When I attended private school as a youth we started our days off with the subject of religion. We had devotion that consisted of singing a spiritual song, we would recite our memory verse, someone would pray, and we would complete an activity in our religion workbook. Afterwards, we would go on with other subjects such as spelling, reading, mathematics, and science.
When I left private school and entered into public school we did not have religion in class. It was the first time that I saw police officers on school grounds and teachers starting the day with core subjects. The public school experience was something completely different from the private school experience and rightfully so.
I’ve been in both worlds and I find them equally important. I find value in the public school sector as well as the private. They’ve both taught me valuable lessons that have shaped who I am as a person, thinker, scholar, and citizen. They both have challenged me to grow, to learn, to throw off, and to put on. I cannot choose one over the other because they are intricately linked to my being, but I can say that I’m grateful for my higher education experience. Here’s why:
I used to think of my experiences in higher education very negatively. In fact, they were some of the reasons why I didn’t want to continue in my program. However, the problem was not the experiences within themselves, but the fact that I attempted to think of them in isolation. I wanted to separate my spiritual life from my academic one and that caused a strain. Yet, when I finally embraced the fact that they both inform who I am as a woman, I was able to appreciate both for the value they added to my life.
In the academic arena, I learned the skill of close reading. I like to think of the practice as reading between the lines of the text, reading in the silences, and listening for what the text does not say openly. Close reading is a wonderful thing to master because it allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the text, the world the writer creates, and the characters that people the narrative. If a reader approaches the text independent of this skill they might miss the richness and revelation of the author.
In the same way, I approach the bible using the academic skills that I learned. While I’ve always heard people try to discourage me from doing so, insisting that I approach the bible for revelation, this is how I acquire it. I cannot study a text, especially the bible without looking deeper into the intentional words used, finding the Greek or Hebrew meanings, and coming to my own understanding of the bible. I’ve been able to exegete the text and learn without fully adopting someone else’s revelation of the bible and this has allowed me to become a better Christian.
While I’m sure that I would’ve come to this revelation in many ways, this is the way that I am most comfortable. Now, there are times where I have to intentionally monitor my thoughts in an attempt to stop my intellect from completely taking over, but I think it is healthy that I have those mental wars. Due to the stigma that intellectuals have a hard time accepting Christianity, I once tried to live in two worlds instead of allowing them to collide. But, this is not true for all intellectuals. My academic training has helped me come to terms with my spiritual walk, it has enhanced my desire to learn more and has brought my closer to Christ. My intellect does not cause me to fall away from the church, but it challenges me to find new ways to integrate into the culture.
I enjoy being an academic and I equally enjoy my walk with a God that is bigger than I. Do I have times of testing in both? Yes. Do I want to walk away from both in certain instances? Yes. Do I like the rules that come along with both? No. Do I keep on? Yes. Both worlds are foreign to me at times. Both worlds shift but they both hold special places in my life.
I think I’ve grown tired of the debate between the church and the academy. We need each other in my opinion. We can learn weighty lessons that enrich our experiences. Some of my most impactful conversations happen with people who are between both worlds. People who are trying to resolve within themselves what their salvation means and even looks like. People who are actively challenging themselves to believe in the God of their parents but understanding that their relationship with Christ will not fit a typical mode. And, it is in those conversations where I find the most meaning.
I am of a nontraditional generation filled with people who don’t do things as usual and that is ok. However, something that bothers me is when people attempt to force individuals into the confines and pockets of their thinking. If we serve a big God, one who is all-knowing, creative, and all-encompassing, shouldn’t we allow him to give us the way we should walk? Since God does not adhere to a mold, didn’t heal people in the same way. rebuked those who we thought he would praise, and extended compassion to those who the world deemed as unlovable, shouldn’t we allow him to set the precedent for how we approach him? Indeed, God has given standards for how we should pray, worship, and enter into his courts. He has left us with a guiding book on how to live and he has also promised to never leave nor forsake us. And, in his ever-present closeness he exposes the ways in which we will interact with him in the most intricate manner.
Not everyone learns about God in the same way. Not everyone has the childlike faith of others, and some of us needed to learn what we didn’t believe to know in who we do. I can’t say that I would be in the place to articulate these thoughts if I hadn’t practiced in school. And, I’ve learned the value of accepting the course, one that is familiar yet unfamiliar and how it is leading me into a deeper understanding of my salvation.
Romans 8:26-28 (AMP): 26 In the same way the Spirit [comes to us and] helps us in our weakness. We do not know what prayer to offer or how to offer it as we should, but the Spirit Himself [knows our need and at the right time] intercedes on our behalf with sighs and groanings too deep for words. 27 And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because the Spirit intercedes [before God] on behalf of [c]God’s people in accordance with God’s will. 28 And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.
God is in the beginning of what we don’t know and brings us into the knowledge of what we know. And, in this, I find confidence.