Last week I traveled to Kansas City and then on to St. Louis to visit two very interesting and two very different seminaries.
Why seminary? Well, it happened sometime after this. I remember glancing through church job descriptions in order to make sense of this "thing" that was burning inside me, and I realized that every job that looked really great required a master's degree. So thus began the research.
St. Paul School of Theology intrigued me for two reasons: the urban setting and the diversity of the student body. Both were confirmed after my visit. The school itself is very nice - the campus is lovely and well-keep (and quite small), the buildings are beautiful, they have the very latest in technological equipment in each class room, yadda, yadda. That is all very nice. But what I really loved was the dynamic range of ethnicity, age and background of the students on campus.
I had lunch with two really great people - Laura and Joel. Current students both extremely involved on campus and in an active ministry setting. They were sweet, honest, wonderful people who asked me the right questions to help me figure all this out. I really appreciated their insight. Never once did I feel like I was being sold the product of a seminary education. Both these students seemed honestly interested in finding out who I was, what I wanted and whether St. Paul was the right place for me.
Two things I didn't expect? Being told my graphic design experience would be a huge help in ministry and finding out that a good chunk of their students commute from Nebraska, and stay on campus M-Th and remain in ministry at their home churches.
Down to St. Louis. Man, is everyone nice down there. Must be a little of that southern hospitality I hear so much about, because seriously, sweetness all around. The lady at the hotel desk was adorable, our waitress at Bristol's Seafood Grill... just, everyone. So sweet.
I attended a class on Job Thursday night with a student in her first year of the Master's of Counseling program. We'd spoken several times on the phone and I was looking forward to meeting her. The class was excellent - about 60 other students absolutely full of experience with suffering.
Thankfully, this class lead to the best part of my trip - the conversation I had with my aunt at Starbuck's afterwards. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Starbuck's...just go with it.)
We began talking about her son, whom she recently discovered didn't believe in God. J.D is a 27 yr. old civil engineer in Lincoln, and just like his siblings, did not grow up in the church. Why? I can really only speculate on this. (Even when asked directly, my aunt and uncle talk around the issue.) My best attempt at connecting the dots is that when my aunt and uncle divorced after one child and a few years of marriage, my uncle lost his faith. For what reason, I don't know. My mother thinks it's somehow related to the divorce combined with his time in the military.
They reunited after a year or so apart, remarried and had three more children. Both my aunt and uncle grew up Luthern, but never attended church regularly as adults and subsequently did not raise their kids in the church. (The children, however, were all baptized as babies. What can I say? They were Lutheren.)
With all this background to consider, I was very curious to hear what my aunt had to say on the topic of Job and suffering. It's universal to everyone, whether you are spiritual or not. So the class I attended combined with her recent knowledge of her son's lack of a belief in God made for an interesting night.
I was able to share the gospel with my aunt for the first time. The real gospel. Not the one she heard as a child - the one that made her believe that unless she was a good person, God would punish her. The "gospel" that made her scared to mess up, the "gospel" that held her in chains for years. I shared with her the gospel of grace and forgiveness.
At one point, she asked me after I spoke of Jesus' perfect sacrifice in place of the old covenant sacrifice, "What is there to keep me from going on sinning, then?" And I was able to joyously declare "Nothing!"
What is wrong with the teaching the church that my aunt, who for nearly 60 years believed she was a Christian because she believe in God and tried to be a good person? Not that I'm surprised, I just hate having to hear this story from so many over and over again.
This doesn't even begin to cover all that happened over the next 24 hours - or even the rest of the conversation. Alas, I am beginning to fade. I will share more later.