Shame

As of today, I have completed one full week of classes. True to overachiever form, I really want to start writing papers so that I can start being evaluated. Feedback is essential for life.

That aside, I am especially excited about my pastoral care class called Confession and Forgiveness from a Pastoral Perspective, which finally met for the first time this morning. Strange that I should be most excited about a class that is meant to help me care pastorally, since I am not at all interested in that particular "career path." However, given the fantastic examples of my undergrad and, now, graduate professors, I can see how all Christian teachers fulfill "pastoral" roles at one time or another.

Our professor, Dr. Robert Dykstra, seems a gentle man with a delightful sense of humor and a willingness to tread fearful paths (e.g. homosexuality, racism, etc.) and a lot of love. Apparently, he is the "sex guy" on campus (sort of like Dr. Young at Houghton). He teaches several pastoral care classes that deal with human sexuality, so it seems it's an appropriate designation. I would love to get them in a room together; two bright spirits!

There are fourteen books plus other supplementary readings. More than half of the texts are biographical or autobiographical. We will be discussing topics randing from sexual abuse to concentration camps, sincere apology to Lincoln's second inaugural address. Our final project is an eighteen page autobiographical paper, which is to point to specific events in our past that have shaped our theological viewpoint. Self-analysis is daunting stuff.

From the description Dr. Dykstra gave us in class, we will be learning how to tell the difference between guilt and shame and also how to embrace shame as a central part of our Christian identity. Embracing shame as an essential part of Christian identity... I'm not sure how I feel about that yet, but it's certainly an intriguing idea. In his introductory comments, inspired by Dr. Capps, another professor here at PTS, Dr. Dykstra said that by embracing our shame, we identify with Jesus in his crucifixion, but in dissociating from our shame, we dissociate from the cross, which was an entirely shameful experience for Christ, which he willingly embraced on our behalf. This type of embrace doesn't seem to entail enjoying shame or wallowing in it, but simply being vulnerable in our shame, willing to expose what makes/has made us feel ashamed.

This class is going to be difficult. Yes, the course work is substantial, but there will be an emotional toll as well. Dr. D. stated several times that he doesn't teach this course often because it is difficult for student and teacher alike. We are going to be struggling through some extraordinarily tough issues. I teared up while we were going over the syllabus, I can't imagine what it will be like once we're delving into a book written by a gay man who was alienated by the church or a text about broken families...

It's going to be tough and yet, it is still the class I am most eagerly anticipating. I'm sure this will provide much blog fodder over the next semester. Stay tuned.
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