Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Long Way Around


My name is Wendy and I am a second year M.A. student at LSTC. Additionally, I am on my second, or third, career. Which is about all you need to know about me to realize I can never take the most direct path to anything. It's kind of like Big Bird in The Muppet Movie. The muppets see Big Bird walking down the side of the road and they ask him what he is doing. He explains that he is heading off to make it big in show business. Kermit says that they are going towards the same goal and asks Big Bird to join them on their quest for Hollywood. Big Bird says no, he'd prefer to head to New York City to make a name for himself first in Public Television. The muppets leave shaking their fuzzy little heads. But everyone knows that Big Bird was as successful as Kermit. The moral of the story: a lot of different paths lead to the same end.

My goal is to get a PhD in something vaguely theological and to teach in a University. I came to LSTC because it has a reputation for solid academics and is connected to the other seminaries in the Chicago area so that students can take classes at any of the seminaries or at the University of Chicago Divinity School. I decided to go to a seminary first, instead of straight to a Divinity school, because I think it is important for the people who teach and write theology to know people who do the actual work of theology in the parishes. I think it is important that the "Ivory Tower" of academia knows a little bit more about how real people think and feel.

I am a cradle Lutheran-- which is to say I was baptized as a baby in the Lutheran Church. I was always active in my youth group, taught Sunday School, sang in choir. At the end of high school and the beginning of college I worked summers at Carol Joy Holling camp in Nebraska. In college I started the candidacy process. But many around me who were important didn't think that ordination was the right path for me. Some were cautionary because I am a woman and this was the middle 90's. I was daunted and, in the end, I felt like something wasn't quite right. So I went to law school instead. I practiced for a little while and still felt a nagging sense that there was something more in the universe, in life, that I needed to do. I switched careers, went back to school, got a Masters in Literature and began to teach at a University. Then I realized I wanted to teach. But something was still not quite right.

After I turned thirty I began to think about the significance of the age of thirty. These were the years we traditionally ascribe to Jesus' ministry with the disciples. I was going to church, more or less, every week, but I wasn't involved. I had an active internal spiritual life, but I wasn't doing anything about it. Except that I was writing Lenten devotionals or poems or whatever sort of mixed-up genre I could think of to express my frustrations with what I viewed as bad theology in the world around me. And I read biographies of Luther. And I argued about God and Jesus and the Spirit and ecumenicism and the place of history and sacred texts in religion. And one day it occurred to me that all the things I was interested in, and all the things I wanted to be, made a lot more sense if I studied theology with the intent to teach. And suddenly there was around me a vast multitude of peace.

That's the gist of my story. It's different from every other story I've heard since I've been on campus. And all the other stories, all the other goals, are all different from each other too. But here I have found a community that is okay with difference. Now in my second year, I can say that although M.A. students have different requirements from the M.Div. students, we have different hopes, there is one body in Christ and many members. I am one of those members. My path to theology is not straight. I don't have the background that some of the students coming out of college with a religion major have. I won't ever wear a clerical collar, but only through being at a school where it is okay to pray at the beginning of class and Chapel is one of the social events of the day can I get a full theological education. There will be time in the years ahead for secular studies of religion, but I do not think I could ever replace the lessons, spiritual and academic, that I am learning here. I like to think of myself as Big Bird walking on the side of the road after the muppets' Studebaker had driven off, a little nervous about making the decision he had, knowing that it will take a while, but somehow at peace.


Tim said...

Good luck with seminary this semester! Thanks for sharing your story. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Wendy, for sharing your story. It reminds us that there are many paths for many is good to hear how following your path has brought you almost full circle, back where you originally intended to be.