Empty Calling

I have to admit that being in seminary raises the complexity of determining calling. I say this because the initial logic for people who intend to do theological studies is that they are preparing for ministry. Or to put it more bluntly, the pastoral ministry.

Personally, weighing all the resources of my own capabilities, I don’t think I fit as a pastor. I have no conviction that it is my call, in terms of vocation. But that somehow disrupts the initial plan that I’m in seminary. It does disrupt the logical passage.

So, whenever I do convey this to people and say that I think I fit more in the context of teaching and I hope that is in the context of seminary, I’ll probably get a few laughs directed at me. Maybe for some that is a pious aspiration or prideful wish but should it be? (although people might argue that the designation in Ephesians 4:11 about the office of teacher and pastor go hand in hand, I would assume that Paul had no vision of that to explain our context now of theological education.)

I hear people complaining about the reading work load, the struggle with writing, and all that is boring about seminary setting but these are stuff that resonates with me. I don’t complain that much about all these things though.

But putting that aside, I was having a conversation with someone about something to do with my calling and I said I probably fit more in the context of teaching. My conversation partner replied that the logical route of that calling is the pastoral ministry and is accorded as a good fit for teaching, especially in a seminary setting. He continued that, one needs to be rooted in pastoral ministry to be a good fit for teaching. But, I think this poses problems, although I do agree in some way that the argument given is true.

To me it raises the question asking, “What is the purpose of pursuing theological studies?” and another one might be, “Is theological education only for the reason of ‘making’ pastors?”

I guess if one answers these two questions as the purpose of theological training is solely for the training of pastors and that being the only reason, the seminary has a somewhat reductionistic  vision. Although it is true that there is a strong case for training pastors, it must not be the sole vision. What about people who seek theological training who work in the vicinity of the market place, or for house wives who are interested in doing the courses? Do we neglect the role of theological education for the masses and the implication of what it can do for the lives of those who do not intend to get directly involved in church ministry?

And if that is the case, are we not again digressing our understanding of ministry and reduce it to the church context only? Are we not in that manner creating again the chasm between sacred and secular?

With those views stated, I still think there is room for student who have a calling to pursue higher theological education to stay in their field and expand. They should be people who are specialized in their fields, they should pursue it with the utmost passion, without the need to argue again that by pursuing that route, they are only academic and disengaged with the church.

I do find it frustrating if someone argues that the only best model is the teacher who has done extensive pastoral or ministerial training. Sure, they will know how to address pastoral issues well, but does that warrant a good rational for that argument? Are not academics in conversation with pastors? Can’t there be some sort of budding in knowledge that a pastor can gain from an academic or vice versa?

With all of those questions barraging my mind I’m in a frustrated stance at the moment because the situation does not permit this sort of thing to occur. I’m starting to think that, if anyone does pose a question to me on calling, I would be happy to answer, “I have no idea,” because that will then leave me in a calm demeanor rather than make my emotions all welled up again.

It Starts

Back in seminary and life continues again, with much anticipation as well as pessimism. I guess it’s a good balance. I’m not so much of an extreme person. I work well with moderation and predictability. Hopefully this will be my last semester finishing off my B.Th degree and i’ll see how things go from there. If the financial line works out, working on my Masters will be something of a possibility. Something I hope gets up and going.

But right now, in the present moment is, finishing this degree, teach guitar, fulfill necessary commitments where being attached to a church is one requirement. So how has your year started?

A Whole New Level of ‘Writing Great Papers’: Cheating

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I got this link (The Shadow Scholar) from Scot McKnight’s blog (Frightening Levels of Cheating) which details a whole new level of cheating. I obviously haven’t got the luxury to do this since I’m not financially well of but even if I had the money, I would not stoop to such levels. Sure you might get the necessary grades but in reality it still amounts to zero. I’d be happy with my mediocre level of originality rather than handing in a superbly written original piece that never came out of my own brain. Talk about new levels of stupidity.

Reflections Seminary and Getting Excellent Grades

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Studying in seminary has been to me love and love hate relationship. I emphasize love here because I love it really. There is no greater joy in learning and listening to lectures and reading scholarly books (even though sometimes I don’t understand stuff I read!). I also say ‘hate’ because sometimes thinking about getting good grades is sometimes a hassle really.

