populates its shores. Leaves are slowly rotting in the shallow parts, creating a consistency similar to that of old porridge.
If Satan has a septic tank, I found the overflow.
As I passed the pond- onto greener (and cleaner) pastures- I couldn’t help but notice some bubbles disturbing its otherwise morbidly placid surface. I looked closer and saw the outline of a fish, no more than a few inches long.
Remarkable, if you think about it. That a pond so vile could be a portal for the miraculous; the boy has five loaves and two fishes- but he hasn’t showered in days.
The human necessity to be a necessity is often overlooked. No one wants to be a leech. We might like the benefits of such a role. But no one wants it on their name-tag.
I’ve been struggling this week- well, most weeks really- struggling with the fact that I don’t measure up. No one’s ever told me as much- at least, not directly. But I’ve not made any progress on some of my writing projects; a friend was in town but didn’t have the time to visit; when I look in the mirror I see wrinkles, flab and pimples jeering back; on the graduation program there’s no sigma cum whateverthehellitis next to my name.
And in the void of affirmation, a mutant whisper rises from the shape of an apple core, lying on the road: “You’ve no merit, no purpose. And you’re deeds smell like a scummy pond.”
But there’s at least one turtle that might beg to differ. My accuser stands ready; but the defense is rising from the ashes.
A little hero is all I am; it’s all we are. And even this only during the shining hours, our greatest moments. Moments when we transform into small ones, but heroes nonetheless. Our best intentions dash between traffic where we might slip on an apple core. But still we run. And the smelly ponds we’ve become may reek but they’re also a lifeline for the least of these.
And isn’t that enough?
If I live this life for the sole purpose of picking up a turtle from the middle of the road, if I’m the pond and that’s my fish, my calling, my cross—isn’t that enough? Won’t grace bridge the gap between redemption and errant but earnest hearts?
When I returned home from one of those meetings or walks- I really can’t remember which- my wife greeted me with a hug.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
How puzzling. “I was only gone an hour.”
She didn’t say anything but held the hug for another moment, another breath. And the rising of her chest against my own felt like bubbles drifting to the surface of a placid pond.
“I saved a turtle today.”
She looked up and smiled. “My hero.”
Congratulations!!! Yeah, you. I’m talking to you. You who three years ago walked on campus with your moleskin journal and Gap khakis. You who enjoy discussing things like hermeneutics, atonement theories and the theology of a mustache . You who regularly correct your grandparents: “No, I’m going to seminary. Not cemetery.”
Yes, you. I’m talking to you:
Because you’re about to become a seminary graduate. Which just kinda means that everyone expects you to know how to explain Revelation and you’ve yet another institution calling to ask for money. Okay, so it means a bit more than that. Just a bit.
In fact, here’s a few other ways you know that you’re about to graduate from seminary:
“‘Quicken?’ is that an imperfect or imperative?”
2.) Whenever your parents visit and ask if there’s anything they should bring, you say:
Dry campus = dry theology. And it’s been a long three years.
3.) When a church offers you a salary of $30K you’re all like:
4.) This is your reaction to dispensationalist theology:
5.) This is what happens when you think of no more meetings in your favorite professor’s office.
6.) When your spouse responds “ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?!” to you mentioning the possibility of even more school, all you can say is:
7.) When you realize you actually have to return your library books (no more eternal renewals!) you respond:
8.) You have frequent freak-outs at the thought of being called “Master of (ANYTHING)”. Because it just sounds absurd. Heck, you only just figured out how to (properly) make Ramen. And you learned just yesterday that cars require oil changes every now and then (sorry again about the van, pops). Sure, you know a lot about what white, dead guys think about God and sure you can parse verbs in five (dead) languages…but “Master”?
9.) Regardless, you still enjoy correcting people’s pronunciation of Barth.
10.) But this is what happens when you read your student-loan repayment plan:
11.) Listening to Taylor Swift results in an existential crisis regarding your calling.
12.) Every other person you meet asks you if you’ve read The Shack or The Chronicles of Narnia.
13.) This summarizes your most recent job interview:
14.) You regularly have nightmares that involve your professors saying:
15.) Thinking of doing life without your seminary classmates makes you wanna:
16.) When old college friends ask if you’d like to go out for dinner, you feel the necessity to remind them:
17.) You used to think ministry would be like:
…but now understand its really like:
18.) Your landlord congratulated you on finishing graduate school by asking:
“…and no, you can’t pay with Biblical commentaries.”
19.) You began seminary being all like:
…now you have no problem telling someone:
20.) You listed “God” as a character reference on your resume.
21.) …the same resume on which you also listed “Fantasy Football Manager” under “Additional Skills”.
22.) You have at least 25 books that you purchased for class, never read, and don’t plan on selling.
23.) At least one friend has asked you to proofread their Greek tattoo.
24.) This was the last advice you received from your significant other:
25.) When you hear the words “group presentation” all you can think is:
(Dear God, never again!)
26.) You wear your tweed jacket on a first date, expecting:
…bbbuuuutttt instead you got:
27.) Your car’s engine sounds like the grade on your last exam looks (#senioritis).
28.) This summarizes your philosophy of youth ministry:
29.) Old associates like to introduce you as “my friend who went to seminary” and all you can think to say is:
30.) Reading the comments section of HuffPost Religion makes you think:
31.) Whenever someone asks you “so, what’s next?” you tell them:
32.) This is how you feel about any and all snide remarks concerning “Masters of Divinity” and “Hogwarts (guffaw, guffaw)”:
33.) When someone asks you why you went to school for so many years, you tell them:
But that’s not (entirely) true.
You went to seminary because you felt called. You went to seminary because you believed that God had something to teach you. To teach you through flash cards, paradigms and endless pages of reading. Something to teach you through the classes, lectures, office hours and review sessions. Something to teach you through community, through friends, through brothers and sisters from across the globe who came to seminary to learn something. Just like you.
You came hoping to become capable. You leave feeling humbled. Humbled by grace, humbled by questions, humbled by the knowledge of all you don’t know. You came to seminary hoping to become a leader; you leave hoping to become a servant; a servant of God, a servant of others, a servant of the Gospel story which you leave desiring to tell.
But as you leave the hallways, classrooms and campus housing; as you hug friends, thank professors and swap high fives with your old study partners; as you pack up your books, pack up some more of your books, and (dear heavens!) pack up more of your books; as you venture forth into the world, into schools, sanctuaries, workplaces and churches; as you graduate from seminary and continue on your journey, you do so knowing that a part of you will always call this place home.
Because you may be graduating. But you’ll always be a seminarian.
Which is to say that your alma mater is calling. And they’d like some money.