Every semester here seems to get harder as it goes on. There’s the workload, of course, but I have come to think it’s also due to something else.
For most courses I’ve taken at United, earlier on in the semester students are asked to read books and understand what other people have said. For many classes, as the semester progresses, we are eventually asked to read less and write more. I’ve come to realize that – at least for me – writing takes more oomph than reading does. It takes more effort to get myself to sit down and focus. I’m not being asked to consume but to create or at least to synthesize.
But then there are different kinds of papers. Right now, I am working on two. One you might call a research paper – that’s not quite the right word but it’s close enough. From the books I have read this semester, I have set myself the task (it’s an independent study course) of closely stating what Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, and Reinhold Niebuhr each have to say – and why each cares – about the freedom of humanity and then to state my own reaction. Not so bad. The only catch is that in order to do that I have to read them a bit more closely than I would John Steinbeck or John Sanford!
Early on in my seminary career, I came to feel that the other kind paper was much easier. Here we call it a reflection paper. I don’t have to state my understanding of the function of the word “house” in Nathan’s prophecy to David or articulate the polity and ethos of the United Church of Christ with meticulous footnotes for everything. I just organize my thoughts. “How did your faith journey lead you to seminary” might be an example.
In the paper I am writing right now for another class we are being asked to state – essentially – “knowing what you know now, how would you formulate your theology and the church’s role in fulfilling it?” My task is to construct something coherent that will pull together the years of reading I have done and the many components of my view of religious life. That would include, among other things, how I make sense of God and evil, the role of the church, scripture, and the sacraments, the creation and the Second Coming. You could say I am being asked to articulate my beliefs, make sure they all fit together, and express them all in a way that is inspiring for someone else. Maybe it’s just me but papers seem more difficult than they used to!
But in a way, it’s a chance to do what I have always dreamed of but never taken the time to do. I’m being asked to sit down and make sense of life – okay, not all of life, just the eternal aspects! Yes, it’s huge but, if I can come up with something that satisfies me, it will be worth it. Will I come up with something to give Paul Tillich a run for his money? Most likely not. I may just come out knowing myself and my God a bit better.