Monday, May 23, 2005

"So Mandy, how has seminary changed you?"

It has been nine days since I officially became a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. In the past month especially, I've been asked the question, "So Mandy, how has seminary changed you?" While it is difficult to put into words what I've experienced these past three years, I'm going to make an attempt...

The top seven ways I've been changed by seminary:

1. I believe less, more. Before I entered seminary, I was given ample warnings, "Be careful. Don't let anyone take away your faith." I entered my first class a little nervous, convinced I was going to be dodging fiery arrows for the next three years. Soon into my time at PTS, I dropped my suspicion. I realized that people were not trying to make me stop believing what I believe. Instead, they wanted me to understand and articulate what it is I believe. I have yet to encounter a professor who enjoys destroying faith. Since my time at PTS, there have been beliefs that I have let go of or been more lax with, however, that which I have retained is much deeper than it was when I came. I believe less, more.

2. Only a word or two. This is my favorite "quick response" to the above question. In some ways, practically speaking, seminary has only changed me by a word or two--this is particularly true with my preaching. The hours spent in systematic theology classes, listening to lectures, reading theologians, and writing papers all boils down to changing me by...a word or two. Not big, theologically words, but little words. Little words like "in" or "through." Will these little word changes make a difference to the congregation I am preaching to? Maybe. Probably not. Do they change the preacher? Definitely.

3. Useless vocabulary. Since my time in seminary, I have encountered the limits of using words like "liberal" and "conservative." I had always assumed The Wesleyan Church was a conservative denomination until I encountered Presbyterians who found my church very liberal because we fail to say The Apostles Creed every week. I think these labels have so many meanings tagged on that they cease to be helpful.

4. God is not male. I knew this before I entered seminary, but I'm not sure I truly got it (not that I "get it" now). I recently read Plan B by Anne Lamott and was a little annoyed by her continual reference to God as being "he or she." God is not he or she. I guess you could say God is he and she...and then some. (In general, God is seldom X or Y. ) With that said, I don't have a problem referring to God as "he," (we know God through the revelation of Jesus who came as a male). I do, however, go out of my way to make scripture gender inclusive for congregants.

5. Women in ministry...it's pretty normal. Being at PTS has shown me that being a woman in ministry is pretty normal. On a campus where half the student population is female, I have been overwhelmingly encouraged in ministry. It's not a big deal here. It was at PTS where I heard my first woman pastor preach on a Sunday morning. It was also at PTS where I recieved the Lord's Supper from a woman. I was suprised how meaningful these experiences were for me.

6. God cares for the poor. Again, this is one of those things that I knew, but I didn't really "get." This is probably the area I have been most challenged in--it's also the area that I have the hardest time articulating. To say that "God cares for the poor," doesn't seem to do justice to what I am trying to get across...yet at the same time, it's exactly what I'm trying to get across. Something has changed in me, and I'm not quite sure what--this has also caused some political shifts in me, but more on that later...

7. Cynicism is too easy. Before I officially enrolled in seminary, I asked an older student to give me one piece of advice. She said, "Don't become cynical." I didn't understand what she meant until I began living on campus. Cynicism is too easy. It's easy to be cynical when students do not live what they preach. It easy to become cynical when I see a fellow seminarian getting drunk Friday evening after Friday evening...it's much harder to go to that person on a Wednesday and ask if they are struggling with an addiction. My temptation to be cynical towards my fellow seminarian is dwindling. Now the temptation is to be cynical towards other Christians. Now I must fight the urge against taking shots against what I think might be immature faith. I did not go to seminary so that I can look down upon those who did not have the opportunity to think through their faith in a seminary setting. I am walking away from seminary with the knowledge that I am going to have to fight within myself to keep from being cynical of other's beliefs.

Well, there you have it. Those are the top seven things that came to mind on this Monday afternoon. I have loved my time at seminary. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I enrolled in seminary is because I didn't know what else to do. John was already a student, and I didn't feel ready to get a "real" job. PTS was the right place for me. There is no doubt in my mind.

8 comments:

Jake said...

Ahhh Mandy...welcome to the wonderful world of blogging. It sound like your time at seminary was well spent. I look forward to your thoughts in the future. Peace.

Dave Ward said...

Amanda,

I loved it when I first heard it...a word or two. I still do. It sure fights back against the disease of seminary, academic pride (in me). Good stuff. Women in ministry is ordinary. Isn't that great? Funny that in our denom we claim to be the first to ordain women here (funny claim anyway since women have been used so powerfully by God for so long in spiritual leadership) but it is actually in other Christian circles that it has become ordinary. Easy to rest on our laurels I suppose.

Believing less more is a powerful phrase. I wish we all did. I wish I did that better. I have been challenged quite a bit with that working in an interdenominational setting. I may preach in a Lutheran setting one week, a methodist the next, a baptist the next, and on and on. It pushes me to work through what is really necessary and "non-negotiable." I keep finding things I thought were non-negotiable which really aren't when you get down to it. Even some of my pet agendas. Hurts.

Great page...look forward to more.

Brandon & Jennifer said...

Mandy,
Thanks for the writing on your seminary experience - I enjoyed reading it.
Part of me really wanted to go to seminary, but I was just to excited to get out of school and into full-time ministry... now I'm back in school working on my Masters degree... how did that happen?!?!
Thanks again - I look forward to learning more from you, Mandy! -Brandon

Amanda said...

Dave--you mentioned how much working along side other denominations has challenged you...I resonate with that! Being one of two Wesleyan students, I've learned quite a bit from the Lutherans, Presbys, Methodists, Baptists, etc. By interacting with other denominations, I'm learning what makes a Wesleyan a Wesleyan.

Mandy

David Drury said...

Hey Mandy - welcome to the blog world. You'll become one of my top 5 visits I bet. You have a knack for the well turned phrase and one other rare blog characteristic = depth within brevity. :-) Although this first entry isn't brief (a list still feels brief) I see your future ones are.

Great entry here. Loved it. Great thoughts on an "east coast" education too. I'm guessing if you went to Asbury or Fuller it would be a radically different list. Although you'd have a great list from those ones too (like Dave Ward has) but it would just be different.

Here's my take on the flipside of seminary BTW = http://www.drurywriting.com/david/Flipside-Seminary.htm

Gwen said...

Mandy,

I am in the middle of reading Anne Lamont's Plan B book and I too have been bothered with her references to God as "he or she." I do enjoy her thoughts, though. I am also in the middle of another book, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge. They refer to woman as the incarnation of a captivating God - a God who invites us. Since God created both male and female in his image, then we both display characteristics of God, thus your thoughts that God is "he AND she."

Amanda said...

Gwen,

Have you read Lamott's book Traveling Mercies? It's my favorite of her writings...

Looking forward to seeing you later!

Mandy

Gwen said...

Mandy,

No, I haven't read Lamott's (not Lamont :) Traveling Mercies yet. I believe Julie has it right now, though, so I'll pick it up when she's done reading it.

Can't wait to connect in a few weeks!