A Change of Location…

Hello. It’s me.

It’s been awhile since I last sat down to punch out a blog post and quite a few things have happened in that time span. I finished writing my master’s thesis (which I defend on Thursday), I got engaged to my brilliant girlfriend fiancé of nearly two years, and, pending a criminal background check, I have been admitted to Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. And oh yeah, I graduate from George Fox Seminary in a couple weeks.

On one hand, it is unbelievable that so much has happened within a short amount of time. It feels as though it had been a little over a year ago since I was first accepted into George Fox, but that was nearly three years ago. It feels like last summer when I flew over to Oxford, England on my first trip outside of the country, but that was two summers ago. And it feels as though Jenna and I have been dating for only a few months, but here we are approaching the two year mark and planning our wedding.

And yet on the other hand, there is this feeling of familiarity with every “new” thing that comes. When Jenna and I started dating, we had a few awkward moments. Neither of us were raised in feminist environments (quite the opposite, really), but we both hold to feminist values (which is why I wear an engagement ring, too). Oftentimes working against our upbringings, we navigated our relationship trying to be as aware as we possibly could of patriarchally-influenced practices that might cause harm to the other (more of an imperative for me than Jenna). Obviously we I have made mistakes. But at no point have I ever felt as though I could not be my normal weird self – the self that I often have to hide in other contexts.

In a similar vein, this is how seminary has felt for me: A place where I can explore tough questions that I have often tried to ignore without the fear of judgment. It’s a place where I can throw myself into a subject without having to worry about its marketable value in the job realm (although sometimes I do consider what it might look like to potential schools if I pursued certain academic fields; for example, I don’t think academia needs another cisgender, heterosexual male writing about homosexuality in the bible – if anything, we need to lift up queer voices and/or step out of the way). There are plenty of times during certain semesters with certain classes where I have to do research on particular topics that I am not really passionate about in any way, but yet again, I don’t feel out of place. Reading books and articles, taking notes, constructing essays, etc., all strangely feel like normal activities – not as burdensome as they often are for others. Even though I haven’t been pursuing an academic career for very long, I have always felt “at home” in the pursuit.

When it came to deciding on whether or not to accept Brite Divinity’s offer for this coming fall, which will likely mean taking on a little more debt in addition to amplifying regular-life stresses, it honestly came down to the fact that I have a tough time seeing what I would do outside of academic studies. Sure, working retail or in the food industry is always an option based upon my experiences in both categories. But these jobs feel like my trip to England two summers ago: temporary.

Means of survival.

What I am really after, though, is a cause – something that has no marketable value and probably no monetary payout. But it involves daily dedication to something greater than the self, something intended to improve the community. When I consider what my experiences within seminary have taught me, it is that this is bringing me closer to that cause. No, not every assignment is going to directly shape what that purpose looks like. But every piece of homework, no matter how tedious, furthers my preparation to discover not only what that cause looks like, but precisely how it will be accomplished.

This opportunity at Brite Divinity School, then, is a chance to extend that preparation.

This isn’t a blind pursuit, either. While the cause itself may not be clear, there have been glimpses. Every time someone needs help on their essay, I get a glimpse. Every time I spend hours translating a small passage of Greek or Hebrew, I get a glimpse. And every time I ask a question, suggest an approach to an answer, or listen to the ideas of my peers, I get a glimpse of what that cause is. And between my five years of undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon and my three years of graduate studies at George Fox Seminary, I can assure you that I have only seen these glimpses in the classroom.

Thus – and I may be tempting fate with this – until God slaps me around to point me in a different direction, I need to keep going. There is quite a lot riding on this move not only for myself, but for my fiancé and the life we wish to live. And it is because I’m not the only person involved that makes me even more terrified. Because to step away from this academic world is to undo much of what I’ve done thus far. Those two years in between college and seminary taught me that much. So until further notice, I’m going to continue.

And if the glimpses mentioned above mean what I think they mean, then all I’m really doing is staying “home” by moving to Texas.

 

I can write and talk all I want to about moving to new places, but the reality is that this costs money – more than Jenna and I can muster in a single summer. Frankly speaking, we’re broke. If you wish to help us with our moving expenses, please click here.

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Thoughts on Faith, Posture, and Academic Paths…

It’s weird not having blogged for a month. I mean, I have been busier than usual what with getting ready for and traveling to Oxford, England – where I’m writing from now. But I have had things to write about. However, in the beginning of writing those potential posts, I had realized they all required a bit more thought and care than I was giving them.

Why am I in Oxford, though? Several months back I was awarded an all-expenses-paid, two week trip over here to study manuscripts as well as work on a few. There are a little over 30 other students here with me, including a couple from my own school at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Thus far, it’s been quite the experience – for one thing, it was my first international trip and for another, it was my first flight in fourteen years.

Every student here is working on a small project which is part of a much larger project conducted by the Green Scholars Initiative (GSI). We’ve been given lectures and talks on being a member of the faith in the academic world, various methodologies in textual criticism, and even a few on Oxford’s history (including a talk on C.S. Lewis). This last Saturday we were led over to Winchester to tour the city as well as the famous Winchester Cathedral, which is incredibly large and stunningly beautiful. Walking around inside felt as though I had walked onto the set of a Lord of the Rings movie. Like I said, it has been quite an experience thus far (despite missing out on the opportunity to travel around London yesterday and a few lectures today due to a recent cold).

Inside the Winchester Cathedral.
Inside the Winchester Cathedral.

