How Was Your First Year of Seminary?

Luther SemFinal exams and final paper due dates are just around the corner, and amidst the busyness of this season, I have often been asked, “So you’re almost done with your first year at seminary! How was it? How does it feel?” My typical responses are short and sweet: “It was good,” “It went by fast,” or just simply, “It’s crazy!” And while I suppose these responses are true, they are far from my whole truth. My first year at Luther was good, yes, but it was also a lot of other things. So, how was my first year at seminary?

There were beautiful, oh so beautiful, moments of vocational clarity, when unexplainable peace surrounded me, and I knew, if even for a moment, that this crazy call was true to my innermost being. In those moments I couldn’t imagine doing anything else or being anywhere else, and I felt more truly myself than I ever have. But then there were also those moments when the weight of it all was simply too much, when the anxiety and feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty and questions of why anyone would want to lead a “dying institution” and why I would ever want to set myself up to face the lofty expectations of what it means to be a pastor, and when the ugly reality of sexism, so deeply entrenched in our churches, reared its head just one too many times, and when I felt just a little too young to really know anything about anything, and when all I wanted to do was be a hermit because people are exhausting, and when I wasn’t so sure what I even believed about God and this crazy world, and when internal church politics too often took priority over our call to live as people of peace and justice and radical hospitality—these moments I also knew far too well. These were the moments that left me curled up in a ball on the couch in tears or online at 2 am searching for other graduate programs, other volunteer opportunities, other career paths, literally anything else. But then, just as I was about to throw in the towel, those moments peaceful clarity and courage would sneak up on me when I least expected it, encouraging me to continue with this crazy seminary thing just one more day, and one more day after that.

There were the classes and brilliant professors who helped me affirm and deconstruct my own theology, my approach to Scripture, and the role of the Church in the 21st century. There were the papers that kept me up late writing, but also sometimes brought me to tears because the mystery of it all is so great and so beautiful. There were conversations with my classmates that challenged me, that frustrated me, and that opened up new life for me. There were the questions without answers and the questions to which I thought I found answers but later discovered were really only more questions.

There were those days where I showed up on campus as my best self, where I felt engaged in community and overflowing with gratitude for my new friends and colleagues with whom I could spend lunch time nerding out about theology in the best possible way, with whom I could share these joys and concerns and complain about the call/ordination process while celebrating the hidden beauty of it all. These are the people who get my Lutheran jokes, who understand the simultaneous joy and pain of memorizing Greek prepositions and particles, who have probably had their own theology turned inside out and upside down just as many times as I have this year. These are the friends with whom I shared numerous coffee study dates, ordered Friday night pizza, resorted to stress eating large quantities of ice cream, watched a series of Korean dramas, and with whom I dreamed about the future of the church and the world. But then there were also the days where my own anxiety kept me from showing up and when I was reminded that making friends is somehow never quite as effortless as I wish it was, and when I so dearly missed the intentional community living of my Urban Servant Corps year and the cozy, residential feel of my undergrad days, and when I thought over and over, “If only I didn’t have so much reading, I could actually have a social life again…” and when I wondered why I couldn’t just find a nice boy and settle down and buy a house, a dog, and have 2.5 kids and instead felt the need to study theology to maybe one day be a pastor of a Church with an uncertain future.

There were the times when I found the strength to say, “No” and the courage to say, “Yes.” And there were the times when I said “Yes” when I should have said “No,” and “No” when I should have said, “Yes,” and I found grace there anyway. There was the time I learned how to quit something that I needed to quit, the times I sought out new opportunities for growth and learning, and the opportunities I let pass by, for better or for worse.

And then there was the time I went to Israel-Palestine and visited the land in which the Story that got me into this whole mess all began. It was beautiful and life giving and heart breaking and made everything so much more complicated in ways that I can’t quite articulate. I walked the streets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and stepped into the Jordan River. I visited the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and heard the devastating stories of Palestinian refugees and saw the ugly dividing wall that surrounds the city of Bethlehem, keeping neighbors from knowing each other’s’ stories and perpetuating cycles of hatred and violence. And I saw the brokenness of my own country reflected back to me in ways I would rather have not seen, and was forced to wrestle deeply with questions of religion and empire and oppression, and I still don’t know what to make of any of it.

There was my contextual education youth ministry position where I got caught up in the frustration of declining numbers of youth in church and the emphasis on entertainment and the dangerous cycle of people pleasing and constant feelings of inadequacy, but also found life-giving moments like conversations about God and gender at 2 am at a lock-in and gathering around a map to pray for the world with a group of middle school students and discovering that my students also have hopes and dreams for this crazy institution we call the Church and connecting in mutual brokenness and finding that despite what the cynics say, there is incredible hope arising in this messy, broken Body of Christ among young people.

And then there was that great cloud of witnesses, that communion of saints, those friends who loved me and held me in prayer from afar. There was the courage I gathered from the saints who have gone before me, from the strong female clergy already paving the way for me, from the friends from home and college and camp and USC who were supporting me even when I couldn’t physically see them. There were the late night phone calls and the ridiculous snapchats and the drives across the state to remind me that I am not alone and that I am loved.

And as I submit my remaining assignments and look forward to the new adventures hidden in the summer months ahead, I do so knowing that I will in fact be back next year to do it all again.