I was drawn to Memphis Theological Seminary in the late 1980’s, when my mother, who recently passed, was an employee of MTS. I was 20 years old at the time and had a craving for God’s Word. I loved reading and studying books about the Creator. My mother would come home with all these interesting books. Back then, there was no internet with access to millions of titles, subjects, and authors. We only had our local library. And the library at the seminary was not open to the public. I remember the few times I picked her up from work. I was curious about the big mansion on a hill. I was curious about its history. I was even more curious about the knowledge within its walls. I remember sneaking inside and running to the double stairways and running back out. I was intoxicated with the idea of one day learning in that beautiful, elegant, and historical space. I kept that dream from 1988 to 2017, the year I finally did not have to sneak a peek. I had earned my way through the double doors of the mansion on the hill.
My educational expectations have not changed much from the age of 20. I came to MTS to acquire the knowledge and wisdom of the ancients. I wanted to practice the spiritual disciplines that would help form my spirit into the image of God. I wanted to gather with like minds to meditate and seek the Lord. I wanted to lay face down at the altar and cry out with other born-again believers, to receive revelations, that could only be revealed by the Spirit of the Living God. Believe it or not, there was a time, as a youth, when I contemplated living in a convent. I wanted to walk with God, until I was no more. I wanted his presence to overtake me, to the point where Valerie was crucified and only the Spirit of the Son remained. I wanted to feast at the table with God and fill myself with the flesh of his dear Son, until every fiber of my soulish body was no more. I expected MTS to expand my capacity to receive more of the Living Water.
While my seminary journey has not exactly fulfilled all those desires, it has exposed my weaknesses, and my strengths. It has exposed my fears and the root of those fears. During the time that I wanted to live in a convent, I was not a part of organized religion. I was drawn to the Spirit of God at home, in my bedroom. I was 12 years old when I first wanted to know about the Bible. I would sit up all night asking God questions.
My mother was free-spirited, and she was not overly religious, but she was a seeker. And I did not realize, until I came to MTS, that I had lost the boldness that I had as a child, to question life and sometimes God himself. I had to face the embarrassing fact that maybe I had been programmed between the ages of 20 and 49. I came to that conclusion when I realized that some of the teachings of MTS frightened me. That realization caused me to question myself, and eventually find myself. It helped me to find the young woman who was not afraid to hear different theological or social perspectives, and who was not afraid to question God all night. MTS helped me to come to myself.
MTS also helped me to develop socially with those in the white community. I have always attended all Black churches, even though I was baptized by a white minister. But for much of my life, I had only attended Black churches. MTS expanded my vision of the Kingdom of God. When I sit in a classroom with people from different racial, ethic, economic, educational, and religious backgrounds; I am reminded of the Words of Christ: “People will come from east, and west and north and south and take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 13:29 NIV). I presently serve at a United Methodist congregation, Jacob’s Well, whose ministerial staff is composed of different races. I would say that MTS has transformed my understanding of race within the context of God’s kingdom. Seminary has changed my perspective about the humanity of Christ.
I am currently in a season of rest, except for school. I believe that rest is a spiritual practice that many of us do not value. Even God rested on the 7th day. I believe that those of us in ministry are some of God’s most troubled, challenged, and flawed creatures. We are truly saved, used, and sustained by grace. Before seminary, I had an almost unrealistic view about those in ministerial leadership. My perspective now is that all of those who profess to follow Christ have a job to do in the Kingdom. No one is better than another, and no one is perfect. We are called to respect one another, and that does not mean elevating someone to the position of demi-god.
If I had to pick a theme for this current season, it would be, “know and love thyself.” I am striving to love and know myself. I am learning to give myself grace. I am in a season of loving on Valerie. This season required me to face and confront my truth. I have realized that I cannot serve God full of unfinished business. I believe that we give from our inner being. And that inner being must be cleaned of all negativity. In other words, the more I empty myself of me and negativity, the more room I have for Christ. I will close with this God-given analogy. The Lord explained to me that the soul is like a glass full of mud. The more you pour fresh pure water into that glass, eventually, that glass will become full of fresh pure water. I am in a season of filling my glass with fresh pure water.