Tuesday, May 31

On Goodbyes at the Belltower

(Preface: Half of this post was written pre-graduation and half was written post-graduation...  just fyi so you aren't confused)

Well, that's it.  I just submitted the last paper of my college career.  I thought that I would be excited to move into the few days before graduation where I have no responsibilities and can enjoy every last moment of my Belmont experience, but I admit that I am sad.  Most every class I have taken since switching into the school of religion has challenged me more than I expected, but I have learned such an incredible amount.  At this point, at the end of my assignments and required books and reflections and research, I no longer have my professors to guide me.  If I want to learn and continue to push myself, then I am solely responsible.  

I also admit that I was hesitant to start a blog post about graduation.  I mean, how do you sum up your college experience?  How do I put my deep and complex feelings into words?  How do I describe the life-changing relationships I have formed?  How do I reflect on how I have changed as a person at the hands of my professors and peers?  I am feeling the profound failure of my words to portray what I feel.  As John Ames says in the novel Gilead, "I felt the poverty of my remarks."  I will do my best.

In these past four years, I feel that I have grown into my skin in a lot of different ways.  I have grown up.  I am on the road to a beautiful and exciting marriage to my high school sweetheart, Dustin, that was largely a big, looming question mark when we both left for college.  Although separated by distance, we have grown together through the last four years and now will be embarking on a new journey into married life.

I have learned where my greatest interests lie.  First I thought it was music, then worship leading.  Then, I took the step into the new land of theological studies and found exactly what I was looking for.  It was like my passion was there all along, waiting for me to discover it so it could blossom into just what I needed.  In studying religion, I have found a deep desire to learn more about theology and churches, about women in ministry, about popular culture and the arts and their bridges back and forth to faith.  I have discovered a passion for literature and sorting out difficult and subtle themes that interweave themselves into my life as the story unfolds.

I have learned, standing at the edge of a new road, how much Belmont has meant to me these last four years.  I have met professors that have left a permanent and deep mark on my life and my thoughts.  Through them, I have been challenged to physically and intellectually go places I never thought I would.  I consider their example and impact to be of the highest quality, and as I consider what my future will look like, the thing I mourn most is the loss of their daily presence in my life.  The School of Religion at Belmont truly is remarkable and I will miss my little academic family.  Likewise, my fellow graduates in the School of Religion are inspirations to me in their creativity, uniqueness, and intelligence.  Everyone I have had the privilege to walk through this journey with was so kind and so smart, I felt myself being stretched and challenged just by being around them.  I am excited to see where they will all end up because I know the world is waiting in deep need of their gifts.

This may seem silly, but I will also miss the vibrancy and creativity that is inherent at Belmont, and even Nashville as a whole.  I don't even know how this happens, but each and every person is the next greatest artist out there.  I will miss the incredible music that has been made and is yet to be made here, whether it is in the Curb Event Center, Massey, Harton, or out on the quad.  I will miss the visual art that I don't always understand, but that still always engrosses me.  I will miss the clothes, music, and attitude of hipsters hanging around campus and Bongo Java.  I will miss walking to class and spotting so many friends or stopping at Bongo to grab a coffee and read a book or converse with a friend.  I will miss hearing the bell tower signal that I am late for class again and I will miss lying in the grass between classes, soaking up the Nashville weather.  All of this is what makes Belmont feel like home for me and right now I can't stand that I am leaving it behind.

Last of all, and definitely not least of all, I will miss all of my incredible friends that I have gathered in my past four years.  I have been so blessed to know each and every one of them... from my friends in my honors group freshman year, to fellow music or religion majors, to random people I kept bumping into.  They largely made my experience what it is, and I plan to see them as often as possible in the 'real world,' but even if some of us never cross paths again, they have made a lasting impression on me.

I will never forget the few days before graduation, where we were scrambling to see as many friends as possible and to do as many of our favorite things around Nashville as we could.  I was so grateful my fiance and best friend was able to share these memories with me.  I will forever cherish the memory of walking around the Belltower with some of my closest friends, holding a candle, placing my hand on that beloved monument and praying for my future and for the futures of the students that will someday come to my school.  I remember the cool brick under my fingers as I stood and thanked God for my experience and prayed that I would have courage and strength to carry into my post-Belmont life.  My time at Belmont is incredibly special to me and I pray for every single man and woman that steps up to Wright or Patton halls in the fall, suitcase in hand, to start a new chapter in his or her life.  My time is up, but theirs is just beginning, and it will be an incredible journey for both of us.

Tuesday, May 3

Paul and the Difficulties of Scripture

One of the more recent things I have been wrestling with is my view of the Bible.  I grew up believing that the Bible is the Word of God.  We do what it says and we read it to find what God is saying to us, end of story.

But the more I get into reading and studying Scripture, the more questions I have.  What do I do with the fact that the Bible has discrepancies?  I can't take two conflicting things side by side and accept both of them as truth.  I just can't.

And while I'm at it, what do I take as truth in the Bible?  Am I expected to believe that stories containing horrendous tragedies like rape and incest and murder were divinely directed by God?  Did God ordain those events?  If he didn't, then what purpose do they serve?

Talking more specifically, I have been wrestling with gender in regards to theology and church practice.  Paul talks some about gender roles in the New Testament and most churches that place restrictions on what women can or can't do take their reasons from his letters in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.  His words seem pretty cut-and-dry that women should remain silent in the church.

Now, I could bore you for hours with research others have done about these verses.  There are shelves of books I could show you on the meaning of those words in Greek or about why Paul said that to some women and not to others.  I could say that there are a few strong examples of women teaching theology to men in the New Testament or that we don't take Paul's words about head coverings or being saved through childbirth as commands.  I could show you verses only chapters earlier in the same letters that talk about women prophesying in the church.

But none of that would change the fact that some people take these words as God's words to the church. And won't be swayed.

I think the whole conversation ends up coming down to one point: what kind of church do we want to be?  Are we a Christian church or are we a Pauline church?  Is our theology based on THE Word of God: Jesus Christ, who was with God in the beginning, or do we base our ideas on Paul's theology, a great teacher and icon of Christianity, but nonetheless, a fallible man?  Are Paul's words God speaking directly to us now or should we regard them as in a certain place in history?  Do Paul's words change the way we see Jesus interacting with women, or Jesus the basis on which we should frame gender discussions in the church?

Honestly, I am still wrestling with what I think, but the half-baked conclusion I have come to is that the premises behind Paul's words are more important than his words themselves.  So when Paul was talking to the Corinthian church, a church very much removed from our time and culture, what was he getting at about church order?  About education for teachers?  About reverence and obedience to God?  Maybe his emphasis wasn't on right places for genders, but on other issues plaguing the church. We have to remember that if it is true that Paul's letters were written before the Gospels were written down, then Paul likely had very limited access to these documents.  He was doing the best with what he knew and we should tread lightly when we make his words commands from God.

I know this changes the way I view Scripture.  I know that I am treading into somewhat dangerous territory when I start to put the Bible into compartments.  But, I don't know any other way to reconcile some of the issues that I read.  What do you think?