Tag Archives: seminary

The sin of Adam

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  And she said unto him, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew!” To which he spake unto her, “Oof, I think I swallowed one of my fillings…OMG!  Are you NAKED???”  (Genesis 3:6, 21st Century Smartass Edition)

Adam and Eve, compliments of Lucas Cranich the Elder

Adam and Eve, by Lucas Cranich the Elder, with extra-biblical Edenic Elk in background

One thing I like about the Bible is that it’s chock full of people whose poor impulse control makes my ADHD brain look like that of a Zen master on Valium with a Demerol chaser.  Let’s do a representative inventory, replete with one-line synopses:

  • Cain.  I’ll teach God to reject my award-winning snow peas.
  • Ham.  HAHAHAHA!  Hey, guys!  Look!  Pop’s nekkid!
  • Jephthah.  I’ll sacrifice the next person I see…oh, shit.  Tell me that’s not my kid.
  • Samson.  Mom, Dad, I just saw this chick.  I want to marry her.  Right now.
  • Samson.  I’ll teach that lion to roar at ME.
  • Samson.  You cheating SOBs, here’s a bunch of dead guys’ clothes for you.  Hope they fit!
  • Samson.  I’ll teach my dingbat wife to marry someone else by tying 150 pairs of foxes’ tails together with a torch between each and turning them loose in a wheat field.  (Extra points for creativity)
  • Peter.  You want me to walk on water, too, Lord?  OTAY!

I would have done well to remember these icons of impetuosity when, a few days before Christmas, I got a phone call from a pastor[i] who was going to be out of town during the first five weeks of Lent.  Would I like to take over for her during that time?

And I said, pulpit ho’ that I am,


Two days later, I contracted the worst case of flu/sinus infection I’ve ever had in my life, so my cunning plan to get all five sermons written between Christmas and New Year’s went out the door along with fifteen boxes worth of damp and wadded Kleenexes, twenty-five empty Campbell’s soup cans, and four empty bottles of Nyquil.[ii]

Fast-forward one month and I’m up to my neck in the heaviest course load I’ve ever had.  Between now and the presentation of my first Lenten sermon, I have nine – NINE! – papers to write.[iii]  Oh, not to mention my first Lenten sermon.  I also (unbelievably) decided that the best thing for the first Lenten worship service would be to feature myself leading a congregational hymn sing of “Just As I Am” while playing my ukulele.[iv]  You know, just to get everyone in the mood for six weeks of repentence.

So, as I sit here, bewildered and utterly overwhelmed from biting off so much more than I can possibly chew, I take comfort in remembering the most rash Biblical character of them all:  Adam.  Because after what appears to be careful deliberation on Eve’s part about the relative merits and drawbacks of adding more fruit to her diet, Adam’s like, “Sure, I’ll have a bite.  What is this?  Honeycrisp?”

Okay, okay, sure, then Adam’s eyes are opened and he goes running off into the bushes to put some clothes on.  And then there’s the whole bit about miffing God and getting cursed, him and all his descendants, for all time.  But, it’s important to look on the bright side.  During the 5th century CE, Saint Augustine built a career on original sin, a theme that proved equally profitable for John Calvin and John Knox, fathers of Reformed Protestantism and Presbyterianism, respectively.  And if it wasn’t for those guys, I wouldn’t be in seminary today, with nine papers to write in the next three weeks.

Come to think of it, they are kind of a bunch of rat finks.

[i] Not incidentally, this parish is over 100 miles away from my house.  In the mountains.  Being one of only two Denver natives who I know of who has never skied, I suppose I can be forgiven for not immediately considering the commute.  The weather is the least of my concerns.  The traffic on Sunday…oh, crap.

[ii] I’m trying to figure out how to get sponsorship for product placement as a way of offsetting the cost of seminary.

[iii] Some of you may be wondering, with this kind of to-do list, why I’m adding another writing assignment to the pile by composing a posting today.  The short answer is: because I love you guys.  The real answer is: if I have to spend one more frickin’ minute tonight trying to concoct a reader-response exegesis from a cross-cultural perspective about Jonah’s worm, my head’s going to explode.  So, in actuality, the blog is probably saving my life.  And, by extension, you are all saving my life.  Which brings me back to how much I love you guys.  (Don’t get mushy on me – this is just the stress talking.  And about forty pieces of peanut butter fudge.)

[iv] Seriously.  Not even I can make this stuff up.


