Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Next Step

Ever since I left ministry I have been frantically searching for that ever elusive "next step," that moment or action which will re-order my life, giving me something to orbit - if still somewhat chaotically - around. I've floated many ideas, some good, some bad, some simply crazy. I've chased the polar extremes of law school and social work. I've tried to peck out a living as a writer. I've punched into a corporate time clock, whoring myself in sporting goods sales. I've done just about everything but find some kind of direction in my vocational search.

Some of you have encouraged to to pursue an academic career, advice which is tempting because it comes out of a combination of my gifts and abilities. While I've always been pragmatic in my career search (will this job meet the fiscal needs of my family while also providing us with some stability), I must admit that the results have always been less than pragmatic.

Finally, a few months ago, I succumbed to the temptation to do that which comes naturally to me. Finally I stopped looking at all of the negatives which come with academia, and started looking at the positives. Positives like: It comes out of who I am at my core, and Damn it, I'm pretty good at this!

I have long since given up any sense of divine calling in and on my life. When I was a teenager I responded to every altar call I ever heard, feeling the Holy Spirit tugging on me, yanking me in this or that direction. I saw the course of my life in dialog with God, my personal history seen principally in terms of my relationship with God. At every moment I felt inexorably called, a part of the machinations of God's divine plan. Each moment in my life was ordained for me. All I had to do was discern where God was leading me, and how that fit into the divine order of the universe.

Of course I was called to ministry, and the only ministry I could imagine was pastoral ministry. But too many dreams have been dashed for me to so reckless chase my personal fancies as though they were divinely ordained. My aimless wandering is too much like that of the wayward slaves which formed ancient Israel after their Exodus from Egypt. There are too many voices in the conversation of my life for me to think that each of them are God, or that, if God is leading me anywhere, I could possibly guess where that might be.

So I can't say that I am called to academia. I can't lay that on God any more than I could lay the ashes of my once promising pastoral career on God. But I can say that I am moving closer to that always elusive "next step."

I just got off the phone with my former seminary. I have been accepted to study in their Masters of Arts in Religion program, my first step towards academia. Is this a new journey, or just one more turn in the road?


Liam said...

Congratulations, Chris, and good luck.

Tyler Simons said...

Woo hoo!

Is this a new journey, or just one more turn in the road?


Troy said...

I struggle with the idea of 'call' also. If you're St. Paul and Jesus physically appears, by all means...but this does not happen often. I understand your skepticism, even, in a small way, your understandable question: where is God among my wounds; I was after all following His plan, right?

That question has been asked before, as you know, and must have been asked countless unrecorded times.

So yeah, I hear you. I don't know what to make of call either.

That said, it is clear to me you can't help but use your gifts. You left vocational ministry and founded this blog. I have been ministered to here, as you know, and I am not alone. Frankly, Chris, you may in fact be following your call and don't know it. I know for me that would be the best way: stealth call. An actual 'call' is much too daunting.

I have to run, my brother, but sincere congratulations. I've said it before, but there is more beauty and bullshit in acadaemia than any other place I know. And my guess is this reality increases exponentially in divinity studies. You'll have to let me know.

Genuine love.


Amy said...

Congratulations on your acceptance! I'll look forward to seeing you on campus. Get into "Gender, Race, and Class" if you can this semester. I've heard raves about it, and it's the only class I'm in for which you'll be eligible next spring ;)

I do have to say - Questions like "It comes from the core of who I am" and "Im pretty damn good at it" are major questions at the center of a calling. That's a good gauge of whether or not your on the right track. However, callings aren't always permanent, either.

I remember, in the months before you left the pulpit, you mentioned to me that your parishioners would drop dead from astonishment if you showed up to visit them in the hospital, or offered them some other type of pastoral care outside the auspices of church events, because it wasn't something you enjoyed. That, too, was one of those internal pointers to that which you were (or were NOT) called. It is in those recognitions of our joys and our gifts that we find our vocation.

That said, I am eager to have you back in classes for purely selfish reasons. I can't wait to have a class with you again! You're really good at challenging your classmates and professors to think things through fully.

Sandalstraps said...

Thank you to all!


I wonder if even Paul had occaision to doubt his calling. After all, even if the story from Acts is accurate, he would never have known himself as "Saint" Paul, and would, I suspect, bristle even now at the suggestion that he is/was some categorically different person, to be held up as a model of the faith. And his spiritual journey had more radical twists and turns - not to mention theological shifts - than my own.

And, did Jesus really appear to him? he might wonder. He was blinded, to be sure, so he never saw anything but a bliniding light before he started hearing voices. How long had he been on the road that day? What had he eaten for lunch?

Of course these questions but a more modern mode of thought into his mind, but you get the point. There are reasons to doubt even the most venerated of callings, if you're looking to be skeptical. Mightn't Paul have been seriously doubting his own as he was being snuck out of town in a basket to keep from being killed? Mightn't he have wondered, What the hell am I doing with my life? as he fought with Jesus' closest disciples over the nature of the law?

The question, I think, with doubt is this: Does it drive us toward a deeper understanding, or does it give us permission to throw our hands up and quit? For me, to doubt my calling is to seek to constantly refine it while also understanding that God is not liable for my mistakes, my failures, and my misunderstandings.


I don't remember that conversation, but neither do I doubt it. I did, however, visit with my congregation, both in their homes and during emergencies. I can't say that I was particularly good at visitation, and it certainly was not a passion of mine, but I saw it as a crucial part of the job. Perhaps if I had been better at it they would have been more easily able to interpret our theological differences with at least a little bit of charity.

In any event, while I was excellent at certain aspects of pastoral ministry (preaching, teaching, and counselling), I was not so good at others, especially visitation (I'm not a particularly social person, and I had no common ground with much of that congregation) and church politics. I suspect that the biggest strengths that I brought with me to the pulpit will serve me well in the classroom.

Oh, and I am certainly looking forward to being in classes with you again. Gender, Race and Class not only looks like a great class, but also fits in very well with where I'm trying to focus my degree. I'll do my best to get into that class. Who is teaching it?

Amy said...

I would agree. I also think that your skills will be a very strong fit for academia.
"Gender, Race, and Class in Pastoral Practice" is being taught by Elizabeth Walker, who's one of our new professors. I don't know her very well, and haven't heard any reviews of her classes yet. However, the topic is good so it should be worth it. The class I wasn't able to take, that has made me horribly envious of my cohorts here, is "Theology of the Global South," which Amy Plantinga Pauw offered this semester. I'm hoping she'll decide to offer it next year, when I have the chance to take electives. I've heard great things about it.