Monday, January 31, 2011

Career Fair

"Sometiimes it takes holy imagination just to remember a call, to imagine one, not in the sense that the call is an illusion created by us, but when we imagine, we see what we do not know; we see the possibilities God has for us." -Lillian Daniel, This Odd and Wondrous Callings p. 7

My last few weeks have borne a strange resemblance to a career fair. You remember: those big events in college where you'd walk through an exhibition room and look at table after table, each of which displayed one possible career path? They always gave me the sense that I had reached the necessary moment of decision in the choose-your-own-adventure book; it creates a sense of urgency, while offering a seemingly endless number of choices and providing no guidance in selecting just one thing. The past couple of weeks have felt like that.

When I first discerned my call to ministry, I thought that was the end of my career decisions. I figured once I decided to be an elder in a church setting, my direction was set. But I am discovering more and more that there are a bunch of possible trajectories within even that narrow career field. A few weeks ago I interviewed with some folks in the conference to discuss the possibility of becoming a church planter. Last week I was in Washington D.C. learning about the General Board of Church and Society, and thinking about what it would look like to get involved in the church's public policy advocacy work. This week I was back at the church preparing to teach all the clergy in my district in a session about what emergent worship and a lead them in sample emergent worship experience. In considering what I'd like to do for a next appointment, I have to decide what I'd like to do, or what I think I'm called to do. It's not nearly as simple as just being an elder in a church. It's a matter of deciding specifically what sort of church/ministry/focus do I imagine myself having. And I simply don't know.

If there's one thing I've discovered thus far in my life it's that I'm a jack of all (or many?) trades and a master of none. I can do lots of things with some skill, but there isn't just one thing that stands out and defines me. In high school, it drove me crazy. I was one of the smart kids, but I wasn't the super-brain. I was a decent musician, but I wasn't a soloist. I was a fair tennis player, but I wasn't a star athlete. I went around trying everything, learning a lot and having fun, but never distinguishing myself in anything.

When I was in seminary, I began to see that as a blessing: I could do administration, lead worship, provide pastoral care, and do many other ministerial tasks with some degree of giftedness. I was a well-rounded ministerial candidate. It's very helpful in being a generalist minister, but it doesn't help much with discernment. When you seem to be equally-gifted in several areas, when you are passionate about many things, when you enjoy and find more than one thing fulfilling, how do you figure out what is your actual calling?

I see so many possibilities, so many important ways of serving God. I can imagine myself doing any one of them, and doing it happily. I could throw my energies into working for social justice through the GBCS. I could push myself as a church planter and reach out to the unchurched and dechurched. I could focus on new worship forms in an existing congregation. I could go to a small church. I could go to a large church. I could serve in a rural area. I could serve in a city. And I believe I could find ways to be happy in any of those appointments, and I believe God could use me in any of those ministries. But which one is right? What am I called to do? Is this what a quarter-life crisis looks like?

C'mon, God. I'm getting impatient, here. What do you want me to do?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Poetry and Psalms, Part 1

Last week, several of my friends and colleagues went to a conference. When they returned, they were really riled up about the Psalms. Now, I like the Psalms, but I've always struggled with how to connect with them. The language they use tends to be a little obtuse. But they came back and shared a really helpful insight from the conference speakers: the Psalms are God's poetry. Just as we use poetry to express our emotions when our usual prose formulations fall short, the Psalms are words God gives us to cry out to the Almighty when we run out of things to say. As someone who loves poetry, I'm now trying to develop a new appreciation for the Psalms. Here's attempt number one.

"O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil?"
(Ps. 137)

My throat is sore.
My heart is weary.
How can I sing to the Lord?

In foreign tongues
and tunes unknown,
how can I sing to the Lord?

Before hostile crowds
of critical ears,
how can I sing to the Lord?

When anxiety looms
and scarcity threatens,
how can I sing to the Lord?

But even when I walk through the shadow of death
the Lord my God is with me.
How can I keep from singing?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Lifelong Quest

"And being caught in between all you wish for and all you see.
And trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in.
May God's love be with you, always."

This evening I felt a sudden urge to listen to the song "In the Sun" by Joseph Arthur, from which all the quotes in this entry come. I first fell in love with this song when I heard it in the movie "Saved!" and then searched out a recording of it. I'm not sure why it popped into my head this evening, since I haven't listened to it in several months. But as I played it again tonight, it seemed somehow perfect for today, the Sunday of Epiphany.

I get jealous of the magi sometimes. I mean, of course I admire their dedication and their journeying to seek Christ. But in some ways I think their quest was a bit easier than many people's quests are. After all, as Christians, we're all called to seek Christ, to journey in our lives as God calls us, just as the magi did. But most of us aren't fortunate enough to have a huge, honking star pointing us in the right direction like a giant neon sign. Most of us are stuck trying to fumble our way with only the occasional mile marker and maybe, if we're lucky, a sometimes-working compass. And to be perfectly honest, I was never good at orienteering.

"I'm sure I would apologize if I could see your eyes.
'Cause when you showed me myself, you know I became someone else."

Tonight, I wish God would send a star or a sign or something to tell me where to go. I want to interrogate God: "Do you want me to stay and work with this congregation, or is there somewhere else you want me to go? Should I work with an existing congregation, or are you calling me to be a church planter? Do I stay in ministry, or do you want me to be a missionary, or even to go into one of the myriad other possible vocations? And do I get any say in this, does what I want matter? Or is it all about you?" But so far, those questions have been met with a silence that I take to mean, "Wait, kiddo. You'll know when the time comes."

"If I find, if I find my way, how much will I find?
You. You. I'll find you."

I want to know what's coming. I want to know what I'm supposed to do. I want to know where to go, and what I'll find when I get there. I'm impatient. And as I stare at a sky full of stars, none of which seem to be pointing me in any particular direction, I feel very, very small. Which is, tonight, perhaps the best hope that God can give me. Far away, there is a sky filled with thousands of stars, some so distant that I cannot even see them. But God has numbered them and knows each one. That same God, all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-mysterious, knows me and my future. And it is that God, the God of the stars and of signs and of all our comings and goings, who has come to be with us. It is that God, in Christ, that I will find beside me on the road and with me wherever I am going. Tonight, on this dark and winding path, that is enough.