Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blind Leading the Blind

Whew. This weekend has been one of the longer ones of my young life. Down at Grace Lutheran, Pastor Kevin and Pastor Martha took some well-deserved time off, leaving Steve and I at the helm, with the excellent help of a guest preacher/presider, Linda Fernandez. Unfortunately, Steve came down with some sort of miserable head cold Saturday morning, which meant that instead of he and I splitting up the work, I ended up taking the lion's share of it. Doing four worship services in less than 16 hours is really, really exhausting. Also, between the third and fourth services, I lost the Prayers of the Church we had written, so I had to ad lib them at the final service. Oh, and did I mention I was also teaching the Confirmation class this week?

Talk about the blind leading the blind. In any case, after coming home, collapsing into bed for two hours, slowly oozing back out of bed again, and getting myself woken up again by sheer force of will, I'm back, and it seemed like as good a time as any for a blog post (especially since it's been over a week since the last one).

This past Wednesday, at chapel here at the seminary's Chuch of the Abiding Presence, we had an installation ceremony for Pastor Vickie Brown, who works here at the seminary. Her husband, also a pastor, preached the sermon for the service, and he preached on the passage from Matthew 23 where Jesus tells his disciples: "You are not to be called Rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant." He looked out over the seminary chapel and asked, "How many of you are instructors? How many of you are professors?" He argued that Christians are all supposed to be followers, and the so-called "leaders" of the church are really supposed to be super-followers, examples to those around them. He said that the church should always have one leader, Christ, and we should all be followers.

That got me thinking about leadership, especially in the academic environment I've known my whole life. It's been a rough transition for me, coming from St. John's, where the faculty are not called professors, and where faculty and students alike are addressed as Mr. and Ms., to come into a "real" academic environment, where I—in spite of my bachelor's degree and the many years of learning behind it—am "Jennie", while my professors are Dr. Stevens, Dr. Oldenburg, and so on. It truly is an environment of leaders and followers, and those roles are enforced in every aspect of our lives here. That's why it was so intimidating for me to assist at worship in the chapel; because even as a supposed "leader", I knew who the real leaders were.

Now, that's not to say (however homesick I may be) that St. John's gets it all right. The respect and equality at St. John's were incredibly valuable to me, both as a learner and as a teacher. It taught me that my interpretations of the Great Books were just as valid as that of the tutors, and at the same time, that I owed just as much to the "bad" students in my classes as I did to the faculty. The point was, we were all learning together. The problem with this model is, we had no leader. Of course, in every class, leaders made themselves known, and we all knew the tutors were actually not equal to us, even though we said they were; but at the end of the day, there was no authority over all of us.

What Pastor Chris said in chapel on Wednesday made me realize that both St. John's and LTSG are getting it wrong. In the one case, we have the blind leading the blind; all are both followers and leaders, with no true "teacher". In the other, we have the traditional roles of academia enforced, where the opinions of the students bear less weight or validity, and the faculty sometimes seem to speak as if they had the voice of God. In the perfect world, we would be doing what Jesus tells us to do; we would all be followers, and acknowledge our him to be our one leader, our one teacher, our one authority. After all, in Christ all distinctions are erased; there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither professor nor student.

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