It started because I wasn’t comfortable calling the Holy Spirit “it.”
After I survived (with Jimmy’s help) the Greek intensive, I proved my masochistic tendencies by taking a Greek reading class in the winter quarter. We worked on translating parts of the New Testament. The idea was to cement into place our understanding of Greek, to go deeper into nuances of the original language of the New Testament. Greek, like many languages other than English, uses noun forms that vary; you can have masculine, feminine, or neuter forms. A particular word doesn’t take different forms; it simply is either masculine or feminine or neuter. When a pronoun takes the place of a noun, it takes the form of the noun it is replacing. And that’s how it started.
“Spirit” in Greek is pneuma, a neuter noun. We were translating a pronoun that clearly referred to the Holy Spirit, and literally, it would read “it.” That didn’t seem quite right; God is neither male or female, of course, but God is personal, relational, definitely not an “it”. So I raised my hand and asked, “What do we do with this? I don’t want to translate ‘it’. But ‘he’ doesn’t seem quite right either.” I was just getting a handle on gender inclusive issues.
At the break, Laura Schmidt Roberts came to talk with me. She said she appreciated my sensitivity in asking the question, and then helped me with distinctions. When it comes to people, pretty much everyone in the academic world requires gender inclusiveness. When it comes to speaking of God, there’s a stronger difference of opinion, but many want to try and figure it out. It was the first of many times that Laura helped me gain perspective on what I was learning at Fuller; she became a very good friend.
Laura is Mennonite Brethren; she’s strongly interested in peace and justice issues, and was an absolute Godsend in the midst of the many reformed theology folks at Fuller. We took many classes together, but I’m especially grateful for taking all of my systematic theology classes with Laura. We were able to be a sort of reality check for each other. We’d come out of a lecture, and say, “Ok, did that make your skin crawl, or was it just me?” We became the Anabaptist minority clique, which is very ironic, since it’s technically impossible for Friends/Quakers who don’t baptize with water to be anabaptists. 🙂 But we took on the establishment, and had fun doing it.
My experience at Fuller was immeasurably better, more helpful, and WAY more fun because of Laura. I miss being around her. She’s since earned her Ph.D and teaches at Fresno Pacific University. She married Mark, whom she met in the preaching office at Fuller when we were students, and they have two girls now. We sang together in an a capella group she co-founded known as the Matz (which I’ll blog more about later.) And Laura preached the best sermon I heard in my experience at Fuller, an amazing piece of hope called “A Bad Investment” from Jeremiah 32. (oooh! She got it published! But they left out my favorite line. I still remember, after 12 years, one line she spoke. Jeremiah buys a piece of land, while in jail, a piece of land that’s about to be overrun by the Babylonians. He gets all the official witnesses and signatures, Laura said…pause…smile… “As if it really mattered!” I suppose sarcasm doesn’t translate to the page very well, but in the room? That’s when she hit it out of the park.)
Laura showed me it was possible to be theologically minded, fun hearted, and creatively passionate, in preaching and in life. Everybody needs a friend like that.