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)?

Taking the Plunge…

I thought I would enjoy it this time around. Last time it took forever and my car broke down on a couple occasions, but this time seemed to be filled with so much positive that I wouldn’t ever see the negative. New city, people, places, and coffee shops – what could possibly be bad? Alas, my opinion has not changed.

Moving sucks.

Beyond small cuts and bruises from moving stuff around, frequent sneeze attacks because you haven’t dusted since the last time you moved, and never-ending moments of nostalgia as you rummage through all your old stuff, there is this looming question of whether it’s worth it or not – as in, is it worth the increase of student loan debt? Is it worth the hassle and frustration of finding an apartment? And is it worth leaving such a valuable community – such a close family – in Eugene?

These are the things going through my mind as I continue to sift out the stuff I no longer need and condense the things I want to keep. I’m still a couple weeks away from making the actual move to Portland (well, hopefully a couple weeks, but that’s another issue) and what I’m finding thus far is that despite being busy with two jobs, I have a lot of time to think and rethink my decision. It’s rather freezing.

What I mean is, all my second-guessing and wrestling with doubt has left me stalled – kind of like my old Lumina at the Kiefer-Mazda dealership a couple weeks ago. It’s like my heart’s telling me to go, but my mind is holding things up – leaving me idle in the driveway. No, I’m not taking my decision back; I’m simply starting to feel the pressure of all the responsibilities I’ve just lumped onto my shoulders. I’ll be in a new apartment in a new city at a new school with a new car, a new job, and new roommates. The “new” is almost overwhelming.

Some questions that come to mind when reflecting over all that is about to change are: If it’s so stressful, why not drop it? If it’s causing me anxiety and doubt and fear and if I’m beginning to lose sleep over it, why not let it go? Why not continue on with what I’m doing now and live a happy life? It’s certainly an attractive idea with all that I need to take care of in the coming weeks.

And yet…

I feel as though I’d be doing worse by not going. It’d be like buying tickets to a baseball game you’ve wanted to go to and then not going because you don’t want to deal with all the people, parking lots, and other frustrations along the way. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to pursue a higher education – even higher than the education I’ve already received – and not to take it might mean never receiving it again. Sure, I could always buy baseball tickets at another time. But what if I were to marry, have kids, take up a new job, and get so caught up with life that I never even get a chance to think about it again?

Even if that weren’t the case – the notion of being caught up in the “busy-ness” of life – there’s a greater issue at stake. It’s one that involves purpose and this word “calling.” I don’t use that word often because I think it gets overused and even misused. And yet when I consider what’s driving me to study Scripture at a much more in-depth level – and actually thrust myself into such a spiritually-transforming experience that is seminary – I find no other word that fits more perfectly. But what does the word mean?

The Holman Bible Dictionary defines “call” or “calling” as a “Term often used of one being called by God to salvation and service,” (253). What does that really mean? It’s God’s fault.

In a way, I’m kidding, but in another way, I’m not.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” – Proverbs 25:2

When I read Scripture, there are so many things that come to mind – so many questions that not too many average congregants could answer. Like, when did Christianity become Christianity and why? Or when did people start treating the extra-biblical letters of Paul, Peter, and others as “Scripture” (and yes, they were extra-biblical at the time they were written)? And if there are so many translations of the Bible, then why aren’t more people learning Greek and Hebrew?

Seeking out the answers to questions like these is the “things” that are concealed by God. Now, I’m not a king, but I know that it would be glorifying to God to search those “things” out. He wants us to ask, He wants us to pursue, and He wants us to be engaged in the life He created. To do anything less than that is not to do anything glorifying to Him.

Taking the plunge to seminary, then, is worth all the packing, moving, and shouldering of responsibilities. It’s worth undergoing all the pressure of higher academic standards and being more studious than I ever was before. And yes, it’s even worth the deeper student loan debt (though I will be seeking more ways to cut those down as much as possible). It is worth all of those things because I, for the glory of God, am seeking out the things that He has concealed in His glory – so that I might be able to glorify Him in every way.

