Seminary. It’s like taking the red pill and realizing you’ve lived your life in the Matrix. Your eyes are opened to a whole new world of wonder. Beauty and light shining from all directions. Suddenly you’re skipping through fields of poppies and laughing over your shoulder at your friends as they gallivant with you. You flip your hair and laugh some more. How did you ever survive without the knowledge and experience you now have?
Hold the phone. That is not the story of the Matrix. In fact, you wonder if Keanu Reeves actually had a better life before he found out the truth. Before he found out that robots were programing him to think he had a certain life all the while sucking his life-blood while he slept in ignorant bliss. You find yourself wondering, like Keanu, if I could go back to that ignorant bliss of two, three, and four years ago, would I?
It’s a valid question. Before, you participated in church, loving the experience, wanting to be there every time the doors were opened. Sure, you experienced some hard things, some drama, some discrimination. Maybe a pastor neglected to follow through when you needed him or you got left off the email list for a women’s Bible study. But all in all, you loved the church and it was that love for the church and the people who make up this church that stirred your heart to attend seminary in the first place.
Then something began to happen. It takes you a couple years to realize it. The dawning realization hits you when someone asks you why you want to work in the church and suddenly you have trouble finding an answer. You’re stumped. Was this church always this broken? This difficult? This messy and dirty and agonizing? Did you always see the gap between what the church was intended to be and what it actually is? Did you always know what you believe this strongly, and did you always have the vocabulary to articulate it?
The answer is no. Seminary did that to you. It’s seminary’s fault. Blame seminary for all it’s worth. You might as well. Because, no matter how long and hard you blame seminary (and rightly so), as one colleague said to me recently, “You can’t unknow what you now know.”
You can’t unknow the beauty and glory and dignity God intended for the church. You can’t unknow the mission of the church and the purpose it was meant for. You can’t unknow how community and life together are how we are created to grow in our knowledge of Christ.
You can’t unknow that the church will always battle influencing culture and being influenced by it. You can’t unknow that power and politics and policy have always, and will always, be in danger of destroying the message of the gospel.
You can’t unknow that no matter how much you know, the brokenness and pain will always be there. You can’t unknow that Jesus is truly the answer and no matter how much you know, it will never be a substitute. You can’t unknow that no matter how much you know, you will never really know anything.
But would you really take the blue pill? Would you really go back if you could? If you knew what you would know now would you trade it in?
There is no way you could have prepared for this. Because you don’t know what don’t know until you no longer don’t know it.
You knew that the lack of women in leadership in the church bothered you, but you didn’t know why.
You knew that the lack of diversity of cultures in the church bothered you, but you could never explain it.
You knew that the suppression of conversations about sex couldn’t be right, but you were at a loss of what an alternative might be. You never imagined the destructive repercussions the silence could lead to.
You knew you loved the arts and that somehow the arts were important, but you didn’t know how to articulate this. You never could have guessed you’d see the value of art even more than you did.
You knew emotions were important, but still you couldn’t help subverting them to your thoughts, believing your brain should always come before your heart. Though you still struggle with operating holistically, you understand now that God values the mind, the body, and emotions and all that is wrapped up in these. He created all of them, and never says your brain should govern your heart, only that you should love him with both.
You knew the mode of evangelism you’d been taught had left a bad taste in your mouth. Now you know it left a bad taste because you didn’t realize evangelism is actually inviting people into a relationship with God. How can you invite someone into a relationship with God, unless you have a relationship with them, first?
And how can you invite people into a relationship with God unless you are aware of your own relationship with God? How can you extend grace, unless you are aware of the grace that has been extended to you?
You knew the Bible was important. You knew it was the word of God. You occasionally discovered encouraging things, but most of the time you were confused because you had no idea what you were doing when you read it.
Now you know the Bible is a story about Jesus. A story about God and what he has done and what he is doing. You found out that you and the church have a part to play in that story and somehow, the darkness and the brokenness in that story has some sort of purpose, even if you don’t know exactly what it is.
Because, you discovered a God who wasn’t as distant as you sometimes felt he was. You knew he was there, you just couldn’t explain how. You found out these things about the Holy Spirit and Jesus and God, and even though you still don’t understand the trinity, somehow you understand that what you don’t understand makes God more trustworthy, not less.
The red pill. You took it and swallowed it and jumped down the rabbit hole. You didn’t know what you would find. You didn’t know you’d find tears and you’d find pain. But you’d also discover the courage to embrace the tears and pain, instead of covering it with smiles and “how are you I’m fines.”
And finally, you were surprised by the joy you found. You were surprised by the laughter you discovered in the midst of tears. You were surprised how the pain drew you closer to Christ and how your awareness of your need of Christ actually led to more freedom, rather than the confinement you always feared.
You were surprised that out of all the things you learned and unlearned, the greatest treasure you are taking to the battlefield is a greater love for Jesus. All of it, everything, the learning, the struggling, the exams, the papers, the books, the friends, the not-so-great friends, the professors you loved, the professors you couldn’t stand, the late nights, the early mornings, all of it brought you into a deeper relationship with Christ and caused you to fall more in love with him.
And you are oh, so glad you didn’t take the blue pill.