by Shelby Lucas, MDiv3
My personal journey through theological education is not unlike that of many of my colleagues. After earning my baccalaureate in 2009, I took a few years off from higher education to discern where I wanted to be vocationally. I moved to Nashville. I taught preschool. I practiced being an adult. I paid my bills. I was bored.
And then I came to Vanderbilt Divinity School.
For the past two and a half years, I have read and engaged theologians, historians, and ethicists in ways that have rudely tripped up my surety and forced me to start at the beginning. Then they added insult to injury by teaching me that beginnings are everywhere, and also nowhere, but you have to start somewhere. And that may have been the most important lesson all along.
I have cried and anguished over response papers I had no interest in writing. And I have cried and anguished over papers I cared so much about that I couldn’t find the words. I’ve struggled through examinations and presentations at times with resistance—knowing I’d rather be doing nearly anything else—and at times with gusto, knowing I couldn’t possibly be doing anything else. Regardless, I’ve struggled through it all knowing that my innermost self was paying attention—knowing that I was being formed—knowing that this time was sacred.
And yet, how many times have I mournfully asked, “Is it graduation yet?” How often have I longed for freedom from deadlines, from pages upon pages of nightly reading, from rigorous critical thinking?
And now what I’ve begged for, wished for, and quietly prayed for is finally here. I’m to be graduated on May 9, 2014. And of course I’m not ready, and I don’t want to leave, and God/Goddess/Godde help me because I’m so scared of what lies beyond the shelter of this place.
Of what am I afraid? I’m afraid that I’ll never find another community that accepts me as I am in the way that Vanderbilt has. I’m afraid of having to defend and justify my beliefs before people who don’t want to understand. I’m afraid I might forget all the important lessons I’ve learned here. I’m afraid of boredom and a lack of challenge. I’m afraid of feeling exposed and vulnerable in a hostile world. Vanderbilt has cracked open my safe shell. And now my insides are leaking. And some people don’t like that. “Cover it up,” they say. “That’s not appropriate.”
So now what? Where do we go from here? Where can we go?
I propose we go back to the beginning, a new beginning, armed with tools we didn’t have before. We go where we must go, where we are needed, where people are hurting, where justice is absent. And we will always have each other to call upon. We are the mighty, the fierce, and the meek. We are the prophets. We are not alone. Whatever our theology, or lack thereof, we have each other. And that is no small comfort.
So, you who are to be graduated, we’ll cross that bridge into newness of life together. And to all who are staying in this place a while longer, hear this: May you in your surety stumble. May your innermost self pay attention. May your shells be cracked and your insides leak. And may you remember to love one another through it all.
“Having a community of friends with which to travel through the U.K. made the academic experience all the more enriching. I found the opportunity to reflect and relax over food and drink at local pubs just as formative as the history and ecclesiology lessons. The same holds true here in Nashville! Here are a few of us tracing the famous walk of George Herbert from Salisbury Cathedral to his country home.”
“Here is our merry group of travelers at the Methodist Central Hall at Westminster in London. The opportunity to immerse myself in the history of my faith tradition with Methodists and non-Methodists alike reminded me that the greatest thing about VDS is not the building or the classes, but the people. I made relationships with these folks that will last a lifetime, and I’m so thankful for them all.”