Yes, I’m nervous. I’ve never been so greatly challenged on so many levels. And yet, I’ve never had this opportunity before, which means I must take it head on and become fully immersed. If I try to remain standing where I am, I’ll never find out if I’m capable of the task.

You cannot learn to swim while standing on the shore.

God bless.

Blogging When Busy…

It was slightly alarming to see that I haven’t written a post since June 8th. Two weeks would have been more understandable, but three? Just ridiculous.

A couple things have happened since then, though. I started reading a lot more, which took time away from writing. And I also took up a second job working for the Eugene Emeralds as part of their grounds crew, which took time away from both reading and writing. With July right around the corner, I now have to make sure I have a place to live in Portland before I start school in September. I’m a little hard pressed to find time to write these days.

Yet it’s no excuse. I love to do it – partially because it seems to encourage others and mostly because it helps process things I learn from the Lord. And while journaling goes a long way, putting something into a blog takes a little extra effort. I can’t sit down, spill out all my thoughts, and expect people to understand. Virginia Woolf was good at that, but I don’t think I am.

Instead, I have to edit and rephrase. I have to say it out loud as I write it to make sure it sounds understandable (this is especially fun at Starbucks when I’m sitting alone). As my good friend Tyler once told me, I can’t just throw a bunch of letters on a document and see what sticks. Every word, sentence, and paragraph is there because I chose to put it there.

I say all this to point out that finding time to write is more than finding a mere hour there or half hour here. It’s finding a solid several hours without any other obligation to work on my craft – to fine-tune it to make it the best I possibly can. It sounds tedious and boring, but I love it. Because at the end of it all, when I see the post fully written, edited, and published on my blog, I don’t simply feel productive; I feel satisfaction in having to work hard and work well to create something.

What these last three weeks have taught me is that blogging in seminary is going to be tough. Not only will I be a full time student; I’ll also be working at least part time, which means there’ll be little time for much else. Strangely enough, though, I’m excited about all of this. I’m excited about spending hours upon hours studying and reading and then turning around to go to work. I’m excited about experiencing life in the largest city I will have ever lived in. I’m excited about taking a plunge into something that fully engages me. Such an experience will need to be processed, which means I will have to blog at some point.

A lot is going to change in the coming months and every bit of it is exciting. Despite how busy it will be, I want to commit to writing posts in here partially because they encourage others, partially because it helps me process things, and mostly because it honors God to practice the talents and gifts we’ve been given. It doesn’t matter how busy life gets; if you aren’t doing what you love (even if you aren’t getting paid for it), then you’re doing it wrong.

On to more posts!

God bless.

Accepted…

Most job interviews I’ve been in have been awkward, especially group interviews. People stutter, nervously tap their shoes, or have something stuck in their hair when they walk in (you know who you are). Wednesday’s group interview was incredibly different, for none of us was applying for a job; we were applying for school.

George Fox Evangelical Seminary was one of the first schools I had thought about back in ’09 and ’10 when I was figuring out my future. Of course back then I was also considering law school, but due to terrible LSAT scores, I wisely gave up that pipe dream. And in the fifth year of undergrad studies, I had the opportunity to take two more Religious Studies classes with my favorite professor, Daniel Falk, who not only wrote me a letter of recommendation to George Fox, but also thought seminary would be a good fit for me.

During those classes I read material, participated in group discussions, and wrote more than I ever have before for any of my English classes. It was stressful, uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking, but I loved every bit of it. When that winter term was over, Dr. Falk invited both of those classes (totaling maybe 20 people, tops, with three overlap students – myself included) to his house for dinner to celebrate a fun term. We watched The Life of Bryan with side commentary from Dr. Falk and ate Yumm bowls, which were surprisingly delicious. Afterwards we talked church, theology, and Scripture and it was then that I truly knew what I wanted to do next: Seminary.

At approximately 11:30 Thursday morning I received an email from one Sheila Bartlet, admissions counselor for George Fox Seminary, congratulating me on my acceptance to the Seminary for this fall. Even though it has been two full days since that email, it is still sinking in. An idea I had in the fall of ’09 has now become a reality; I’m going to be a seminarian. I have the opportunity of a lifetime waiting for me right around the corner. With a few more forms to fill out and some finances to gather together, the only thing I really need to do between now and September 2nd is show up. Somehow, I am dumbfounded by this.

