This is an article I contributed to Fuller’s weekly student publication, The SEMI. Don’t hate recycled material…if you want to know what’s been going on with me these past couple months I’ve been MIA (or in my first quarter of grad school), read on!
We’ve got a couple of holidays in November, but the day most focus on is Thanksgiving. Calorie overload, football, family. Truly American. The little brother of November holidays, Veteran’s Day, is somewhat of an opposite to Thanksgiving. We’re remembering those who sacrificed, rather than overindulged; who risked their lives while others played; who left their families behind to serve. This paradox got me thinking about my time here at Fuller.
It’s my first quarter, and after 7 weeks all of my ideals and hopes and wishes about seminary have been dashed, squelched, diluted, or have generally flown the coop. I came I as a naïve student, (fairly) fresh off the mission field in Europe and ready to learn more about God and Scripture and others’ experiences with him. I felt that my eight quarters at Fuller were laid out before me like eight courses of a Thanksgiving meal, and I couldn’t wait to dig in.
Cut to today, Veterans Day. I’m slogging through week seven of the quarter, ready to surrender to the exhaustion and this nagging sense that I’m not actually cut out for this. My pride has been wounded, my hopes have taken a hit. I feel far from home and all that is safe and sacred to me. If I can just make it to Christmas break, I can lie down in a trench somewhere and regain my strength for the next battle, I mean, quarter.
When did school stop being about feasting and start being about survival?
I didn’t come here to get my MA in Theology because I thought it would give me a leg up in my career. I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a college professor but it’s just as likely I will go back to Europe and do missions there. I don’t need a graduate degree to be a missionary, do I? No, I came to Fuller because last winter I toured a university in Mannheim, Germany and felt hunger pains. I longed to learn. I hungered knowledge and understanding and an exchange of ideas. Fuller was a place of nourishment, where I could be fed and where seeds could be planted in me, to one day grow up and produce a harvest of wisdom for others.
Once here, however, I did not find a rich cornucopia of wisdom and beauty and encouragement of expression. Those qualities are here, to be sure, but mixed in I found the bitter tastes of competition, discouragement, burnout, and emotional disconnection from the learning process. But I did notice others feasting. I witnessed fellow students savoring, sampling, and sharing new ideas and rediscovering old ones everyday. I know the meager crop I complain of is projected from the tough soil of my own heart. I turned myself into a soldier instead of one who savors.
Yes, seminary has been more difficult than I thought it would be. And there is a real danger in getting caught up in academia and striving for recognition instead of getting caught up in wonder for the God we are pressing in to know. The God who removes our burdens, lifts up our downcast eyes, and carries us the last few steps is the same God who invites us to taste and see that he is good, who tells us to open our mouths wide so he can fill them, and whose word is like honey on our lips. This is the God of Fuller.
We are not soldiers and survivors of seminary, we are children of God invited to pick grapes from his table and wonder at their flavor. To savor intimacy with him and with each other, to invite more friends to this table of feasting – that is why we are here. And I am thankful.