Seminary is not something to sum up in a single blog post, and I won’t even try in this final post. First of all, the whole Sixteen Seasons project was to provide a summary picture of seminary life – and all its tangents – through the eyes of one student. But even four years of blogging has been more than inadequate. Second, what kind of summary could you really make? “Well, it was tough, but good.” Or, “You know, we just, uh, went out there and gave it 110%. Got the right bounces and it just sort of went our way.” That’s true as far is it goes, but it doesn’t go far beyond useless. And it’s also true that there’s no way to avoid understating the whole venture, even with thousands of words and a longer blog post than anyone cares to read. To close, then, for good, I’ll do what I’ve done here since the beginning: I’ll offer some reflections, with some actual seminary experiences sprinkled throughout.
People love to use the old cliché, “time flies.” But I don’t think that it’s quite right. It’s not that time passes so quickly, it’s that the future arrives so suddenly. The first day of first year, when I showed up late to chapel, and the only open seat was in the front row, does feel like a long time ago. At the same time, suddenly I’m here, a few days after the end. What was once a great wilderness of dreams, possibilities, anxieties, and unknowns, has now been charted. What was future is now past. And the thing we call the “present” isn’t so much a moment as it is a process, the process of the potential becoming the actual. The present is the continual churning out of the one string of events that was meant to happen.
But I hesitate to use the words “has now been charted.” Yes, all the events of those four years are now completed, but the significance of those events is only just being revealed. So if the present is the process of the potential becoming the actual, remembering is the same process in the other direction. It is the process whereby the meaning of those actual events itself becomes actual. A few months back I posted a passage from C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. The main character, Ransom, is speaking with a creature called a hross on the planet Malacandra. The hross says to Ransom:
‘A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. . . What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?’
‘Perhaps some of them do,’ said Ransom. ‘But even in a poem does a hross never long to hear one splendid line over again?’
‘. . . The most splendid line becomes fully splendid only by means of all the other lines after it; if you went back to it you would find it less splendid than you thought. You would kill it. I mean, in a good poem’ (Out of the Silent Planet, p.73).
Only at the end of your life will all the events that happened to you find their fullest meaning. The four years of seminary are merely like the grain of sand, or some other particle, that gets trapped inside a clam, and the accretions that form the pearl are the layers of meaning that remembering unfolds throughout a lifetime. So it’s never a cheap string of events left to us by the present.
Someone dug up an old picture of me and memed it for the charismatic gifts part of the Contemporary Issues class notes…
As it is, the events of the past four years belong now to the gallery of the past, right alongside that one time you went skydiving on the morning of your wedding. Events like listening to your professor lecture straight-faced about an eighteenth-century Dutch religious group called “the Coetus party.” Or another professor telling you, in front of the other students, that your good looks and comfortable manner could prove distracting for the women in the congregation. Or the collective lecture notes taken by some of our classmates in a shared Google doc, notes they always shared with the class at the end of the semester. They really were quality lecture notes, but it was the memes, asides, and imagined conversations that made reading them a delight.
Without question, without argument, far beyond any kind of reasonable dispute whatsoever, we had, as fourth-year William put it on Facebook, the “best class ever. Bar none.” For me, it’s only because I got to tag along with classmates who were smarter, funnier, and more gregarious than I was. Although Pipes & Steins faded away this year (third-year Jay-Z stayed faithful to the very end), as the semester wound down, some of us fourth-years revived the weekly bash, this time at night, and once even around the pleasant coals of my charcoal barbecue. Not only was it a welcome break from school work, it was a way to share the fading moments of an experience we’ll never share again.
I could tell you about each of the students, but you’ve already read their profiles on Facebook. Our secretary, Leanne, had arranged with a local minister/former statistician to analyze the Facebook data for those profiles and to determine which of the profiles was the most popular. Jake won a little trophy. Yours truly finished somewhere near the bottom of the list.
Speaking of Leanne, and Catharine, and Margaret, the reason the seminary doesn’t disintegrate into administrative dust is because of their excellence. It’s the students and the professors who get the publicity, but we’re merely the surface film. I’m sure Margaret had better things to do than to hunt down that book that you could’ve done without, or show you for the third time how to navigate the library software, when the instruction manual was lying right beside the computer. But she did it anyways, and she never left you feeling like you’d inconvenienced her at all. Catharine and Leanne, too, having to put up with students who don’t read emails properly, who leave dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, and who generally have difficulty following procedure. As was noted in the Dogmatics class lecture notes when we covered eschatology, one day the books will be opened and Catharine will know who left that big coffee stain in the carpet.