Coming near the end of my third semester at George Fox (yes, I’ve been in Summer Semester for about eight weeks now) and hearing these talks and lectures about being Christian scholars has caused me to think ahead of my own future and where I’ll be after Spring of 2016 (when I’m planning on finishing my Master’s). For now, the hope is to do well enough through my Master’s and on the GRE to get accepted into a fully funded (or at least partially funded) PhD program. I don’t think I’m questioning what I want to do, but I am questioning how I want to approach what I want to do.

During the first few nights of our time here, there were a couple talks given about life as a Christian scholar in a mostly non-Christian world. Such talks carried a strong theme of defending one’s beliefs – of the need for apologetics, which included, to no small degree, defending Scripture’s authority, reliability, and essential nature for the modern day Christian. Included in all of this was the emphasis on practicing thorough scholarship. Looking back on all this now, I see this as one potential approach to academia that many take. However, I do not find that this approach fits me.

Instead I find a strong need for quality scholarship in biblical and theological studies. I do not see the need for faith to be defended largely because I do not think God is so small that God would need our defense. I’m quite certain that should there be a mass falling out within Christianity and biblical scholarship that left nothing but non-Christians handling the biblical text, God would remain untouched. However, such a falling out I do not think is in God’s agenda.

Why do I feel this way? Why am I surrendering apologetic studies in favor of a more “secular” approach? Because I find agendas such as defending God’s existence or the validity of the Scriptural texts to be in the way of quality scholarship. I find that it skews one’s studies to input their own conclusions long before the evidence supporting such a conclusion ever gets drawn out (if it ever gets drawn out).

None of this is to demean those who choose to go the apologetic path; it is simply to say that it’s one I don’t think fits best for me. Instead, I think God wants me to go a different route that hasn’t been defined entirely. Yet I know that I must allow God to be God – to defend what God finds worthy of defense. And if we are paying attention to the Scriptures we (yes, myself included) deem authoritative, we should find that God seeks to protect those who cannot protect themselves (Prov. 31:8-9). Perhaps if we started there, then we may realize that this alone is enough of an apologetic for those who are willing to see, hear, and listen to the God we proclaim.

Such a path as the one I see before me requires a certain kind of posture – one of sincere humility, diligence, and discipline. Yet this posture is not exclusive only to the world of biblical scholarship nor even the larger umbrella of academia. It is a posture set forth by Christ himself for all who proclaim his name to follow. Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to talk about the other areas this posture plays into (one that immediately comes to mind is the topic of gay marriage or homosexuality as a whole – I have been silent for too long on this and I am excited about taking it up).

As you wonder about where God is leading you or has led you, what kind of posture do you sense that you have or had? What is or was the impact of your posture? How do you think it could be improved upon?

God bless.

On Being a Seminarian: Work and School…

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other bloggers, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

Today is my last shift at The Duck Store (University of Oregon’s bookstore). It is a job I started in my first year out of college and hoped to continue on through seminary because even though it is only part-time, that little bit of income goes a long way. A job helps in answering the question of “Will I have enough?” Seminary is expensive and interest rates on loans are not dropping any time soon. Those 10-15 hours a week were really helpful. But there is another question I’ve been trying to ignore since starting at George Fox: Will I still be able to fully devote myself to my studies in order to flourish academically? Essentially, will I be able to do the work I came here to do and do it well?

Many seminarians are not in the same boat that I am. Many are dating or married, raising children, deeply involved with ministries unrelated to their seminary education, and/or working a full time job. Their purpose for attending seminary leans a little more toward the pastoral side. While that remains an option for me, it is not my current focus. I am not dating or married, raising children, deeply involved with any ministry (not even a part of a faith community, at the moment), and my purpose for attending seminary leans toward the academic side. Therefore, I find it essential to devote the overwhelming majority of my time and energy to my schoolwork. Yet, I know that financial resources are essential in order to even continue studying, so the job seems essential as well.

Another benefit to having a job is that is a regular, mandatory break from academic work. With my day-to-day so entrenched in classes, reading, writing, translating, etc., it has been refreshing to have a place to go where none of that matters. I can chat with my coworkers about sports or traveling to Europe or almost anything other than school. My job has almost been my Sabbath, in a way.

And yet it hasn’t been a Sabbath, a complete rest from obligations. It has only been a rest from academic obligations; any job has entire lists of obligations all their own. And while I’ve enjoyed the rest from academic work, I have felt exhausted by the obligations of a retail atmosphere (my job is also located in a mall). I’ve been reminded of the summer after my freshman year of college when I, for one month, worked four different jobs. I did so because I needed the money, but I would never do it again because it was so incredibly exhausting. Although the extremes aren’t the same here, it is still a similar feeling.

My best academic efforts have come when I wasn’t employed. I didn’t go out much and finances were always tight toward the end of each term (in between financial aid checks), but it produced a platform which gave me the best possibility at academic success. I may have lived off of Top Ramen and coffee, but I received the best grades possible.

Although working a part-time job while attending seminary is the wiser route, it may not work efficiently for everyone. I would recommend at least starting seminary while working a job and see if it’s something you are able to handle – again, though, it depends on your purpose for attending seminary in the first place. But what would you recommend? What has been your experience in balancing work and school? Was it best to treat each realm as a “Sabbath” of sorts to the other or, as was my case, did it make things worse? What’s your purpose for attending seminary (or school, if you’re not in seminary)?