by Lesley-Ann Hix
Editor's Note: This is the debut article of a new column that will highlight the stories of young women on their way toward ordination. Submissions are welcomed and should be sent to alongtheway(dot)ycw(at)gmail(dot)com.
There must be a pact that everyone signs upon graduating from seminary. It must say something like, “I promise to never let the secrets of these past three years (or so) become public knowledge.” Something like this pact must exist because I just finished my first semester in seminary, and no one really alerted me to the challenge of what lay ahead. My mom has her M. Div. and spent 20 years in vocational ministry, and the things she did while she was in seminary astound me. For one, she was married. How in the world do you do this job and keep the relationship of a marriage healthy? I have just this year really learned about all the things she juggled while in seminary, probably because it is just now that I am curious.
After only four months at McAfee School of Theology, though, what I have experienced in school is all I can talk about these days. Everything about seminary amazes me, so how can you not talk about it constantly? Maybe it is the very first day of Old Testament class when you learn that there are actually two creation accounts at the beginning of Genesis. Or maybe it is learning that the title “Christian” used to also mean martyrdom and you realize that the faith you hold has not ever really demanded deep-down devotion. Or maybe it is the fourth week into class, right when Hebrew gets complicated - maybe that’s what shuts everyone up.
I guess it does make sense. You can’t really explain to people, on their way off to seminary, what it is going to be like when they get there. No one could have prepared me for this topsy-turvy, try-to-keep-your-balance, dig-as-deep-as-you-can experience I was signing up for. I mean, you really do put your whole self out there and let people mess with you. Surely no other graduate program requires near the amount of vulnerability as divinity school.
There are several people in my class who have decided that this strange game is not for them. They are not about to let some book or discussion sift through and possibly toss out everything that, as one of my professors says, “Momma and them” raised them to believe. “I mean, what’s really wrong with what ‘Momma and them’ taught me?” One of my friends is leaving the program after only one semester. Instead of learning how to run a youth camp, his faith is being challenged. But he cannot look past the fact that seminary is not turning out to be what he expected, so he will leave and not stay long enough to let his faith grow stronger.
It is earth-shattering when you hear an unfamiliar interpretation of a biblical text for the first time. It is life-toppling when history teaches you that following Christ means being willing to give up, even hate, family and friends. It is numbing to realize the complexity found in Hebrew text, producing countless meanings for one word, and wishing you could just read the original text and make your own translation and assumptions. And, what the heck? Moses killed a guy! No wonder there are so many different, disturbing applications of scripture. No wonder our world is consumed by violence and then proof-text justified. If everyone questioned it all, maybe we would not have to deal with so many misinterpretations or assumptions or children growing into adulthood believing word for word what their parents told them.
What would happen if we all, all Christians, did not simply take what the Bible says at face value and actually wrestled with the text? It is not about having your political agenda proven or your social concerns supported; rather, it is about gaining peace from the text and being moved by the Holy Spirit. It is about finding a guide, not manufacturing a judgment. It is about taking the miracle and the humanity and finding a harmony, just as was alive in Jesus.
I like to believe that what my momma taught me was not far off from what I am thinking about and wrestling with now. But she did not force-feed me anything. That is why all the Sunday lunch conversations began without any strings attached. That is why all the faith wandering that seems so painful and lonely is actually full of love.
And that is just what “Momma and them” want me to find on my own. This faith of mine is not someone else’s. And what could happen if all this wrestling that takes place inside the walls of seminaries found its way out into the lay world? What would young Christians grow up to believe? What if the world was challenged the way ministers-in-training are challenged? Maybe what “Momma and them” teach would throw-out the fragile, unsupported fragments and grow into a strong wall of powerful pieces of faith.