Trying Really Hard to Think of a More Original Title Than “It’s All Greek to Me”

Seminary-Bonnie once made the comparison of Koine Greek to math. This was not a compliment.

Koine Greek, for the uninitiated, is the Greek that was spoken and written in during the time that the New Testament was written, and so if you are studying at a seminary in order to more deeply expound those texts to other people, most seminaries require you to have at least a working knowledge of the language. (And Hebrew, for the Old Testament, but we’ll get to that later. Like, next year or something.)

Because of convoluted details involving commuting four hours a day, etc, starting next semester, with which I will not bore you, I am trying to finish up Greek 1 quickly, in order to take Greek 2 on my own, so I can test out of it and fill in those credits with a class that only meets once a week instead of one that meets twice or three times. (Don’t try to understand that if you don’t want to. Now you know how I feel learning about the third declension.)

Anyway, I do like languages, and there’s some really interesting details I’m learning. Like, the word that often gets translated eternity in English really has more of an underlying meaning of age. The observation was made by Dr. Greek that some of our current Christian understandings about the future promises for which we wait has been influenced by this not-entirely-accurate translation–we have this idea that someday we, like God, will be outside of time, but the eternity described in the Biblical texts, though possibly unending, still functions within the construct of time. I’m still trying to get my head around this, and also wondering how, if that was the Greek understanding of that word, it is supposedly also the infiltration of Greek ideas into an originally Hebrew mindset that got us to think that way about eternity. How could the Greeks have communicated this spiritual/material dualism in their ideas about the time/space continuum if they didn’t have a word that carried that dualistic idea? Also? Last week I learned how to say, “I don’t have a husband.” In 2000-year-old Greek. Seems useful to me!

All this to say that, even though I’m finding some aspects of this study challenging (like, staying caught up, and telling the difference between all those subordinating adverbial particles), I kind of like Greek and hadn’t really been making the connexion to math until sometime this week. This week I took a couple of quizzes and it occurred to me that I consistently make mistakes that are totally avoidable.

My relationship to math these days is pretty nonexistent (I’m lucky if I can add–I certainly can no longer do so in my head), but when I was in high school, though I didn’t like it, I could do relatively complex math if I concentrated. It took me a little longer to comprehend the more advanced concepts than it did some people, but I basically could understand it, eventually at least. My biggest problem was usually not comprehension, but just missing a detail that I should have seen. Kind of like skimming a novel and then realising a character was just introduced a few pages back but you have no idea who they are. (Come to think of it, this may be exactly why I was a failure as a copy-editor–I have a very good grasp of the mechanics of language, I just don’t have a very consistent eye for detail.)

So now I have this stack of quizzes which I have to mail in next week, all of which have some glaring errors which, sadly, did not glare when I made them so that I could fix them. Of course I knew that logoi is plural–but it made sense in the singular so I just translated it that way. Oops.

As well as having to turn in these embarrassing quizzes, I have a second (of three) exam coming up next week, and I’m nervous. I’m not nervous because I am missing or misunderstanding information. I’m nervous because I’m aware that I can’t trust my own ability to notice the details, and I don’t know how to fix that. Good thing no one ever thought of hiring me to work on a official, to-be-published, translation of the Bible.

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For All Creation

The cardinal is my favourite Northeastern songbird. This is partly because the bright red male is so gorgeous, and the drabber female really isn’t that bad, either. And they’ve both got pipes. The other day they were singing a duet together and it was really beautiful.

The other thing about the cardinal song is that it’s so various. Sometimes they sound like guinea pigs (“mweep, mweep!”). Sometimes they sound like little boys pretending to shoot each other (“piuuu, piuuu!”). And sometimes they trill and sing cadenzas and sound as if they’re going to burst with happiness. I love taking Oscar for walks in the morning at this time of year because all the songbirds (not just the cardinals) are usually a joyful singing orchestra, even if the morning is sort of murky like this one. Sometimes I imagine I can hear little words and refrains in the birdsong. For example, there’s one bird who constantly sings, “Eric! Eric! Eric!” I have no idea who the bird is or who Eric is, but I’ve thought this about that song since I was a kid.

