A Year in Seminary | Faith

I honestly cannot believe it has already been one year since I started taking classes with Fuller Theological Seminary. It seems like just yesterday I was choosing classes, ordering books, trying to figure out how online classes work (note: in most cases, you don’t actually have lectures you watch), and planning my first trip out to Orange County for an on-campus class.

Over the past year I’ve faced challenges to my faith, traveled to Italy, made lots of new (and lasting) friendships, learned to sculpt, written lots of research papers, and made an incredible amount of new connections. I’ve learned I really love traveling by myself. My book collection has expanded immensely (ie: commentaries), I’m taking on even more school loan debt, and my friends suddenly think I’m a Biblical scholar (I assure you, I am definitely not). I’ve learned professors are more than just professors – they are friends, confidants, and people you actually hang out with outside of class. One of the most life-giving relationships I’ve made through school was with a professor.

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Although its been challenging, its been nothing but good, and I’m looking forward to what the next year has in store. Today I’m sharing some of my reflections on the past year, and I hope you find some tidbits you can apply to your life as well.

Seminary is not scary…

Honestly, I had this really weird picture in my head of what seminary looked like or even was. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I pictured this convent-esque looking building where only the most religious or scholarly folk went to become priests. And I pictured seminary being only for old people. I was wrong. To my surprise, my on-campus classes always consisted of mostly young adults in a similar place as me. It totally changed my perspective of what it means to be in seminary. We are just a bunch of like-minded people desiring to learn more about God and be challenged in our faith. And we also all spend a lot of time Google-ing definitions to words our professors or scholarly journals use (I was really happy to learn I wasn’t alone in that).

…But you will get asked “So, do you want to be a pastor?” by friends and family (and strangers) on a regular basis.

Once you say “I’m in seminary” and the person wipes the look of surprise off their face, they almost always ask if I want to be a pastor.

No…I don’t. Even though I’ve had multiple people tell me they think I will be a pastor someday. If that where God calls me, that’s fine, but it is not on my agenda at the moment.

But I can’t blame them for asking, because until I actually applied to seminary, I didn’t know you could be anything else. The people in my classes spread the gamut of jobs – pastors, missionaries, stay-at-home-moms, teachers, musicians, freelance writers, firefighters, artists, psychologists, nurses, models, CIA agents (no joke, there was a CIA agent in one of my classes). To be totally honest, I have no idea what I’ll end up doing with my degree. Actually, I don’t even know what degree I’m pursuing at the moment. But I still have some time before I have to figure it out.

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My Old Testament Intro class on Fuller’s Orange County campus in Irvine, CA

It’s OK to question your faith. It’s OK to question the Bible. It’s OK to question God.

This was probably the biggest take away for me from this past year. One of the first classes I ever took in seminary was an in-depth study on the book of Esther. Let me tell you…that class was not at all what I expected. I expected lots of girl power, you-go-Esther-for-leading-Israel-as-a-woman type stuff. What I got was a lot of historical background on the Diaspora, the Second Temple period, the Persian empire, and lots of scholarly articles saying none of it was true.

Well, then.

My professor also provided a lot of scholarly articles that said it was true, and they were equally convincing. So I found myself stuck in this place of what do I believe? Do I side with the people who have minimal evidence for the existence of Esther but still believe she and the story was real, or do I side with the people who tear apart that minimal evidence and believe it’s all just a story? That entire quarter, I wrestled with it. I wrestled with my long-time evangelical background, being raised to take everything in the Bible literally and not to question God’s Word. Did asking questions mean I didn’t believe in God? Did it mean I believed the Bible wasn’t true?

Basically, I decided that although I love when archeological discoveries line up with what the Bible says, concrete proof isn’t required for me to believe something happened. Faith is belief that something is true without having evidence. Believing Esther is real requires faith. Plus, there are so many places in Israel and the Middle East that are not allowed to be excavated for religious or personal reasons…just think of what they would find if they dug there! Not having evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t exist – it just means we haven’t found it yet.

It is absolutely OK to question God and question your faith. Heck, some of the most important leaders in the Bible openly questioned God and lived to tell the tale. Wrestling with God strengthens our faith; it doesn’t weaken it. If nothing else, seminary has taught me it’s OK to yell at God when you pray and ask hard questions. We’re broken people being real with Him. And He loves us for that.

Sabbath rest is necessary…but you’ll have to force yourself to take Sabbath and make time for friends.

Although we are constantly told to take a Sabbath and rest from work and school, this is legitimately hard to do as a student. There is always a book or article to read, a paper to write, an email to send, or something to discuss on the class forums. I can’t imagine all the other extracurricular things an on-campus student has going on. Sometimes it just feels like I am swimming in assignments and books with no time for anything other than school, and it seems if I took a break, I wouldn’t finish everything in time. In most cases, I don’t actually take time to rest,  I just push through and become exhausted.

