Despite the resistance to seminary I described in my previous post, I have moaned on many occasions, "I wish I could just go to school full-time." I am meandering my way through seminary, indulging in one class each fall, spring, and summer term. With a full-time profession that supports my family of four, it is a privilege to even crawl my way to a second graduate degree, but it is not uncommon for me to crave what I see as the simplicity of just going to school.
These longings are likely part of an over-all desire to be independently wealthy, and move through my days more by choice than obligation, but hidden just beneath the surface is an assumption that exploring big questions in a cloistered context would somehow be simpler, like my much-loved days at summer camp. Shipped away from my day to day life, I would feel alive, unconflicted, and invested in a single time and place.
I attended a college with an affiliated seminary, and I frequently visited my "seminary friends." They were somewhat older and seemingly wiser, and they were always caught up in heady conversations about the meaning of suffering, or lounging in someone's room passing a guitar from person to person (the summer camp connection, I'm guessing....). Zipping from the university where I work to the seminary one evening a week lacks the intensity of my friends' experience, but I am finding a gift in this integrated path. I appreciate how ideas about God shaped by my reading for a class mingle with prayers to get through a difficult conversation at work, and how the practices of the academy cannot be isolated from our family's attempts to live a life of gratitude in all circumstances.
One morning last week I lost my patience with my six-year-old son. The how and why of the situation is not critical--I have raised my voice before, and I undoubtedly will again. What was meaningful for me was being lifted from the sour aftertaste of our exchange by the yeasty, warm smell of bread baking in a grocery store bakery. Bread baking. Bread broken. Grace. Forgiveness. A fresh start to the day, whether or not I deserved it. I can read Sandra Schneiders' description of a symbol, or I can live it on my drive to work.
It is not lost on me that I move from a course on Black Theology to my work at a campus where nearly a third of the student body are students of color, but the faculty and staff population is not nearly as diverse. What implicit messages are we providing to these students about their capacity to occupy positions of power and influence, and how does this compare to a persistent inclination toward segregated religious experiences? What of my own privilege am I willing to relinquish to make the values of my Thursday evening seminary discussions into Friday morning realities in the world in which I work and live and act out my charge to love my neighbor as myself?
I love Christianity for the very idea of incarnation, because it reminds me that too often I fail to put flesh on the ideas and ideals that come alive in my mind. Were I given the gift of school alone, I would likely miss this incarnational step entirely. If my faith, informed by study and practice with those both like and not like me, is to have any meaning at all, it is here, in my home, on the streets, among neighbors who are trying somehow to live at peace and as friends. Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I'm grateful for the "in the flesh" conversations we're having with one another here.