This morning when I woke up, I said to Oscar, “Christ is risen!” because he was the only one around I could say it to, but also because I really do believe Christ’s death and resurrection were about reconciling all of creation to God. Oscar couldn’t say back, “He is risen indeed,” but he did watch The Passion of the Christ with us the other night, so I think he knows something about it.

Then we went outside for his walk. Today, as usual, the birds, and especially the cardinals, were going to town, and it sounded for all the world like Mr. Cardinal was singing, “Worship! Worship! Worship! Worship! Christ Christ Christ Christ Christ Christ Christ!” He kept singing that until I was a third of the way around the block, and then another cardinal took it up at the bottom of the street, singing invisibly, and more throatily, from the marsh down there. Then they stopped for a while to give some of the other birds a chance. (None of those birds sang with words, except for maybe one who sounded for all the world like he was good-naturedly but not very respectfully singing, “Peter! Peter! Hehehehehehehe!”) By the time I got back up to the corner to turn back onto my street, there was the cardinal again, sitting on the telephone wire a few feet down from the robin, this time warbling, “Praise! Praise! Praise! Praise! God God God God God God God!”

Praise God, indeed. Because the Messiah is risen!

Convergence

I feel like someone is pressing their thumbs into my forehead just above my eyebrows, in and down, and somehow my eyebrows are trying to raise themselves up under this pressure, even though there is surely no need. Also, the voyage of the Dawn Treader may or may not be occurring at this very instant inside my stomach, with Eustace and Edmond and Lucy about to be catapulted from Narnia into the real world at any moment. I know, that’s a weird analogy, but it’s the only one I can think of presently, and it may be better than my usual manner of speaking freely about unpleasant bodily functions.

The reason I am feeling this way is because I have so far just had a very wonderful weekend, though not the kind you may be inferring from the above description. I, two other adults and seven teenagers just spent the last two days largely not eating. You’re not supposed to brag or even maybe talk about your spiritual exercises/disciplines, but I’m not. I just have to tell you a little bit about this one so I can give you an idea about what happened this weekend.

As you may know, the youth group at Now Church has been gearing up for some time to attempt World Vision’s “30-Hour Famine” project. World Vision has been raising funds for their relief work among impoverished people around the world, using this method, for decades. Basically, groups of teenagers band together and commit to not eating for 30 hours if people will sponsor them, and then the money gets sent to World Vision. The teens all spend most, if not all, of their 30 hours together in one place (often a church building), and play games and learn things about some of the people they may be helping.

Last year, fewer of you may remember, the Now Church youth group had an overnight vigil on Easter weekend. When I was planning the youth year back in September and trying to figure out how to fit in all our traditional activities with the new ones we wanted to initiate, it occurred to me that there might be something kind of apropos about doing a 30-hour fast and an Easter vigil at the same time. After all, God came and lived the life of a real human being alongside us, and suffered on our behalf, and, albeit in a much smaller, less cosmic way, the youth group would also be “suffering” on someone’s behalf. Last year’s vigil went from Waiting Saturday evening into Easter morning, but because we didn’t really sleep at all that night (its being a vigil and stuff), the kids were all wrecked for their family Easter celebrations the next day. So this year I decided we’d go from Good Friday into Waiting Saturday and everyone could go home and recover from fasting for at least 12 hours before eating lots of ham and other un-kosher delicacies on Resurrection Sunday.

Then things at Now-Church got really busy and, along with planning other things for other events, all I could really invest in preparation for the “Famine” was to keep telling kids to get sponsors, and occasionally to put up some sort of display in our “coffee hour” hall after church services. Which is how, on Tuesday this week, I found myself working something like 10 hours trying to put together a schedule for this thing.

But the time was really all in the details, because I found, as I went along, that the World Vision hunger-awareness activities with the Easter-vigil sort of activities went together better than I had ever hoped. Part of this might have been because I had decided to take a Biblical-salvation-history approach instead of last year’s Stations-of-the-Cross approach. So we could talk about the relational rift between humans and God that started with Adam and Eve, and how all of creation got messed up because of that, and then we could talk about some of the messed-up-ness, like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan.