It gives me great pleasure if I do get good grades because of the amount of work I do in writing up ideas to a given topic and argue and critique issues and coming to a well argument for positions that I hold. I mean who wouldn’t like to see great comments on their well written paper!

But sometimes always having this mentality that “I simply have to get good grades only” makes me tired. Being ruled by this “demon” make studying and writing a bore and a pain in the butt. But that aside it help it grades are good or great if there are ambitions of getting a well deserved degree.

Well, thinking along these lines I kind of have to make peace with the gifts that I have, being content where I don’t have all the answers or I can’t really express ideas I have in my head in understandable phrases. But improving when I can on comments made by lecturers and trying to see things from a wider perspective. I mean not making it along the levels of being a biblical scholar is not the end of the world.

I heard a podcast by Rob Bell on his experince and he did not do well in his journey but look where he is now. A good reminder for me and for those who struggle in this area.

Well what I’m learning through this all is that, although I might not be able to make great arguments of a given topic or issue, seminary ‘failure’ is not the end of the world. In fact, I for one have to admit that learning is like a journey. You fail but you learn something new along the way. I have to admit that stuff I wrote when I first ventured into theological studies were crappy. Ideas I had were one dimensional. Books I read were stuff I mostly agreed with. Looking back at it now I have seen that my mind has developed through mistakes.

For example, Christianity was only about salvation and going to heaven until I learned about the ‘kingdom of God.’ Reading books by Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright has broadened my views. I always thought that resurrection was limited with the soul being raised until I learned that it was a bodily kind of resurrection.

So, I have to remind myself that, even if my papers now don’t get critical acclaim globally, learning it a lifelong thing. One develops his or her mind and life by living, failing and getting back up again. Learning does not end when one gets his PhD, it’s something that gets developed through time. Failure is a platform to greater heights only when one take it like a man or woman, accepting failure and moving along and keep learning and being thinking people in life.

Education Fail

 

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1. The best students are those who achieve great academic standards.

2. Students who have high academic achievement are those destined to succeed.

3. Students who do bad academically are total failures.

4. Students who do bad academically will never succeed in life.

5. Teachers are always right.

6. Students are always wrong.

I guess I could have added more but my mind is tired to think already. Well, those who think along these lines, who think life is only black and white, and things are so simple to discern, for these people I give them the “EDUCATION FAIL” stamp for being narrow minded.

The Student and The Sponsor

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Yesterday I was chatting with someone (this is me being discreet) and the topic of support came up. Mainly support for full-time students who wish (some would prefer ‘are called’) to pursue theological training/ studies. That person said to me that, generally, support for the student was scarce because people who wants to support must be sure that their money would not be used in vain. Thus many do want to help, it’s just, they want the right person to help.

Thinking through, I do see the point of seeing ones funds being handled out properly. I see accountability as a necessity and vitally important. Who wouldn’t be fuming if they see those in whom they support squander finances that were meant for a good purpose to go down the drain.

But I have to disagree with the point of view that a lot of people with hold finances because they want to know that their finances are used to the best of interest. For starters how would they know their money is put into good use if they do not let it go first, if they do not gamble. You can’t know the potential of a student if you don’t start the ball rolling.

But another thing has to be noted. In theological training it is not the issue of mere academics alone that is deemed important. Character counts. I mean not all who go through theological training has the brains to read and critique to a certain extent academic arguments of scholars. And their grades will account for this. But does this mean that financial support for this student deemed wasted? What if this person had tried his best but he or she simply finds it hard to argue stuff in an academic manner? Gifts after all is not wholly embedded in one person.

And it seems like most supporters or sponsors is more likely to be dictators of those in whom they support and this is in a way unhealthy and bad. I do not discount the fact that students should be accountable. They should be accountable. But those supporting should see their roles not as dictators but those who are going the second mile together with the person they are supporting.

I have to state that I’m not against supporters and sponsors. Without them there would not be any student in seminary or doing their studies. It’s just that I would wish some knew the struggles that goes in the lives of students.

Thoughts on Studies

I once enrolled in a course that I had no interest in. I had no idea in what the lecturer was teaching and she seemed to speak in a foreign language. That tends to happen when you are new to terms and the course subject that one takes. So here i was siting with a blank stare and a note-book that was probably blank as well. I guess when my parents read this post they would probably have a chuckle or something worse. I hope i get just the chuckle though.

