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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Genesis 1-3 Reflected in My Days 1-3 at Seminary

I'm seeing a pattern in my first three days at seminary, and it ties in sort of, if I'm allowed to reach and "read in too much" (a phrase I've heard so many times already I'm almost afraid to have a thought of my own!), to how the days here have been going for me.

I arrived full of excitement and anticipation. It was like the point when the world is new and all is very good and we're just waiting to see how much there is to do with this new place. Day 1 was even overwhelming in the torrential availability of new resources to me. I wanted to access it all.

But day 2 was more like the day of the Rebellion (or you may say, Fall). It's not that I rebelled, exactly, but the effects of that Rebellion hit me on day 2. Loneliness set in. The discussion led into topics such as personal responsibility to make decisions and to act, and yet, the potential for deep, serious consequences when one makes a wrong decision. How do we, sinful, fallen, rebellious creatures now, appropriately fulfill our design and purpose from the good, unfallen creation: to go and do and make something of this world, with the resources we've been given, and do a good job of it, to cause no harm but continue to move the creation forward? The topic of fear-filled Christian paralysis came up. It's a topic I know personally well. And though it was discussed, it was discussed pretty much as "a problem some people have and how do we (the ones not affected by it) address that with them." Us and them. Only this time, I was the them and not the us. I felt myself becoming pushed away from the rest of the class, isolated, segmented out. And the intellectual discussion did nothing to help address the real, hollow, uncertain longing need in me to have that very issue met in the real and practical context of being both a culture maker and a culture consumer, and always an image bearer of my Creator in this mess of life between the two creations. Aaack! I wanted to yell. I'm your case study!

But that would have been. . . inappropriate.

So I sat quietly while tears burned behind my eyes and tried to listen to find empowering wisdom in a conversation I could not partake in.

Meanwhile, I was having technological problems--the modern-day equivalent, I feel sure, of the initial introduction of viruses and harmful bacteria into the new creation. So too do bugs (if not ghosts) in the machine infect my second-only seminary class. I needed online access. I had not brought all my books, including my massive study Bible, with me to class on day 2, after realizing that we needed only one text at a time, and that I could quickly access any scripture passage through Biblegateway. Or could I? Not on day 2. I was participating in this class in the midst of the thorns of the field of technology, and yes, that was sweat on my brow. The Internet would NOT cooperate for me, so I found myself struggling to keep up, holding multiple passages of scripture in my head as best I could through discussions that truly dissected those passages word for word at certain points. I felt like I was a blind person at the circus. Tell me what you see, and I'll adopt your imagery as best I can.

And then class ended, and everyone went his and her separate ways. I didn't even stay on campus to read. The day before I had stayed for a few hours, sitting on a bench alone. A few people passed but only one stopped to introduce herself, and she was a staff member. So on day 2, I just followed suit with everyone else and launched out of there, back to my hotel room. It's brown. And it overlooks the parking lot. And there are, perpetually, sketchy-looking characters hanging out at all the entrances and exits of my hotel and the one next door, generally just smoking cigarettes and probably being completely innocent and harmless. But I'm a woman traveling alone, and my creep meter is tuned in, and I didn't want to venture out after I got inside.

So, if you know me, then you know that those three things above can pile up into one giant trigger for my particular "bruised reed," fear-filled extroverted self. And depression began to work its way through me. I admit, it was a full-blown depression "episode." I went to all my doubts and fears: I can't do this. It's not the right setting. I'm too fear-filled. I can't think straight. No one likes me. I don't fit in. I need to talk this stuff out and I'm the only person left in the world who learns that way. The distance learning classes are going to kill me. This is my one shot and I'm missing it.

All bad. All gloom. All doom. All hopelessness. That's what depression does. And when you're far from home and know no one and are afraid to walk past sketchy guy, there's not much to do.

Except get chocolate.

