I'm now three weeks out of my first year of seminary. My head and heart are still trying to mull over all that has been shoved into my thoughts and feelings from books, lectures, conversations, and jokes about theology. I was swimming in the world of theology; I woke up to a pile of books to read and write about on my desk, took classes with a small community of people, talked about homework or theology or community life with the same people, and adventured around with again the same people. Being in such a specific community was helpful in getting to understand what it means to be a spiritual leader and see the variety of perspectives and experiences that every leader brings to this table that is humanity. I am beyond glad to have the community of PLTS with peers, professors, and pastors as classmates, friends, supervisors, teachers and spiritual mentors.
But this swimming in theological perspectives sometimes felt like drowning. There is an immense amount of history, ritual, and perspectives that are out there to discover about theology and the meaning of life. It's been difficult for me to sit with this perception that I hold in myself that I have to meet the criteria of ELCA Lutheran. It can be easy to lose one's calling amidst this tradition and how it has been done in one's own experience growing up Lutheran and how church has been done for Lutherans/Christians in the past. This tradition is rich but where is the balance between the church life and the world out there? The people that I encounter out in the world would think that I was talking gibberish if I got into theological concepts. Where is the healthy balance of understanding complex doctrine and being able to put it in the context of the modern world? This is tough stuff to tackle, especially when the experiences with the real world seemed to lessen as I settled into the seminarian life. We do examine this balance in courses that I've taken, but I find myself coming up empty with concrete answers to how to handle it in my own faith life and on a personal level with other people.
This is my job. Straddle the line between clergy and lay. "Hold the tensions" (ha such a seminary phrase...) between Christian, Lutheran, Jewish, atheist, and so on. At least I want that to be my job. I came to seminary with a clear vision of how to do that and with clear foundations of my faith life. I still hold those AND what I've learned in the courses that were Lutheran-focused. Sometimes these two viewpoints clash. Is that alright? Yes. Does that cause me anxiety? Yes. Will it definitely be ok out in the real world to have tension? Yes. How honest can I be about that tension with the rest of the world? Er...not sure. But here I am blogging about it so I'm making the choice to share it out in the open, with my few readers.
The simple thing to do is to swallow everything I am taught as if it is digestible and helpful. And believe me, I am being taught some wonderful things that have been life-enriching. These are the things that I hold onto with my heart and will share with you all. I've also been stretched to see how much work there is still to do and how....
The world sucks more than I thought.
Ah yes, the eternal optimist bubble was bound to get popped this year. And believe me, I know that there is so much more pain for me to witness in this world and I am ready to abide with that pain because it still stir passions and motivation in me that will aide me in being a leader of growth and change.
Oppression is here. It is prevalent and sometimes it is glaringly obvious; sometimes it is as subtle as a slight eyebrow raise. Oppression came crashing down on me this year; not that it hadn't been there all along. More so, I suddenly realized the breadth of how deep oppression of any kind lies in our culture and language. And how important my role is in oppression--everything I say forms my framework for how I think about the other. I'll go into this concept further in regards to gender--look out for a blog post called "The Almighty She" soon.
The first kind of transparency is like a mirror.
You can only go as deep with other people as deep as you are with yourself. As a leader, transparency beings with one's own self-reflection and ability to deal with their tough traumas, fears, and doubts. How could I support someone spiritually about an issue that I myself have run from? It just is not possible. This is very difficult, because it feels like I'm in constant need of ripping off the bandaids of false comfort. I try to remind myself that this whole self-reflection thing is life-long and that I don't need to figure everything out today. Small self-understandings and one new thought that challenges me is rewardable.
The second kind of transparency is with other people. It is vital to be clear about your aims, boundaries, and vision with people. Conflict is conflict; conflict is life. It can be good or bad conflict; maintaining or moving into healthy relationships with other people is about being intentionally transparent about your needs and vision while holding respect for the other person. Conflict goes a lot smoother on the surface with clear communication than it does murking around in passive-aggressive land.
There is a difference between acting through or saying something that I have been taught is a good answer to difficult questions like, "If my child dies before it is baptized, does my child go to hell?" and actually wrestling with the question myself, knowing what I have been taught is part of Lutheran/Christian doctrine, and understanding the belief that resonates with me. So I wrestle. and wrestle.
It is so important to me to attempt congruency across my thoughts, feelings, actions, and beliefs. What does it mean to say that I accept and love all people yet I harbor anger or resentment toward others? What does it mean for a church to say "All are Welcome" on their church sign yet not talk or get to know new comers? What does it mean for me to think that unfair work wages is unjust yet buy the cheapest produce that no doubt was picked by someone who was underpaid?
Incongruency runs deep in my life and in the culture that we are a part of. We separate so much of our lives from the natural order of things; I've never killed an animal to eat it and do not intend to. Yet I love hotdogs with such a passion. I do not want to shut other people out or condemn other people in my belief system and I intend to hold that ground. But as I go deeper into theological education, it gets harder to explain concepts even outloud to myself, let alone other people. I want to speak, act, and believe in the truth that I feel called to proclaim. I want to make sure what my actions are in line with where my values lie.
There you have it; my take-aways. They may not be pretty or clearly cut, but they are here, holding a place in my soul for questions, reflection, and abiding. People said this year would tear me apart--indeed. But it's not done yet; I have the rest of my life to simultaneously tear apart and build back up this experience that is life.