Enjoy this timely reflection from good PARSE friend Kyle Rohane. As a seminary grad myself, I can relate. - Paul
I knocked on the door to Jim's office. A few seconds later, I heard his chair scoot back and the knob turned. "Come on in, Kyle," he said. I shook his hand and followed his wagging ponytail into the office. The wall to my right displayed one of his massive paintings: a Texas vista of sprouting mesas, pockmarked by sage. It made the cramped office feel a little bigger.
He saw me take a chair and sat down in his own. He looked odd sitting behind that desk—smaller somehow. He belonged outside.
"Would you mind writing a recommendation for me?" I slid the form across his desk, past the paint brushes and stained rags. He picked up his glasses and placed them on the end of his nose. "Thinkin' of going to grad school?" He tilted his gaze to read the form, fluorescent light reflecting off his exposed head. As he read, his brow furrowed, and he fiddled with a button on his black vest.
"You want to go to seminary," he said. It was a statement, not a question. I answered anyway: "I do. I think it's where my passions and talents are leading me." And God, too, I thought. I knew asking my atheist painting instructor for a recommendation to seminary was odd, but none of my other professors would do. To them I was just another face in the lecture hall. But Jim had worked one-on-one with me for two years. He knew me and liked me, and I respected his opinions.
Finally he removed his glasses and looked at me. "I wish you'd stick with painting," he said with a smile and a wink. "But I'll be happy to write you a recommendation." As I turned to go, I saw genuine concern flash across his face. "Just don't let 'um brainwash you."
I expected Jim to question my decision. But I was a little surprised by the reactions from Christian family and friends. They extended cautions too—but for different reasons than my atheistic professor. They congratulated me, but about half ended their encouragement with a short, "Be careful." The leader of my small group joked about the lexical similarities between seminary and a burial ground—a jest I've heard many times since.
The many books and articles I read in anticipation of the next three years of my life weren't much better. If they avoided the graveyard metaphor, they employed a minefield one. My best hope, it seemed, was to spring through the seminary landmines, praying my soul wasn't blown up before I got through. All seemed to imply that my diploma would cost something substantial beyond the financial investment—possibly my family, my heart, and likely my faith.
Well, I graduated. Now that I'm post-seminary, I understand the warnings a little better. I know people who accepted their diplomas spiritually limping across the stage, not striding. Others never even made it that far. Yet, as I look back on my time in the trenches, I can't help but smile. Seminary didn't knock me down; it built me up—intellectually, but also emotionally and spiritually. And next to the stories of seminary disaster, I'd like to offer a few ways that seminary actively developed my faith.