They say silence is golden. From my experience, here at CTS we seem to believe it. Sure, we chatter along well enough. How’s your day? Wasn’t that Hebrew quiz killer? What about that lockout, eh?
But when the conversation gets weighty, we tend to stop talking, as if the bridge we stand on is threatening to collapse.
In my time at CTS, I have heard one, maybe two, serious conversations in the Student Center. That includes discussions of theology, biblical interpretation, ethics, pastoral concerns, politics (national or denominational), cultural, and so forth. When serious matters are raised in class, the vast majority of my classmates and I rarely seem to voice our disagreements.
Considering that we are learning a great deal about all those topics in classes (except national politics—well, at least you hope so), this strikes me as more than a little odd. Are we all really that unopinionated? Do we have no firm beliefs or positions that we would be willing to make public and defend?
Do we not even have questions?
I’m not saying that every conversation has to be about the heavy issues in life, or that even most of our conversations need to be. There is a place for light hearted, easygoing talk. But isn’t there also a place for something a little meatier?
We are students. That means that few of us are experts on anything. We may have a strong position on an issue, but chances are we have not engaged in too much dialogue about it. Wouldn’t seminary be a natural place for this dialogue to happen?
Those that do try to stir the conversation pot—through town halls, Kerux articles, or just stating a position— rarely seem to come up with anything. Our silence is stubborn; it will not budge easily.
I’m not hoping in this piece to get us started talking on something big like homosexuality or original sin. But I am hoping that we can at least start talking about why we don’t seem to be talking all that much. To that end, I’m going to propose some of my hypotheses and see if you chime with them, disagree, or have something else to contribute.
Email your thoughts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Silence, and if we get some good ones we can see about having a dialogue through The Kerux. Please note that I will print your responses anonymously unless I receive explicit written permission to use your name. If you’d rather your responses not be printed at all, please specify so.
Here are some of my thoughts on why we don’t speak up with our views, positions, and questions.
First, students may feel that they are in the minority on contentious issues and don’t want to single themselves out. Being a minority, in more ways that one, I understand how isolating it can be to feel that everyone else is different from you, and I understand the temptation for people to hide those parts that make them different. Very few of us want to stand out in a crowd. Yet when it comes to ideas and ideologies, I wonder how much of our “minority status” is in our heads. It could very well be the case that there are several other people with the same view, who, like you, feel that they are the only ones who would think that way. And I wonder what it would say of us if we are afraid to be different, to feel and think in ways other than our peers. If students fear their differences will isolate them, are they right?
Second, students might feel ill-equipped or too dumb to be able to contribute anything of meaning. If they are confused about a particular doctrine, they might not raise the question because they’re sure the answer is blatantly obvious to everybody else. These students worry that by asking the question, they’ve painted themselves as a fool in the eyes of others. If this is the case, I would like to suggest that a) while you are not an expert, you shouldn’t be expected to be. You’re a student. By definition, you will make mistakes and ask dumb questions, because that’s all part of learning. b) You’re in seminary. You’re probably not as dumb as you think you are. And c) even if you aren’t the expert now, in a couple of years time you may very well be the resident expert in your congregation. At that point, you are going to be forced to stand and deliver, and if you haven’t honed your thoughts here, things could go very badly.
And yet I worry that at the heart of it these students might be right about something: they may very well be judged if their questions and opinions aren’t as nuanced as they possibly could be. Which, to me, is a travesty.
Third, we live in the Midwest, and people from the Midwest are just too nice to disagree openly. Arguments are things you have with your spouse behind closed doors, not with your classmates. To which I would respond that while politeness and being nice is important, one doesn’t have to be rude or mean to openly argue against another person. I actually think that when someone makes a statement in a conversation with you, it is more polite to respond with your own view. They have been courteous enough to put themselves out there; why should you deny them your thoughts?
Fourth, students might feel that the ceilings have eyes, and the walls have ears, and what they say can and will be used against them. They may feel that their future jobs might be on the line, and so are wary to speak their minds. If they are right, if what we say here as students, in the process of developing our thoughts and ideas, truly does get around and informs potential employers’ decisions regarding our employment, then the situation is appalling. If we are not allowed to work on our thoughts and feelings out in our community of peers without repercussions, then there is something wrong with our community. And if our prospective employers expect us to have come to the right answers without any sort of wrestling or questioning, then they are placing an undue burden on our shoulders.
But those are just my thoughts on the matter. I would love to hear yours.
Do you feel comfortable talking about serious issues in the Seminary?