And yet I have never been more excited about attending school and I know that the excitement will only increase the closer we get to September (I’ve always been one of those weird kids who gets excited about school not for seeing all my friends again or getting new clothes – though they’re a part of it – but for the new pencils, paper, backpacks, and other school supplies. I am a nerd. I was born that way). While the excitement is a great thing, I know (and hope) that this will be the most challenging academic environment I have ever been in. I will read, discuss, and write more than I did in those two classes with Falk or really with all the classes I’ve ever taken combined. Whatever social life I did have, especially on Facebook, will probably be non-existent. Yet I believe there will be one more thing, something I noticed while in the interview on Wednesday: Belonging.

Unlike any interview I’ve ever been in, I felt comfortable in that interview. I mean I still stuttered, tapped my toes, and I’m pretty sure something was in my hair, but none of those things kept me from being engaged in the discussion of the group surrounding me. I felt more than focused; I felt as though I was where I belonged.

A little under three months remain between now and September 2nd and there is a lot I need to prepare for: moving, finances, a potential car change, and refreshing my mind on the things I’ve studied with Falk. All that to say there might be fewer posts in July and August, but there also might be more posts because I tend to write more when I’m reading more. Those posts might also become more theologically and/or Scripturally based due to my reading material. But I hope to keep writing no matter what – even through Seminary – on the things God teaches me and leads me through. Some grow by talking about it; I grow by writing about it.

What I cannot help but acknowledge is how this feels like a major accomplishment, which it is, but it is only the beginning. It’s going to be tough and my mental, emotional, and spiritual endurance will be tested again and again at greater levels than it has before. But I believe I’m ready for it.

Thank you to everyone who helped encourage me in this pursuit, despite it taking me at least two years to finally do. Your encouragement, however small you might have thought it, proved to be enormous because it kept me thinking about it. It kept me asking God about it, which is always what encouragement should beckon one to do: seek God.

God bless.

Being a Wayward Student…

Several nights ago I wandered through U of O’s campus. It was shortly after submitting my application to Western Seminary and I was about to work on the essay for George Fox (which I still haven’t finished). Having written the six-page essay for Western, I wanted to walk around a bit and recharge my mind. Having spent hours writing, rewriting, and then rewriting some more, I needed the fresh air.

As I was walking by all the old buildings, I couldn’t help but wish I was a freshman all over again. It’d be nice if I could have the chance to fix my mistakes, but that’s not why I wanted to be 19 again. And yes, it would definitely be nice to start my student loan debt all over again, but that’s not the reason, either. Seeing all the places where I used to have class reminded me of the times when those places – even Eugene itself – were all new.

I wanted the dorms, Rec Center, Mac Court, Autzen Stadium, Condon Hall (not Deady; that place is evil), and even the amphitheater to be new again. I wanted to walk into my first 200+ lecture class, write my first paper, or take my first mid-term. I wanted all the firsts because if you’re having firsts, then you’re doing something different – something new.

Being in Eugene has been fun and I’ve grown quite substantially here. There is now – and will be for some time – a sense of home here, as there is every time I return to Lincoln City. But, like my senior year of high school, I feel as though I’ve outgrown Eugene. I feel like a wayward student – searching for the next class but never finding it.

My hopeful move to Portland isn’t only to have a new experience. Eugene has plenty of places I haven’t been to (like a frisbee golf course) and things I haven’t yet done (like frisbee golf). But there isn’t the sense of an adventure. One way of describing how I feel is like when Bilbo Baggins saw the map leading to the Lonely Mountain; his eyes were filled with nothing but curiosity. And on the morning of departure, though he hesitated, he gave in to that curiosity and never regretted it.

Having applied to one school and almost to another, I am beginning to feel that excitement Bilbo felt. I know haven’t been accepted yet, but I can’t help but think of the mountains, forests, and rivers ahead of me. I can’t help but wonder and imagine what it’ll be like to write a master’s thesis or actually study for an exam (jokes…). I can’t help but imagine the types of people I’ll meet or what kind of church I’ll be a part of. Having nearly finished both applications, I am becoming more eager to head out the door.

