Pretentious. Ostentatious. Conspicuous. Gaudy. Just a few of the descriptions aptly used to describe those fellow students who filled the hallways with their presence, who lavished freely their beautiful minds upon those blessed enough to be sitting close enough to them in class or who in anyway gave a fuck as to what they might say next. They spent their evenings in the library, often with one thick old Hebrew or Greek only commentary sitting next to them, looking just as smug as they were. They giggled around the professors like schoolgirls with a crush on their teachers in middle school. They would seek you out, having rehearsed the newest thousand dollar word in order to try out their theological speech prior to leveling up and moving on.
And I had all that figured out before noon on the first day.
My journey into academia came from the streets to over exaggerate the story for a moment. I was an outcast from an early age, moved out on my own at the age of 16, dropped out of highschool and worked full-time. I lived life or tried to live life as it may be, then ended up falling in love, getting married, had six children, and a couple of careers before deciding at a later age that perhaps going back to school would be a good thing to do. I was surprised that the assessment this school did on me qualified me for this privileged journey into a Masters Degree and my only job was to make sure I didn’t gloat to much about the privilege of it all. Turns out my gloating would not have gotten noticed in these learned hallways. Just not enough room for everyone’s over-sized egos.
I was there to learn some professional skills around counseling and therapy, given that it was in this specific direction I wanted to now focus my career aspirations. I was good at it as a lay-person, and now I felt it best to gain the accreditation for my skill and become part of a professional association with a covering and some accountability and an ethical code in which to care for the people I sit in conversation with. I know – how very noble of me. Yet, most of that was true. All of it could have been true until I started hanging out with my peers who were on the same academic journey and who had the same polished speeches as myself.
Now I wasn’t sure what my niche might be.
But, there wasn’t time for that in the moment because I was still on academic probation, which meant that I needed to do very well with these first ten courses in order for the school to grant me official access to the degree program. In the meantime there was the added responsibility of providing financially for my family and, well, um, participating with my family. My days were long – every single one of them during the course of my academic journey there. Work then class then the papers to write. In the end I did pass my academic probation, doing very well and with that pressure off I set my sights on completing my degree.
But there were still those ‘blessed ones’ to contend with. I was surprised at just how often the need was to compare penis sizes. “Hey, what mark did you get on that last paper? An ‘A’? Well that’s good but not as good as the A+ that I received. Oh, and did I tell you that I have joined a breakfast tutoring club with the professor? You should hear his jokes on Karl Barth – hilarious!”
I dreaded the theology classes or any other class other than the skills-based counseling and therapy theory ones. In those classes I was – for the moment – separated from those pretentious bastards who were trying the very core of my Christian value system. Little did I know that I would encounter yet a different academic foe within the confines of therapy theory. At the time I was naive at just how segmented the world of counseling could be. Weren’t we all here to learn how to help people? Perhaps, but apparently there were some incredibly strong opinions over what needed to be included in that 50-minute hour.
I think what surprised me the most early on was encountering those fellow classmates who were there because they ‘took a break from ministry’, or ‘stepped back for awhile’ or who were on ‘sabbatical’. In other words they were pastors who couldn’t put up with the crap any longer, came to despise the very people they were supposed to be caring for, were burnt out and saw it a good idea to head back to school and get their masters in counselling to somehow justify this unfortunate setback in their own personal ministry journey.
At least that was my interpretation of the situation, given my various interactions with each of them. That being said, you would have thought that being beat up a bit and tossed around in this thing called life would have helped their perspective but, alas, that was not to be and it was on this point that I dreaded some of these classes. Their over-arching approach to counseling was still from a modernistic, theological point-of-view. In other words because of their privileged position as pastor they understood the Bible and more specifically, absolute truth, and consequently they could now speak into your life with moral authority. The only thing they were here for was the skills to learn how to do that – perhaps in a nicer way – but more than that – they wanted the license to do so. To whip out your pastor card and your counselor card. Well, that was the cat’s meow.
And I just wanted to vomit at the sight of it all.