Why I Love Jesus but Hate Seminary

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” — Mahatma Ghandi

Because ministry is a competition
Who can have the craziest, busiest life? Who can have children? Who can get married the fastest? Who gets the call first? Who passes all the ordination exams, has the most life experience, ministry experience, is the least sinful?
Seminary is a lot of “nananana boo boo I’m better and more equipped for this than you are!”
Someone in one of my classes told a group of students, at least three of us under 30, that she prays for the young people because we don’t have the experience of ministry that she does and that we aren’t equipped with enough life experience to do the job right. I held up my end of the bargain as a sassy young person by rolling my eyes.

At the same time this attitude that young people are ill-equipped to do the amazing things that ministry requires and be leaders in the church by nature of their being young is so prevalent. Insert any minority or people group into that sentence (LGBTQ, women etc.) and you’ve got someone saying it.

Because it’s all about needing to have the right answer, not about asking the right questions
Awhile ago I posted one of many statuses on Facebook that expressed my distaste and frustration for some aspect of Seminary, and someone’s (quite brilliant) response to that was that Seminary isn’t known for attracting skeptics. Well, I guess it attracted at least one. There are mornings I wake up and wonder if there is a God. There are mornings I wake up and am totally overwhelmed with my solitude in the universe. I am often sitting in class and thinking “I don’t want to be a Christian anymore” because I am feeling self-conscious about that doubt.
If I brought any of this up in class I shudder to think at the answers. As mentioned previously I’ve been told more than once by classmates I shouldn’t be in Seminary for reasons ranging from being too young, to being too much of a Universalist, to being too outspoken (what?!) and of course my personal favorite being a woman. Why wouldn’t they also question my faith in God?
Seminary is a critical environment; of beliefs, of theology, of people. I’ve had this experience where the trinity (God, Christ, Holy Spirit) gets shoved into this little box of one understanding. Where according to some, a good Christian can only vote a certain way, or believe a certain way, or advocate for certain moral rights, where Christianity only means ONE THING. The most entertaining part of this is that everyone has different definitions and qualifications for what this looks like. So a lot of the times they are the only ones who live up to their own criteria.
We spend so much time searching for the answers to questions that we forget to ask the questions ourselves. Certainly seminary isn’t Sunday School, but at the same time we could learn a lot from children and their questions.
All that to say that almost halfway through a theological education supposedly preparing me to be a minister and I have yet to feel convinced that church is the way God wants things. If this is what the church looks like, I am almost more hesitant to join the Christian fray than I am the Jewish, or Hindu, or Muslim.
Because it encourages selfishness, greed, judgement, self-centeredness, hate, and exclusivity.
Christians tend lose me really quickly. I have spent more time being discouraged than encouraged, spent more time racking the place in my heart where I once felt the flutter of  a call, spent more time crying and wailing and beating my breast because I don’t fit a prescribed mold.

Seminary tells us that we are special people ordained by God to do things that are more special than what anyone else is doing. I call bullshit right here and now. Ministry is a wonderful thing, but we aren’t any more special or good than laity. We sin and fuck up and gossip and fight and we think we are special?

Jesus was special. He was different. When we start thinking that we are special and wonderful and MORE we get sucked into our own egos. We start thinking we have all the answers, that we deserve all the praise. But if we are to be leaders we should be leading in admitting that we are in fact the most faulty, and that only Jesus was perfect.

