I wouldn't usually go down such a bloggish route, but so many people have asked me in so many contexts, and with such evident hope on their expectant faces and in their bright and earnest tones, I thought I might answer it definitively here.
Q: So, how do I like seminary?
A: Well, I don't guess I care for it all that much.
I do hate to disappoint good people. But there are reasons, and reasons I hope will not necessarily endure, and reasons to hope I might endure myself.
The largest problem is no doubt my massive tendencies toward lateral thinking, toward parallel thinking, in a pretty solidly linear world. Which is to say that I'm trying to see the forest while people keep throwing trees at me. It has ever been thus in my academic career. My grades each semester from high school onward betrayed a distinctively upward turn, and so did my comprehension.
The point is not my scores, which haven't happened yet, but that I'm absorbing enormous amounts of information without hardly any time to process any of it. For the eureeka moment to occur, you actually have to stop and take a bath. For any and every light to dawn, I have had to hold each time to patience, however hard and implausible such a course may seem anew at each beginning. I'm reminded, particularly, of my semester of study at the Oregon Extension, and that turned out well.
Which doesn't make me any less frustrated now, of course.
The second, and equally persistent problem, we might well call socialization. It is strange that I enter seminary with MORE of essentially the same attitude I started college with: that I'm here to take classes, and everyone else is pretty much incidental. At the same time, however, I now have an actual theological stance, an actual existential conviction, that everyone else is to some degree all that ultimately matters.
It puts one in quite the schizophrenic state of mind: when I seclude myself in my room to read, I wonder if I ought instead to be in the lounge making connections, and when I stop where someone has some kind of collectible card deck going, I feel all the hounds of academia on my heels, so that I haven't been comfortable, haven't been at rest, ever, in any context or in any situation, never mind that my self-consciousness means I feel that, not only should I NOT be doing whatever I'm doing right now, I should ALSO be doing it BETTER - I should open up more AND be more academically focused, all at the same time and in the first few weeks of term and in complete contradiction to whatever I happen to be doing at the time.
Yup, those are pretty much my expectations, and, much as I might to have an off-button for them somewhere, I haven't found that yet. Can't turn off the brain. A situation hindered only a little bit by my not taking the orientation week while I was moving in, and much more by my not taking introductory Greek along with every other warm living body this summer. It's not that I don't know anyone, that's to be expected. It's that I'm one of basically three people who don't know anyone, and the other two are pretty much never around.
Third, I am not a Lutheran, and am certainly not as much of a Christian's christian as most of the people here. A few years ago, I decided, definitively, that I no longer wanted to be a better person, ever, and now I go to class with people who want to be pastors. I said that I was getting out of Paul's race, not pressing onward to the goal, because it looked too much like a treadmill and I don't have that kind of energy, and now I go to class with many people whom, if my experience is any indication, actually want to be a little bit like Paul. Mission this, mission that, discipleship this, discipline that, and all I want to do, personally, is sit in my room and think.
And I mean, I think that's not so much not wanting to go out of my comfort zone as it is my not wanting to go outside of my interest-zone, because I realize more than I did when I was in college that life is short and I don't owe anything to anyone but myself and my God. But it makes me feel like less of a Christian, and makes me wonder why I'm in seminary at all if all I wanted was the credits necessary to land in a PhD program.
Which is not what you need to be doing to start off the first semester, because how serious are these concerns and how much of them is just anxiety in the face of newness, a perpetually human and personal problem?
Finally, and this is the most serious concern, the intellectual climate here is more conservative and modern to my more post-liberal postmodern ways. This isn't a deal-breaker so much as it is simply and certainly annoying. Everyone here sees the possibilities for Christianity in postmodern thought and then says, 'but there's danger there' and backs away and runs their little flag up some position taken fifty years ago. Which, I mean, I've lived in dissent for most of my life, but in the last few years I've met mostly only warm regard and have gone very much my own way, and I admit I've gotten more than a little used to it.
And I want to agree with everyone. If I can find a way to argue myself into agreement with you, I will in fact do it.
But now somewhere stands up there and says that 'theology is the church thinking about its belief,' and I think 'what a horrible, awful, stuffy and institutional thing to say.' Or someone says that symbols precede experience in the methods of theology, and I think, 'well, maybe, but why do it then?'.
And it's not that I overwhelmingly disagree with these things - I would swallow that theology is the body of Christ pondering the inclinations of its heart, or that symbol and experience and theology itself cycle through our relationship to God and self alike so that to put one in front of the other is a distinction without a difference. But it is to say that I'm annoyed and tired by the process of having to argue my way there, and trying to decide if such a jaunt is worthy of mentioning in class when the discussion never goes remotely in any such direction, and I suspect I might ultimately agree anyway.
This week, I looked up the Institute for Christian Studies, the source, via my favorite professor's own education, of most all of my own idiosyncratic leanings.
Well, it'll be interesting to see how all this turns out.