The Struggle

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When I started seminary in 2010, I was pretty sure of myself. I was sure of what I believed. I was sure of where I stood on most issues. I was sure I had the basics of everything I needed down. Seminary was going to be an opportunity to explore, sure. But in many ways, it was a formality toward a goal, a steppingstone among steppingstones on the way to becoming an elder in the United Methodist Church.

And I was wrong.

Within a few semesters of work, I found myself learning, relearning, unlearning, and just plain trying to learn what I was sure I knew at the beginning. My thoughts before seminary, like many of my peers, were limited to the exposure and experience I had as a parishioner. Things I was certain could only be one way turned out to have many facets I had never considered or even heard of. Doctrines and dogmas long settled in my mind were far from settled in the grander scheme of history and tradition. What I learned was I had a lot more to learn. Not only that, but I also had to keep learning. There was never a finish line, never an end to what could be studied, learned, or known. 

As true as that is for me as a minister, it is also true for anyone else who chooses to be a disciple of Jesus. The story of Peter and Cornelius from Acts 10 is a good example of this. Peter is certain he understands God and God’s law. He is so certain in fact, that when God comes to him in a vision, sets out a picnic of “all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds,” and says, “Kill and eat,” Peter refuses. Peter tells God, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Ritual, tradition, and even the scriptures Peter had been taught from childhood, told him this was unacceptable, filthy food. It was garbage, fit only for Gentiles. Yet God tells Peter, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” In other words, God says, “I decide what’s clean and unclean. I decide if something that was unclean is now clean. I decide whether your laws, your understanding are also my laws and my understanding.” Peter, who was the chosen of the apostles, was not quite finished with his education as a disciple. When God finishes with him, Peter says, “God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean” and later adds, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” God revealed to Peter that what he thought he knew, what he had always known, was not really what was true. Sometimes, things change. Our understanding changes. Our knowledge changes. Our perspective changes.

Does this mean everything we learned in church should be thrown out and we should start over? No. There are many truths that will always be true no matter the scrutiny. What it does mean is we should be willing to recognize our own biases and be willing to put ideas and truths to the test. If it is truly true, it will remain so. If it is man-made dogma and doctrine, it will be revealed as such. But we must be willing to hear God­—in visions, prayers, or otherwise—and be willing to respond to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Open your hearts and minds to the Spirit of God and let God guide you into understanding.