Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seminary word of the week #1

[dis-puhn-sey-shuh-nl-iz-uhm, -pen-]
(pronounciation from

a) A slang expression, meaning the pen you are holding is pretty sensational.

b) A theological tent for Christians who often like "really specific prophecy."

c) A theological system that began in the nineteenth century with the writings of J. N. Darby. Among the general doctrines of this system are the distinction between Israel and the church as two groups in God's overall plan, the pretribulational rapture of the church, a future literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel, and the dividing of biblical history into seven periods, or "dispensations," of God's ways of relating to people. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)

Note: if this were a quiz and you didn't guess "c," you would be hopelessly wrong.

So what do you think about dispensationalism? Do tell . . .

Sunday, September 19, 2010

38 Birthdays . . . and this one may be the best!

I cried before I went to sleep last night, and it had everything to do with my 38th birthday. And this man specifically:

I try not to make a habit of posting sappy things about my husband. This is mainly because I was single for 35 years, and sometimes when you're single you don't like to read sappy things about other people's wonderful husbands. Trust me. But I've got to make an exception this time. David went over the top this year for my birthday.

There was this yummy gluten-free chocolate cake he made. (Keep in mind, he's been the lone star in the kitchen lately. Me: I've had my face buried in seminary textbooks.) Then there was the dinner at Biaggi's, where I enjoyed a gluten-free pasta dish that may be illegal in some states. It was that good.

And the birthday ice cream....

And the card and letter from David that I have now reread several times over.

And you have to understand that this was preceded by a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

And a purple ipod, and a very thoughtful necklace. And I have to be honest with you. I'M JUST NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THIS LAVISHNESS. Others might expect this kind of hullaballoo on their birthdays, but not me. It makes me a little restless and itchy. And for some reason, after we got home last night and I watched a Meryl Streep movie, I was just weepy as I went to bed.

The weight of many birthdays I spent as a single hung in the air all around me, and I remembered some happy times, but some very lonely times, too. Times when I questioned God's provision for me. Times when men couldn't love me the way I wanted them to. Breakups and depression. Shattered dreams. Questions about my future.

And lying in bed, wondering at the imperfect-but-wonderful and committed way David loves me and shows His love, I was reminded of God's good care. And, honestly, that He cares for me no matter what my circumstance. At present, though, through this wonderful man who just happened to sit on the other end of the Internet one state away...and who snuck into my life in such an unassuming way.

Tonight I'm reflecting on the kiss a dear friend delivered to me in Sunday School, and the hugs, and the cards, and the amazing facebook community (Jeanette's poem and so many well wishes!), and the gifts, and I just can't quite take it all in. I can't thank God enough for caring for me through people with skin on. (You are His beautiful hands and feet, dear ones.)

So thanks for indulging me, and I guess my point is this: my heavenly Father has seen me through physical disability, and deep depression, and job loss, and breakups, and the death of my father, and infertility, and obstacles in seminary, and who knows what else will come. But He's faithful; oh, how He is. So no matter what your corner of the world looks like tonight, I hope you'll tune in to echoes of His provision, His care, and His intimate love for you. My hope and prayer is that you will somehow know that the best truly is yet to come, because of what God has done for us in reaching out to us through His Son, Jesus.

"For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake you nor let you down (relax my hold on you)! Assuredly not!"
Hebrews 13:5b, The Amplified Bible

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One woman in preaching class

Picture me, wheeling my little laptop bag down the seminary hall, as I approach room 101 on Tuesday night at 6 pm, only to find...

Twenty males in my Expository Preaching class! Yes, I am the only spot of estrogen. I should have prepared myself, since I attend a conservative seminary. But alas, I was unprepared. And a little undone. I mentioned the lack of estrogen to the professor, and he remarked that I would "need to assert myself in class."

I think he might come to regret those words. I can just see it on my final evaluation: "I have learned Suzanne does not have a problem asserting herself..." In a class where I realize most of the members do not agree with my desire to preach, no one is quite sure what to do with me. But I have decided that I'm done minimizing my giftings of teaching, leadership, and encouragement. They are what they are. To be faithful to Christ and His body, I must simply be willing to use them.

And so my "introduction" went something like this:
"Hi, my name is Suzanne Burden. I write for Christian publishers part-time and attend seminary part-time. And I'll answer the most-oft question I get here up-front: no, my husband does not attend seminary. He works for an American automaker. I'm pursuing an MA in Theology. I have not had the opportunity to preach...yet (silence is deafening)...but I do fill in as a Sunday School teacher."

You see, it is not that women have not infiltrated the preaching class before...there were two last year, for instance. It is just that I'm not sure a woman who desires to actually preach or teach to a mixed audience has ever set foot in the door. Most of the women I meet are willing to live up to the status quo, to agree with Paul when he says he does not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. And I can respect that, if that's truly what they believe, although I personally feel other passages show us this is about Paul's local context only, and that women in the Old and New Testaments were doing a lot of things many of our churches don't even allow them to do today. (Deborah, Huldah, Miriam, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, etc.)