Then I realised that not only was it Good Friday and the beginning of our 30-Hour Famine, but it was also Earth Day, and we had chosen as our local service project (recommended by World Vision) to pick up trash in the general Now-Church neighbourhood. I couldn’t get over how perfect this was–it made me so happy. Not that we made a huge dent in Our Fair City’s litter problem, but that Good Friday, the day that we celebrate an event which, if the Bible’s true, had an impact not just on people but on all of creation (on account of the Creator’s dying because of the brokenness), and here it was, falling on that hippie holiday that so many Christians I know scoff at. Personally, I didn’t think it could have been any better timed.

The rest of the topics of discussion and play were equally serendipitous. We could talk about contaminated water sources and how important water is to life, and then we could talk about God choosing Abraham and Moses because He wanted, for the blessing of the whole world, to set aside a special people through whom to flow as our uncontaminated source of life. We talked about the dangers children face from looters and kidnappers and traffickers after natural disasters, and we talked about the dangers the Israelites had faced before King David was put on the scene to solidify their nation, and how God promised someone in the line of David to free people ultimately from their oppressors.

After having built a case, both through educational games about children’s deprivations in Haiti, and through discussion of the rift between people and God, and how God kept reaching out to reconcile even though people keep trying to usurp His position, we watched The Passion of the Christ last night. I had never wanted to watch that movie again after the first time, and I felt exactly the same way after this, the second. (Incidentally, though? It’s really effective as an eating-deterrent.) But, given our debrief after it, I’d say it was positively impactful on the kids. It certainly does give a vivid depiction of what the ultimate end of human beings’ efforts to deify themselves by defacing the image of God, both in themselves and incarnate among them, looks like.

Today was a little more difficult. We ran ahead of schedule, ran out of activities and talks, and everyone was starting to feel not-quite-right for not having eaten in so long. But, much as I don’t want to brag about a spiritual exercise, I do want to brag about these kids I work with on a regular basis. They never cease to impress me, even when they’re lethargic or shy and unresponsive. These seven in particular spent 30 hours together, ingesting only juice and water, learning about difficult topics and reading a whole lot more Bible than they may be used to, but the Grump-o-meter never exceeded a 3 (if the maximum grumpitude is 10), everybody participated in everything, there may have been plenty of food jokes, but hardly anyone truly complained until the last hour, and they all had something intelligent to say about what they had learned through the experience at the end of it. Not only that, but we had a guest chaperone who liked them so much he’s planning on helping out again. And that was foodless!

I’m grateful for my job in spite of some of the inherent stressors, and I’m grateful for the youth group in particular. But I am more than grateful for Jesus, and the reminder of the promises He fulfilled, and how His resurrection life which you can be darn sure I’m celebrating tomorrow, gives us hope for the impossible and  a deeper reason to reach out to those whose situations really are.

Hair

My hair is not one of my favourite features. It’s kind of an average colour (rendered non-average solely by the fact that everyone else that has this colour dyes theirs a different one), and it’s too wavy to be straight and too straight to be wavy and if it gets one drop of water on it, it suddenly becomes a frizz-factory. When I was in 7th grade, my mother encouraged me rather strongly (at least I thought so) to get my hair cut, even though I had no aspirations of becoming stylish or even much concept of what that meant. I was still disappointed with Auntie El for spiking her hair that had once been long enough for her to sit on, and even though my hair never got longer than two inches above my waist, my goal was to have hair at least as long as hers had been.

But I finally cooperated with my mother’s urging, had my hair cut into 1980’s layers, and thus began my love-hate relationship with hair salons and haircuts. And maybe my own hair. I’m not going to say it was so beautiful before I got it cut, but I never really thought about its not being so until I started fighting with hairstyles that didn’t suit my face, my hair, or my personality. College-Roommate-Jenne and I used to joke grimly that we were going to shave our heads, and the only thing that kept me, at least, from following through with this out of simple exasperation over what was growing out of it, was that I was pretty sure my head was the wrong shape and I knew for a fact that my ears stick out.

