Monday, April 12, 2010

Theological Education

Obviously, I have not written in a while-- mainly a lot has happened since October-- The biggest being I wrote my Ordination Papers, went before the Board of Ordination and have been recommended for Ordination- June 14!! And then there was Lent and Holy Week!!
SO I'm back-- and hopefully will be more active.

Lately- I've felt the need to reflect on theological education.

Theological Education is a gift.
I am thankful for my theological education-- I glean from it in my everyday life.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God equips in ministry and works through this education-- so that I may keep working to equip others in the work of ministry.

I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to experience this, throughout my experience in seminary I kept thinking, "I wish everyone got to do this!"
Of course- not everyone does- nor would everyone want to read Cyprian, Luther, or Kierkegaard. At least- they might not think they want to-- but perhaps when shared they would be surprised to learn, hear, experience, the power of these words, concepts, and experiences of God.

I love my Disciple Bible Study class and we are having a great time together! They are reading sermons of John Wesley, asking tough questions, but more importantly-- they are sharing-- and doing so in a way that reveals they want to know more, seek to grow further, and depend on one another in deeper ways. I am thankful for the ways they teach me and the ways we learn together.

I feel frustrated when people use their theological education in ways that shame others, condescend to them, rather than use it to share, to equip, to ignite passion for Christ. I am annoyed with people use their education to boost their own sense of power rather than to empower others.

Last summer, Kevin and I attended a worship service on vacation where the Youth Pastor (who was in seminary at the time) used a slew of theological terms including Theotokos - a term for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Just threw it out there, like theological name dropping. Kevin and I looked at one another and rolled our eyes, the people in front of us whispered, and family sitting next to us checked out. For me this feels like a lack of humility on one's behalf and lack of respect for one's parishioners.

Lately, I feel like when I witness this kind of behavior it makes me angry-- because it feels so belittling. Our congregants are smart, faithful, incredible people. There is a failure in theological education when we become too cocooned in "theological elitism" that we can't or don't or refuse to relate to "normal" folks. DO we forget that we're normal? That we aren't special just because we've attended seminary, been licensed, commissioned, or ordained? Set apart and called doesn't mean better.

It is wonderful that we have been given the gift of study, that some of us have gifts of biblical and language studies. I love that I'm dorky enough to enjoy reading Wesley's sermons- that I love checking out reading 22 books on Job (and suffering the library fines that comes with)-- but just because everyone doesn't enjoy that doesn't mean I'm smarter, or more ... closer to God.

Gnosis- is the Greek word for knowledge--- people were called Gnostics who believed they had special knowledge. So often, it seems that sometimes we (all people) act, talk as if they are Gnostics. But the Gospel is not hidden-- we are not preaching the Gospel if in doing so those who hear it feel stupid, ashamed, limited, unworthy of being able to know the Gospel. We are all limited- we are all in need of learning more. My chaplain, Rev. Stuart Jackson at Birmingham-Southern used to say, "In Christianity, we're all in first grade." But sometimes I think we don't act that way...I love the story from Acts chapter 8 where Phillip goes and meets the Ethiopian Eunuch who is reading the bible and Phillip talks with him and helps him to understand what he is reading. They come by some water and the eunuch says, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing." Why shouldn't I be baptized? The salvation of Christ is not open just for some, but all- the ability to know God is not limited to only certain people- there is no sign that says, "You must have this masters degree, or know the original Greek/Hebrew..." These are good things, and they are able to help equip ourselves and others to know, experience, and share the Gospel. But we do a disservice when we act as if it is a requirement to know God, to have faith, or to be considered smart.

It is my job to interpret this kind of stuff and to make it accessible to others. Its my job to demystify, to help people know they can understand God's Word, they can experience a relationship with Christ, they can read the Bible and understand, they can think deeply.

Its my job to help people understand they are part of a "priesthood of all believers"-- to experience that they needn't be an "expert" to think theologically.

Its my job to teach my congregation to think and reflect theologically on their lives, their faith, and to learn to be gleaners of God-experiences-- to be theologians in their own right and to be empowered to know, share, and teach among people in their communities sound theology.

If they don't understand in some way--I've not succeeded. Not everyone is going to have the same reaction and have the same passion- some will be fascinated by the Wesley's sermons, or Biblical Criticism, or want to learn more about the archeology surrounding Jerusalem, or they may doubt and ask more questions-no mater what-- my hope is that they will be ignited in passion, that they will grow deeper, and that they will pass this on to others in inviting, approachable, ways that meet others where they are and love them.

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