Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Memo to Myself

Introduction

Well, another semester down! Woohoo! I don’t know how much you enjoyed summer breaks as a kid going to school, but I LOVED it! Of course, that time of life is long gone now (over twenty years since I graduated high school!?!). But, I have come to the end of my penultimate semester of my Master’s of Divinity Studies. This semester has been very tough. I usually have some extra weekend times and take a day or two off work, but even taking two days this last week doesn’t seem like enough. Like Bob and Larry would always chat about after episodes of Veggietales, I want to take a moment to write a memo to my future self about what I have learned this semester. So what have I learned in my Research, Writing, and Ministry Preparation (RTCH500) class?

Textbooks

We had three texts to read and learn from this semester: Kaiser, Walter C., Jr., and Silva, Mois├ęs. Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning; Lowe, Stephen D. and Mary E. Lowe. Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age; excerpts from (same authors) Orienting Adults to Learning in Graduate Theological Education; and Zacharias, H. Daniel and Benjamin K. Forrest. Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: An Academic and Spiritual Handbook. All the texts were very helpful, interesting, and useful. They will be particularly useful in the future for research purposes. I have a love-hate relationship with how Liberty University does textbooks though … First off, they are wonderful when it comes to price/value! They provide almost every textbook I need as a part of the tuition! I do not (usually) need to buy textbooks in addition to paying for tuition. Also, I love that they are predominantly available and provided in digital format. They use the Logos Bible App to provide digital textbooks. That is incredibly useful and I can access these books anywhere from any device, even just online. However, this is probably my mistake, I dislike the textbooks because it seems like some are not permanent. I will be honest, I don’t read the whole text when we have a textbook assigned for a class. There is just too much to read and the important points from the text can be found with ‘ctrl-F’ or similar searching features on digital textbooks. I do the same with physical textbooks, though I have to use a couple different tools (books.google.com is one and of course, if the book has an index or the like). The point is that I love textbooks (most of my bookshelves have what could be used as a textbook). But, I don’t have time to read the whole book(s), but I don’t always have access to those books after the class. When I have completed this class and have completed my degree in full, I would like to go back and reread these texts in full. Unfortunately, for some, I cannot. I’d have to buy them for myself. For some I certainly will be interested in doing that, for others, they will likely just fall by the wayside. Lastly, I do not like the Logos Bible App that much. It has some useful tools (like searching all books, open books, or just the current book, and other sermon-writing tools), but in general I find it somewhat unwieldy. I like the OliveTree Bible App much better though it has fewer tools. It is easier to navigate and access my books. For example, I really cannot read more than one or two books at one time and really only need to access one or two references at one time. Logos allows for dozens of different books to be open at the same time, but that is distracting and really unhelpful. The OliveTree Bible App links tools so that you can access them quickly to reference them, but you can really only have two things open at any one time. It helps with focus and ease of navigation.

The Elephant in the Sylabus

What do I mean by that? Well, one of the biggest focal points for this class was digital learning. I’ve written a lot about my views on digital learning and this class has made me at least rethink those views. I haven’t really changed my mind though … I hope that’s not a disappointment to my professor or the writer of the textbooks (Lowe and Lowe). I love online tools for learning. I’ve already talked about using apps. I love those tools! I use them constantly! I haven’t taken my physical Bible to church in a long time because I take notes in my (aforementioned) Bible app. I have those notes forever now. If I want to reference a sermon that I know I’ve taken note of in the past, I can just search through my notes and find it! Every time I read through my Bible I see little icons (they can be turned off) of notes that I have taken previously. These can be simple interpretive notes or full sermons/notes that I have taken previously. Technology is a wonderful tool, if you doubt but have any interest in biblical languages check out https://biblehub.com/ sometime (or similar ones like https://www.blueletterbible.org/). These tools link the exact words of the original biblical texts with dictionaries and lexicons to do incredibly in-depth word studies, all for free! It’s not a complete substitute for Hebrew or Greek scholarship, but it grants even the casual learner access to the best scholarship on the original languages, for free online. There are other great online tools like Bible apps that come with a social aspect, digital joint prayer groups, study groups, etc. are all available for free online. We live in an age of digital access undreamed of by previous generations. So, in a sense, I don’t disagree with the notion that we can grow spiritually using these technologies. However, and maybe this is just me being an old fuddy-duddy, there’s still something missing in purely online relationships. I’ve made some friends online that I’ve never met in person and would love to someday. I’ve also made some friends online then subsequently met them in person and loved it. But, like the thought-experiment of Mary, the colorblind neuroscientist, there is something to be learned by experience and there is something to be felt in in-person relationships that is lacking in purely online relationships. To sum this up, let’s use these digital tools, but let’s still view them as tools, not the end-all of spiritual growth and interactions.

Conclusions

Where do I go from here? Well, as I said, this is my penultimate semester (minus an internship class). That means only two classes and an internship and I’ll have my MDiv in Christian Apologetics! I want to apply for a chaplaincy in the U.S. Air Force, but I’m not holding my breath there. I think God could use me there. I would love to have a career/job where my goal is to go in every day and make some Airman’s life better and help him or her with spiritual needs. How wonderful would it be to have that as a job!? Think about how you answer the question about what you do for a living. I currently answer, “I’m an intelligence analyst for the Air Force.” What does that really mean? Well, I go in every day and analyze/collect intelligence. That’s rather nebulous isn’t it? Well, if I can become a chaplain, my answer will be “Air Force chaplain, where I try to help people with spiritual troubles.” Talk about job satisfaction. I hope that works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll retire in a few years and seek to start a small church (or take over a church) and build a small homestead (probably in rural Tennessee or maybe western Michigan). When I retire and live off that pension and whatever part-time job I can get in Small-town-rural-Midwest, I’ll have a slower, less hectic lifestyle and work more and more in full-time ministry. I am looking forward to that day more and more every day.


