For the next week-and-a-half more, I find myself in Holland, Michigan. I’m here for an in-person intensive in my otherwise distance seminary program. It’s two weeks of Hebrew for over 5 hours a day and two other classes in the afternoon and evenings.
I’ve been here since Sunday and it really has been amazing. There was tons of snow here causing travel hiccups for a lot of people, though I came in just before the worst of it. I’m staying with some guys from the program in a house right on Lake Matacawa (see picture above).
I still don’t know how to relate to these sorts of times. Going into it, I expected it to be a time appealing to my introverted self; mainly sitting and staying to myself (and happily so), keeping my nose in books. I wasn’t looking forward to taking this much time off from work, and I wondered why these classes couldn’t continue being online. I didn’t need to know these other people in the program. Why was I being forced to spend time with them in person?
Instead, it’s been hard to get a moment to myself (and–surprisingly–happily so). These guys I’m staying with are all amazing men, and the classes have been learning experiences unlike anything I’ve seen before. I get to have conversations that are so refreshing compared to my previous seminary experiences. Yes, the talks are still all about those things most normal people don’t (and shouldn’t) spend much time in thought over (theories of lapsarianism, the mutability of God, the influence of Western philosophical models on classical theology, etc.).
And yet, these talks have been marked by two big differences from their prior college and seminary iterations. First, few of these talks have stayed there in the ether for their entire duration. Eventually they get to talks about how it affects how we do ministry, serve others, how we communicate these ideas in helpful ways, and how we can peaceably coexist with others that disagree with us on any particular niche issue. It has challenged my pastoral sensibilities and has really connected high theology with the mundane in really beautiful ways.
And that leads to the second thing. In my particular program, there is so much diversity in opinion on even major parts of theology and church life. This school is a denominational school with lots of beliefs about lots of things–and they don’t hide it–they’re anything but wishy-washy on doctrinal issues. And yet, those that are here have such a beautiful sense of what’s essential and not. To see the most theologically conservative members of our group joking around with and living life with those that would be considered some of the most rebellious “liberal” theologians in the Church today truly is a beautiful thing.
So many of our theological conversations have simply been exploring what one another thinks, why they think it, what led them there, and how it affects their lives. It’s not debate or argument. Just sharing and, in a sense, playing in the playground of theology.
And when theology becomes that–not a battle ground with God as our theological General, but a playground with our loving Father watching on, kissing boo-boos, and bandaging scraped knees–theology becomes an exercise in freedom, worship, beauty, and invitation unlike anything the rest of the world has to offer.
Would that all of our brothers and sisters felt the same way.