If we are to be authentic than we have to repent too. We have to stop thinking that we are so awesome. When we start thinking we have all the right answers it leads to bigotry and it leads to pain and we become so much worse than just ineffective leaders. We become actually counter productive to the Gospel.
Because seminarians/Christians/religious leaders have forgotten how to laugh at themselves.
I sat in the first session this past week of my Eschatology (end of the world, coming of the kingdom literature) class this past week and the professor asked us to introduce ourselves and our favorite secular end-of-the-world scenario. There are so many exciting ways to answer this question and there were several typical scenarios: zombies, vampires, nuclear holocaust, alien invasion via the X-Files and Fox Mulder (my own personal favorite). Then there was this: a woman introduced herself and hoped that “all the wicked spontaneously compust (sic) and the righteous are left in the garden.” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, some giggled nervously, others applauded. I finally decided I would probably be one of those “compusting wicked” and wouldn’t mind it so much if the garden was full of only the righteous. I am certainly not righteous. Later, when someone else spent their answer quoting Isaiah for a good two minutes, I held my head in my hands and swallowed what was sure to be an audibly frustrated sigh.
When did we stop having fun? Jesus had a sense of humor, so where did ours go? Since when is being a minister about being serious all the time? Can’t Jesus be the center of our lives while we laugh together? Isn’t laughter as healing as prayer?
Because sin is talked about only as it pertains to the outside world. We play the blame game.
The attitude that hangs around like a depressing little raincloud is that sin is only “out there”. We are not sinful, the church is not at fault, the fault is with the people who are just not responding. Better yet, it is everyone else in the church’s fault. I’m doing my part but YOU are not reaching out to the community. I am evangelizing and loving and being most like Christ, but you are failing and here are the reasons why!
It’s the blame game. My mom has a magnet on her fridge that says “No Blaming” and I think (myself included) that we need those put up in every classroom alongside a healthy dose of confession. Real confession where we say “I’m sorry for hurting others” and we pop those fat inflated egos. Because I’m at fault too. My distaste for Seminary is also because I have failed to make it good. I have failed to reach out to others and span the many crags and follies and divides. This is as much a result of my sin and my fault and my fear as anything else.
Finally, if I do love Seminary it’s that there’s a part of me that recognizes and is ever more encouraged by the flutters of things that are right. There have been moments that have spoken to my soul and made my stomach flip in butterflies of joy. God has been present in moments I didn’t expect, and has spoken through the mouths of my professors and friends in ways I never imagined; from a lecture in class that reminds us of tainted theology to bitch fests over cheap beer, God has moved in slight and barely noticeable ways but still moved.
I may hide in a den of sin and spontaneously combust with the wicked, but at least I’m standing before God and saying it. I admit to God and the world that am more likely to listen to songs about sex than to hymns or Christian Rock (ew). I drink cheap beer for fun. I keep a whistle that resembles a phallic symbol hanging on my mirror from my bachelorette party because it’s funny. I say goddammit way too much. I got married after being with my now husband for well over four years and I still believe marriage is mostly a sham and that Christianity pushes people who are not ready into marriage and is abused to promote unhealthy and abusive relationships more than it encourages whole and loving ones. I am more comfortable being myself among secular groups than Christians. I don’t think God punishes the world regularly, I am really bad at praying, and I am really glad that I live in Post-Christendom.
Why Jesus is worth it.

I am often wrong, but I think I am right about one thing, and it is a thing that burns brightly in my chest (although I suppose it could also be heartburn). Jesus teaches us that our little in-crowd of Christians is not the answer. Jesus worked best in a pre-Christendom world, so why should Jesus not work best post-Christendom? When we are the minority, we remember how to reach out to the minority.

The best thing about seminary is the opportunity. The opportunity to reach out, to change hearts, to find genuine Christian love, to turn tables, to say “I won’t be a part of the past but I will make the future.”

Finally I am grateful because Seminary has taught me that the world and especially Christianity is unkind to outcasts and expects more than we are capable of. But the truth is that Jesus always welcomes in the widows and the orphans, the homosexuals and the adulterers, the whiners and the losers and the supposed saints. But Jesus doesn’t expect perfection. He expects us to love God and most of all to love each other, to put down our weapons and pick up our plowshares, to argue and fight and struggle but to concentrate first on love.
I will whine and cry and beat my breast until I graduate. I will say that Seminary is one of the hardest and miserable and more terrible choices I have made for my sanity and well-being. But for as much as I hate Seminary and everything it stands for, I love Jesus so much more and those things that He preaches: forgiveness, love, candor, awareness, caring for your neighbor, and loving your enemy.

2 Replies to “Why I Love Jesus but Hate Seminary”

  1. I know this is an old post, but I thank God that someone was honest enough to share their genuine feelings. Every single thing you've written is exactly how I'm feeling right now. I can't wait till this is over. Thank you so much for your honesty.

    Like

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