We live in the bay area! That's crazy! More on this piece of our journey in future posts.
I’m in the midst of orientation meetings for myself and the other 38 new doctoral students at the Graduate Theological Union. And I am giddy. Absolutely giddy. After a couple days, it’s overwhelmingly clear that this is the right place for me.
Five of us are studying in the area of Christian Spirituality, and the rest are spread out through a variety of foci, such as Systematic Theology, Art and Religion, Philosophical Theology, among others. We all had a chance to introduce ourselves the first day and explain a bit of our interests, and I’ve also had the opportunity to chat with people over cheese and wine about their interests (they take good care of us at meal times...though places always put their best foot forward at orientation, don't they?).
I am both energized and humbled by my peers. Energized because I realize that perhaps more than books, classes, papers, and teachers, it may be the informal engagement with these fellow students that is ultimately most formative in my educational and spiritual experience here.
And humbled, because, damn, I have so much to learn. I anticipate lots of conversations where an idea, or person, or movement, or concept is referenced, following which I whip out the smart phone and do a quick Wikipedia primer on the topic (that's already happened, actually).
It’s tempting to act overly confident in an attempt to impress, but I really am hoping to avoid this kind of hubris and be comfortable with what I know and what I don’t know. But then, learn about what I don’t know once I realize I don’t know it.
It almost seems unfair that this is how I get to live my life—in this environment, with this community of scholars. But not just socially and relationally detached or indifferent scholars, but people with great hearts and noble goals. From what I can tell these are wonderful people who are here not simply in the interest of their own ambitions or career advancement—important as those are for them and myself included.
They are also eager to contribute something good to the human community, something holy, something beautiful, something life-giving. There is a great diversity of belief here, but an apparent commonality among us all to use our interests to make a positive difference in the world. Maybe I give them too much credit, but I don’t think so.
I am here because I want to learn, to study, to write, to develop my voice, and to prepare myself for a life of teaching and writing. After a couple days, I can see that the faculty, staff, and students are going to be a fabulous support network, challenging, pushing, prodding, giving me new ways to think about things, tearing down some of my wrong assumptions and views but also helping me become more self-assured in and able to articulate what I believe.
It's striking how real people and real situations can do that--clarify, or maybe even dismantle, belief. I think that's one of the reasons my theology has morphed a bit over the last few years. Speculating about God only as an intellectual exercise, preaching or hearing preached a sermon that so assuredly presents "truth", reading the Bible and coming to a conclusion about something...these things have the potential to lead to beliefs that have little basis in reality.
To give an example, this is why I don't understand how much of evangelicalism still can't acknowledge the capacity of women to lead churches. That's not true...I do understand it...because I know well this literalist approach to Scripture and the conclusions and practices it leads to. But it's still silly to me, and I suspect such a belief is rampant because many people feel like they are obligated to a certain way of thinking about how to read and use Scripture, perhaps because they just don't know there are other ways.
For example, that there is a way that you can actually honor the Bible and honor a woman's gifting at the same time, so that you don't actually have to say to a woman "well, yes, it sure looks like you're gifted to be a pastor, but, well...sorry...can't argue with Paul!" I think once you admit that "wow, I know some women that are really gifted leaders"...you realize how irresponsible and even oppressive it is to hold some of the views you hold. This has been my journey, at least.
Being at the GTU is sure to help me find my faith. I may have to lose it, then find it again, then repeat this process a few times. But I welcome this with little fear because, essentially, I don't want to believe what isn't true. I don't want to believe what's simply convenient. I'm not threatened by other opinions and viewpoints and faiths, because, if I'm wrong about something (or even the whole thing?), I want to know that I'm wrong, and not be wrong any more.
I hope and pray that I can really develop (I'm still a little more arrogant than I'd like to be) and sustain such humility while I'm here and that this posture leads me ever closer to understanding the God I see everywhere, in everyone.