Sunday, March 05, 2006

Faith Crisis continued

I don't have a whole lot of time before church, but I've come up with some new questions after a lengthy conversation with a friend who was previously in seminary. Why does a person go to seminary in the first place? Is it to be trained so that they can minister and help others? or is it for themselves, to figure out what they believe and how to make it work in the current church framework and modern world? I think it's both, but different people put a different amount of emphasis on one or the other part of it. I also think it's interesting that so many people are told "be careful" when they go to seminary. People are concerned that seminary is going to somehow ruin them or destroy their faith. I don't entirely understand this concept, but would ask, if one's faith is destroyed in seminary, was it really faith to begin with? Does real faith falter because of education? Is education really the problem in this equation?

In my quest to complete seminary, I'm beginning to ask myself why I am here. I'm learning great things in most of my classes, but have no concept of how they are going to help me in the real world. While I can sit in class and talk about some of the merits of Buddhist faith (as well as similarities to Christianity), I would get thrown out of a majority of churches for mentioning such a thing. Talking about feminist concepts in class is wonderful, but the real world is patriarchal and there's not a lot of practical advice for how to change that. I know I'm only one person and not alone in this struggle, but so often it seems like the people I know in seminary become someone else when they're serving their churches. The woman who talks about the power of the female in spirituality when in classes, resorts to saying "Our father" every Sunday and doesn't even question it. The person who thinks LGBT people should be welcome when talking about it in Reconciliation class, doesn't breathe a word of his lesbian friend to his congregation for fear of their reaction. I'm not saying this is everyone, but there are cases that are even more extreme than this. Someone will write a paper about how some kind of social justice was integral to Wesley and is important to United Methodism today, but only wants to talk about individual salvation in church sermons and leaves it at that. There's not the integration between what's learned and what's practiced. So why learn all of this if people in the "real world" don't want to hear it or think about it?

I once used a metaphor from my childhood development (psychology class) to explain the church. Babies just rely on the parents for everything, no questions or concept of "world" outside of their needs and desires. I think there are many people like this in the church. Toddlers and young children begin to formulate a bigger concept of the world and ask a lot of questions, especially "WHY?" and will accept the answer given to them by someone they trust (parent, teacher, etc.). I think this is where a majority of people are in their faith - they want the Pastor to give them answers to the questions they come up with but don't want to or can't understand ambiguity or that there are questions they haven't thought of yet. As children grow older, they begin to question how much they can just accept what they've always been told - especially in the teen years there is a big search for what is truly "them" and a lot of experimenting occurs as they try things out and decide for themselves rather than taking someone else's word for it. Finally, when becoming adults, people (generally) have their own ideas about the world and who they are as individuals in it. Granted, these are broad and sweeping statements about the stages of life, and they come out of an American context (likely white, middle class as this is where most of academia sits) but I think there's something to this. If we, as church leaders, are the "parents" of these people, is it our job to answer their young child questions, or is it our job to help them grow into responsible adults in the faith?

I do not see myself in parish ministry - it would be confining, even stifling for me, to have to watch every word that I said. I don't want people putting that much stock in the things that I say and I don't want them to assume that I have all the answers they could never come up with on their own. So what am I going to do with this seminary degree? Is there a place where I can make a living (a requirement to have housing and food) and still keep my spiritual integrity? I think I found it in the Deaconess program, but right now I'm not feeling sure about much of anything. It was suggested to me that I might be one of those people meant to live a life in academia - there's a reason I love seminary and the discussions in my classes. However, I have a strong commitment to social justice, and don't know that teaching students who are going to abandon whatever we talk about as soon as they go back to their churches is enough for me. I guess the pondering continues...


Andy B. said...

Wow, this is a HUGE post. You have a lot going on, my friend, and I could respond with a HUGE post of my own.
But, I won't.
For now, let me say as a local church pastor, just about every single moment of my seminary experience has direct practical application to my work in minstry. Seminary is not the acquisition of a bag full of tricks pastors can pull out and use, though it seems many expect it to be. Seminary is faith formation, story writing, fabric weaving, musical composition. It is metaphor. It is learning to love God with your mind.
Too many people say they didn't learn anything practical in seminary. If you are doing it right as a student, there is nothing that is NOT practical in seminary. People who say things like that don't realize how foolish they are making themselves look. I feel sad for them, because they have lost so much.
Oops, sorry this was such a long comment.
Rantingly yours,
Andy B.

hipchickmamma said...

great post...i worry about "selling out" to the church. not being prophetic or true to what i believe God is calling me to learn and do.

is it a question of real faith--to step out and be prophetic and hope to keep a job?

i want both. i want job security and i want to help people find real faith--to move past hearing and believing just because someone else says so. i want to make the church a really truly inclusive place. i want to walk and bring those in the pews to walk with me, to walk with those the world spits upon, especially those the church usually spits upon. am i asking too much? or am i expecting too little?

good questions...thanks for pushing us to be accountable!