Archive for October, 2008

Chapel in Real Life

Today started out with a little bit of frustration as I realized toward the end of my 8am class that my voice recorder (which I use to record lectures) had died due to my pressing of my luck with low batteries. This was especially disappointing because I had been planning on attending my school’s weekly chapel (which falls in the one hour break between my 8am class and the 11am class). This week’s topic was on “Praying the Psalms,” which I had really been looking forward to; however, the fact that my 11am class is difficult enough to necessitate the recording of every lecture was reason enough to skip chapel and walk to the grocery store to get some batteries.

The walk to the store is probably a 15 minute walk from my school. As I hustled along, I passed by three men sitting on a knee-high wall on the outer boundaries of the campus. There was a large can in a paper bag sitting behind the man closest to me. As I walked by, this man asked, “Excuse me, ma’am?” I turned and smiled, expectantly, knowing that I was in a safe, public place and that sometimes people who are struggling have a deep need to feel even the slightest acknowledgement from those of us who are hustling by, going to buy batteries.

As I talked to them, I found out their names: Randy, Michael, and Carl. Randy asked me if it would be possible for me to buy him a sandwich. Of course, I replied. I could do that. I asked Michael and Carl if they needed sandwiches, too. “Oh, no, ma’am,” Michael said. “I’m going to the food pantry at Fuller in a few mintues.” (Randy told me later that Michael was such a decent guy that he didn’t want to trouble me to buy him food when he was going to get some; he wouldn’t have felt honest.) Carl didn’t acknowledge my presence (Randy told me that he didn’t talk much and didn’t want food because he didn’t eat). I told him I’d be back in a few minutes.

I got to the store, bought by batteries, grabbed a sandwich for Randy and three water bottles, and began walking back. Randy had moved by the time I got to him, and the others had gone. He told me that the cops kept moving them along, but he was afraid that he would miss me and the sandwich, so he had tried to stay where he thought I would cross.

I sat down with Randy for the few moments I had and talked to him for a bit. Randy told me that I was the first person that had acknowledged him all day. He also told me that he was really struggling with alcohol. The pain was so deep in his eyes; he did, in fact, reek of alcohol, but he said that he hated “the stuff” and only used it “so I don’t have to feel…” As he trailed off he pointed to the park down the street, where he implied he “lived.” I asked him if I could pray with him.

His eyes lit up and I sat by him. Embarrassed, he asked if I had a napkin so he could wipe his hands before holding mine. I didn’t, but I didn’t care. Who knows how long it’s been since someone has touched him in compassion?

As I prayed, I asked God to help Randy with these struggles, and to know that all of the earthly methods of dealing with these struggles are only temporary fixes, but that God’s strength and love was eternal. I don’t know where these words came from, but they came. I was so grateful.

Randy and I talked for a few more minutes before I had to go. And before I did, he looked at me with tears in his eyes. “Are you going to walk by here again?” he said. “I promise I won’t ask you for food when you come by. I just want to pray with you again.” I told him that I would come to visit him again, and we could certainly pray together again.

As I walked back, I realized that my experience with Randi was better than any chapel I could have gone to. So many of us talk about compassion, about seeing Christ in others, about loving one another. Yet at the same time, I can walk a stone’s throw from a seminary at 10:15am, and find a man whom no one had acknowledged was alive the whole morning.  It’s so easy to look down at people like Randy, and to condemn them as people who are living out the consequences of poor choices. It’s easy to smell the alcohol and feel disgusted, to see the yellow, watery eyes and turn away. It’s especially easy to pretend like we don’t hear the soft, pleading, “Excuse me?” as we walk by. But is this the response of Christian courage? Of course, with this courage must come caution, practicality, boundaries, and responsibility. That goes without question. But I have found, more and more, that most people in Randy’s situation just need to be acknowledged.

There are much larger issues to be addressed, as my husband and I are learning in our JustFaith group. Justice and charity are not the same thing. Justice is something that requires a larger movement, radical action, and deep commitment. It’s a necessary part of solving the problem. But so is charity; and by charity I don’t mean monetary contributions. Charity might be making eye contact and smiling. Charity may be buying a sandwich or saying a prayer. Charity is also ministry. And really, what is the true identity of those to whom we are ministering?

