Shuck and Jive

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seminary Daze

This fall marks 20 years since I first entered seminary. It is hard to think that much time has passed. I talked about my experience of seminary life in my earlier conversations with Bob.

This story caused me to wax nostalgic. It is a story about Carmen Fowler, the new editor of the Layman. We attended Princeton at the same. After I read the story I looked her up in my old PTS picture directory (we called it the 'fundie finder') and there she is. I don't remember her but according the 'finder' she was a middler when I was a senior. My picture is in there too. It was a long time ago.

In the Layman article, Carmen spoke of her relationship with then president Tom Gillespie. He was a mentor for her. I liked him, too. I didn't know him personally. He wouldn't remember me from Ishtar but I did manage to make it to chapel on Wednesdays when he preached. I liked what he had to say.

He was the guy who was the driving force behind the 1978 authoritative interpretation which the General Assembly finally rendered as having 'no further force or effect.' So I disagreed with him about that. I chalked it up to his generation. On graduation day, he still handed me my diploma even as I sported a lavender ribbon supporting ordination equality.

At my graduation we had the fun of welcoming Peter Gomes to speak at the commencement. Between the invite and the speech he came out as a Republican Baptist (oh, and gay). That created some chit chat.

Carmen sounds like she was quite involved in seminary life and the politics of the church. Her article is in part about a statement she drafted and for which she received President Gillespie's encouragement. I think all that happened the year after I graduated.

I did find this sentence worth a chuckle:

Although she spent four years at the thoroughly secularized University of Florida, where she majored in business, she says she "never met a radical feminist" until she got to Princeton.
I suppose it is a matter of perspective. I don't remember meeting any radical feminists at Princeton. Perhaps there was a hidden coven. Maybe she is speaking about me. I took the one feminist theology class offered and it was taught by a guy, Mark Taylor. It was pretty tame. I really have to think that the University of Florida would have a more substantial women's studies program than PTS.

We attended the same seminary at the same time and yet had remarkably different perspectives. I thought the seminary was pretty conservative and the students especially so. I usually thought of myself as the most liberal person in any of my classes. Go figure.

On a survey that I had to complete upon graduation, it asked for my view of the theology of the seminary. I ended up selecting neo-orthodox. The seminary was as we cynics put it, The Center for Barth Worship.

Weird, huh? The same seminary producing two people with quite divergent opinions. Both committed to our cause. Both thinking we are in the minority in a seminary (and church) filled with "the others." Yet both part of one body, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all," Eph. 4:5-6.

The radical feminist in me might say, "One G-d and Mother of all."

Now Carmen is the editor of the Layman. I suppose I should stop writing LayMAN now.

Diversity is a frustrating thing. It makes me snarky at times. I wonder how we can possibly hang in there together. But I think the seminary, the church, and I are all better for it. It is after all, life.

Blessings upon you Carmen in your new position, and I really mean that. Maybe one day our paths will cross. When that happens we may come out prepared for an argument. But then again, maybe we will just enjoy a sweet tea and rehash our seminary daze.


  1. Nice words John.

    I love the qualifier of "thoroughly secularized university" though. As if there a whole lot of state run and funded universities that are not! Or, a big selection of universities as opposed to colleges whose religious views the Lay Committee would respect.

    Ah well. I only hope for reasoned perspectives that I disagree with. I would hope that this can be the case with her.

  2. I am always stunned when I meet an ordained woman who opposes full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the ministry. The amount of scriptural picking-and-choosing they do to support their own call to the ministry, while denying the calls of those who are LGBT, is astounding--and I find no integrity in what they do.


  3. I am always curious as to what makes people think and act in certain ways and what it will take to change hearts, minds, (and votes) for equality.

  4. "what makes people think and act in certain ways"

    in my younger more fundie days, it was social acceptance. i believed an image of god told to me by others. then i went to seminary to think for myself and my sister married her wife. now i know what freedom is and i only hope that folks at the Layman and other similar places feel free... because they certainly do not help others feel free who only yearn for that sense of god's presence.