If I had it all to do over again, I would have taught Bible studies in a seminary. The three years I lived and learned at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver were the most vitalizing years of my life. Those years came in the middle of my life, just the right time for some reflection on where I had been and where I was going. My days were spent reading both ancient and contemporary spiritual texts, listening to some of the most thought provoking theologians in the nation, talking with bright, motivated and thoughtful students, searchers all.
I entered seminary with a naïve belief nurtured by growing up rather isolated in Wyoming. I arrived thinking all Christians pretty much believed the same. I assumed they understood God and Jesus, if not in an identical way, at least in an equivalent one. Fortunately I was mistaken.
The first day of class, I walked into the school and scoped out the bulletin board looking for activities affording an opportunity to meet new classmates. I had one of those “Dorothy, we are no longer in Kansas” moments as I read a card tacked to the bulletin board. “The Lesbian Buddhist Women are meeting on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 in the Great Hall.”
Either God was bigger than I thought or the box I had God in was clearly not big enough. Something had to give.
There was a time in the early days of the church when God was not “in our pocket”, when following Jesus of Nazareth was a way of living life abundantly. Over time, lamentably, its life became dogma. In those early days, people who were marginalized because they ate with prostitutes, touched lepers, shared their resources, and prayed for their enemies…who we still refer to as “those people” gathered together. They studied spiritual teachings and talked among themselves about the difficulties of living with the ambiguities of life.
That was the life we re-created at seminary. I wonder whether that could be done in our own community. Some churches, though clearly not all, successfully create such a community. However, there are many for whom traditional church is not an option. They may have painful memories of church as the source of rejection. Others hesitate to be identified with what “organized religion” has come to mean. Yet I firmly believe many people are looking for a community where they can safely share and learn and live out the spiritual nature with which we were all born.
I don’t have it all to do over again. I am too old to go back and get the requisite PhD in order to penetrate academia. But I am looking to re-create the seminary experience, gathering regularly with people, not necessarily of like minds but of open minds, folks willing to study and engage one another in an honest dialogue about what we believe and why and how those beliefs should animate our lives.