Just over a month ago, I moved across the country to begin a Master of Divinity program. Going to seminary — studying theology — is something I’ve dreamed about for years, but it was way too expensive. So always felt like a silly, impractical dream. I never gave it much thought.
I’m floored to have the chance to study theology full-time, but after eight years in the working world, I wasn’t expecting how difficult it would be to transition back to being a full-time student.
It feels so selfish. Like, who gave me the right to spend my days taking notes on the early church councils and reading amazing Womanist reflections on the story of Hagar and Sarah while the rest of the world actually has to work for a living?
I’m away from my church community, friends who have been my second family for the past decade. I can’t eat dinner or spend the night at my church’s overflow shelter for women in homelessness. I can’t make pancakes at my favorite high school, which I’ve visited at least twice a month for the past five years. Having been out of academia for eight years, I’d forgotten how self-focused it is. How are my grades? Did I study enough for that test? What are my thoughts on this issue, or how do I interpret this text?
The main reason I wanted to study theology, and the number one lesson from my time being and serving in church community, is that none of this is about me. God is already at work in our world: working toward our healing and wholeness, loving us unconditionally, suffering with us in the pain of this world, and being present in a broken world. Waiting for the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and restore our broken world to one of healing and justice.
God is at work in the world, and we can join in or not. For me, every time I’ve done something valuable for community, God’s love, or healing, it has almost always been through God’s strength working in the midst of my weakness. Almost everything meaningful I’ve done has been God working through — or in spite of — my ignorance, lack of training, knowledge, or skill. Showing up, and being willing to be in community: to talk, hug, cry, cook, listen, or drive somewhere. I have learned so much from the people I’m in community with — about the impact of both power and marginalization in our world, how they affect me, (how I weild them, even if unintentionally), how they affect other people, and how we can — practically — work to rebuild broken systems together.
I spent the greater part of a week studying for a Greek quiz, and on the one hand, I’m glad I did. But on the other hand, it feels selfish. I’m only working 10 hours a week. I haven’t produced any practical output since I quit my job at the end of the summer. I barely get any emails. (Seriously. Maybe three a day. Who only gets three emails a day??)
There’s a meme of Kourtney Kardashian holding baby Mason in Bora Bora in 2011. Kim was swimming in the ocean and lost her diamond earrings. She’s sobbing, but Kourtney — baby on her hip — irritatedly scolds her, “Kim, there’s people that are dying!”
That’s what I feel like, after my first month of seminary. Look at the world we’re living in. There’s people that are dying. And I traded volunteering at a homeless shelter, cooking meals, leading a Bible study, working to try to help distrupt systems of whiteness and power … for spending all of my free time learning about church councils and endlessly studying Greek.
I wanted to train so I could be more effective to partner with God in God’s work of healing and justice. If I spend all my time training there is no time left to actually invest in any of the work. And isn’t the work the whole point?
Well, not the whole point. But I feel like I’ve dropped it completely to take up this training regime, and that doesn’t feel right.
I LOVE seminary so far. It’s immensely busy, but I have great professors (four of them are women!), I’m genuinely interested in all of my classes, and I have met some really amazing students who are brilliant and a ton of fun to spend time with. I feel immensely spoiled to be here. I just need to figure out how to find — and find time for — the important things that are missing right now.
And to never forget that all of this is about God, NOT US, and partnering with God in God’s healing and love.