Thursday, May 4, 2023

Spiritual Formation - Blogging Assignment

Introduction

I know I have mentioned this before, but I am taking online seminary courses with the goal of becoming a military chaplain someday (soon I hope). Honestly, I need to review old posts more often … I noticed that I used the same picture twice in different blog entries! I’ll go back and fix that someday. But, as part of one of my classes this semester we have been reading Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age by Stephen and Mary Lowe. Our assignment this week was to write 1,000 words on that book and my own experiences as if it were for an online blog. Well, as I have a blog that I run and write for occasionally I figured I’d just write it here for you to read and share.

There are three different point for this post: 1) Two concepts about spiritual formation that I’ve found in the textbook that I need to incorporate into my life and ministry. 2) An outline of a plan of action to implement those areas into my life and ministry. And 3) a piece of advice from the other text Surviving and Thriving in Seminary for other seminary students to help them continue to grow in the faith while enrolled in seminary. As I have a fairly established format of informality I’ll continue that and of course I will share one of my favorite photos (hopefully not a duplicate this time) as I always do.

Ecologies of Faith Points

1) Two points from Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age that I need in my life: Well, one of the saddest points that I feel is missing from many ministries today is the lack of seeing ourselves as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:16; chapter four from the book). Why are we so independent (particularly here in the US)? I know it’s very much a cultural thing. I’ve studied some intercultural communication and one of the ideas that stood out to me is how independent people of the West tend to be. Even hinting at communal living and relating can lead to one being labeled a communist (which is worse, in the US, than being a heretic, or maybe the same). The fact is the church as described in Acts is described as very communal (Acts 4:32). This verse (and others) don’t seem very capitalistic! We seem to have been infected with the disease of self-sufficiency, but in reality we’re all reliant on God and in many ways, others, to live and do anything. Why do we seem to only care about ourselves both in our day-to-day lives and in our church lives? This is not Paul’s image (or the image from the textbook). We are a body. Sure, we don’t have to have all the parts, but imagine saying, “nah, I’m good, I don’t need both my eyes today,” and going about as if we don’t need others in our church or we ourselves are needed in our churches. Everyone is important and everyone needs to play a part; there should be no Pareto Principle in our churches!

Secondly, and this if from the very next chapter, I need to personally open myself up to digital spiritual formation. I have been going to online college for several years now, maybe I’ve grown tired of it? Maybe I’m not involved with the right online communities? It’s been very tough for me lately with this because an important part of my life, the Christian Apologetics Alliance and I have parted ways. I was trying to get the community back on track as being a premier online community of Christian apologists and be more active, but when my leadership was challenged, I decided it wasn’t the place for me. I don’t feel comfortable trying to lead a group that thinks I am not fit to lead them. Maybe it was just one vocal person, maybe I’m overreacting, I don’t know. But, I left what was the most meaningful and important (to me) online social groups for discipleship. I feel like something is missing in online relationships. Maybe it‘s just me being jaded about leaving that group, but I don’t feel any online connection with anyone, well, hardly anyone anymore. I would like to say that I’m using the time I used to spend on online relationships on more in-person engagement but not really. I’ve fallen behind in my classwork, I’ve not really been able to establish any better relationships in-person, and in general I’ve not been having a good last couple months. I pray that I’ll find some way to connect with someone soon and that I can get back into good relationships both in person and online. Right now, I’m in a desert and I don’t really see any way out.

Plan of Action

2) My plan of action! Well, I love the line from the Avengers movie from Iron Man, “I have a plan, attack.” All that to say, well, I don’t have a plan. I guess I need to build one. First off, I think prayer would be the best place to start. I need to pray about better online (and in-person) communication and community. Spiritual formation definitely can take place online, I need to find the right community for it. Secondly, I need to find a better online resource for my spiritual gift(s), teaching. I have an in with a guy that runs an online seminary-level education website and I’ve discussed working with him. Unfortunately, the internship that I have to do as a capstone class will not accept an internship there with him. I have to find a place in a church to intern. Fortunately, as my church has a good relationship with Randy at the Global Pastor Institute, I’m fairly sure that some of my intern work will be in coordination with him as that would support my church and I would be able to support that ministry.

Advice for Seminary Student

3) What advice would I give to someone just getting started in seminary? Well, there’s a variety of things I would like to say to such a person. First off, in the vein of the topic of online Christian discipleship, don’t be like me and my situation right now. Keep a good cloud of witnesses around you (Heb 12:1), both in your church and online. Find a good small group or something similar if your church is too large or impersonal. Another tip would be to read a book like I mentioned above, Surviving and Thriving in Seminary. It gives great tips on getting through seminary, which can be broken down into three main categories (the different sections of the book). Prepare yourself. There are various ways to prepare yourself, but the more you prepare for seminary, the better you’ll be set up for success. Secondly, manage your time and energy well. This can take come preparation, but the better you manage your time and energy the more you’ll succeed. This is particularly important for someone like me who also has a full-time job and family to deal with. Balancing time spent on classes, work, and family can be tough, but is essential for success. One of the tools I use is time off work. Every semester I try to take off a few days near the end of the semester so I can be sure to get everything done. Unfortunately, that means that many times I am late on other assignments throughout the semester, but I make sure that everything gets done so that I don’t have any unfinished tasks by the end. The third tip in the book and the last for this entry is develop study skills. This too can be part of preparation, but don’t neglect this part of your studies. God will help you through this! Many others have gone before you and you can make it through too.

My son’s dog, Shadow, longing to chase squirrels.