On Trumpets, Greek, and Good Teaching

by Erin Heim

In fifth grade, my middle school band director handed me a trumpet and told me to try it. I was able to produce a halfway decent sound, and so I joined the other newly selected trumpet players and became the only girl in a trumpet section of boys in my middle school band. I grew up with this group of boys, playing alongside them through junior high and high school, always managing to stay near the top of the section. I went on to become a very good trumpet player, and I majored in trumpet performance at university. All the while, there were always one or two women in a vast sea of men, but never in my years growing up, or even at university, did it occur to me that being a woman might somehow be an impediment to being a good trumpet player.

The machismo of a university brass section is palpable. How high can you play? How fast can you play? Can you play lick from Mahler No. 5 or excerpt from Pictures at an Exhibition? Brass players, regardless of gender, are enculturated to play with confidence and bravado, which are culturally “masculine” virtues that good trumpet players everywhere possess in spades. I had to learn these traits, just like every other trumpet player. Although I was a woman among a studio dominated by men, no one ever treated me as if I couldn’t hope to compete with the men who were learning their craft right along with me. As long as I could play (and I could), I was accepted and respected. Even more, my peers encouraged me to be confident in my playing, and eventually I learned this confidence also.

I had a wholly different experience when I went to seminary for my M.A. in New Testament. I wanted to earn a Bible degree because I loved teaching; I wanted to teach the Bible so that other people could learn to love God and to love others through studying Scripture. Because I did an academic degree in New Testament, I was again often one of a handful of women in classes that were predominantly populated by men training for ordination. At first, I didn’t think much about the gender imbalance because I assumed it wouldn’t be that different from my undergraduate degree. However, being in a male-dominated environment in seminary was not at all like being in my male-dominated trumpet studio. Suddenly, being a woman was a distinct disadvantage. Some of the male students accused me of not taking the Bible seriously, and some just didn’t speak to me or acknowledge me. It was a disorienting environment, to say the least. I was often lonely because the experience was so isolating.

My Greek professor, Ms. Elodie Emig, was my saving grace during seminary. She is sharp-witted, tough, and yet exceedingly compassionate toward her students. She is an exceptional teacher, and her love for Greek is infectious. She has been teaching at the seminary since 1983, and thousands of students have learned to love Greek because of her. More importantly for me, she was doing what I dreamed of doing when I finished. Through her dedicated and careful teaching, I saw what was possible. She was the embodied answer to the objections of my classmates who said that women “can’t” or that women “shouldn’t.” Her mere presence made it clear that women “could” and her excellence made it clear that women “should.” As in my experience as an undergraduate trumpet player, I saw most of my fellow students respect Elodie’s teaching because she was so clearly gifted and had honed her craft. Her presence gave me hope that a woman’s excellence in the field could be respected without an asterisk for her gender. However, I note here that, because she is a woman, her respect has been hard-won and her road has not been easy.

In her classroom, Elodie did exactly what I hoped to do as a theological educator. She led me to a deeper love of God and neighbour because she so clearly loved Scripture, and because she so clearly loved all of us. She concretized neighbourly love in her classroom by learning who we were and where we came from, by praying with us, and by being vulnerable with us, and she challenged us to do the same. As I have thought more about theological education and love of neighbour, it is precisely the concrete neighbourly love of my Greek classroom that has motivated me to be more inclusive in my own classroom now. I know my presence is meaningful to my female students who are training for ministry and for the academy. I know it is important for my male students also, because through my teaching they learn to attend to voices who look different and sound different from their own. But my Greek professor also showed me that mere presence is not enough; a theological educator must also strive for excellence that is motivated by love for her students and for her subject.

Finally, as I have reflected more on love for neighbour since becoming a theological educator in my own right, I am increasingly aware of which neighbours are not represented in most classrooms. I work hard to represent these neighbours as best I can by diversifying my bibliographies and assignments so that these important voices are heard. The realities of embodied experience shape how we approach theology and biblical studies, and theological discourse is impoverished wherever it fails to include people from different genders, ethnicities, and social classes. If it is true, as it was in my case, that “you can be what you can see,” then it is my job to make sure that my students see the full range of what is possible.

Erin Heim joined Wycliffe Hall in 2018 after a previous five-year stint at Denver Seminary.  In 2019, Erin received the Manfred T. Lautenschlaeger Prize for her published doctoral thesis, Adoption in Galatians and Romans (Brill, 2017). She has authored numerous articles and essays on Pauline theology, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, metaphor in the Bible, and the use of the Pauline adoption texts in contemporary discourse on adoption. Erin is also a co-host of the OnScript podcast, which features conversations on current biblical scholarship. Currently, her research is focused on Pauline Literature, New Testament metaphors, and Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Erin is married to Peter, and they have two young children.