connor-story2.jpgIn elementary school, I remember that for all of our reading projects we had to make something called a storyboard. I assume this was part of many children’s curriculums; it was a fold-out cardboard presentation that you painted or covered in construction paper illustrations to tell a passer-by about the book you had read. If you wanted to win first place, you got really fancy with your board, making elements that popped out with makeshift folded-paper springs, maybe with some glitter glue on the borders. The most exciting part of the assignment, of course, was that you got to make a big illustration on your board—your own artistic interpretation of the sword fight at the climax of the book, or the magnificent boat used by the story’s adventurers.

It wasn’t all fun and games, however. The horrible part about the whole experience was the part where you had to write about the book. Some of the elements you didn’t mind so much: the plot summary would be put front and center on the board, with an intricate border and a title written carefully in bright red marker. You listed the main characters of the story and featured this section prominently on one of the fold-out side panels, with a little drawing of each character beside the description. Then, and only then, when there was nothing else fun left to do, would you take care of the rest of the assignment. This included the very boring aspects of the book, like “genre,” “tone or mood,” or “setting.” Worst of all was the “author’s purpose,” which you tucked away into the bottom-right corner of the presentation, written in a small black text and with minimal decoration. After all, what kind of dried-up fusspot cared about things like that? The important part of the story was who slayed the dragon, or whether or not the main character rode off into the sunset happily ever after.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that seminary is a place that teaches you how to be a dried-up fusspot. Except instead of just any old book, you are being a dried-up fusspot about the Bible. Who wrote the book? What was the context in which it was written? Who was the intended audience? What was the author’s purpose? The child in me cried out in protest at this realization. My “storyboards” no longer prominently feature a picture of the climax of the story, but instead include a drab title about some kind of -ology in the book of 1 Corinthians. Perhaps this is what well-intentioned people warned me about when they told me about the dangers of going to “cemetery”; the place where professors would purportedly take great joy in picking apart my precious Moses, making a fool of my instructor Paul, and giving my friend Isaiah a swirly in the bathroom stall.

In a way, these warnings were correct. I did experience a type of death in seminary. Many of my long-held beliefs about the Bible, the Church, and God were challenged so intensely that some of them did die off. But what more could you possibly hope for from a seminary experience? A part of you dies when old ideas die, but you are given new life again as new ideas take their place. This should not be avoided, but rather embraced; this process of resurrection is called learning.

Most importantly of all, my relationship with God has grown in unimaginable ways from my Candler experience. The very work that I used to despise in my writing of storyboards is now what brings me joy and life. Where beforehand I viewed my Bible as a fragile story, now I know that it is strong enough to push against; even strong enough to lean on. These past couple years of biblical study have allowed me to sink into God’s word in a way that I never thought possible. It’s as if I used to be wearing floaties in the shallow end of the pool, but I have now learned how to swim. And the deep end is deep. I’m talking you-can’t-reach-the-bottom-with-a-scuba-suit-deep. And that’s perfectly fine with me, because the joy doesn’t lie at the bottom of the pool, but is instead found in the swimming.

Top photo: Aaron Burden,