So I got a few dollars and went to the candy machine. I stood there for no less than three minutes, I'm sure, staring at the brands and types. Do I want nuts? Is there a dark chocolate option? Peanut butter? Nougat? M&Ms? Oh, the choices. I had to make THE RIGHT choice, you know. So finally I decided and I went to feed my dollars to the machine's bill slot (which, have you ever noticed, looks EXACTLY like the "blah" smiley symbol. :/ Check it out next time. Especially if you're a little depressed.) And guess what? The machine's all dark. No lights at all, anywhere.

I shove the dollar toward the "mouth," and it just wrinkles and folds up. Take it! Take it! You stupid machine! I'm far from home, I'm lonely, I'm realizing that I'm not as equipped for this degree program as I ALWAYS thought I was, and I need chocolate, darn you!

But it wouldn't take it. So I had to go back to my brown room alone and serotonin deficient and well, pretty much hopeless. I needed to read and the words weren't going in. But then my friend Cathy called. Oh, that blessed human voice. I just needed a person and there she was. Isn't it such a mercy that we are not living in the first R (or even the overlapping first and second R's) of the Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, Re-creation segment of history entirely alone? It seems that way sometimes. Maybe often. But it's not true. There's mercy. So much mercy. And Cathy's better than chocolate. (Now Cathy PLUS chocolate might have been even better still, but I'm not trying to complain here.)

Still, I wasn't convinced that I was going to make this program work. All these years, 22 of them, trying to get here, and I was ready to cry "Uncle!" and throw in the towel on day 2. I didn't finish the reading but I did what I could. I listened to a sermon I missed on Sunday, and then I went to bed a little early.

And it's true. His mercies are new in the morning. Sleep is a really good thing. And I think the Holy Spirit spoke to me in that rested state. Spoke through the intellectual content of the class and into my specific deficiencies. You see, one of the broad themes of this class is how we are designed with purpose by God to act in his creation. It's his world. He made it. But then he put us, humanity, into it to do something here. There's the broad directive that applies to all of humanity: Do something with this. But then there are the very individual equipments that he gave to each of us: Use this specific set of characteristics given to you to do something in your own personal sphere. And this morning, I realized that I was trying to plug into the big broad directive while denying my own specific, individual equipment.

I am an extrovert. Period. I am one. It is by his design, but while here, I have been denying the full usage of that design. I have been trying to fit in among the introverts, or the very busy, in the exact way that is not how I am designed. I've been trying to hold my tongue in class and not draw attention to self. I've been trying to process The Story and humanity's place in it and my place in it without referring to my own story and what has brought me here. I've been letting everyone else slip away, and then resigning myself to slip away too. I've looked for a silent, dark chocolate dispensing machine and a bag of dry beef jerky to meet me because I'm afraid of the flesh and blood human strangers sharing this construction with me this week. And all of that is denying who I am and the unique ways in which God himself is working out the bearing of his image in me.

So, this morning, I chose, after that realization, to do today just a little bit differently, and that's all it took.

I didn't eat breakfast in my room. I went to the lobby to sample, as Kevin calls them, "the continental carbohydrates." There was still no chocolate there, but there were people. No, none of that interaction turned into some great conversation, but there was a bored toddler waiting for his dad to bring him his oatmeal and we played peek-a-boo around a house plant for a little while. There was a very busy and (at least on the surface) thoughtless businessman who, in and of himself, hadn't the peripheral vision to realize that he really wasn't the only hungry person in the buffet line today, until I spoke up as gently as I could manage in my small Southern voice to ask if he wouldn't mind handing me one of the salt shakers I was unable to reach. And then he seemed to wake up, realizing that others were likewise inconvenienced by the persistence of his presence over all the utensils and condiments. And I discovered that the interior of the building, unlike my own room, overlooks not the parking lot but a lushly landscaped, bright, open, and many-tiered courtyard, with balconies, a pool, colorful umbrellas, and plants in full bloom. What a difference a little venturing out and perspective make.

I arrived at class in enough time to again discover that the Internet wasn't going to work for me yet, but at least this time I had brought not only my text but also my Bible, and I had had the forethought last night to download a pdf of the class syllabus and outline to my desktop, so that I could access those even if the Internet was being bothersome. So I was prepared. But just a moment later, there appeared a Michael-Stipish looking fellow with a laptop, a briefcase, a nametage, and a business card that said "IT services" on it, who just happened to ask if anyone in the room was having connection problems. I just reworked all the servers on Friday, he said, and I heard some PCs were having trouble getting through the firewalls.