But my position becomes even stranger when I tell you that I don't like to be labeled an egalitarian. I truly believe that men and women are equal, but that they do complement each other. There is a reason God made both of the sexes. And I delight in our differences, and the beauty of our alliance.

So, if you think of it, pray for me on Tuesday nights as I soak in all the amazing material this class has to offer. And somewhere, several weeks down the road, get up to preach my first sermon. If there's one thing seminary does, it stretches you above and beyond your comfort zone.

And if all goes well, I will not hear the strange words uttered to another woman who preached a sermon in seminary: "your preaching was good, but it was kind of feminine." Uh....exactly.

P.S. Although you may mean no offense, please don't invite me to the seminary wives group, assuming that my husband is the one in seminary. Please ask first. And when you find out I am in seminary, please don't ask me if my husband is in seminary, too. That might not seem offensive at face value, but if he were in seminary, I highly doubt you'd ask if I was, too. However, if you do (or have done) one of the aforementioned things, I will forgive you in Jesus' name. I, too, have stuck my foot in my mouth on more occasions than I can count and am truly grateful the grace of Christ covers it all!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How (Not) to Write a Seminary Paper . . . or Any Paper

Enjoy the torture that precedes one’s first ever Systematic Theology paper. Can anyone say “trying too hard?”

  1. Read your four sources and all 150 pages in fits and starts; one minute you dig theology and think you should have so read this ten years ago—the next you feel that seminary was a grave mistake and that someone who knows what “teleological” means should be writing this paper.
  2. Tell your mom, friend, spouse, pet, or significant other in the room to stop making breathing, belching or [you-fill-in-the-blank] noises. You can’t think, and dang, thinking is what this paper really needs. Now if only you could quiet the voices inside your head…
  3. Email the professor about formatting your paper and endnotes. Although this has already been spelled out clearly in the syllabus, you are worried that Systematic Theology professors will be especially anal about formatting done…systematically.
  4. Go back to the kitchen when you realize you can’t see anything anymore due to the eye strain and grab your reading glasses. Be sure to also grab two chocolate fudge cookies while you are there for the seritonin boost that could put this paper over the top. Yes, chocolate, that’s what it needs.
  5. When chocolate is not enough, take a study break to run to Starbucks for a Green Tea Frappuccino with whip. Convince yourself the green tea will stimulate brain cells that have been lying dormant for 37 years now.
  6. Contemplate the interesting differences between Bible-followers who claim the Bible is inerrant and infallible and those who believe it is just infallible. Recognize that certain inerrant-infallibles you know may or may not look like they are in pain, or at least constipated.
  7. Although you know it is important to always be asking “What Would Jesus Do?” you suddenly find yourself thinking: What would NT Wright say about this?”
  8. Google NT Wright and quote from him at length.
  9. Read Phillippians 4:13, for pete’s sake. Read it again. Then read Isaiah 40:31 and picture yourself soaring like an eagle as soon as this paper is signed, footnoted, and emailed.
  10. Go over the 1000 word limit by seven, but tell yourself that instead of getting docked, your professor will most likely smile with benevolence and offer you extra credit.

The author may or may not have followed these steps exactly during the formation of her first Systematic Theology paper last week. At least not in order. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We are all addicted

Hi, my name is Suzanne, and I'm an addict. That is, we're all inclined to be addicted to ourselves. Self-addicted. And so I offered this prayer at a success event for women in drug and alcohol recovery this last Monday.

Dear Lord:

It’s because of you that we are sitting here tonight. You’ve been so good and gracious to us.

The truth is that each one of us here tonight has a tendency toward addiction. We are addicted to ourselves. Self-addicted. And that addiction shows itself in our relationships, in our longings, in our substance abuse, and in the way we often ignore you, forgetting that you have created us and made a way that we can know you personally. Forgive us, Father.

Sometimes it’s been hard to receive your acceptance and love, because we don’t feel loved by others. Break down that barrier, Lord, and help us to receive all that you have to offer us. Help each one here to be grateful for the amazing blessings you’ve poured out on us, and to turn their will and their life over to you.

And thank you for this amazing time of celebration—for the success we are celebrating tonight.  Surround these amazing women with your strength, bless them as they seek to thank you and to make things right in their lives, help them to know that they are always loved.

In Jesus' name we pray, Amen. 

What we learn from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is that the first step to recovery of any kind is that we admit we are powerless to help ourselves. You don't have to be shooting up or draining a shot glass to need help in your life. You just have to admit that you need Jesus...and yes, others, too, because they are the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives. 

Have you taken the first step? And if you know Jesus, are you becoming less self-addicted? How?