It is once again that time when my colleagues at Virginia Theological Seminary are writing their Ember letters to their supporters and most of all to their supporting Bishops in their home dioceses. And once again, I thought that I would join in the fun with my very own Baptist version of the ritual…a blog post.
The topic “What I’m Learning in Seminary” is simultaneously a broad one and a limited one, because the truth is that my learning in my seminary classes only succeeds when that act of learning and the information I take in works to transform my life, my relationship with my God, and my ability to live in community as a person of faith. And let me just say that there is a lot going on there… But for the topic of this particular “Ember Letter”, I want to talk about what may be the biggest, most life changing lesson of all.
My mother was fond of a lot of things: she was generally superstitious, although she would not share those superstitions with me as a child (but, yea, like I didn’t figure them out), she really liked to laugh, she spent hours crocheting but never learned to knit, and she liked beer, not wine. But the thing I most remember about my mother was her ability to summarize the important rules of life in a single, pithy statement that she would repeat over and over in a variety of situations. Those statements, burned into my brain during my formative years, have often become watch words for living to me, particularly in these years of later life when I mildly approach that state we call “grown up”. Mildly. But the little pieces of wisdom she offered, like “Look to your neighbor’s doorstep after yours is swept clean”, were sprinkled liberally across the days of my childhood, mixed in with the instructions about what you must do if a black cat crossed your path. I know that her sayings came from the realm of folk wisdom or old wive’s tales….I know that they were not her creation. But she was the filter through which they came to me and it is her voice that speaks them in my soul when I hear them.And what piece of motherly wisdom circles round and round in my soul when I think about my seminary experience to date? My mother’s words are few (and definitely not hers, since they come from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, Verse 9):
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.
You might think that an odd lesson of learning, but I do not. What I have learned is that we are not on this Earth to come up with the latest, greatest, idea…the snazziest new way to teach the Gospel, the final solution to bringing young people back to the faith, the most conclusive method by which to save the church. If we think that is the reason that we have gone to seminary, we are sadly mistaken. If we think that is why we still participate in the institutional church, we are again wrong.
Having spent years in the technology industry and even more years in the entertainment field, I have been infected with the American quest for the new, the shiny, the sparkling…the idea that will make me famous or even better, the idea that will make me rich. What I have learned these past few months is that when an idea comes to me, it is enough that it is new to me. When I have some piece of understanding, when I see something from a different perspective, when the meaning of a passage of Scripture that I have read so many times all of sudden explodes in my soul to create something new and wonderful inside me, that is enough. And maybe, just maybe, if it really excites me, or heals me, or strengthens me, I will share it with someone else. And then maybe they will pass it on…and on…and on…or not.
We are not here to innovate. We are here to learn. And then, after we learn, we are here to share what we learn. And all of this is done in the name of the God who calls us.
And that, my friends, is the biggest lesson yet from my months as a Baptist in an Episcopal world. Thanks be to God.