Monday, September 11, 2006

Providence?

It seems strange to write about divine providence on the fifth anniversary of an event which shook the collective faith and psyche of our nation. So much has been written, is being written, and will be written concerning that fateful day. We all watched with shock and horror as planes flew into those iconic buildings, the Twin Towers, a symbol of America and the American dream.

I did not sit down at my computer this morning to write about that day, or to commemorate its fifth anniversary. Yesterday I watched football and tennis, awed by the raw power of Andy Roddick, the quintessential American tennis player. Yesterday I was amazed as, once again, the sheer brutality of his game was neutralized by the artistry of Roger Fedderer. I also watched my Bengals (whose training camp is in Georgetown, KY, just a few miles from my hometown of Lexington) silence the naysayers who thought that their schedule was too tough or their chemistry too volatile to make another run at the playoffs. And, last night, I watched two brothers face off against each other as opposing NFL quarterbacks for the first time in the history of that league.

Yesterday I did not watch the many, many 9-11 anniversary specials, nor will I watch them today. I understand the value of remembrance, the need to grieve together our terrible losses as we celebrate the heroism of those whose merciful and courageous acts in the face of unspeakable tragedy become a part of our collective mythos. I don't know why I won't watch them, why I won't subject myself to the spectacle of suffering. Perhaps I am afraid of my own emotions. While I was not directly affected by those criminal acts, like the rest of us that day many illusions were ripped from me. Including the oh so precious illusion of control.

But before I write what I sat down to write, let me share some memories here.

Sami and I were married August 18, 2001. We immediately moved into an old apartment in downtown Louisville, complete with 18 foot ceilings and 12 foot windows on the main floor. It had potential, even if that potential was never realized in the time that we lived there.

On September 10 we drove to Lexington to be with my family as my dad prepared for a surgery the next morning. We were all concerned about the operation, but being together, as we were, so soon after our wedding - an event which helped rekindle the bonds of our emotionally fragmented family (a healing process which began with the birth of our beautiful nephew Josh) - we could put on our bravest faces.

I got up very early on the morning of September 11, to help take Dad to the hospital. Then I went back to my parents house, and fell back asleep in the arms of my new bride.

Bang! Bang! Bang! "We're under attack!"

My twin brother, like a lunatic, bang on and screaming through the door to the guest room at my parents house.

"Go away. I'm trying to sleep. That isn't funny," I groggily replied.

It wasn't funny, but it was true.

We spent the rest of the day between the hospital and the living room, watching the events unfold on the news at both locations.

Dad, of course, had the strangest experience. He was being prepped for his surgery as the planes exploded into the towers. He was already heavily sedated, and they were about to put him under the general anaesthesia when the news hit the operating room. As he was losing consciousness, he heard the staff gathered around him whisper ominously. Then he slipped into a bad dream.

It is hard to write about divine providence, God's plan which guides the course of the universe and each body in it, on a day like today, as we remember such devestating suffering. But even in the midst of such suffering, if we are honest, our experience of suffering is not monolithic. I've been writing a great deal lately on the problem of pain. My writing has come in part from my own, recent suffering. When I left pastoral ministry a part of me died. That part is slowly coming back to life. If we blame God for our sorrow, we must also, if we are honest, thank God for our joys.

In my last post I wrote about a friend whose wife is battling cancer. This past weekend he sent me an email. She came home from the hospital just in time to celebrate their oldest son's sixth birthday. Better still, her PET scan came back clear. There is no sign of the cancer.

I've also written here about my struggles with my vocation. I still can't find a job. Mix that with my family's recent financial distress and our culture's conditioning men to think that they must be the one's to enter the workforce and "provide for" their family, and you have an emotionally toxic cocktail. But, during this whole struggle, I have been seeing only half of the story. There is another story, and that story may have more to do with the course of the rest of my life than any other story told here.

This summer the IT department at my former seminary gave some faculty members technology assignments, to help them understand some of the many new ways in which students communicate. My former advisor was assigned to find out how many students and former students keep blogs. That assignment led her, of course, to my blog.

She loved what she read here, and as she read it she remember my strong work as a student, as well as the terrible day that I dropped out of school. We had a long conversation about my struggles in ministry, and the difficulties that struggle created for my family. We both wept as I decided to no longer pursue my formal theological education. She promised to help me in any way that she could, but after I walked out of her office our paths diverged. Until last week we hadn't seen each other since I left school.

A couple of weeks ago she sent me an email, complimenting my thinking and writing, and saying that I really should consider a career in academic theology. We set up a meeting at the seminary to discuss my prospects. Last week I visited her and others at the seminary, and they were all eager to get me back. After so many months of silent rejections by employers I'd never want to work for doing jobs I'd never want to do... the honor of being sought after, pursued, is unspeakable.

If I can get the money lined up - and it looks like I'll be able to do that - I intend to go back to school this Spring, to work on a Masters of Arts in Religion, focusing on theology, and more specifically, theological ethics. I should finish that program within two years. From there I will either immediately enter a PhD or ThD program, or continue my work at the seminary, pursuing a ThM (Masters of Theology) before I start my doctoral studies somewhere else. In any event, those of you who have encouraged me to re-enter academia should not consider your kind cousel wasted. If everything works out, I should spend the rest of my life doing this for a living.

I can't say for certain that the universe operates according to some divine plan. I can't say, in the face of the suffering which we remember today, that everything always works out for the good. But I can say, at least for now, that when my life seems darkest, there is always a light shining in the distance, waiting to illuminate my situation. I can say, at least for now, that when my story seems bleakest there is always another story waiting to be told.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Chris, that would be so awesome for you to be able to do that for a living. Praise God for opening doors. :)

Heather

P.S. Please call me. My new cell phone failed to transfer your number from the old one. Again. Grrrr.

Pete said...

Hey Chris,
I think that you would make a great teacher. You would be able to make your students think about what they believe rather than merely, and I hope I spelled that right, towing a theological line. I pray that it works out for you.

Liam said...

Chris, that's great news. The doctoral thing is hard, but it's much easier when you've had some time outside academia to mature and see the alternatives. I think this is a great choice for you.

Troy said...

I agree with Liam: graduate school and the early academic life are tough, until I compare it with a real job.

Sincere congratulations, Chris. I never had any doubts.

And you are right, the suffering of the world must be balanced with its joy and beauty. The trick is that we humans, me included, think it should be all joy and beauty and potential and it's not. The problem of suffering is equally the problem of beauty and bliss.

All the best. Your Wright book will be on its way soon.

t