But it was the professors who had the privilege of introducing us more deeply to Christ. A seminary education is rewarding in many ways, but the greatest reward is a more intimate encounter with Christ through His Word. Although the professors showed us the Word through many different windows, it was only the one Christ whom we saw. We saw Him in Greek class, in Dogmatics, in Israelite history, Church history, and in Poimenics. We saw that He cannot be exhausted by any one field of study, but rather increases exponentially the more you learn. For these reasons, if you tended toward sloppy thinking and hasty conclusions, you soon came up hard against the diligence and care for detail the professors demanded of us in reading Scripture. For respect for Scripture is respect for Christ. I am indebted to these men, and thank them greatly for these gifts!
I’ve been reading the book of Ecclesiasticus lately, and there are plenty of verses in there that can work as windows into seminary life. For example: “A wife’s charm delights her husband, and her skill puts fat on his bones” (Ecclus. 26:13). There are layers of meaning here. There really is the bodily fat that results from wifely skill. And there really is delight in that too. But on another and more important level, there’s a different kind of charm, delight, and fat. The KJV retains the Hebrew idiom that uses fatness as a picture of blessings: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness” (Ps.65:11). Written back when men believed that words did more than just “convey information.”
Anyways, wives, through their “skill,” that is, their tenderness, patience, and devotion, put “fat,” that is, strength and goodness, onto the bones of their husbands. That is the true charm that delights. It’s true of any good wife, it’s certainly true of seminary wives, and above all, it is true of my wife. I could have gone four years at seminary without being married; I could also go running uphill in a foot of snow, barefoot. Some people might consider being married with a family a hindrance for intensive study; and that’s true. It is a hindrance. If your goal is to get the highest marks you could get, then yes, reading nursery rhymes with your kids will certainly get in the way. So will bathing yourself, and eating anything beyond peanut butter on toast. All of life’s treasures are hindrances when looked at the wrong way. They all come at the cost of personal success and glory. And what a bunch of wasted effort and heartache to discover that personal success was a stupid joke, anyways, and that those crazy parents with eight kids had it right all along. No, I know that it’s as true of my classmates as it is of me that our families were the heartbeat and the sunshine of our time here, and that our wives are largely responsible for us having finished at all.
And while I’m here, and you’re reading this, go ahead and give the above-mentioned book of Ecclesiasticus a read-through. It’s a book of proverbs, and like the book of Proverbs the author of Ecclesiasticus would fail spectacularly at modern sensitivity training. Nor is that surprising – anyone who’s going to write anything that’s worth reading is going to write according to truth, not according to the pharisaical posturing we call “political correctness.” Political correctness is just a big lie that everyone knows is a lie but that everyone plays along with anyways.
And with that, I should part with an appreciative nod to my readers. I gained a few regular readers over the years, and lost a few, and usually as the result of the same posts. There were some posts that were popular because everyone liked them, such as The Anatomy of a Classis Exam, or Thoughts and Stories From the Conference. Those two posts have been read 1600 and and 1700 times, respectively. There were other posts like Evolution and the Gallery of Glory (900x) that were more contentious, but not nearly as contentious as those things can be. But the real high achiever here was A Time to Speak. I wrote it in 2013, and in both 2014 and 2015 it remained among the ten most popular posts. Every week it still gets read, and at last check it’s been read 4500+ times. It was read 2600x in one day, which is real star power for a blog that gets on average 25 hits a day.
I read a few years back that Tim Challies gets 10,000 hits a day on his blog; so compared to that, the brightness of this blog sits somewhere around the 20th magnitude. But really, the fact that anyone bothered to read it all is flattering, and I was overall quite tickled by some of the attention. I can only offer a heartfelt thank-you to everyone who commented, or emailed, or read a single post and thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad.”
As most of you know by now, I won’t be entering the ministry. I don’t know what lies ahead quite yet. Perhaps another blog, perhaps a book. Before my English 105 professor at UFV embarrassed me in front of my classmates by embarrassing herself in profusely praising my writing, I had never considered writing as a personal strength. But whatever strength is given to a man is given because there is a God in heaven, and because He is Almighty, and glorious, and wise, and terribly worthy: “Neither is [God] worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). What could we ever give to such a Lord and Master? We are not the givers, but He gives to us. We receive, we marvel, we journey along the fattened path. We accept His gifts as gateways into the garden of faith, and hope, and love. We use His gifts as tools to build up our neighbours in the love that Christ first showed us. In all things, serve that crucified and risen Lord. Serve the one to whom David wrote, “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness” (Ps.45:3,4).
May your Name be hallowed, O most gracious Father!