If it turns out that I don’t get accepted to either school, I’ll be crushed. But even if that happens, it doesn’t mean that a move to Portland (or anywhere else) is out of the picture. It’ll simply mean, despite my disagreement, that seminary wasn’t part of the picture. Frankly, though, I have a good feeling about getting accepted to one or the other. Something tells me seminary is a part of the picture.

Thinking about this fall has caused me to look at what I’m doing now. Am I getting as much out of this season of life as I can before it ends or am I simply getting by, not doing anything different? Simply because this is the same old place doesn’t mean I can’t do something different or meet new people or devote more time to the friends and family I have here. Just like the promise of Christ’s return is supposed to change the way we live in the present, thinking ahead to new seasons of life ought to change the way we live the present season. When I think about how I might be married some day, I feel the need to practice the traits of a good husband now.

Eugene and U of O have been an adventure, but it is over. It sounds sad, but what would be even worse is if I tried to stay here and continue the undergraduate life. I can’t. All those memories and experiences can never be new again. In a way, I have to move somewhere else and do something else. Like seminary in Portland.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” – Proverbs 25:2

Wander. Explore. Go where your Godly adventure calls. It is what God wants and, deep down, it is what we want, too.

God bless.

Ceaseless, Sleepless Prayer…

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” – Luke 6:12

I was roughly five minutes late for work on Monday. I wish I could say that it was for a good reason – like getting my coworkers donuts or walking a family of ducks across the street. But I was late because I was getting coffee. I have coffee at home and had plenty of time to make some, even though I had slept through my alarm by an hour and fifteen minutes. Instead I thought I’d be lazy and get a mocha from Dutch Bros.

As it turned out, there was a bit of a line at the Dutch Bros I decided to swing by. After waiting fifteen minutes and spending nearly $5, I got my mocha and drove to work. Fortunately enough, there weren’t any consequences for showing up a little late. But I point it out because I was a minute late Tuesday morning – and for a completely different reason.

I woke up at my usual time, ate breakfast at my usual time, and hopped in the shower at my usual time. And while I was in the shower, I started off a simple prayer for the day. Knowing that day was going to be busy – as well as the rest of the week – I thought it’d be best to set my mind in the right place. Shortly after praying, I turned off the shower and stepped out. Even though I normally take 5-10 minute showers, Tuesday morning’s rinse was nearly 20 minutes long.

I don’t really remember what I was praying about, either. I just know that at the time it was necessary and I wouldn’t have handled the day’s stress and frustration very well without having prayed. And as I was pulling into work one minute behind schedule, I thought of Luke 6:12 talking about Jesus praying all night in spite of His job. Moments before this verse, Luke records a couple encounters with the religious elite over someone whom Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Moments after this verse, Luke records the naming of Jesus’ apostles and further healings after that. In spite of what Jesus had to do, He still sacrificed sleep to pray.

All-nighter prayers are very infrequent in my life. I’ve maybe pulled off a couple here and there. In recent days, praying has become rare in general. Work has been busier and busier with the football season in full throttle and my day to day tasks have multiplied as well. Praying on a regular basis isn’t very convenient.

Even if I do find the time to pray, they aren’t always the most focused of prayers. I start rambling about different things going on that day, which quickly turns into me reciting my to-do list out loud to myself. Next thing I know, I’m off to start my to-do list all the while I haven’t finished my talk with God. It’s like making a phone call, but walking away just as the other end picks up.

Prayer, in my experience, gets treated as a highly-formal religious rite or a simple, short-lived part of an every day routine (i.e. praying before going to bed). What I find challenging, though, is how Jesus uses prayer. Sometimes He’s praying alone (Matthew 14:23); other times He prays for what seems like hours when a major shift is about to take place (consider the garden of Gethsemane; Mark 14:32-40); and yet all the while, it is an intimate and special practice in our walks with God – something to be kept behind closed doors (Matthew 6:6). As Jesus teaches, God does not want our pretense; He wants our communion with Him.

