Being a seminarian was a real treat. I met people who were totally on fire for God! By “on fire” I mean that they were ready to get out there and preach “the word.” These classmates were impressive in their passion. Unlike them, I primarily wanted to study pastoral counseling and figure out my future from there.
I’ll never forget spending hours at a time in the library at Perkins School of Theology (and later Brite Divinity School) reading books of the Bible for my bible class, the seminal course for entering seminarians. It was easy to get lost in the text as I discovered all of the verses that I’d heard many preachers and friends use as though they had secret kernels of knowledge. “All things happen for the good…” from Romans 8.28 is a good example. I had discovered the keys to the universe!
I’d leave the stacks feeling tall…full of knowledge, full of myself. [That was no way to be!] Soon, I was wondering why didn’t everyone get to have this marvelous educational experience. Why wouldn’t they since everyone was Christian? Right. Not!
One day, I woke up and realized that I was living in a Christian bubble. Constantly being around seminarians, seminary professors, and church folk had severely colored my world. Everyone wasn’t Christian nor were they trying to be.
This wasn’t news to me since I grew up with an atheist parent. But, it was an awakening in the sense that I realized how easily you can work yourself into an insular environment and never know it. You begin taking for granted that everyone shares your belief system, you and your inner circle all have the answers, and outsiders be damned. Luckily, I awakened from that slumber and got real with myself.
With this in mind, I finished my degree in four years from the beginning and was ordained, shortly thereafter. My awakening didn’t damper my learning process. I “applied” myself, as my mother would say, and got ‘er done. I had learned to live with ambiguity; the both-and equation. That is, both everyone is not Christian, but I am, and I need to finish this degree and move on with this career that I started. So, I did. Later, I awakened, again, and realized that I was not a Christian, although christian.
Seminary liberated me to be my own thinker. That in itself was worth the ride. But, it also helped me find my passion: teaching and learning. I remember an important episode that demonstrates this. I had fallen in love with liberation theology, especially the work of James Cone, as had many other black seminarians who took an ethics course. Prior to that, I hadn’t realized that Jesus was a brother!
Liberation theologians ground their theology in Luke 4.18-19. For them, this is the seminal text of the Bible. No other has precedence nor priority. It reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I loved this text; still do. But, I gradually realized that Cone and his black liberation theology cronies had no more authority than anyone else to determine the essence of Jesus’ ministry or what the Bible or any other sacred text stands for. They are not the sole arbiters that their writings suggest that they are. While their work was liberating and spoke volumes of truth to me and others, I was free (like you are) to reject their conclusions like I’ve rejected many others. Hence, I pretty much said, “hasta la vista” to that theology as my primary way of doing theology. I opened myself up to a more inclusive and complex understanding of scripture and theology. More importantly, I had critically thought my way through a quandary.
That form of liberating thinking has stuck with me. That is, I continue to strive to see the world more clearly and as unobstructed as it may be. I’m unafraid of naming false truths, seeing through mirages of truth, and speaking truthfully myself.
This is the basis of my forthcoming book, Mastering Your Own Faith. You need not be compelled to accept other people’s religious or spiritual truths. You do need to learn to find your own spiritual and/or religious path or scientific/humanist path or whatever path you claim, then stand by it with all your strength and might. Yet, allow others to do the same. Try not imposing your views upon others. And as your views evolve, be open to future that such views might guide you.
By embracing the new future that seminary offered me, I did find my way. It was a long journey. There were 11 years of hard work earning two degrees. It changed me. It changed the people around me, too. I lost some friends, but gained others. I am thoroughly grateful for the experience.
The future remains open. I continue to embrace the change that is forthcoming. I hope that you do, too.
Blessings along your path!