So, this is maybe more personally reflective than I normally get on my blog… Click “back” now if you’re not up for rambling.
I’ve had two instances recently in which I was asked about my future (not the distant future, but the future that is nearer than I realize). On reflection, I’m surprised with how different my responses were. Maybe in the process of writing this blog, I will gain some insight regarding “what in the world” I am doing with my life.
Here’s Episode 1:
Last weekend, I was out working in the community garden at church with some folks. We were pulling weeds and raking so we could do our fall planting (carrots and kale and beets, oh my!) One of my fellow gardeners introduced a game that she and her spouse play sometimes. They’ll talk to each other as if it is five years in the future and they haven’t seen each other in the meantime. They talk in the past-tense, describing the time that has “passed” since they last saw one another. The game provides a way to imagine and dream about what might be to come. She went first as an example, then I said, “Ok, I’ll try.” My story went something like this…
“Well, I’m 28 now. I finished my masters in spring of 2013. After that, I went to work in a developing nation in Asia with the Peace Corps… or some mission organization…” I said this as I bent over to pull a squash vine from the ground and carried it to our compost pile.
I continued, “While I was there, I fell in love with a Peace Corps guy. Or maybe I knew him before and then we went together. That doesn’t matter. Either way, I had a partner to work with while I was there. We’re married. Now we’ve moved back and I’m ministering in a non-traditional congregation – like, really non-traditional – made up of many diverse lifestyles. Its a church to reach all kinds of people who have been jaded or ousted by the church – homeless people, gay people, ex-cons, rich people, smart people… And we have chickens and a garden.”
We laughed, and kept gardening. (Maybe I refined my story a bit in the typing, but that’s the gist.)
Compare/Contrast to Episode 2:
This week a friend at school asked, “Meredith, what are your plans after school? Are you going to just work in the church? You’re smart enough to do something else. More studies?”
I kind of laughed. Seminarians get asked this question a lot. It is not safe to assume (at Candler, at least) that everyone wants to be a pastor or even work in a church. Usually, I just default that I don’t really know yet, or answer with some version of the following…
“You know, I don’t really know. But it seems like graduation will be here sooner than later. It’s time to start figuring it out. I definitely want to work in church for a while. I’d like to do religious education, working with people of different age groups – maybe as an associate pastor. I’d like to write curriculum.”
He asked, “Like, on the denominational level or in a church?”
My answer, “Either. But I do want to work in the church for a while. Probably for 5 to 10 years… But eventually I think I want to go back to school and get a PhD and teach. I just think its really important to be in the trenches, in a congregation for some time, before I go back to school. I want to teach from experience, rather than spend my whole career in academia.” He understood. I returned the question and we talked a little more about church vs. academy, ordination vs. other options, the benefits of continuing vs. deferring more schooling.
It wasn’t until this evening that I thought of these two encounters together, and how bizarrely different my answers were to what was essentially the same question.
Perhaps it is the way the question was asked. In the first instance, I was asked to play an imaginative game, to suppose, to dream. In the second instance, I was asked to think about the probable, the practical, the “plan.” I’m sure neither answer represents exactly what is to come after I graduate in 2013.
If anything, these two stories, side-by-side, represent my incredible openness to what comes after theology school. The stories say that I could be content doing quite a few things.
I think these examples have more to say about where I am in my “calling” too… Please forgive my navel-gazing, but I’m about to be uber-introspective.
I see myself as someone who has always been practical, grounded, down-to-earth. [Side note: My parents, who lived with me when I was a teenager, might argue with me about this. I’ve definitely had my flaky, flippant, eccentric, melodramatic moments. But who hasn’t?] While I frequently crave adventure, I maintain that I have a generally good head on my shoulders. And I’m okay with this characterization.
Too often though, I translate these qualities about myself (reasonable, responsible, down-to-earth) into ways of being that are conventional. This, I’m realizing, is an unnecessary limitation that I place on myself.
There isn’t much that excites me about doing what is ordinary. And frankly, I think living in a way that is faithful to the Gospel is a less-than-ordinary way to be. For one, it usually involves being in solidarity with those who are not like “us.” For another, it turns our priorities around. Seeking wholeness, authenticity, and holiness is to be more important than making money. Also, living like Jesus usually requires a willingness to do things that make us uncomfortable, which is a hard pill to swallow in a society that seeks comfort. I’m not saying that I embrace all this… I’m just trying to get up the gumption to swallow the pill.
I said about 6 years ago that I’d go where God sent me, but in college, I had a professor convince me that I was too gifted academically to go live “in the bush in Africa” – that just wouldn’t be the best use of my skills. Instead I should “go study in Atlanta.” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved at this advice.
That professor might have been right about my particular giftedness, or lack thereof, for bush living…
Regardless though, I want to be open to the less-than-comfortable, less-than-conventional journey on which God is leading me (even if it is to a developing nation where I work in animal husbandry or to a church community where I’m the only one who hasn’t served jail time.)
The cool thing is, I believe God’s calling for all believers is pretty clear and basic: love God, love people, make disciples, feed the hungry, etc. So I also think that we get to shape how we embody that in our individual ways. (At least, if we’re privileged we get a choice.) Now, some people do hear a voice telling them exactly what to do with their lives. But for those of us who don’t, I think we have quite a bit of agency in the matter.
So, if I want to be a children’s minister, I can do this in a way that uses my gifts and is faithful to God. And if I want to go to an island in the South Pacific, I can authentically live out the Gospel there too.
I just need to remember not to limit myself to that which is comfortable and conventional… to live fully and faith-fully.
I guess that is the upshot of all this rambling.
Again, this is not the norm for “Life Lately”… But I think seminary encourages this kind of thinking, and I might as well share with my readers who care enough to read.