But guess what? If you take time to rest, you will still get everything finished on time, because resting gives you the energy and fuel to keep going. Overworking yourself just leads to being tired, stressed out, saying “F#@! this!” and taking a nap instead. We can’t work if we are out of fuel. I heard recently that it is more important to be FINISHED, NOT PERFECT. This is hard for those of us Type-A personalities who want everything we do to be perfect. Sometimes it is more about just getting something finished, even when it’s imperfect. Sometimes it’s more important for your sanity to take the B- instead of an A+ (gasp). Sometimes it is more important to embrace imperfection so we can make time to rest.

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Hiking Mount Hollywood on a trip to LA for school
Now I make myself take time to rest and hang out with friends, even in the midst of finals and midterms. Community is vital and necessary for getting through the difficult times. Becoming a hermit and closing yourself off from friends just creates moments for the Enemy to creep in and tell you that you are alone, depressed, and unloved when it is just simply not true. Make it a point to spend time with God, both alone and with others. Ironically, my personal time with God has severely shrunk since starting seminary. I tell myself studying God and the Bible is the same thing as spending time with Him in quiet, but that’s not true. How can I minister to others if He isn’t the priority in my own life? Rest and abide in Him.

It will change who you are as a person.

This isn’t a bad thing. I’ve definitely changed since starting school. I’ve learned a lot, yes, but my beliefs have also changed a bit. For starters, I’ve become a bit more liberal. I no longer believe the Bible is inerrant – there are blatant contradictions in the Bible if you really want to go looking for them. Some stories are set in places that don’t make sense geographically, and reference animals that aren’t native to the place itself. Does this change my core belief that God is good and His Word is true? No. It just means I do a lot more historical research than I did before. Fuller is a non-denominational school and actually does a great job of showing both the liberal and conservative sides of an argument, letting the student come to their own decision on what to believe. Other seminaries are typically one-sided (ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal), so if you’re thinking about going back to school, make sure you explore their beliefs before enrolling. I’m thankful for Fuller and the options it provides us with.

Also, I also actually enjoy reading commentaries now, and find myself buying books with controversial + radical arguments because I want to be challenged. I like books that give me something I can take away and use – not books with personal stories and emotional “fluff.” I like books based on facts. Prior to seminary, I hated these types of books, and would much rather prefer to read books appealing to my emotions. I’ve become much more academic/scholarly brained as opposed to the emotional feeler I used to be (although I am still very much an emotional feeler as well).

Most of all, you will leave more confused than when you started.

I came to seminary thinking I would get all of my questions about God, Jesus, and the Bible answered. I was wrong. Every answer brings another 10 questions with it. There is so much to learn and I don’t think an entire lifetime is long enough to learn it all, certainly not the 2-4 years most people spend in seminary. There are classes that exist on topics I didn’t even know existed (hello, Pneumatology, Ugaritology, and Akkadian). I’ll read a commentary looking to be told what a passage means, and find myself thinking this person has no idea what they are talking about after I read it. Want to be really confused? Read two different commentaries on the same passage. They will have opposite opinions and you’ll be left to figure out which one you agree with.

But the confusion is worth it because it leads you back into conversation with your Creator, the One who has the answers and seeks to give them freely. Just make sure you’re going back to Him instead of getting frustrated and angry that you don’t understand.

This post was a bit lengthier than normal – and for that I apologize. I hope you found something you can takeaway and apply to your own life. Seminary has been the most challenging, frustrating, and yet wonderful experience I’ve ever had… and I’m thankful I was able to share it with you.

loverae1

Italy Travel Journal | Catherine of Siena | Adventure

Part of my homework for last week was to simply journal and reflect on my experience in Orvieto. It’s been hard for me to think about anything other my experience! My head has been cloudy at all hours of the day, discerning what is the next step for my life. The more I think and pray about it, the more I am positive that I will be moving this fall, and that bring a lot of things to do and risks to take to make it happen. But I am certain it is what I need to do – mostly because I know God is speaking to me when I get hyper emotional and the thought consumes my mind.

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Our group outside San Domenico (thanks Lindsey for the photo!).

That being said, I am trying to separate the specific next step I heard from God to reflect on the rest of the experience – mostly the art we saw, since medieval art was the focus of the trip. It is not often that a piece of art grabs me in a way that evokes strong emotions. Usually I pass by, look at the piece, and think “oh, that’s nice – I like the colors and how detailed this is” or something of the sort. I had that same experience with most of the art I saw in Italy – not because it wasn’t magnificent (it was!) or full of rich historical background and fame, but because I’ve never connected with art on that personal of a level.  There were a few pieces in Italy that did evoke an emotional response from me, though (including Michaelangelo’s David, Signorelli’s Holy Family, various pieces of Etruscan pottery found in tombs from the 6th century BC, and various sculptures by Donatello), and although I haven’t quite figured out what it was about them that was so different from the rest, I know I thought they were beautiful. Today I will reflect on one piece in particular.

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The Basilica of San Domenico (left) in Siena.