© Marian the Seminarian, 2013


Palpitations for a dead theologian

I just met Friedrich Schleiermacher. [i]  I really never thought any theologian could replace Martin Luther in my heart of hearts, but the more time I spend with Freddo, the more seriously I’m considering having his name, elaborately lettered and wreathed in roses, tattooed on my ass.[ii]

Brilliant, sharply dressed Moravian with glossy blonde locks seeks frumpy Calvinist seminarian with an interest in exploring "total depravity."  Also likes long walks on the beach and salsa dancing.

Brilliant, sharply dressed Moravian with glossy blonde locks seeks frumpy Calvinist seminarian with an interest in exploring “total depravity.” Also likes long walks on the beach and salsa dancing.

As I’m sure you all know,[iii] this 18th century German Enlightenment scholar and “father of modern liberal theology” was one of the most influential systematic theologians who ever lived, right up there with John Calvin,[iv] Thomas Aquinas, and Karl Barth.[v]  I comprehend about 5% of what he writes.

But here’s one thing I think I can accurately articulate.  Religion, for Schleiermacher, isn’t about morals and it isn’t about elaborate cosmologies.  It’s about personally intuiting our intimate and integral connection, as particular individuals, to the universe entire and eternal; this includes God, the natural world, and each other.  Those capable of this kind of intuition are “religious” in a sense that seems very similar to our contemporary notion of “spiritual.”  The totally cool thing about this theology is that it calls upon individuals to live their lives authentically, i.e. uniquely.  Every thing in the universe is interrelated to every other thing in the universe.  Since we each have our own limited and particular viewpoint, it is only by sharing our personal intuitions of an infinite God that we, as a species, stand any chance of understanding who and what God is.

I love this definition of religion for several reasons.  First off, it honors the entire human community, comprised of infinitely unique individuals, as essential to the very fabric of the universe. This seems a worthy alternative to Christianity’s long history of doctrinal tyranny, imperialism, colonialism, and sexism.  Secondly, it’s an antidote to our contemporary notion of “spiritual, not religious,” which effectively rejects anything having to do with organized religions.  Now remember, per Freddo, religion is about personally intuiting one’s own relationship to the eternal.  So, for Schleiermacher, the true church is simply a group of people whose similar religious experiences give them a shared language with which to discuss their religious experience together.

Two hundred years ago, Schleiermacher described why I’m a Christian today.  In a nutshell, I’m a Christian because when I was five, I went to Sunday school and learned all the words I’d need to make sense of God in that particular way.  I want to be in community with other religious people in a way that helps me tap deeper and deeper wells of meaning and relationship with God.  I agree with Schleiermacher that there are an infinite number of ways to accomplish this, and believe me, I sampled a lot of them.  After years of dabbling in Wicca and Religious Science, I realized that I had no interest in becoming fluent in another “religious language,” so I returned to my Christian roots and got back to the business of intuiting God with people who intuit God in the same way – through the life and message and miracles of Jesus Christ.  As a religous person by temperament, I am confident that if I’d gotten my formative education in a synagogue or mosque, I’d still be there today.  And that would be okay.

Per Schleiermacher, another essential element to being truly religious is love for other people and their points of view.  This is why most of my non-church friends are not Christians.  As an introvert, I have to be selective about who I spend my time with and there’s only so much time outside church.  This is also why I attend an ecumenical seminary and seem to gravitate toward the Buddhists, pagans, and atheists.  I want to hear what they have to say, I want to see the universe through their eyes.  Doing so never fails to help me clarify my own religious experience within my own vocabulary of faith.

In this new year, I encourage all of my faithful readers to spend deliberate time with people who share their understanding of the infinite and people who see the world through very different eyes.  Both are entirely necessary to a full experience of one’s place in the universe, regardless of whether God figures into your vocabulary.  And bear in mind that for the truly religious person, every moment is sacred and every experience is church.

[i] Affectionately referred to by me and a handful of my less reverent classmates as Freddo Knickerbocker

[ii] Because I’m too commitment phobic to get a tattoo on a part of my body I can actually stand to look at.  Because, you know, unlike marriage, tattoos are so…so…permanent.

[iii] I’m totally kidding.  Who the hell is Schleiermacher and how come I never heard of him?

[iv] Affectionately referred to by me and everyone else as John Calvin

[v] I’ll leave it to others to add Charles Schulz to the list.


