Seminary has been good for me, though I am loath to consider myself as one of those individuals who come to seminary looking to be fixed. I don’t think of myself as being any more or less broken than anyone else. I may never be the perfect sort of pastor, but I don’t see why I can’t become successful in at least a small capacity of loving and helping others in a disinterested sort of way–by disinterested I mean something like being altruistic, not concerned with how I am paid back, if ever.
Maybe I won’t ever be a pastor or chaplain, but I certainly would like to find that church which really does need more helpers to sustain its life and community and presence in the world. I don’t need to be the star of the church recognized in every bulletin or seen at the front of the church every Sunday with my hands in everything, sitting on every committee and trying to help out in every single way imaginable. But likewise, I don’t want to raise my hand fervently as someone who wants to do more and be a part of more and then get called upon once a year to deliver a bucket of ice and few jugs of tea to a committee of the really important and recognized people of the church. It’s kind of the same thing with life and places I’ve worked at–if you ask to help too much people become suspicious of you and either avoide asking for your help or they decide you are a subhuman worthy of being used up in every imaginable way.
Seminary has taught me a lot about slowing down and meeting people in various modes of time and space that aren’t necessarily set to a calendar full of blocked-off meetings and walled-off moments where they are deigning to give you thirty minutes of their extraordinarily precious and valuable time. There are still people out there who will pause and have a human conversation with you without tapping their foot impatiently because they have somewhere more important to be.
I think that I will come out of here with my faith much stronger, because it has been so rigorously and thoroughly tested. What remains is a deep love for Christ and a desire to be in a more profound relationship with Christ and have a receptivity to how the Spirit moves. What is gone is my sense of a need to be a part of a given denomination, or carefully build up a social justice resume by being seen on Facebook doing highly visible things. What only lingers a little is a sense that I can somehow find something of deeper meaning by reading more and more books. I do think that books are ultimately just distractions if they become the go-to when you are seeking to have a more meaningful and thorough relationship with Christ in your everyday life. Books before prayer, books before communion with others and taking communion, books before worship, books before the Book, books about everything tangentially related to the time and place of the appearance of Jesus Christ, but never a moment of just putting all of the books aside and talking plainly and directly to Christ while reading some of His words from the Bible.
The honest and immediate nature of the act of being seized by the face of the other–Levinas–is a great gift from the seminary. This is much closer to how I think Christ intended us to respond to and interact with others as Christians. Being a better Christian is ultimately about becoming a better human being in all of the most virtuous and ethical ways imaginable, without getting caught up in human-generated laws, norms, codes and straitjacket ways of being that can drive you crazy no matter which side of the political aisle or what brand of Christianity you attempt to align with.