Dear Seminarian

Dear Seminarian –

My car smells like urine today.

I can state unequivocally that none of my coursework in three years of graduate work covered this. I had a lot of great classes at seminary with some amazingly talented and gifted professors. But not one of them ever prepared me for the smell of someone else’s urine in my car and on my clothes. 

So, dear seminarian, be forewarned. Ministry is a beautiful and holy work, to be sure. I would argue with you – particularly after a few drinks or when I’m less interested in being polite and patient – whether or not it is any more beautiful and holy than, say, slinging burgers, or calculating a rocket’s trajectory, or rearranging molecules or diagnosing the sick or cleaning up a parking lot. If you go to a good seminary then they’ll make sure to tell you that it isn’t, but with a wink and a nod to the aside that says they don’t really believe that, and maybe neither should you.

Beautiful and holy it is in a non-comparative, non-competitive way. But it is messy as well. At least it can be. Sometimes. Maybe it hasn’t always been this way. Maybe your experience will be blessedly different. Maybe you won’t have to watch someone you care about destroy themselves slowly. Maybe you won’t have to wake up wondering if this is the day you’ll get the phone call that someone has ended their life.  Maybe you won’t lie awake at night wondering about the day at some point in the future when it is you in the ICU, rendered unresponsive by a stroke or a heart attack, another minister whispering in your ear and stroking your hand. Maybe you won’t hear the echoes of demons in your head and wonder whether or not they might not one day rend you tendon by tendon in the same fashion they idly pull apart others. Others who went to good schools and were prepared by talented and gifted professors for whatever field they were going in to.

Someone asked me today to give my thoughts on Jesus in the Temple, turning over tables and driving people and animals away with corded whips, scattering the precious coins and precise scales in righteous anger. How is it that the allegedly perfect Son of God could be angry? Isn’t anger sinful?

No, anger isn’t sinful.

While you and I may not be able to experience it without the sinful thoughts and emotions it so easily leads to, anger is not sinful. Anger against evil, against sin – that anger is pure and holy and justified even if we too quickly allow it to turn sinful and selfish.  I can well-imagine the righteous and perfect Son of God’s anger as He stood in the Temple – his Temple – and heard the sanctimonious and perfunctory and efficient and emotionless clink and tinkle of money, the myriad languages and dialects arguing and haggling over the weight of that dove, that sheep, that oxen, the exchange rate today on this particular currency. I can imagine easily his anger at the burden of sin that crushes inexorably, breath by breath every day of a man’s life. I want him to be angry at the ghosts that haunt me, the demons that clutch and claw and scrabble. I need him to be angry at the devastation in their whispers, devastation that cannot always be conveniently masked and covered over and hidden. Devastation that sometimes leaves a car smelling like urine, and me grateful for a shower at the end of the day, wishing that I could wash not just the scent away but the root and causes, that I could wash someone else free of that stench and those demons that led them into it. I want him to be angry that we are crushed to the point we cannot see the point in resisting, when we hunger for what we imagine must be the release of death, when we run into the arms of that ancient, Edenic enemy as though he were our dearest friend.

I need a Savior who is angry at sin and Satan and death. Angry enough to lash out in righteous fury and for a few seconds in time, to scream out Not here! Not in this place! Not in this moment!  I need a Savior angry enough at our enemies that He would charge them headlong, hurling his suffering, bloodied body onto the cross, allowing his dead body to be hurled into the mouth of the grave, that He might choke from within that gluttonous, cavernous hatred.  That He might prop the maw of Death itself permanently open, having broken it’s jaws forever.  

So, dear seminarian, study hard.  But do so recognizing that there is much that will not appear in your books.  Much that will never appear on a white board or a PowerPoint display or a PDF.  There is much that you will never be asked to handle on vicarage or field work experiences.  But when you are faced with these things, when there is nobody else to face them, I pray you will stand firm.  You will face them.  You will walk into them.  You will walk beside that person, that family.  It is beautiful and holy work.  

But sometimes it smells like urine.

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One Response to “Dear Seminarian”

  1. sarahsjoys Says:

    There’s a big difference between the romantic notion of doing God’s work here on earth and the realities of getting into the nitty gritty of all the brokenness around and in us, isn’t there? It’s hard, dirty, roll-your-sleeves-up kind of work. I’m not a seminarian, nor have I had my car smell like urine but I did have the blinders taken off about 4 years ago through an experience that left me bewildered and wondering how someone who came to me for help could have turned out to have been manipulating myself and others who tried to help all along. It’s so hard to see people deny the one thing that can truly get them out of the pits they have dug. And it’s hard sometimes not to find myself starting to dig my own pits again through unforgiveness or hardening my heart where I know I need to turn things continually over to God to continue His healing in my life. I do know that those who have you in their lives are are so very very blessed. Hopefully one day they will look back and see how Christ was pursuing their hearts…in a urine stained car.

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