Who should i blame in all this? Should i point the finger at my aunt? Well she helped pay for it and it was her suggestion anyway. I was the reluctant mule in heart and attitude, but like all obedient in-the-outlook-teenager I tagged along. I think if i recall I only attended two or three classes, or I think it maybe more than that.

But thinking about it now, I should not blame my aunt. It was good that she did what she did and my parents sending me all the way for class. Good of them. So what was the problem? It has to do with attitude and perspective in life. In this I’d like to combine the two.

I hear and read that a lot of student whine about their studies. Sure we are all subject to whining as i am not exempted from it. I do it too from time to time. There is nothing wrong with that. But at times excessive whining should lead to personal reflection on why are you actually studying anyway? Why is it so important to obtain that degree or complete what you are doing?

The obvious answer to that is to obtain a nice paying job. Study is the rite passage to paper qualifications and finally a job that will pay you money. And if one works hard enough, opportunities to expand ones experience would arise and so will opportunities where thin wallets will be made fat. So in a way that is the normal perspective that we all have when it comes to studies, obtaining degrees, work and earnings. If one was to make a commentary on that, it would be just for the betterment of one person’s life, in other words personal development in areas such as status and earnings.

I guess that is just a general assessment of things.

But if an assessment like what i made above has any validity then it seems that nothing matters most than being all about my personal development. In our whining, when it gets to the point of expressiveness what we are really telling ourselves is this: “What is the point of all this cranking my brain? Will this help me?” The real issue now becomes, what will i get out of all this.

Maybe some think that after obtaining the necessary requirements and all that, all the puzzles of getting their career on the go will eventually take off. Naturally the ideal would be that what we studied our asses off will match the career of choice. If we go into accounting we look for jobs that capitulates with the expertise that we have developed through our studies. I mean there is no math needed to add that up. But in the real world sometimes the ideals do not math up. And so most will eventually work in fields that might not necessarily accommodate our area of expertise. So, with variables that do not seem to go in linear with ideals.

But regardless of that I think there is such a things as sticking through with studies even though we think that it is simply a waste of time. So, although you might not get the right job according to the field of expertise you poured out your heart into there might be some sense of way to see how it might contribute to our life. Here are some of my suggestions on this

1. Responsibilities

Regardless of the whatever course one takes one of the things that would probably embedded in the psyche of the student is the budding appreciation or in a way, apprehension on responsibility. This might help the perspective student once he/ she finishes to have a mental attitude to be able to handle work loads and also necessary skills to manage their time. Well it is not always this perspective at hand but at least the student who has swam the sea of plunging in studies knows a thing or two about responsibilities and the demands of managing their time. This I believe can be a foundational dimension or platform for tackling work responsibilities later.

2. Paper Qualifications

Regardless of how anyone feels about this, having some paper qualification (diploma, degree, masters etc) is in part necessary not for the sense that it guarantees a job, but it does create a platform for having options available to you. Although having this does not necessarily negate a person doing well in the workplace but it does smoothed the process of looking for a job in some ways. Well this is also besides the fact that some who have these qualifications find it hard to get a job. People without any of these might have to labor more but it does not mean that they are losers. It’s just that having qualifications of some sort helps.

3. Builds Social Communications Skills

Well, this for me has been helpful. Although studying per say does not necessarily help in this manner explicitly but it does in a way implicitly. Before plunging into college and seminary now (both in biblical studies) I was more of a loner. It has to do with my natural bent being an introvert. But my experiences of mixing around with people and discussion along the way helped in this manner. Although much of my personality has not dramatically changed there is some improvement in the way I handle my social skills. I guess you could say I’m improving.

4. Learn to Think Critically

For my case if I never ventured into seminary or biblical studies (or whatever college or university for that matter) I wouldn’t know how to use my mind to think critically on numerous issues and views. Without the experience my mind would be limp for that matter, unable to digest issues and ideas with a sound mind but rather a still holding on to my narrow understanding of what I ascribed from people. Learning to think critically does not necessarily mean that to be a critic on every issue (which I have to constantly explain to some people) but to be able to ask questions about ideas out there.

I guess there must be more reasons to argue for why studying is in a sense important for the sake of those of us in it for that matter. But i have to stress again that this is only my own personal views on this and do not intend to state that those who have made it possible to tread along the line of life without the need of education compared to those who have education. Well this is just to shed light to us who grumble though studying in college, university or seminary, and that there is some sense of purpose in all the mental stress we face each and every week.