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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Why We Should Be Reading the Psalms Everyday

6a00e3981f1e39883301310f1e2514970c-500wiFor most of my life I didn’t really get the Psalms. I mean, sure, I’d memorized the first Psalm in Vacation Bible School. And I’ve both given and received Psalm 23 during difficult times. And yes, it is true that when my mother caught me tying my little brother to a chair because he’d stolen my Micro Machines, she had me sit and pen Psalm 133:1 (“Look how good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”) a thousand times while he was off playing with said Micro Machines . But apart from such moments, I’ve struggled to understand their purpose.

But over the past few years, I’ve learned to view the Psalms as the heartbeat of my Christian life. This was a gradual process; one for which I’m infinitely thankful. Here’s a few reasons for why this change came about:

1) The Psalms are poetic.

This might be a “yeah, duh” statement. But poetry isn’t something we usually recognize as being vital to our existence. True, humans could survive without poetry. But what a grim existence it would be. Life without music, hymns, rap battles, love ballads, radio sing-alongs and thousands of hands holding lighters while swaying in unison…such existence would be grey and could, hardly be worthy of calling ‘life.’

The same is true for faith without the Psalms. The poetry of the Psalms lifts their imbedded truths past our walls of skepticism and doubt. Because the route to the human heart is paved with poetry. It vaults love and hope into corners of our hearts untouched by narrative or legal language.

And so the Psalmists wrote some of the most intricate poems known to man. Unfortunately, many of their intricacies are lost in translation. Psalm 119, for instance, is an acrostic in the Hebrew: each stanza features the subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet, thus creating a visual appeal that has yet to be reciprocated in English form.

But even when unaware of such intricacies, we can and should absorb the truth behind the words on the page. Read slowly. Breathe deeply. Meditate on every line of every page. Because the Psalms speak to our soul, heal our wounds, uplift our spirits and breathe life into the heart of faith in ways unattainable with the use of other forms.

2) The Psalms address every human condition.

The band Twenty-One Pilots has had insurmountable success in the past few years. But their genre is difficult to identify; they’ll cut from poppy verses to rap bridges and then into acoustic chorusesall within the same song. Thus, some critics have memorably classified their music as “schizo-pop.”

The Psalmists are the schizo-popstars of the Bible. To such an extent, in fact, that today modern psychological experts have posited the writers may have had depressive and mood disorders themselves. Not unlike the marvelous minds of Emily Dickinson or T.S. Eliot.

Most of us are prone to divide our life between the professional and personal and then assign acceptable emotions to each. CEO’s don’t apologize, men don’t cry, spouses should only feel butterflies of love, and children must obey. This leads us to a worldview in which God is either real and good (thus, only a recipient of praise). Or, perhaps, he just doesn’t exist at all. But the Psalmists do not see life as compartmentalized; they do not draw lines between hope and despair, happiness and anger, bloodlust and love. They embrace the messy roller-coaster of life because they write from it’s murky depths and euphoric highs.

And so the Psalms teach us that God is one who is able and willing to love us whatever our current state. They tell us that God redeems our shame (Psalm 51), hears our despair (Psalm 22), blesses our labor (Psalm 127), protects us in oppression (Psalm 7), grants us discernment (Psalm 1), controls our world (Psalm 9) eases our anxiety (Psalm 46) and even holds us in our homesickness and longing (Psalm 128). The Psalms ride the pendulum of human emotions and, in doing so, testify that ours is a God who rides these ups and downs with and for us.

3) Jesus lived the Psalms.

If you’re ever thumbing through your Bible and ask yourself the question “What would Jesus read (WWJR)?” The answer is: the Psalms. Of course, Jesus knew his Torah and engaged the writings of the Prophets; but Jesus lived the Psalms.

Throughout the Synoptic and John’s gospel, the Psalms appear over 25 times either as direct quotations of Christ or as allusions by the authors. Jesus prayed with the Psalms. He and his disciples meditated and worship with the Psalms. And, as such, Christ’s ministry reflected the heartbeat of a loving, just, and merciful God. This in stark contrast to the deeds of the Pharisees, men who obviously knew Leviticus but the tenderness of Psalm 119 was lost to on their hardened hearts.

The Psalms pop up, more than any other part of his life, in Jesus’s final days and death. He referenced a Psalm in foreshadowing his own betrayal (Psalm 41:9 in John 13:18). Following the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples sang the Hallel (or ‘praise’) Psalms of 113-118. Then they went to Gethsemane. Two gospel accounts record Christ quoting the Psalms in his final moments on the cross (Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46 & Psalm 31:5 in John 19:30).

The point is that Jesus’ ministry and mission were both soaked in the lifeblood of the Psalms. Consequentially, the pathway of discipleship is also paved with the Psalter.

So we should probably read them.

If you read five Psalms a day you’ll cover most of the Psalter in a single month. And many Psalms take less than a minute to read. If you engage in this exercise 11 months out of the year (one month for catch-up) you can cover the entire Psalter over 500 times in the average adult lifespan.

Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Because the Psalms take us by the hand and lead us down trails of existence, over bridges of wonder and through valleys of despair. They guide us up winding paths toward a destination which, for now, is hidden in a cloud. And the fog of life is thick; it’s easy to lose our way.

But the Psalms point the heart heavenward; they guide us through the fog, up the mountain and  beyond the realm of human comprehension. They carry us into a world of transcendence, a miraculous place where only the subject of sacred poetry could possibly dwell.

The Psalms guide us every day; every moment, every breath, they take us one more closer to the moment when the clouds will clear and we see the Wonder of Wonders face to face.

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Sunday Quotes: The Psalms

Happy Sabbath everyone. Read a Psalm today:

“As you sing the Psalms, pray the Psalms, and ponder the Psalms, you will find yourself drawn into a world in which certain things make sense that would not otherwise do so. In particular you will be drawn in the world where God and Jesus make sense in a way they would not otherwise do…The Psalms… inhabit and celebrate a worldview in which…God’s time and ours overlap and intersect, God’s space and ours overlap and interlock and even (this is the really startling one, of course) the sheer material world of God’s creation is infused, suffused, and flooded with God’s own life and glory.”

-NT Wright; A Case For the Psalms