And then, in my early 30’s, I met Bledi, and got my first ever haircut with which I was entirely happy. I’ve gushed over Bledi’s haircuts before in the blogosphere, but I’m going to do it again, because I just had another one. I tell him he’s the only person who has ever known how to cut my hair, and he politely pretends not to believe me, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that I’m telling the truth. Until last Friday, I hadn’t had a haircut from Bledi in over a year. I had, however, had at least two haircuts from other people. I kept thinking surely I was exaggerating to myself that only Bledi could cut my hair properly. Surely there had to be someone else on the planet who could do at least a passable job, a little more affordably. And that’s what I got–passable, and more or less affordable. But I couldn’t bring myself to go back. Then I received a gift in the mail and decided it was high-time for a Bledi haircut.

Here’s the thing about Bledi. Whereas with other hairdressers I have to have a really clear photo of the kind of hairstyle I want, and be able to describe it, and then I find I still didn’t quite end up with what I was hoping for. And I blame it on my hair. But when I go to see Bledi, he says something like, “So, what’s going on? Are we growing it out?”

“Yes,” I say. “Here’s a photo of my friend KS-Christie.” It’s a facebook photo and while it’s clear she has a fantastic new haircut, it may not be the best photo for being able to tell exactly what kind of haircut it is. “My hair’s not long enough yet,” I say, “But this is my goal.”

“What is it that you like about this haircut?” he asks.

“The bangs,” I say. “And all the layers. And the colour–but I’m not doing that.”

“Okay,” he says. Then he gets to work, snipping and straightening out all the layers that weren’t properly cut in there in the first place, and adding a few new ones, and when he’s done I don’t look like KS-Christie, but I do look like a glamourous new version of me. I am very happy.

You would think I would post a photo, and the only reason I’m not doing so is because I can’t style my hair as well as Bledi can; for one thing, I don’t have the magical Moroccan Oil that he used which made my hair a completely different texture than it normally is. But I can tell you I’m still happy with this haircut. What I look for is pretty simple: low-maintenance, hair out of my face, feminine, and suits-me. I don’t think I’ve ever spelled it out that way to Bledi before. But he definitely seems to get it.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Maybe. But the asking can be pretty tough.

So, as you know, I went to Seminary last weekend to check it out and see if I really wanted to commit to going there for the rest of my degree or not. Frankly, although I’ve been slowly whittling away at courses on-line for the better part of a year and a half, up to this point, I haven’t felt all that convinced either way. Even more frankly, I really didn’t think last weekend was going to make any difference. I wasn’t expecting to leave the weekend feeling impressed and excited, but when I did leave, I found I kind of was.

Only here’s the thing. I love my job at Now Church, and the last thing I remember feeling pretty sure about God’s having ordained was that job, and I don’t think I’m done there yet. At least, I don’t want to be. So even though I’ve used up my allotment of permitted on-line courses and I have to start commuting to campus in the fall, I’m going to remain a part-time student. The thing about that is, Seminary doesn’t offer any scholarships to part-time students.

Except now, one.

Kind of.

Essentially they’ve spearheaded this program which evidently some other institutions have picked up on, where the student raises a certain amount of money via sponsors and the seminary kicks in a modicum less, and suddenly your year’s tuition is half paid for. (I’m not sure where the rest of the tuition is going to come from in my case, but you can bet I’ve been scouring the internet for available scholarships floating around.) As far as I can tell, Seminary’s never done this for a part-time student before, but I guess it is now open to the likes of me. So I sent in an application and we’ll see what happens.

All the same, I just don’t know. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t raised personal support before. That was hard enough to stomach, but I have astonishing friends and family and when they get behind something, they really get behind something. My working with refugees in London was evidently something they could get behind. But who feels compelled to fund someone else’s higher education? Would I? I’m not really that sure that I would. It seems more noble, right now, to send money to relief work in Japan than to send it to some white chick who seems hellbent on spending thousands of dollars she doesn’t have, to read lots of books and stress herself out.

Even if I could appeal to my amazing friends who sponsored me in London by reminding them that this schooling could ultimately be considered ministry, too, and will better prepare me for ministry in the longterm, there’s a pretty strong chance a lot of them don’t believe that a woman has any business getting a Master of Divinity degree. Just in case she takes it into her head to become a pastor. Which most people who have a similar view of Scripture to mine, think is unScriptural. (Note: I have no desire to become a senior pastor anywhere, but I could see myself on staff at a larger church as a pastor of some subgroup within the church, sometime way down the line. But I don’t think these finer points would make anyone disinclined to see a woman ordained, want to send money so I could potentially get to that point.)

