Okay, here’s another big difference between seminary and “regular” graduate school: seminary makes me cry. And I like seminary! But I don’t remember my graduate studies in English and American literature ever making me cry, and the fact is, I don’t cry that easily at all. It takes a lot to jostle me.
One place in which it’s easy to cry is in courses that cover Christian history, a series called “Transitional Moments in Christian History” here at Yale. Much of the instruction consists of “Appalling Things Done in the Name of Christianity.” I cried a couple of weeks ago when we were discussing black liberation theology and listened to a YouTube video interview of James Cone discussing “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” his study of the lynching tree as the 19th-20th century version of the crucifixion. We watched a video of Billie Holliday singing “Strange Fruit,” a song about the “strange fruit” that hung from trees in the South: lynched men. I had seen pictures of lynchings before in American history courses, but I could not stop from weeping when we looked at a photograph of a lynched black man in Minnesota (not Mississippi) while a crowd of white men stood under him, looking proud of their work. A caption read, “This picture was later turned into a postcard.” That’s what made me cry.
In New Testament Interpretation, we had a lecture about the Gospel of Matthew and the portions of it that could be considered anti-Semitic, and that have been used to justify anti-Semitism. Our professor, who normally confined her remarks to historical-critical interpretation of the Bible, suddenly addressed the room as future pastors and urged us not to gloss over this aspect of the Christian gospels but to acknowledge it and deal with it head-on in our preaching. The room got deadly silent, and I cried.
In Anglican colloquium, a class not known for rousing strong feelings (we’re Anglican, after all!), retired Bishop Jeffrey Rowthorn was doing a presentation on the new “Holy Women, Holy Men” series of commemorations, and he talked about the new saints of the Holocaust, such as Raoul Wallenberg and the French Protestant minister and his wife who hid many Jewish children in their village for years during the Nazi occupation. I tried not to, but I cried.
Of course, seminary brings me a lot of joy, too, and those joys are too numerous to name. Just being around people who love God and think and talk about God all day is the main joy of seminary, and another one is being around the people (administrators, professors, janitorial staff, etc.) who make it all possible.
Okay, I have to go back to paper-writing and studying: two more seminar papers and one final exam in said “Transitional Moments in Christian History” class. Now THOSE just might make me cry again.