One of the signature questions on almost every Divinity School exam begins like this: “You are standing in line at a grocery store and the person in front of you asks…” Sometimes it is framed in a pastoral setting” “A member of your congregation comes into your office and asks…,” but essentially they are both asking the same thing. How do you take all of this complicated theology and make it intelligible for the person who has not suffered through dense readings for three hours puzzling over foreign sounding prose. These questions are actually one of my favorite parts of our curriculum. If theology is what we think about God, and if Christianity proclaims a God who desires a personal relationship with each person to the extent that that God became human in order to make that possible, then how can we as pastor-theologians not take the time to find ways to explain that God to our congregations in ways that they can understand?
I was reminded of this during my final trip to Publix before heading back to Durham. Because there are no stores in North Carolina (a truly sad state of affairs!), I was making the most of my visit. This includes stocking up on Publix recipes. On this occasion a nice older woman, Marcia, was making “Pub Style Chicken,” (which was delicious!) and we chatted for a while. When I got my second sample of chicken, she asked me where I went to school. When I told her Duke Divinity School I saw that familiar “oh-you-go-to Divinity-school” look which is by now so familiar. And then came the question: “So, in twenty-five words or less, can you tell me how the Bible came to be?” Really?! She even included a word limit! Where is my preceptor? I gave her my standard answer of the process being a very long and very Spirit-filled process, which J. Ellsworth Kalas describes as the “democracy of the Holy Spirit” (always a good line), and she seemed satisfied. We got to talking about her life and her brother who died from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and I promised to try and look her up next time I was in town (provided she had more samples of course), and I picked up a recipe card.
As I got into the car, I thanked God for allowing me to be in this place, to study at this school. Being labeled a seminary student and future pastor is one which I struggle with because of the baggage it carries for everyone you meet. But at the end of the day, being able to provide theologically informed pastoral advice in (slightly more than) 25 words is a gift which I am being given every day, and as I begin the second half of my seminary career, I want to thank Marcia for the reminder (and the chicken!).