Remember the moment…calm and unusual by St. Louis standards, very low humidity. Over lunch at a picnic table at Eden Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri. My conversation was with, who in my judgment and I’m not the only vote, the most charismatic and relevant Old Testament professor, as he might claim, “in captivity.” He’s Walter Brueggemann…so perceptive in how the OT prophets rattle the cages of today’s complacent and indifferent. Go to the people dictionary and look up “dynamic and impressive” and Bruggemann’s name will appear.
An irony. I chose Eden [the seminary if not the garden] because two of the best professors in that day—circa the 80’s—were teaching. Bruggemann and Douglas Meeks. I REALLY WANTED classes from each. Got Meeks and he helped with the final essay for the degree. Taught me about God and economy and how growth comes from generosity. But hadn’t calculated that Brueggemann wasn’t teaching the two summers I was there. Not good of him! [Ah, self-serving is never vacated…right?]
Back to the picnic table. In the mix of the social amenities, which wasn’t a problem as long as it didn’t remain a cul-de-sac, I thought my humor would help. A loose translation, “Walt? I’m writing a book.” He thought that was better than impressive. “That’s great! What’s it about?” Didn’t hesitate, “Want to write a book about what I most need in ministry that seminary never taught me, let alone discussed.”
Oops. Humor never showed. Back to the social amenities.
Then later I realized. Seminary isn’t purposed to be as practical as we might wish. My thought this morning…it’s Friday and can be good, was triggered by this essential paragraph from Tom Ehrich’s profound and relevant thinking. Ehrich’s thought goes like this:
“Our seminary training, in turn, was designed to get us over canonical hurdles, not to prepare us for ministry in the real world. We learned nothing about organizational development, growth strategies, lay leadership recruitment and training, church administration, communications strategy — all the job requirements that would come to haunt us. I don’t think I was alone in spending more time planning what I would wear as a priest than what I would do as a church leader.”
Am thinking of that this morning…how it’s not seminary…which is preparation…that is purposed to be practical. That being effective in ministry…which is ALWAYS at least secondary to being faithful and “being there”…can happen in each circumstance. Along with the painful truth that being popular [any candidates for our next US President listening???} should never trump being authentic, genuine and living paradigms of integrity. But. Sigh here. I doubt that winning an election is the result of telling the truth.
No guarantees. And for those who really believe the greatest life is when you ALWAYS zip along from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday…happy dreaming. It’s when the parishioners show up and point you to the Exit sign…or when rumors spark conversations in the parking lot after worship…that we learn the ways in which ministry CAN happen. It’s when you stand with a grieving mother and the divers lift the lifeless body of her 2-year-old son from the swollen creek and put him in her arms, you learn how life moves from experience to tragedy and as a pastor you are not there accidentally. It’s when…each of us can fill in this paragraph…about life and its goodness and terror…we somehow cope…and hopefully the darkness doesn’t win.
And in that…the moments of life…we then see that prophets like Amos…who never wore a crown or lived indifferently, were voices of God. Doug Meeks helped me with that…when sharing we are made in the “image of God,” that means we are authorized to represent God. And now in ministry…for more than a few weeks…I see that seminary wasn’t pointless or useless. I was arrogant to think my “take” was viable. Seminary’s relevance came as ministry unfolded…or perhaps marinated…so seminary is well beyond pointless and irrelevant. No matter which tie I select for Sunday worship.
So. Need to write Walter this morning…and thank him…and tell him I never wrote that book. Because it wouldn’t be helpful.