Today I read a chapter of Confessions of a Beginning Theologian by Elouise Renich Frase (a long and uncommon name for me). She has a Ph. D. from Vanderbilt University, and now is a professor of Systematic Theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. In this little and a bit devotional book, she tried to share some of her stories of entering the theological education for the first time. Some of them were the need of perfection and reliability that she think she have to have them at that time. Beginning as a beginner was not something very good to hear for her.
I am comforted somehow to see that there are many theology professors like her, who shares their personal theological and imperfect life that they have once lived. It helped younger theologians like me, who am still a newbie in the field of theology—seeing it as a sacred and solid discipline that would never permit falsity or condemnation must be taken. Too often, indeed, I do not want to look foolish or undependable in the class. Sometimes I wanted to be known as Mr. Know-Everything and many other bunches of glorious but childish nicknames.
Once a time I wrote a note on my FaceBook account, writing about some things that I’ve been pondering about in the theological debates that I face that time. One of my friends, whom I regard highly for his intellectual scrutiny and brilliance, commented that my note was utterly unreadable that he can’t seem to understand it at all.
I believe you could have seen my face blushing in front of my computer. And actually this is not the first time I have received this kind of response from my friends at the internet or real conversations. At that time I feel angered in an unholy way, I think of many excuses, like: “it is just a thought wandering in my head;” “I didn’t really mean it that way;” “this is an unfinished note;” and many others, but worse is, I began to compare myself with him in many aspects of life that I think I am better than him! This happen not only once, but time after time. To think again about that time is embarrassing, yet gladding, that I now recognized it as a foolish thing to be done.
I think it happens quite a lot among the young theologians (like me!). In her first chapter she wrote some interesting words that I see fit to be reflected upon for some of us, who perhaps, have a common struggle with me and Elouise, the writer.
Becoming a theologian is about becoming a beginner. It isn’t about whether you’re old enough, young enough, smart enough or good enough. It isn’t about going to seminary, becoming a church worker or seeking ordination. It isn’t about making an appointment with a career counselor or taking a battery of tests to see whether you’re cut out for theological studies. And it isn’t about knowing what you’ll “do” with theology.
From a different angle, it isn’t about becoming someone else, changing your personality or leaving your past behind. And it isn’t about becoming dull and dry, giving up fun and excitement, retreating from the world to attain some more exalted existence. (p. 14)
Indeed, as she wrote also, “God loves beginners.” What a dignity to become a beginner of God.
12 April 2011, Vincent Tanzil
At Prothumia Library.