Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why I Don't Want to Say the Creeds. What I learned in seminary, Part 2.

So, if you read my last blog, the one where I give a very tongue in cheek account regarding what I learned during my first year in seminary, I need to warn you: You're about to think I'm schizophrenic.  I want to say, first, that while I enjoy incredible community among my colleagues and I have never felt so affirmed regarding my call into ministry, I spent the majority of my first year in seminary really pissed off.  I was prone to bouts of foulness and one never knew when I would just up and start howling at the moon.  And now, about three weeks past clicking send on that email to my professor containing my final paper for the semester, I thought I could just  move past the "angry me", but I'll be damned if she didn't show up again today...of all places on my front porch...while I was reading...theology.

I should explain. One of the sources for my anger during this past year was a class called History of Christian Thought, better known to Candler students as HT501 and HT503; don't ask me what happened to 502 because I have no idea.  Anyway, during semester number one we had the laborious task of muddling our way through 1500 years of church history...Two. Times. You would think that once would be enough, but after we had a skeletal framework of the historical timeline, we then went back and read primary documents from the Church fathers with a few female voices like Mechtilde of Magdeburg mixed in so we could hear about how she mystically made love to the Divine and wrote some trippy God porn, but I digress. It was during this time that we studied the church early church councils.  Now, I know that no one really likes church assemblies or synod meetings, and these councils were no different.  The Council of Nicaea that happened way back in 325CE was called not to celebrate Christian unity and charity but to codify the rules surrounding Christianity.  These rules were crafted by the powerful lest any "heretics" go around spreading some "bad" theology.  Decisions had to be made regarding who was in and who was out. Unfortunately, this action of in-ing and out-ing never stopped.  It still happens, it is still ridiculous, and it still sucks. So, to be at a place where I'm supposed to be learning how to be an instrument for unity, a place where we're all like "rah-rah we're all one body", and be confronted with a history of heresy was to say the least, frustrating.

Fast forward back to today and me being pissed off...again.  I have been reading "Take This Bread" by Sara Miles.  Miles converted to Christianity in a unique way.  She is Episcopalian, founded several food pantries in the San Francisco area, and is a proficient swearer.  Thus, I loved her book. Anyway, as Miles was not a cradle Episcopalian, and did not attend a traditional church that followed a formal liturgy, she never said the creeds.  Not the Nicene, not the Apostle's, she did not say them, nor does she.  Reading about the experiences of Sara Miles was liberating.  Someone else out there did not say the creeds because they found them divisive.  During worship over the past six months when it came to the place in the liturgy where the congregation recites the creeds together, I have either not been able to breathe, or I have said them through gritted teeth and tears in my eyes.  People may want to argue for the communal aspect of saying the creeds, but one cannot deny that these statements which some see as beautiful statements about what the church, catholic, believes about our Lord and Savior are codifications. They represent rules that have become fetishized rituals that often serve to separate more than they unite.  So, while I'm not entirely sure how this will play out with an ordination board I do not think I will be able to say the creeds.  There have to be other people for whom going through the motions because of tradition is not an option.  I don't think I'm the only one. There have to be more people like me out there.  I hope there are.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When "Feet' Just Mean Feet

So, I just finished my first year in seminary, and while that feels like a major accomplishment, I realize that 1) I am not even half way through this crazy endeavor; there are two more grueling years ahead of me, and b) I don't know anything. Really.  I mean, I learned lots of stuff.  Good stuff.  Stuff that might help me in bar trivia, or in a Bible verse search competition, but the really hard stuff? Nope. There was no "hard stuff you will be asked by your parishioners" class, and Candler School of Theology is definitely not like Hogwart's.  I did not get a wand and spell book to help me make problems like injustice, poverty, war, or prejudice disappear.

So, when I told my friend Alisha that I wanted to guest blog in her what I learned in seminary series I was excited for...about 5 minutes. Then I was like well, what the hell did I learn in seminary because it sure as hell wasn't how to give easy answers? 

 If I can say one thing for sure it is that faith is full of ambiguity, and because of that ambiguity, because I know for sure that I do not, and never will, have all of the answers, God will have to work through my weaknesses.  A few years back, I remember hearing a commencement address delivered to graduating seminarians at Iliff School of Theology by Nadia Bolz Weber, an ELCA pastor in Denver, and a total bad ass.  In addressing the anticipation by the graduates of being let loose on the Church, and their questions about whether or not they were ready to face all of the challenges that entering ministry was sure to bring, the answer was "of course you're not ready".  Bolz Weber reminded those seminarians of what the seminarians I know, as well as a few, ahem, practicing clergy need to hear: play to your weaknesses. When we play to our strengths we get cocky.  We think we know the answers and this is where things go terribly wrong.  So while this may seem to some a huge waste in tuition money, it's what I got.

Well. Wait.  I did get a few more things out of the year.  They are listed below.  Some of them may make sense.  Some of them I'm still trying to make sense of myself.  For your reading pleasure, I present "Other Seminary Stuff That I Learned":

  • Don't think meat.  You'll only hurt the ball club.
  • The mere mention of Real Madrid can unite a room full of refugees from all over the world.
  • Academics make shit up, and you can, too.
  • Being in seminary and starting the ordination process is akin to a ticking, biological clock.  
  • Don't be like Elihu (from the book of Job). That guy is a jerk.
  • If you don't like the denominations out there, start your own.
  • Gluten free wafers are bigger than you think and will stick to the roof of your mouth.
  • References to feet, sometimes really just mean feet.
  • Christianity cannot be lived in a vacuum, and neither can seminary.  You need community.