Besides all that, within the last year I briefly dated someone who, in the final analysis, seemed to think all I was after was a handout. (Incidentally, for those of you who know him from my former blog, this was not the Milk Guy. Flawed as that man is–as we all are–you should not think ill of him.) This was patently untrue, but it has made me second-guess a lot of things, including asking for most kinds of assistance. I’m not a big fan of asking for help anyway, and asking for money is just about as awkward and uncomfortable and socially unacceptable as you can possibly get. Okay, I whine about being broke a lot, but I whine about a lot of things a lot. This is not an appealing character trait and is doubtless one I need to work on, but it is not meant to be taken as an oblique “beg.” (This whole post probably looks like an oblique beg, but mostly I’m just processing and hoping that some of you will help me process. Like, if you said, “There’s no way on earth anyone would want to sponsor you to go back to school,” that would be elucidating and helpful.)

Now here I am contemplating a direct “beg,” and the thought makes me decidedly squirmy. It is true that I believe that I am meant to get this degree. I also believe (at least hypothetically) that if I’m not making that up and I really am meant to get the degree, God will have to provide a way for me to do it, because it is furthermore true that I have absolutely no way to do this right now. And I’m trusting that it will not entail loans, because I’m still paying off the ones from the last time I attempted grad school. (That time, incidentally, I never had a sense that I was supposed to go there. It just seemed like the next thing to do.) I think that if I do take out loans, I will likely be paying them off until I die or Jesus comes back, whichever comes first.

So maybe this “loan/support-raising” thing is one way God will use to provide for me to get this education. I don’t know. In theory, I don’t think it’s wrong for people to ask for financial assistance. It may even be biblical. (Ask anyone who’s disenfranchised with “the church” because of “their” pleas for money, and you’ll probably get a disgusted affirmative.)  Plus, I guess you could make the case that people are blessed when they give. Actually, I think that’s true. But I . . . don’t want to be the one to instigate that blessing? Am too proud to ask? Think I’m better than other people who raise sponsors or supporters or investors in both religious and secular fields all the time? Ugh. I don’t know. I just know I’m still squirming.

So, to make us all feel more comfortable, here’s a question I can get behind:

Anyone know of any good scholarships going, for which even a part-time student can apply?

Daddy Issues

Sometimes I think God could stand to do a little better with His own PR. For example, why in the world did He pick “Father” as one of the main analogies for our relationship with Him? And if He was going to do that, why did He allow it to be so hard to be one? I’m not talking from experience, of course, but it seems like it must be hard to be a father–a good one, anyway–because there are so many people out there who have problems with their dads. It seems like He could have picked a metaphor that was a little less difficult to get over.

When I was a nanny down in Nannyville, shortly out of college, it seemed like all of my close female friends had issues with their dads. The issues were legitimate. Mostly they had to do with some sort of physical abuse. I could not identify at all. I have a great relationship with my dad. He was always my go-to person when I had a problem; the amount of time he spent listening to me rattle on about perceived slights and dashed hopes and petty conflicts . . . Well, I didn’t have a blog at the time . . .

The analogy of God as Father always worked for me, because I have such a good one. Early on in my decision-making process regarding whether or not to go to London, I spent one afternoon completely freaking out because I suddenly realised I hadn’t prayed very much about the decision, and here I was, applied and accepted and about to start raising financial support. I had this view of God at the time (which I still sometimes default to by mistake because it was so deep-seated) that He loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life, but that anything I might wish to be part of that wonderful plan would automatically not be, because I wished it. I had grown up wishing to be a missionary and to live in England and I had previously thought the two were mutually exclusive. Now here I was, about to receive both wishes at once, but because I hadn’t gotten down on my knees or something and spent sufficient time (whatever that was) asking if this was okay, I began to doubt myself and my plan.

This was also a phase in my life where I was particularly drawn to mysticism, but the attraction to it seemed more to rile me up and heap me with guilt than to centre me and give me peace, so as sat in the private library of the house where I was a nanny, while my charge napped in the next room, I began almost to hear voices. They weren’t literally audible voices, but the thoughts were running rampant in my head, and they kind of had personalities: big, bold accusing thoughts and weasly insidious rebelling thoughts and frightened submissive thoughts, and they flew thicker and faster and I thought I might be going crazy. I was reading a devotional book, but things were only getting worse and then suddenly a different kind of Thought cut across all the other ones, and it said, “Think about your father.”