© Marian the Seminarian, 2013

Crisis of confidence

Good day, good and faithful readers… those three dozen or so of you who stuck around like the handful of Israelites who didn’t go off fawning over the golden calf when Moses evaporated into the mists of Sinai for forty days and forty nights.  Those happy few among the nation of Israel got to watch Moses lose his mind and lob the Ten Commandments into the air and grind up the golden calf, sprinkle it in a big old barrel of water, and make the other Israelites drink it.[1]

Alas, Marian’s no Moses, and I have not spent the last (ahem) eight weeks receiving anything even remotely approaching the Ten Commandments from God’s own index finger.  What I have been doing is engaging in serious seminary education.  I mean, just last week I helped judge the annual Halloween costume contest at school.  First prize went to an Anglican bedecked in black spandex, clerical collar and cape, calling herself Super Priest, which isn’t entirely fair, because everybody knows that Anglicans have more style sense than all other Protestants combined.[2]  And the week before that, I had to self-evaluate my first-ever video-recorded sermon, which was the single most mortifying experience of my entire life.[3]  The only way I could make myself watch it a second time was by dubbing my inexplicable and elaborate hand gestures as follows:  Rock Tumbler, Crazy Mudra, Assault-Proof Bra, and Huge Tracts of Land.[4] (Use your imagination.)

Things weren’t much better this week.  Determined not to make the same demented hand gestures I did two weeks ago, I clung to the pulpit for dear life…and wound up flapping my elbows like a chicken desperate for lift-off.

It has been a two month long voyage of discovery, my friends, during which I’ve experienced a significant crisis of confidence.

Because the more I learn – about theology, Biblical history, pastoral care, and the intrusion of the subconscious on the sympathetic nervous system – the less qualified I feel to weigh in on matters of any import, let alone the matter of rescuing Christianity from banality, militancy, damnation doctrines, irrelevance, and just plain bad manners.

I recently brought this conundrum up with a friend, who gently and sagely said, “Moses was a f**k up, too.  So was Aaron.  And so was David.  Let’s see.  So were Jacob, Samson, Peter, and Paul.  Shall I go on?”

“HEY!  Did you just call me a f**k up?”

Her point was that God never has any prime material to work with.  If God is the potter and we are the clay, we’re not that awesome gooey clay that you get to launch off a wheel going 600 RPM through the nearest window.  We’re also not that bitchin’ cool polymer clay that comes in thousands of colors.  We’re certainly not the ultimate in clay craft – precious metal clay, which looks like gold and cooks up nice just like a Toll House cookie.

We’re not even Play Dough.  Because at least Play Dough is tasty.  (Not as tasty as a Toll House cookie, though.)  No, we’re that gritty poor man’s salt clay[5] that they make you use in Sunday school class.  My mother still owns a crappy clay star that I made when I was five, painted cobalt blue and liberally sprinkled with glitter.  She hangs it on her Christmas tree every year.  Why, I ask, why?

Same reason God molds us, second-rate medium that we are.  It’s got something to do with love.

And love, I continue to learn, is as frequently inelegant as it is enthusiastic.

So, here’s my goal.  Get back to writing one blog per week…well, let’s say 2-3 per month.  And to not be scared of speaking my mind, voicing my truth, and flapping my elbows.  Thank you, constant readers, for your loyalty.  I look forward to writing to you again SOON!

[1] I think this is the best demonstration of pure pique anywhere in the Bible. 

[2] Anglicans don’t consider themselves Protestants, so if my Super Priest friend is reading this…the devil made me say it.

[3] Seriously.  It trumps the day I tried to pick up a guy in a bar and my gum popped out of my mouth and landed right between us.  I don’t know what ultimately doomed the relationship – the gum popping out and landing on the bar or me picking it up and popping it back in my mouth.  (It seemed like bad manners to just leave it there.)

[4] I’m thinking of trotting the video out at my next dinner party and using it as a drinking game.  “Huge Tracts of Land…bottoms up, everyone!”

[5] As a public service to my remaining readers, here’s the recipe for salt clay:

  • 1 c salt
  • 1 c flour
  • Water (enough to make the clay workable – if you can’t figure out what constitutes “workable” clay, perhaps you should consider a different medium)

WARNING!  Do not fashion a golden calf out of this clay!  It will look like total crap.  For crafting idols, I advise using precious metal clay or the lost wax technique.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012

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