The first was a piece inside San Domenico, a basilica in Siena that houses the head and finger of Saint Catherine of Siena (yes, the literal head and finger of the saint). Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed, so I was not able to snap a photo and I cannot find a picture of it online. The piece was a stained glass window. It was a vibrant purple and had bridge shards of color piercing throughout. It showed three separate scenes of Catherine with Jesus. The only scene of the three that I remember was Jesus on the cross giving Catherine the host during communion. This piece made me stop and stare for a while, and it was one of few pieces I inquired about afterwards, hoping to find more information. I didn’t learn much, but I wish there was some way I was able to capture it (or even just remember the rest of the scenes!).

Why did this impact me?

I think because communion is typically something we do to experience Christ; a way for us to connect with Him and experience the Last Supper as the disciples did.

To be present in Christ’s final moments on earth. In this image, Christ is personally giving communion to Catherine, just as He did with His disciples. It is intimate, and it implies a close friendship and relationship. It implies Catherine was connecting with Christ on a truly deep level. It implies she was present with Him. And I wish that I was always present and intimate with Him on the same level that the image implied Catherine was. In fact, I wish that for all of us.

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Most of our group overlooking Siena (thanks Chan for the photo!).

How do you pursue intimacy with Christ? How do you make (and keep) yourself present with Him?

Italy Travel Journal | Overview | Adventure

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Overlooking the city of Orvieto from Torre del Moro, the tower where the pope fled during the sack of Rome.

I’m lucky to have recently spent 2 1/2 weeks living in the small town of Orvieto, a city on a hill in Italy. The experience was beautiful and emotional in many ways. I saw a lot of politically and spiritually important sights, traveled to Rome, Florence, Siena, and Assisi, got to know the cafe and shop owners in Orvieto, drank cappuccinos, ate gelato (daily, I might add), and build lasting friendships. I was particularly impacted by the professors and built some lasting relationships with them as well, which I will share more about later. For now, I want to give a general overview of my trip, and then I will share more specifics over the coming months.

I’m currently sitting at the airport in New York, awaiting my flight to Cincinnati which has been delayed for the millionth time. There is no better time to reflect on a trip than when your flight has been delayed for nearly 24 hours, right?

Roughly 32 of us (professors, spouses, friends, and students) spent time living at San Lodovico, a monastery in Orvieto, while we traveled to various cathedrals and museums learning about art and religion during medieval times. We began our morning with prayer in the chapel located inside the monastery.

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The monastery of San Lodovico in Orvieto, Italy.

We spent time in studio classes learning to sculpt with Fuller Seminary’s artist in residence, Chris Slatoff. I particularly loved these classes and discovered a love for sculpting that I didn’t know existed. Hours flew by and I learned I actually had the patience to work on one small thing for a long time.

We also got quite a bit of free time, and we all spent this in different ways. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I felt God was clearly telling me (which I won’t I share at the moment, since I am still discerning what is the next step to take). I will say that I feel God has called me to big things that I am financially incapable of doing on my own – and I now feel it is okay to use school loans to do these things. I’m just trying to figure out where in the world I am being called (location-wise) and when (sometime this year).

I typically did this over a cappuccino and pastry at one of three coffee shops – Blue Bar, Montanucci, or Capitano del Popolo. I think Montanucci wins for having the best pastries and beautiful patio seating, but Capitano del Popolo had the best coffee and coolest decor.

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Cappuccino at Capitano Del Popolo.

It seems to me that God calls us to the places we feel the least comfortable, at what we feel are the least opportune times.

Does anyone else feel this way?

I was significantly more impacted on this trip than I expected, and I think it will take me a while to process everything. Which is fine, because I still have seven more weeks of classes online with the people who went on the trip (the classes: Medieval Art & Religion, The Art of Worship & Prayer). I’m thankful I get to discern with other people who were significantly impacted as well.

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At the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy.

We also spent a lot of time learning about the saints – particularly Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, and Francis of Assisi. Their lives were a blend of piousness (perhaps overly and dangerously pious) and servitude, creativity and visions. I was really impacted by a stained glass window in Siena in San Domenico, the cathedral where the head and finger of the saint is on display. Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture of it online and I wasn’t able to take one (pictures were not allowed), but I remember it was a vivid purple with three different scenes of Catherine with Jesus. The scene I remember was Jesus on the cross serving Catherine communion. I want to recreate something like it with plexiglass and paint for a final class project… hopefully my memory will serve me well 🙂

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Outside the Duomo di Orvieto in Orvieto, Italy.

There is a quote from Catherine I believe to have learned firsthand from this trip:

“It is the nature of love to love as much as we feel we are loved, and to love whatever the one we love loves.”

I certainly learned I was loved and could be loved by people who barely know me. This made me feel comfortable sharing intimately and pouring love in return. I’m looking forward to reflecting more intimately on my time in this beautiful place over the months to come.

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At the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

Ciao, friends.

loverae1