I’m not one of those people who hears the voice of God audibly, but that moment (and maybe one other time) came pretty close. I stopped. All the crazy thoughts stopped. I thought about my father. I don’t remember what I thought about him. I’m sure I remembered all our walks and all his listening. I might have thought of the time when I was eight and he almost drowned trying to rescue a Mickey Mouse beachball for me that had blown into the sea. (I’m really glad he didn’t–that memory gives me a stomach ache every time I think about it, but I do think it says something about how much my father loves me.) Maybe I thought about his telling stories to me and my brother, or playing with us and the neighbourhood kids after school. Anyway, I thought about my father. Then the Different Thought said, “I love you more than that.” Then I remembered when Jesus said, ““Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7.9-11, NIV).

I began to bawl. He hadn’t directly answered my question about whether to go to London or not, but He had answered my fears about somehow inadvertently angering Him, and about whether or not I could possibly want something He also wanted.

All that to say, the God-as-Father picture has been pretty helpful for me, but sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person. Some of my female friends who struggled with that image all those years ago have come to terms with God as their much-better-Father, and some of them hang onto their faith simply because of what they see in Jesus, even though they still can’t get their heads and hearts around the father thing. And some, no doubt, have walked away from Him altogether.

Now, ever since I’ve come back to New England, it seems like it’s my male friends who have the issues with God as Father. No wonder. What else do you do when your birth-father abandons your family for another one, or when you can’t measure up to your father’s unreachable ideals for you, or when your father can’t measure up to your ideals for him? Any exposure to the God of the Bible after that comes through marred-father lenses, particularly because God kind of introduces Himself as Father. Jesus’ words about earthly fathers who give good gifts to their children ring hollow because yours didn’t or couldn’t. The God of wrath might feel all too familiar, or the transcendent God might feel as far away as your own dad, or the God who demands obedience may remind you of guilt you rid yourself of long ago. I suspect it may be harder to have father-issues as a man, because you might be a father yourself, and all your doubts and uncertainties about the role come into your consciousness, whether you want them to or not.

I kind of believe that maybe God picked “Father” as one of His personal metaphors precisely because He knows how hard it is to be one. He knows the pain of rebellious children and the agony of losing One. I kind of think He wanted to redeem the title–to show us what a Father is really meant to be like. I think He can do it, too. But some of the Biblical passages are so difficult to swallow, and some of our fathers are so difficult to forgive, that how we can ever get to the point of seeing Him as He wants us to see Him–as He really is–seems essentially impossible. Which is why, sometimes, I wonder about His PR a little bit.

Seminary and the Red Sox

I like being a Red Sox fan better in Denver.

By this I probably mean what I’ve said before, which is that I’m contrary. Back when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, it was pretty fun to be in New England as a Red Sox fan, but ever since then, it’s been kind of boring. Everybody’s a Red Sox fan around here. I kind of prefer being somewhere where no one even thinks about them, for example, and then going all Red Sox on them. The funny thing is, in reality I don’t really follow sports at all, but if the Red Sox aren’t being represented, I make sure I do it. If they are, I feel as if I am superfluous, and I just sort of ignore the whole thing. Except that every once in a while it really is a sort of rejuvenating thing to go to Fenway Park with a whole bunch of other crazies and eat a hot dog and yell things like “Yooouuuuukkk!” while trying to peer around the view-obstructing pillars.

Ever since Wednesday, I have been at Seminary. This “weekend” (described loosely), the admissions office there put on a prospective student event, and I have come along, even though technically I am an actual student and not just a prospective one. So far I have only been taking classes on-line, because they cost less, but there is a cap on how many courses you can take via distance learning, and so, beginning in the autumn I’m going to need to start commuting to campus, or something else more drastic. A lot of the weekend, for me, has involved running around talking to people in order to find out how I can schedule things so that I only need to come out here one day a week, what courses I don’t need to take because of transfer credits from my previous stab at grad school, and whether I should go part-time (and forfeit any chance at a scholarship) or full-time (and forfeit most chances at sanity).

