So, I've got my student number and am officially set to start the MTh course in September. As well as being an ordinand at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I'll be a post-graduate student at Trinity College Dublin. I can experience Freshers' Week all over again! Although, unfortunately, lectures start earlier than I recollect from my hazy arts student days in Edinburgh.
Overall, I'm super-excited. It's no secret that I love learning new things. It was no great drudgery for me to do the Foundation Course that has become a pre-requisite for anyone training in the Church of Ireland for ordained ministry; I loved it. My main frustration was that paid employment got in the way - part-time study is hard!
Still, as I start reading material in preparation for September (yes, I know only the saddest of geeks on the course actually do the pre-reading!), it does make me think about where I'm headed. The thing about learning is that it changes you.
Over the past number of years, I've changed my mind in some quite fundamental ways on a lot of what the Bible says, perhaps especially in Genesis which has come to be one of my favourite books. I feel like I know more useful theology, that I understand more of who God is and who we humans are, and what we're for and where we're going. Some of the BIG questions in life. But I also realize I'll never read the Bible in the same way again.
I decided for a while that I'm not an evangelical any more, and then I realized I can't just undo all the experiences that shaped me earlier on, so maybe I am an evangelical after all. Who decides what an evangelical believes anyway?
I'm in a very different theological place compared to where I stood at the start of my theological studies. All well and good and hallelujah.
The problem is, I like it here. I really like it here. And I know that, come September, I'll be challenged to move on.
Abraham was called to journey out, without knowing where exactly he was headed. It's a good metaphor for learning, I think. As an ordinand, I feel called to something, and that includes training and study, but I don't know where I'll end up. Not geographically, and not in other terms either.
In particular, I think about post-modernism and historicity, relativism of truth. I'm a bit nervous about asking those big questions (especially applied to the New Testament) because I don't know what answers I'll get, or what conclusions I'll arrive at.
So is it better not to ask those questions in the first place? [I just typed 'maybe' and then I deleted it, because it sounded like the obvious next word in the sentence, but I don't believe it myself. So, no. No, it isn't better. Easier, but not better.]
'Not in Kansas, Toto' kind of sums up how I feel about my faith, having been called to study, to move, to be challenged to face up to hard questions about the Bible. Easy answers have been decimated. Trite, pious sticking plasters have been ripped off with varying degrees of pain.
It's a strange, new, post-evangelical world. We're not in Kansas, Toto.