That’s right…Matthew 25:40.

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One week down

Here I am, sitting in Fuller library, as I have and will every Monday and Wednesday from 1-6pm from now until Dec. 5th. It turns out that Mondays and Wednesdays are my days in class–I’m here from 8am until 8:30pm (don’t include commute time in that). I actually really like that schedule, except for missing out evenings with my husband; I’m only in class two days of the week (albeit very busy days!) and I’m forced to do work in the library for at least 10 hours a week. Despite the fact that I’m finding it particularly hard to concentrate today, I am pretty please with the outcome.

My classes so far have been awesome. My Patristics class is interesting; the class material isn’t my favorite but I’m not minding it as much as I thought I would. I’m not a big history person anyway, so studying church history for 3 quarter is something I’m seeing as more of a necessary part of my education rather than something I really look forward to. In any case, so far I’ve read tons of ancient documents and am fascinated by the ancient practices of the Christians of the first and second centuries. I had no idea that their expression of faith was so very similar to the way we practice liturgy and celebrate Eucharist today.

My second class is a New Testament class, one of two that is required here at Fuller. In this particular class, we cover the New Testament from Acts through Revelation (Gospels are covered in a different class). My teacher is really great; interesting, brilliant, and well prepared. I enjoy his lectures very much–especially because he includes more than just words on a Power point. I’m learning a lot and working really, really hard for this class.

My last class is Greek. Greek is awesome! My first quiz is tonight. According to my book, I’ve already memorized 11% of the words in the New Testament. Don’t be too impressed–of this 11%, I’m pretty sure I covered about 7% just by learning the word “and.”

As you can see, I only have 3 classes listed. Yep, I decided to drop my class on Islam; not because I didn’t like it, but because after a lot of discernment I have decided that I think I want to really enjoy this process and glean as much as I can from it, rather than viewing it as a race or something I just have to “finish.” Intent is important here, and if my intent is simply to get a piece of paper in order to get closer to a PhD, I’ve missed the boat. Therefore, I’m cutting my class load, resolving to take the Islam class next Fall, and making my journey here at Fuller a little more sane. One of the things that swayed my decision the most was seeing my husband every night when I would come home. The truth is, he inspires me to be a better person than I would be on my own. On top of that, I prefer his company to just about anything else in the world. I didn’t want to sacrifice time with him because I was having to read those extra 10 hours a week; I’d rather nourish my relationship with those hours. (Happy birthday, sweetie!)

So, there’s my life in a nutshell. I look forward to writing more about my experiences, and I hope you enjoy hearing about them!

The Daily Grind

As I find myself almost on the other side of my first week in seminary, I have a few reflections that I’d like to share with you on my experience. I’ve come to a few realizations: some wonderful, some daunting, and all blessed.

1) I’m going to have to work harder than I have ever worked in my life (but I think I knew that already)! The amount of reading, researching, writing, studying, and translating I will be doing over the next 10 weeks makes my brain numb just anticipating it.

2) I love recognizing the context of our faith throughout history, throughout Scripture, and throughout the very words used to write Scripture. I love seeing the effects of those three aspects of our faith played out in our practice of that very faith today, and to see where perhaps we have lost sight of its original intent and focus (as well as where we have retained that intent and focus). I love it!

3) I feel worthy of this. I was really afraid that I wouldn’t feel worthy; that I would feel dumb, or lost. Instead I feel ready for it. I am far from completely confident, but I feel comfortable in the attempt of these tasks.

4) God is so present in this.

5) I am going to have a busy, busy life! I am so grateful for the support of my family, and especially of my husband. It has made all of the difference in the world to be able to come home at the end of the day, to talk excitedly about what has taken place throuhout the day, to discuss theological topics that have emerged, and to voice my fears and hopes. I truly feel like we are partners in this process, and that it is so very much a tangible step toward our eventual ministry together. I have no idea what form that will take, but I can feel with my whole self that this is part of that process (both my own individual learning and my sharing of it with him). I feel so blessed.

Well, that sums up my week so far! I better get back to work…I still have a lot of reading and writing to do before the day gets away from me!