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Going Back to Basics...

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

What might it mean for a seminary professor to learn about faith, again and again?

Seminaries/divinity schools are invested in the formation of religious leadership today, so clearly, they are perceived as experts on faith, faith formation, serving the individuals who will serve the church/tradition. Ironically, however, faith (not unlike love or hope) is unquantifiable, potentially even unqualifiable. One knows less about faith the more one is sure to know about it, one could say. So we in this ‘business’ of ‘higher’ theological education have had to make peace with these unavoidable ironies. What could it mean for seminary professors today to model an un-knowing, learning faith?

I have only recently accepted the reality that being a seminary professor is an unavoidable fact of my life. Such a claim from a full professor in a freestanding seminary may feel unbelievable, but I had a marvelous coach early on in my vocational journey. She taught me the liberating way of seeing my Work quite distinct from my job. It freed me in so many ways, keeping my own imaginative and strategic self alive amidst the incongruities of “credentialing the sacred.” As such, the seminary has been the location of my job but I’ve rarely considered it a container for my Work. In the writing and integrative work that’s coming? It seems to be becoming a lens, a framework…

Andrew Root is one of many white men I know exploring Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age, specifically ministry within it. Root is a professor at Luther Seminary and author of a slew of books, i.e. the Ministry in a Secular Age series–Faith Formation, the Pastor, and the Congregation as three focal points. [I know some will be irritated that I’ve named him as “one of many white men,” like being a white man in this analysis is significant. I believe it is…but that would take us beyond my point here]. Today, I’m deeply appreciating Root’s explorations of faith in Pauline energies, “shaped as the negation of negation…a death experience, a death that creates life.” (136) His first volume on faith formation–a significant focus for seminary education–points to gratitude, giftedness, and rest as practical areas/thematics for forming faith. Of course, all three of these are diametrically opposed to today’s traditional-historic seminary curricula.

So the question that’s cookin me at the moment rests in the dissonances. Root writes, “Faith is not knowing, or even committing to, information or religious participation but is rather experiencing the very narrative shape of your life through the experience” of death and new life. [Root uses the words “cross and resurrection” there, which I do not disagree with in root-traditional discourse. The community I love and serve in faith is not solely Christian, however].

What would faith formation in a seminary look like, sound like, as a not-knowing experience of death that creates life? Is there a learning-community where you testify to negation(s), surrendered so to become vital in the Sacred?

Perhaps seminary really does serve the purposes of sacred dyings--repeated deaths of flattened faith, so to invite Life both one's own, and not, within One?

A friend suggests Wilfred Bion… Curious…

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