The Vanity of Seminary Training
An Intertextual Sermon from Ecclesiastes
Preached during PBTS Chapel Service on August 19, 2008
Meaningless! Meaningless! Seminary is Meaningless!
What would a student gain from three years of training in the seminary?
A student comes and a student goes, and yet the churches are still the same. The more students we have, the more churches that needed them. The need is just endless!
Every year we have commencement exercises, and every year we also have enrollments. We enroll. We graduate. We finish. We start all over again. It’s just an unending academic exercise. A futile chasing of the wind.
All these seminary study is wearisome. And all the courses are still the same. The subject matters do not change. What has been discussed will be discussed again. What has been asked will again resurface. And to what end? Students forget the lessons once outside the classroom. They only study for the quiz, and then nothing more. Who cares about Hatshepsut in our churches? Does it matter who the Pharoah of Exodus is? Or if my pronunciation of the Shema is perfect? Does anyone care whether I use my left or my right side of the brain in preaching? Will I be asked whatever happened in AD325 at the Council of Nicea? Will my rough breathing mark be noticed in my counseling sessions? (Probably if I forget to brush my teeth). Does it matter if my quarter note is terminated a little bit too early? Or if I “accidentally” sung a quarter rest in measure 35 of an old old hymn? I wonder if my congregation would require that my sermon should follow strictly the Turabian format. All these studies are meaningless. A chasing after the wind, or in Baguio’s case, a chasing after the fog.
When I was a still an M.Div. student, I was wrestling with this concept. What a waste of time! Souls are waiting to be saved. Churches are yearning for strong leadership. Congregations are wanting for strong biblical sermons. And yet there I was. In the seminary. Working as a Xerox Operator. Highly underpaid. Memorizing conjugations in my spare moments inside the bathroom. Answering ditty questions aboard a Victory Liner Bus on my way to my Field Education assignment. Squeezing all my time to cover even just the basics. However, I told myself: “Patience, Mhac. This will surely pay off.”
So I decided that meaning in the seminary life must be to become THE valedictorian. Suddenly, I felt a strong urge to be at the top of my batch. I don’t want to just be a normal seminarian so I focused myself to study. Study. Study. Study. Then I observed. I’m missing a lot of things! The more I learn, the less I understood. The more I knew, the more I become ignorant. “For with much wisdom, is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases.” My classmates who are not studying seems happier than me! That, too, is meaningless!
So I decided I’ll try achievements. I thought that this might bring meaning to my seminary life. I built websites. I fixed computers. I created the Student Academic Records database. Yes, I have the power to erase all your 98s in a click of a mouse. Oh well, make it two. I setup the Local Networking here in campus. I got extra bucks from friends who are willing to pay; and a box for those who could not.
However, I realized this too is meaningless. A chasing after the fog. Yes, I was the popular handy computer technician on campus but it is wearisome. People knock at your door during unholy hours just because their monitor is all black. And it is more frustrating that it’s all black because they did not plug it on the wall power outlet! Computer repair is meaningless! What is new now will be old in 6 months’ time. What a waste! I also noticed that it’s the same virus I remove every week! A chasing after the fog.
Skirts and Pants
Then I turned my focus on finding a partner. Maybe that is the real meaning of seminary life. What is wrong in finding a lifetime partner here? Here you can find the godly, the godly, and the godly women of God. So I increased my radar reception to the opposite gender. I started looking for friends. Yes, friends, as in pare, amiga, prayer-partner… I thought, there’s nothing wrong with that. Seminarians long ago provided the precedent. So it is okay to hunt and peck while here in the seminary. So I searched. I searched. I searched. Did I tell I searched? Oh well, this too, I found was meaningless. I sung with the Survivors “the search is over!” I’ve had enough. This too, is a chasing after the wind.
Mystery of Time
What is three years of seminary life? Is it just a passing moment? I say, enjoy your stay here. Enjoy it while it last. There’s a time for everything. A time for quizzes, a time for games; a time for eating, a time for sleeping; a time for essays, a time for identifications; a time to write your research paper, a time to report them; a time for work, a time for play; a time to come, and a time to go (don’t plan on staying longer than necessary); there’s a chapel time, there’s library time; there’s prayer time, and there’s also fasting time. Everything here has its perfect time. Dr. Bong made it sure that you are properly occupied while being here. You all undergo this ordeal. And to what end? I already asked that question. So I say, enjoy while it last. Stand in awe of God. He has placed you here.
However, I also observed another meaningless in the seminary. It is but natural to see that there is wickedness in places like dark alleys and red light districts, drug dens and gang headquarters. But to my shock, there is also wickedness in the seminary! Students lie and cheat. They plagiarize. They are lazy and gossips. They are lustful and living a double life. I’m shocked! All along I thought that this is a holy place; that evil and wickedness stop at its gate. I thought that once I’m inside, all evil will vanish. How can this be happening? It’s meaningless. I can’t explain it. So I admired the alumni, who have already been long gone from this place, more than I admire the current students. But then, better than either of them is someone who has not yet enrolled; and has not seen the evil activity done under the sun.
I have seen more injustice in the classrooms. My cheating classmates passed without any problem — because they had their cheat sheets. We who are righteous suffered the rigors of preparation and the torment of long nights of study, and all we got were just passing grades. It’s another meaningless activity in the seminary, a chasing after the wind. My cheating classmates hired people from the outside to read and summarize a book. They had the money, so no problem for them. We who are honest and poor, stayed until 12 midnight to read the book and type up a summary. And both kind of students got the same grade. All of these are meaningless, an academic injustice done in the four walls of the seminary.
So I say, enjoy your seminary life. It is but three short years of your life. After this, the cruel world is waiting for a naive seminarian like you. “… the righteous and the wise, and their works are in God’s hands.” We do not know what really lies ahead of us. Both cheaters and honest face the same thing. “As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner.” Plan now. Take quizzes now. Fall in love now. Make your essays now. Answer your ditties now. Read the assigned books now. Because tomorrow, there will be no more activities like these in the churches where you are going.
Invest Time and Effort Wisely
So I say be wise. Whatever you do here in the seminary do it with all your heart. Does it rain when there is no rain cloud? Does the ground produce sayote without someone planting it? Does an object gain a potential energy equal to the product of its mass and the square of its acceleration due to gravity without someone picking it up and placing it on an elevated surface? In the same way, you must invest your time and effort wisely. “Just as you don’t know the path of the wind or how bones develop in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you don’t know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed,
and at evening do not let your hand rest,
because you don’t know which will succeed,
whether one or the other,
or if both of them will be equally good.”
“Remove sorrow from your heart,
and put away pain from your flesh,
because youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”
So remember God in your seminary days. Before the final bell is rung and you can’t interact anymore; before the final exam is given and all reviewing is at an end; before the deadline for submission and you can’t type the answer anymore; on the day the grade is computed and your requirements are graded. Remember God. Before the evaluation is handed in, before your name is finally included in the graduating list, before your clearance has all been signed. Remember God. Before you don that black toga, before you turn the tassel, before your certificate of graduation is handed to you. Remember God.
So what is seminary life, really? Is it really vanity to spend three long years for seminary training? “The conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.”