But there’s been more to the weekend than that. Just before came up here, my faith was feeling very tired. Most of the time I feel I kind of thrive on having my faith challenged a little bit. Most of the time I kind of like having a few beloved agnostics in my circle of friends, and the discussions and debates we are able to have. Most of the time I don’t balk much at the fact that Now Church is mostly more theologically liberal than I am.

But lately I feel like I’ve been absorbing some of the mindset of the skeptic in spite of myself. I have noticed it especially in my reading of the early Old Testament books.  For most of my adult life I have had friends, both Christian and not, who really struggle deeply with certain aspects of the Old Testament, most particularly the “genocide stories” at the end of the Pentateuch and in Joshua. For some reason, although I could intellectually understand why those stories bothered them, I never found them that bothersome myself. This time around, I think I can feel my friends’ horror and distaste at the tales. I think, “God, what kind of God are you?” And then people I’ve never met or spoken to before, write comments on a previous post and I feel worn out and beaten and like I have nothing to say to them or to people like them. I believe there is something to say, I just don’t know what it is, and I’ve been starting to wonder if anybody does. “I wish,” I thought to myself at one point, “that there was some non-fundamentalist type who would write a book about this stuff that upholds the Bible as authoritative but does a decent job of showing that God is not as sketchy as He seems.” I could hear the voices of friends and unknown blog-commentators in my head saying that that was a settled impossibility, and I confess I feared they might be right.

That afternoon I drove to Seminary. At supper time I got in a conversation with two students and, after we had talked for quite some time, I told them about some of my current and perplexingly sudden issues with the Old Testament. “Oh,” said one. “In one of my classes the professor just recommended a book about that . . . ” He wrote down the title and the author and I felt like a light had flickered past the window, or a curtain had fluttered up for a second, or someone had whispered, “I’m here, and I hear you,” or this renegade Red Sox fan had just been given a ticket to Fenway Park.

I confess that, in spite of having found my on-line courses quite interesting, to date, I have not been very clear about whether or not this degree programme in which I’m enrolled is really what I should be doing. I just haven’t been able to feel anything about it emotionally at all. I also confess that I’ve become a little jaded about the typical jargon and formats and even demeanors of the run-of-the-mill evangelical subculture, and so far there had been nothing in my classes to indicate that those things would be absent once I actually began attending seminary . . . or once I went there for the weekend for prospective students.

On the first morning, however–the day after the book recommendation which felt so inexplicably significant to me–we had a short worship service and sermon. The young woman who preached chose Joshua 23 as her passage–a passage I was scheduled to read the very next day. She spoke about our clinging to God and God alone, instead of trying to cling to Him and something or someone else as well.

It would probably take another entire blogpost to unpack how I realised I have been trying to do the latter instead of the former, and I may never write that blogpost, but the upshot of the talk was not my feeling guilty, but my feeling again like God was there and was reaching out to me and trying to communicate. And I could retain my skeptical or jaded stance and pretend He wasn’t, or focus on a few other things that have happened this weekend that sort of confirmed my fears of evangelical-cliche, or just decide God’s attempts at communicating were clumsy and socially awkward. But if I did that I would be being dishonest with myself and putting myself above God. I would be denying His presence and work. I would be denying what I saw of Him through every single one of the faculty I’ve encountered at this place. I think I would be denying His call.

I don’t know what I need a Master’s of Divinity for, though I do know that that has got to be one of the most pretentious degree-names there is. It’s expensive and I don’t know where the money’s going to come from, and I don’t know where the time is going to come from, and I don’t see myself becoming a senior pastor or anything ever, so I don’t know where the education’s going to go to. Anyone could say a book recommendation and a sermon about Joshua don’t even make good coincidences, let alone the voice of God, and I can’t say definitively that they were anything more. Nevertheless, I believe I met God here, and I have a hunch He wants to keep meeting me here for a while, so I can be rejuvenated in Him like a Red Sox fan at Fenway Park, and so I can learn to cling to Him only, again and ever after. What that’s going to look like, I have no idea, but I’m rather pleased to know He wants me to.