Two weeks ago, I had the kick-a$$ opportunity to chat with Rob Bell. Thanks to Jason’s inability to work the internet and Morgan’s Lenovo laptop from 1984, the internet gods smiled upon me and I was able to interview Rob for the latest episode of Crackers and Grape Juice. Rob is one of those guys who can command a room with a 2 hour lecture, leaving those in the audience wanting more, and willing to sit for the remainder of the day.
There is only so much information I can consume at one time. What seems like forever ago, when I started my studies at Wesley Theological Seminary I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose. My first semester I purchased the 20+ books required for me 3 courses and dove in. After one week I knew I was in trouble. Having grown up in the church, I knew the stories. I knew about Noah and his boat, Daniel and the lions, Jesus and his 12 buddies, and about Saul becoming Paul. What I didn’t know was just how on the surface I knew these stories.
For the first 2 years of seminary I was on information overload. I was learning new things everyday. Every evening when I sat down to do my studying my mind was being blow. Diving deeper into the stories of Israel reshaped the way I was reading the Gospels. Then having a new understanding of the Gospels changed the way I read the Epistles. And so on, and so on. Everyday was a new opportunity to have my mind blown by the writings of the church fathers, feminist and liberation theologians, and believe it or not the scripture text itself.
This is where I stayed for 3 years. I was focused academically and that led be to being overly focused on reading what Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann, John Wesley, and James Cone had to say about the Bible. This negatively impacted my ministry. I was a newly minted Youth Pastor and church intern who could rapidly recite information from the classroom but struggled to connect what I had learned with the real world. I could limp through lessons with great videos I found on YouTube or The Work of the People. I was faking it in hopes that I could make it.
I’ll let you in on a secret: a teenage girl could careless about Karl Barth’s opinion when her parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce. Teenage boys don’t care about liberation theology when they just found out their friend has cancer. Everything I learned in the temple of academia was great for passing my classes and preparing myself for life after school but I was not connecting what I learned with reality.
“The whole world is a a temple, and you begin to see the divine all over the place.” – Rob Bell
I was not witnessing to my own transformation. I had not figured out how to connect what I was learning with the inner-transformation God was doing in me. As a result of that, I was not witnessing to the transformation God was doing in the lives of the students I was charged with pastoring to.
I was caught up in the tradition of learning and not paying attention to the tradition of pastors caring for their community.
In order to care for the community you are called to care for you must be connected to it, active in the life of it, and continually seeking where God is at work in it.
The thing I love most about my job is now helping students & families see where the divine is active in their lives. Commentaries are great but they are looking at scripture and the narrative of God’s people through the lense of someone else’s life.
As Rob said, sometimes we get off “in the weeds”. We are allowing ourselves to get caught up in the spiritual lives of other people all the while ignoring the divine around us everyday.
While my days of drinking for a fire hose academically are gone I am today trying to drink up the divine’s work in the world I live in. Growing by reading books pastors and theologians shouldn’t be reading or by listening to the voices who are normally not welcome in the church.
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