a love letter to palmer theological seminary

Tomorrow, Palmer Theological Seminary will have officially been fooled into giving me an advanced degree in theology. It’s a two-year degree that took me three years to complete because a few months in, I started a job at the seminary that was, at the time, the most perfect gift I could have received.

Four weeks from now, I’ll leave that job to return to PETA for what could very possibly be the last job I’ll ever have – working to help Christians make more compassionate choices about nonhuman animals.

I think I might be in a deep state of denial over the impact that leaving this community will have on my life and soul, as I’ve been feeling a bit dead inside about it all. So, in an attempt to healthily process my own feelings and acknowledge the amazing people who I’ve met in the last three years….a love letter. (a love letter that’s sounding a bit like an award-acceptance speech in my head….but a love letter nonetheless)

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My dearest Palmer peeps,

I love you. Thank you.

To the professors: you have challenged me. You have exposed the richness of the scriptures in a way I never imagined possible. You have taught me new narratives. You encouraged my exploration of the theological foundations of our relationships with nonhuman animals and let me write loads of papers on the topic, even in church history. When you asked how I was doing and I glibly responded with some current struggle, you took a genuine interest in me and offered empathy.

To the staff: you are an extraordinary family of colleagues. Leaving you is so bittersweet. You celebrate one another. You are deeply committed to the students. You welcome everyone. You make me laugh. I feel at home with you, in a world in which it’s hard to find a home.

To the students: I feel like the luckiest girl alive to have journeyed with you. You accepted and loved and supported and challenged me. We worked in groups together and I survived sharing the labor of papers and presentations. You showed me how to examine (and check) my privilege. I am so happy that you are following your calls, but will deeply miss your laughter, tears, and prayers.

Sure, I learned about the Bible at Palmer, but I also learned about living and working in a diverse community. I learned how to stop and connect, how to prioritize relationships, how to listen. I learned how to examine, question, doubt, and deepen my faith.

I love you, Palmer Theological Seminary. You are the super best.

Yours Truly,

Sarah

four rules and a mess of an internal dialogue

After an epic tantrum because our little homebody didn’t want to go grocery shopping, a brief post-meltdown nap in the car, and some food, Isaiah and I hung in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s and talked about four simple guidelines for life:

  1. It’s okay to feel angry.
  2. People can’t hear you when you scream at them.
  3. People can hear you when you stay calm and use words.
  4. Sometimes, you just gotta’ do things you don’t want to. And that’s okay, because we’re all in the same boat.

And then, a caveat talk about peer pressure, the differences between obeying mommy and daddy versus strangers and desire versus danger, and a reminder to scream at the top of his lungs if someone ever tries to take him.

Or something.

That last part feels fuzzy in my head because I was also having an internal dialogue about whether or not I should complicate matters, but then thinking that there are important distinctions to make and I want him to have the self-awareness/groundedness/good sense/compassion/skepticism/courage/independence to stand up for himself and for others, even if it means going against the prevailing powers. But he’s five, and how much of this can I distill into four-word concepts powered by a mnemonic device or some other trigger so that he can actually remember or it becomes a part of his DNA? And how much is one parking lot conversation going to matter? No, it matters a lot, because it’s these small moments that make up the fabric of his life and understanding, that form who he becomes.

Hard not to feel overwhelmed.

Safety is so much more than light sockets and hard corners.

Living in fear isn’t an option. For me, or for my child.

Thankful for a community of parents who I know are thinking and wrestling and having similar conversations, and that I’m not the only one feeding him positive messages. It’s not Giehl and I against the world (it’s not even me against Giehl). Isaiah has friends whose parents will see and seize similar opportunities, who reject the idea that since Isaiah isn’t their biological offspring, he’s “none of their business.” Thank God for those men and women (and children, too, who also do their fair share of teaching).

shatter

Who is in my community? Who is in my tribe? Is this defined by gender, political allegiance, color, birth-state, how-I-take-my-coffee, twizzlers-or-red-vines? No. When we allow God to give us our community, instead of self-selecting a safe space, we shatter and the glittery, sharp pieces of who we are in the world scatter across nations, time, species, and socio-economic contexts, connecting us with Jesus-in-the-whole-world.

Mother’s Day

Since Hallmark tells me that it is “Mother’s Day,” I started to think about Mercy Oduyoye’s definition of mothering as “an obligation for all in any community whether then are women or men. It is doing to others what God does to, with, and for us out of God’s compassion” (Introducing African Women’s Theology, 38).

Think about this: how are mothers idealized? Giving much, taking more; creating and nurturing welcoming spaces; divine Marys, listening and responding in trust to the voice of God; showing divine love in a broken world, capable of enduring the pain of seeing the child of your womb nailed to a cross. This description of motherhood reflects Oduyoye’s overall vision of humanity as reciprocity, hospitality, response to God, and reflection of the divine. We expect this of mothers, but what would happen if we did not require women to bear this impossible, Messianic burden? What if little boys and little girls were both raised as nurturers and protectors? Perhaps humanity is so very broken in part because we have created a deep chasm between culturally gendered people. If we put our love and little pink dollies and EZ-Bake ovens and G.I. Joe toys and baseballs and bicycles into that chasm, maybe we can meet one another in the middle and create new expectations of human engagement with one another.

Balance

The word “balance” keeps coming to mind as I review and reflect. Balance. I have to find balance in my own way of being in the world – the precarious point of stability managing work, school, community, home, family, self, and spirit. Since balancing those things is usually an impossible task, I tackle them one by one. Knock ’em down like linebackers on a blitz, bulldozing in just that order, instead of caring for my spirit, self, and family first. This all-or-nothing outlook also influences why I initially read The Liberating Mission of Jesus with confusion. Of course when you see a person in need, you should stop to help them without wasting an enormous amount of time on analysis.

And here is where I have a little “aha” moment, which subsequently makes me feel a little silly for not seeing it at first, it is sooooooo obvious. Remember the story about seeing puppies drowning in a stream? You see a drowning puppy (if you’re a cat person, you can change it to drowning kittens)…You see a drowning puppy and you wade in to save her. Just as you get back to shore, you see another puppy, so you go back to get that one. This happens again and again. You cannot leave your post, or puppies will drown, but if you do not venture up the path, you will not find the psychopath throwing puppies off a bridge. So you enlist help. If you are a good swimmer, you keep pulling the puppies out of the stream and you recruit someone from the community who is good at navigating the backwoods to go figure out what is happening. You cannot do both. I can’t do both. In fact, you and I can probably do one better than the other. And expanding the circle of people who are helping solve this puppy-drowning problem not only means a happier end for the puppies, but allows the people recruited to use their skills for an other.

Cooperation builds community bound by a common mission and allows the members of that community to do what they can, when they can, knowing that they do not have to solve the whole world’s problems (by themselves) at once.