So now I believe there are angels named Gabriel, Michael, and Jerry. Jerry checked out my machine and found that just a month, one month, in release date of some sort of driver can make all the difference in the Internet world, and within a minute of the start time of class, I had access.

With sleep, perspective, a hardcopy of the Bible, and a live Internet connection all at hand, class content exploded open for me and again, it was as thrilling as day 1 had been. Again, a torrent of information, but this time, not screened through shortcomings and failures and strife and bad attitude. When an opportunity arose to address another student's perplexed ponderings, I didn't squelch. I raised my hand and offered a response from scripture and my own story. And both profs took those comments and added to them, fleshing out an idea that reached farther then even for me and seemed to bring light and clarity for the other student.

After class, I lingered, taking my time winding up my cord, and Dr. Williams came to sit on the edge of my table. Another man in the class also stayed, and in a few moments, Dr. Matthews joined us. And it developed: that detailed conversation that I had been longing for, the one that flows from class content to one person's circumstances, gets added to by another, then back to the class content, and around again to bring in another person's perspective.

Are not conversations one of the most amazing of cultural products? It was said today that a "moan" is nature. But a "word" is culture. And if a word is culture, then a conversation between several individuals, in all its organic development and growth, reaching out from one and into the others and vice versa, has to be a veritable Tower of Babel of human culture. It was lofty and exhilarating, and I confessed to those three, in very little detail, the difficulty I had experienced on days 1 and 2 with leaving the classroom and having no further interaction. I also confessed, thinking it was revelatory, that I am kind of a hyper-extrovert, and surprisingly to me, both professors simultaneously laughed deep belly-laughs at that statement. As IF we didn't already know THAT! said Mike, followed right afterward, in typical deadpan style, Brad's Can always spot an extroverted processor.

And I felt known. I had no idea I was known already. I thought I'd been pretty well-behaved and contained. I must be more overwhelming than even I realize. But it was comforting and good to find out that I was known. And that it was OK. It's my design. When I don't live it, I'm not getting what God wants me to get from this life and his stuff, and I'm not giving what he wants me to give to life and his stuff.

I ate my lunch in the student center today, rather than returning to my hotel room alone. It was mostly empty, but at least there were a few hellos, and there's a Starbucks coffee machine that does work and doesn't spit crumpled dollars back at me. And I was out there, where I belong, and the sun shone and somewhere on campus there must be a cottonwood tree, because God kept throwing puff balls from nowhere at me on my way to the car. I drove back with the sunroof open.

So day 3 moved me from the dirge of Rebellion and its effects to the glory of Redemption within this current evil age. Yes, there is overlap. Yes, the challenges will come again. Depression will get me again, later rather than sooner, I hope. But there is still purpose and there are still mercies and it's all his, but he gives us a place in it.

I wonder now, at this moment without fear and gloom, what day 4 will hold. But for now, it's more reading.


Melanie Thompson said...

Hi Rebecca,
I enjoyed reading this so much. I can't wait to see what the Lord will do with you and all your talent and insights. I hope you have a nice "day 4."
Prayers your way.

--Rebecca said...

Thank you, Melanie! Good to "hear" your voice here. :)

Carolynn Markey said...

so interesting! I'm an extrovert also. Hugs hugs hugs! And keep going, keep living God's plan for your life.

--Rebecca said...

Thanks again, Carolynn.
The week ended very well. I am thankful to have stuck it out though it turned ugly on day 2. Actually, it was just me turning ugly. :)
Keep going was very much a theme of the class. I loved it!
Trying to decide now between Covenant Theology I and a New Testament class for the fall semester. Both are required, but the Covenant Theology one is probably the more foundational.
And if CT1 in the fall, then Covenant Theology 2 for the spring, plus a weekend-long intensive on Theology and Film (just 1 credit hour) in March--sounds too good to pass up.