Suggested Reading Lists as First Steps Into The Nearly-Immediate Future Ahead

So last night, I got my Princeton Theological Seminary suggested reading list. Anyone who knows me knows that for as long as I have been able to read, I have always carried a book with me everywhere I go, even to the kitchen to wash my dishes. So to get a reading list from PTS is a HUGE HUGE HUGE thing. Reading the titles of the books on the list felt as though I had discovered the first step toward Princeton. Yeah, I know this is the reading list for the fall, not for my Greek class in July, but still. It felt like I’d conquered the first level of the game that is my summer. (The summer separates me from my exciting beginning at PTS.)

But why geek out at the sight of a reading list in the first place? It is something so small and even insignificant in the grand scheme of things – why waste my time and energy focusing on a simple little reading list? For many, especially those like me who just celebrated the graduation from school – and for most, this is their last “forced” educational experience – the idea of another list of books that have to be read is a frightening prospect. However, for me – being the Christian nerd that I am – a list sent to me by PTS is the highlight of my week. (with my new Guitar Hero 5 kit coming in at a close second…yes, really, I am a nerd!) A reading list is the first step toward a new life, or rather, the beginning of my adult life.

I remember when I received the “reading list” from Smith – the email stating that our incoming class in the Fall of 2007 would be reading “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. For those of you who haven’t read this series of graphic novels, DO IT! For those of you that have, GREAT JOB! At first blush, I remember asking myself (and the Smith deans in the process…) why we were reading a book about war, violence, suffering? Why couldn’t we read a book that would prepare us for our time at a women’s college, let alone college in the first place? Why couldn’t we read a happy book or something inspirational? But obviously, hindsight is 20/20, and it is only now that I am able to see the lessons learned from that book, and the impact they have had on my life. Obviously, I can’t say that “Persepolis” was a text that I was able to relate to, because I have never been personally impacted by an internal conflict or revolution, but I am now able to see Smith’s motivation behind assigning that book in the first place.

Our generation is one that has seen many things – the first attack on our soil in exactly 60 years (9/11), the beginning of a war in Afghanistan (2002) and then Iraq (2003), and all the different movements that followed – the attempt at establishing a democracy in the wake of a dictatorship, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, church vs. state questions, the first Black president, just to name a few. While our country was not the subject of a modern-day revolution like Iran and the characters of Satrapi’s graphic novel, the United States has undergone countless significant changes as a result of the passage of time and the occurrence of several dramatic events. We are the catalysts for change – that is what the graphic novels spell out. While there is much outside of our control, while we cannot just call up President Obama and say, “whattup Mr. Prez, I’ve got a few things that I’d like to say…,” there is a lot that we as young women (and men) can do to impact, improve and inspire our futures.

So what does this have to do with the reading list that came from PTS anyway? I think it has everything to do with my experiences with Smith’s assigned summer reading. That reading taught us lessons about how to inflict positive changes in our environment in every way that we can. I can’t state as of now whether or not the reading list from PTS will do the same, but an inkling inside of me thinks that what I learn from those books will influence me much in the same way that Smith intended for “Persepolis.” The reading lists – like the one from both Smith and PTS – are designed to help us as incoming students understand the path we are on, and also what little facts we can glean about the future. Obviously, we are not fortune-tellers or psychics, and thereby cannot foresee the future. But what I can say is that these texts are intended to teach me something about what my future holds; and further, they are there to allow me to peer into what the life of a seminary student will be like.

I know that the next three years will be challenging, but I think for the first time in my life, this challenge won’t be all about the academic rigors of an institution such as Princeton. Rather, the challenges will come from God and also from the unpacking of my beliefs and faith, one piece at a time, and the subsequent rebuilding and reconstructing of these beliefs into a bigger and stronger minister. For the first time in my life, I will have the opportunity to unpack my faith, examining in depth why I believe what I do, and then have the ability to build a stronger and faith-filled minister.

Now what does one make of that? That is some food for thought, without a doubt!

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