When I started seminary, I was an evangelical. I had not thought about it, the idea of being an evangelical that is. I was a good little church member who believed and trusted the pastors I had. When I answered the call to ministry, I realized something: people were now going to look to me as the person they believed and trusted for answers. I would now be the one standing in the pulpit, the classroom, the church hallways. I would be the one quizzed, queried, and grilled by those who found themselves challenged by forces outside the church bubble.
After I began my first class in Wilmore, Kentucky at Asbury Seminary, I became acquainted with a few things. First, I discovered the B.L. Fischer Library. One thing about seminaries, they like their books. The choices I had available opened my eyes to a variety of things I had never considered. What began as questions posed by people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller to the layperson version of me became full-fledged crisis of faith questions when confronted with things like text-context-pretext and writers like John Shelby Spong, Diana Butler Bass, Sister Joan Chittister, Paul Tillich, Fredrich Schleiermacher, Joseph Campbell and others who asked questions I had never fathomed to ask.
Second, I had a handful of professors who bucked the seminary party line. Every seminary—every institution for that matter—has an official party line. It’s the educational, ethical, political stance the institution presents as it’s public face. For instance, Asbury is one of the more conservative UM approved seminaries while Claremont is one of the more liberal. These schools portray themselves publicly in this way and frankly, seem proud of their stance (as you should if you are going to have a stance). A few professors were willing to question this status quo and encourage students to do the same (tenure is awesome). These professors allowed me the space to explore things like how you see the Hero’s Journey described by Joseph Campbell in Acts with the stories of Peter and Paul or how Jacques Derrida’s aporias could be used in a theological manner to talk about postmodernism.
Finally, I simply listened to Holy Spirit and learned to be comfortable with the journey as God led. If salvation is not a moment but a journey (as we teach in the UMC—https://www.umc.org/en/what-we-believe/ask-the-umc-faqs/beliefs-practices). Since the word for salvation means health and wholeness in Greek (sozo/soteria), I see my journey, and everyone else’s, as the journey toward God making me whole as God intended each of us to be. My journey of wholeness led me to these places to study these things to learn to see God in a way that helped me grow into a whole/healed person. It has included spiritual aspects as well as emotional aspects like therapy.
I say all that to say this. I think our world has become a lazy place intellectually. I learned what I learned in preparation to become a pastor. I learned and continue to learn how to ask questions rather than how to get answers. Answers create a place of arrival. As followers of Jesus, we never arrive, at least not in this life. There will always be more road to walk. We should be learning, moving from wherever we begin the journey forward toward our salvation/wholeness. The problem is we want answers before we understand the questions. We want certainty over curiosity. We want to ignore the greater reality of our existence and escape to our fantasies. Mostly, we want someone else to tell us the answers rather than working for the knowledge and earning understanding for ourselves. If this knowledge is unearned, unlearned, if it is not your own by trial and reflection, it is nothing more than the parroted words of someone else. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote,
Answers are not the point, questions are. Without the continued refinement of questions, we will never come up with good answers. Without challenging our beliefs and thoughts to see if they actually ‘hold water’ we will never know if we are following Jesus and the Way he taught or some cheap imitation we have created to make life easier on ourselves.
Where are you in your journey?
What are your next steps to move on in your journey?
Why aren’t you taking them?
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