Beauty in the Midst of Struggle

Seeing as finals are in full swing, I figured what was a better use of my time than to post a reflection blog on my most thought-provoking class this semester.  (Mom and Dad, I had it written way earlier, I’m just posting it now. Pinky promise.)

My life this past week preparing for finals and writing final papers.  P.S. I love that my Bible is required to do some of my homework.
My life this past week preparing for finals and writing final papers. P.S. I love that my Bible is required to do some of my homework.

History and Literature of the New Testament is one of my most challenging classes this semester.  Not because I don’t understand the material and do poorly on the tests, on the contrary I understand the material quite well and have done very well on the papers and exams.  The struggle I have is that being the naïve freshman who I am, when I was searching for classes in August, I saw this class about the New Testament and thought, “How cool is that? We will read the entire New Testament and it will be a great way to encourage me to be diligent about spending time in the word daily!”  Without hesitation, I signed up.

On the first day, the professor asked us, “What is the difference between the Old and New Testaments?” I thought, “Oh goodie, I know the answer to this question.”  I waited for other people to respond for a little and then raised my hand and said something to the effect of, “The Old Testament is the time leading up to Jesus’ birth, in which many prophecies and promises were made, and the New Testament is after Jesus’ birth, and it documents his ministry and the effects of it, as well as the promises and prophecies made in the Old Testament coming true in the New Testament.”  My professor responded and said, “Well some people believe that, but it is a very theological view of it…When answering in this class it is important to avoid speaking with theologically based answers”  She went on to tell us the right answer, which was pretty darn close to what I had said.  After that class, I was in a quandary. How was I going to answer questions with the answer she was looking for, when I only knew one answer, which apparently was too steeped in Christian theology?  How could I disassociate what I had learned and believe to be true from how I answer questions on the New Testament?  Was I going to be graded down if I accidentally said something that was too theological?

She assigned a twelve page self inventory on the first day of class due in a week; by next class four people had dropped, leaving twelve students in the class. I seriously debated dropping it as well.  Subsequently I talked to some of the people who dropped, and they said it was just going to be too hard for them to not speak theologically, plus the twelve page paper did not motivate them to stay in the class either. So one week in, I wasn’t alone in my doubt.

While I was completing the paper, I happened to google my professor, as I wanted to see if she was a contributor to the textbook we were using.  What I found was overwhelming at first.  My professor had been an Episcopalian priest who was defrocked in 2009, for becoming a Muslim in 2006.  Reading on, I found an interview in which she stated, “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both.”  I was so surprised.  My first thought was, “How does that even work? The two religions are fundamentally different.”  My thoughts then progressed to “Oh my goodness, I’m taking a New Testament class from someone who is both Muslim and Christian.  We are very possibly going to have differing opinions on many topics. Should I drop it?”  Farther down in the article it mentions that, “She calls Christianity the ‘world religion of privilege.’”  After reading that, I was so bummed.  Here I am, a white, female, Christian, from Southern California, going to a prestigious private school in Washington, with a professor who believes that Christianity is the religion of privilege.  Based off of my appearance and my much too theologically based answer on the first day, I was sure she had a great opinion of me.

I debated about dropping the class for two weeks.  I dreaded going to class and having to monitor how I participated in class for theological biases, when all I know is theologically based.  I felt that it was slightly ironic, being at a liberal arts college that strives to be inclusive of all people and beliefs, that I had to make sure to not over share what I knew and believed to be true about the New Testament.  The only nice thing was that I knew to take whatever she said, and for that matter, whatever was in the textbook, with a grain of salt, because the class wasn’t taught from a theological background, as I had naïvely expected it to be.

In the end, I decided to not drop the class.  I felt like God led me to be in that class for some reason, whether to strengthen my own faith, or be a witness to others, or something completely different, I felt called to stay.  I have no idea whether I will get graded down for my Christian upbringing coming out in my opinions in my papers, since we haven’t gotten any back yet.  Who knows?  All I know is that it will all work out somehow.

It has taken me almost an entire semester to realize the beauty of this class being taught on my campus.  I don’t go to a Christian school, in fact, 4 years ago, it was almost the opposite.  Four years ago, there was a group of about ten believers that met on campus for fellowship.  There might have been more who didn’t show up, but then in a student body of 2,500 is a small minority.  Now there are about 200 believers that meet regularly between the three Christian clubs on campus.  God is moving on this campus, and I’m so glad to be up here and be a part of it.

Anyway, when talking with my mom about this class, she said, “Linds, this might be a challenging class for you, but think about it. There are people in your class that are reading the New Testament for the first time.  God’s word is present in your class and you have no idea how He will use this opportunity to impact lives.”  She helped me see the beauty in the class, even though it might be a trial for me.  There are twelve people who meet twice a week for an hour and a half to discuss the history of the New Testament, all while reading the entire New Testament as required reading.  We all come different faiths and walks of life, but each of us is reading the Bible.  Going to class is so much more joyful and exciting once I put my perspective in line with God’s greater plan.

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The Definition of You

Someone once told me that the definition of a person can be found by examining what they talk about most.  I had to ponder it for a while, until I saw the truth in what they had said.  It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, because I defined myself as a vastly different person with different values, than the one whom my friends would speak of based off of what I talked about most.  Granted, I know there is more to a person’s characteristics and definition, per se, than JUST what they talk about, but it was still really interesting to think about.  If I want to influence people, shouldn’t what I talk about be right on par with whom I want to be and am?  My speech shouldn’t be filled with complaints, if I am really an optimistic and content person that just doesn’t voice my happiness as much as my complaints.  If I consider myself a Christian, why don’t I talk about it more often?

The answer plain and simple is that I have a habit of putting God in a God box, only to be opened on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I pray that I am alone in this struggle and that everyone else is a pro at letting God be in every part of their lives, but I fear that is not the case.  I compartmentalize my faith way too often, and it is like a sickness that needs a cure.  I’m getting better about it, but there is no one time cure, it takes diligence and perseverance.  Studies have shown that 70% of church attending Christians will graduate high school and stop attending church.  Of that seventy percent, only half will return in their lifetime.   What happens when that somewhat mandatory opening of the God box goes away?  What happens when, now, the students can dictate their own lives and schedules?  The God box get shoved in the back of the attic of life, right next to broken relationships and old forgotten passions.

Time goes on and they forget what a relationship with God is like, and decide that they can get on without one.  And they never go back.  Or they have a crisis that sends them searching for any semblance of who they used to be, and they find the God box, dusty after all those unopened years, and open it on a last resort.  Hopefully, they rediscover the wonder and crave a relationship with Him again.

Both situations could be avoided, though, and that is the sad part.  It is awful to think that there is a chance that we could save people from going through this, if we all just talked about our faith a little more.  I’m not saying we need to introduce ourselves and say, “Hi! My name is ______. Have you heard about Jesus?” All I’m saying is that, at least for me, there are moments when I should be more open about my faith and welcome questions about it.  I need to stop thinking about being labeled as a “Jesus Freak”, and just accept it.  I would rather be sharing my faith and be called a Jesus Freak, then be quiet about it and still be thought of as a Jesus Freak because I don’t cuss, drink, or party and I go to church.

So what defines you?  Is it what your friends would say as well?  If is your faith?  Or is it something else?  Don’t let society be the first to define you, beat them to it and define yourself through your actions and words.

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