Their laughter stands out most.
Their laughter stands out most. It is everywhere.
We just finished the second intensive of this spring semester at Grimké Seminary. This is my fifth intensive to attend on staff. I’m not teaching a class this semester, which frees up my time for observation, for listening. That act of observational listening takes place in three distinct locations: the parish house, the courtyard, and the classroom. The parish house is where faculty rest and prepare between classes (there is also a fair bit of fun had at each other’s expense), and where out-of-town faculty and staff (like me) live for the week. Between the parish house and the main church building where classes are held is the courtyard, an open-air commons where students enjoy whatever weather Richmond, Va. has to offer—usually pleasant. The classrooms occupy the sanctuary and Christian education space of Remnant Church’s Midtown building. These three locations are all within eighty yards of one another. I’ve observed students from these three vantage points, peering out on them like a harbormaster on a clear morning, observing their jovial masculinity, like a drink offering liberally poured out to God.
Their laughter is ubiquitous.
As an out-of-town staff (I work remotely most of the week from a nearby hamlet in the Commonwealth), I spend more time than most in the parish house. Student laughter is not in the parish house, it is a place for faculty rest and preparation. Still, cloistered the parish house is not. Maybe I’ll write about faculty laughter another time, laughter that spills through the house at most hours of the day. The parish house borders the courtyard, a bay window and a second-floor bedroom abutting it. From that vantage point, I watch students break upon the courtyard like the noontide coming in, laughing about something that happened in class or about a story shared in the hall. Students put down momentary roots in those courtyard chairs to catch up, laughing as they take up their spots and make room for others. They’ll joke each other, the kind of good-natured joking that has marked classmates throughout the millennia. The glass panes I listen behind don’t hold back the joy, and the glass panes don’t want to. If I sat in the courtyard, not only would I hear the same thing only louder, I’d catch snippets of laughter working their way through the thick paned glass that separates the courtyard from classrooms, as professors audibly enjoy their subjects of study in front of their students, students who respond with a joyful chorus, like the singers in a Greek tragedy, together singing the storyline and helping it along.
Not Silly Laughter, Not Laughter Alone
It is important for me to note, as a chronicler of said laughter, that this is not silly laughter in the slightest. This is masculine laughter, the kind of laughing that saturates battlefields, the kind of laughing that women can only overhear. Men laugh with courtesy when women are about; they laugh with full throat, with every Y chromosome in their body when in the company of men. A seminary training men for ministry, prepping men to elder their way into kingdom skirmishes, a seminary like that houses laughter like this, the kind I hear through the bay window on a Tuesday afternoon of a mid-semester intensive. These men enter into the joy of their King who also laughs on the field of battle (Psalm 2:4). These are not silly men; they are men who know what they are facing and welcome it.
It is also not just laughter. I’ve watched these men weep. They’ve left class with furrowed brows. They’ve hung on each others’ necks and consoled one another. Some men enter these three days visibly depressed and discouraged. I've also seen sheer elation in chapel worship. And I’ve seen frustration boil over in classroom arguments in a way that men would describe to one another as “being ornery” or as “inviting a fight.” But laughter seems to anchor it all in place as if we could actually experience it all—the full course of emotion, all of it in a day—we would still end up laughing together at the end of it all, laughing before the Lord and to his glory.
A Theological Journal Founded on Masculine Laughter
You’ll read laughter in and behind the posts and pages of Sola Ecclesia. This journal is the theological journal of this seminary, a seminary with a soul, rooted in time and space, played out in dozens of churches across the country, centralized in Richmond, Va. a few weeks a year. And it should be that way. We do theology, train for ministry, honor Jesus, and invest in one another under the sure promise that Jesus is king, not might be, or could be, but is. This is the heart of our labors and the thing that stands out most when you live for a few days among our students, students who laugh with joy at this momentary opportunity to pursue theological training and an eternal impact.
If you haven’t yet, don’t miss the series we’re rolling out as a multi-part interview with our seminary president, Dr. Doug Logan, on racism and ethnicity. In the coming weeks, we’ll also be talking about seminary education and how it could be different, how it could be better.
Together for the Gospel
Our Grimké Seminary and Sola Ecclesia staff will also be at T4G this month. If you’re attending that conference, don’t forget to stop by the booth and say hello.