Despite how we may treat it, prayer is not a fee; it is not something we have to do as part of being good Christians. Instead, it is total surrender of whatever we have going on to engage and embrace whatever God wants to have going on within us. It is not a small snack here and there, supplementing our main-course meals; it is all the meals combined (however many we may receive) because it is the very thing that sustains and drives our spiritual lives. To try and be Christian without prayer is like trying to drive a car without an engine: You’ll stay in one place without it.

“Pray,” as Paul says, “without ceasing,” (1st Thessalonians 5:17). Pray – even if it means being late to work, skipping breakfast, sacrificing a few hours of sleep, or whatever else. Jesus utilized prayer not because it was merely the most effective tool to continue His ministerial work, but because it was the only tool with which He could bring about His Father’s kingdom. It kept Him focused. It kept Him nourished. And it kept Him moving.

Days will only get busier. Maybe you take on more classes in school; maybe you gain more responsibility at work which requires more of your time; or maybe you start dating someone or raising a family. Life’s many stages will only cause us to work harder and retain a stronger focus. Prayer not only helps in these two areas, but causes us to look beyond the temporal circumstances (i.e. this life) toward the life that is to come. Isn’t that worth the 15-20 minutes here and there?

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit,” – 1st Thessalonians 5:16-19

God bless.

“Livin’ the Dream”? A Memo to Myself…

What I’m about to say might sound contradictory: Life outside of school is boring.

I’ve been an Oregon grad for merely seven months and I’m already itching to get back into reading, writing, and class discussions. Comment threads on YouTube videos or Facebook posts simply do not cut it. So many people with nothing better to do than write mean things to each other without ever having met. It’s really annoying.

But seriously, with my constant routine of wake up, go to work, come home, and go to sleep, I’m starting to feel like a mindless drone. I know I’m not a mindless drone, though; “I think, therefore I am,” as that famous guy once said a long time ago (5 points if you know who that was). But with nothing more than a job and a few household responsibilities to consume my day, I’m getting rather bored.

I felt ambitious in college. Sure, I work hard at both my jobs because I feel ambitious about making a living, but that’s the extent of it: making a living. Eight months ago, I felt ambitious about changing things like peoples’ lives or societal influences. Yeah, I know they’re big things to tackle, but it seems like I had the energy and will power to at least take it on. Nowadays I feel good about myself if I put the dish soap in the right slot.

In all honesty, though, I have been reading and writing. But this morning I browsed through previous entries in my journal and noticed a more vibrant voice and a lot more words. It means only one thing: I read and wrote a lot more back in college because I was extremely ambitious and knew those things I was reading or writing were going to help. And yet here I am sitting in my sweats and drinking a little Gentleman Jack mixed with Arizona raspberry iced tea.

“Livin’ the dream.” That’s the phrase I often hear back from other college graduates who are doing exactly what I’m doing: working a couple part time jobs to pay rent and buy food until something bigger comes along. Of course, I know for a fact everyone who’s answered that has done so sarcastically. At least I hope so. I know I wouldn’t want to be stuck working a part time job after graduating college; kind of the opposite of what I had in mind when I first went to school.

I guess what I’m really pointing out right here is the fact that dreams and ambitions and aspirations aren’t just going to fall into your lap. And they certainly aren’t going to be achieved by constantly having the inspiration; that’s only temporal. But what, then, can sustain one’s dream(s) through the phase of routine and ritual? Discipline’s a good word and so is commitment, but there’s something else much simpler and yet much more profound.

Do it.

Stop making excuses. Stop saying there’s not enough time in your schedule. Stop saying you need inspiration. Write out what your dream is and do it.

This past week I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I ran. For four days straight (would have been five if I hadn’t worked a double on Friday) I went for a run around the neighborhood. What was interesting about it all was how easy it actually was. I remember that as I put on my running shorts and laced up my shoes, my mind would go crazy thinking about how miserable I was about to feel. And yet, as soon as I got outside, I leaned forward and took off jogging.

I did it.

No excuses. No delays. No “but I’m going to have an asthma attack”s. I put my head down and started running. If there is ever a memo I’d like to leave myself for this upcoming week and for the rest of my life it’s this: Know your dream and go do it. You are the only one stopping yourself.