Monday, May 30, 2016

Dorothy and other bright lights

The following is the third and final installment of a seminarian’s observations after completing his second year at Princeton. For the time being, he will remain anonymous.

I’ve been living with an elderly widow named Dorothy for three semesters and now she has moved to a retirement home. Her health and mental condition have seriously declined in the last year and a half. In some ways, I feel like I’ve learned more from caring for her than in my classes, though perhaps this isn’t true. I have definitely had to learn a lot of patience. Some days I would have to answer the same question at intervals of less than five minutes, over and over again. You can’t be angry because a person with dementia cannot help not remembering, yet it can be very taxing. It is also like being with a child who can be surprised at discovering new things. If nothing else, one learns to be grateful for many of the things we take for granted. I have also learned that I tend to prefer sharing the struggles of life that ordinary people face over those of the highly privileged elite. I’d rather hear Dorothy complain about her arthritis than students complain about their professors (myself included).

I had one class with a visiting professor from Ghana. It was refreshing to hear his insights and read what he assigned. He was one example of an academic who hasn't been swept up into the ether. It wasn’t so much the content of his course, but his overall demeanor. He was more interested in us students and what God is doing in the world than his own career or what he was publishing next or how he could prove that so-and-so is wrong. He is one of the few that actually could make a difference in the academy. If only they had more professors like him.

I also met a student who grew up in PCUSA but was recently considering leaving. She attributed this to the influence of evangelicals on campus who act as though God is present and available to us and making a difference in the world today. She contrasted this her PCUSA background, which, in her mind, only asks for Holy Spirit when they serve the bread and the cup. She finds the passion and belief in a God here and now attractive, but is turned off by a lot of evangelical ‘subcultural weirdness.’

As with last year, native African and African American students are the exception to the rule of mediocrity among students. They, like other evangelicals, act as though God is real and wonder why our Seminary education has so little to do with Him. I’ve heard more than one say things like, ‘I used to like theology…and then I came here.’ They are also more interested in the spread of the gospel than their own careers. This is refreshing, but unfortunately many racial barriers still remain. I’m still the only white guy going to First Baptist of Princeton, but they are also still, in my opinion, the most Spirit-filled church in town that I have attended. Like the professor mentioned above, they just have an attitude and outlook that has a Jesus ring to it.

Being a rather verbose person, I cannot say all the things I would like to here. Overall, though, I think I have it pretty good. My complaints about the academy need to be taken in light of the greatness of God. He has provided for all of my needs, bringing me here and carrying me through. He is using people like you to aid in the process. When you pray for me, it does make a significant difference. So I am confident that He will continue to provide for me in the future. The sky is not falling. God is in control. I'm likely getting a decent education. God is preparing me for what is here, and what is ahead.

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