Wednesday, March 25, 2009
God, mammon and me
You know, people talk about "the call," or "a call." I've not wrestled with that much.
My call is to be a communicator. I *am* a communicator.
What I've communicated, and how, have changed over the years, but I've usually been fortunate enough to be tasked with communicating information and ideas that interest me, or excite and inspire me -- or at least that don't bore me to tears.
"Discernment" is sort of another thing: What do I do with this "call."? That's where I am now, and that, friends, up up to God, mammon and me -- all I can do is be willing, and try to put myself in situations where it could happen.
The off-the-rack price for an M.Div. (87 credit hours) where I'm looking is about $50,000, not counting books, fees, and gas to Tulsa and back (110 miles from my house to there).
There is no reason for me to quit my job. No regular class meets more than once a week. There are intensive week-long seminars once in awhile. And this fall, they're tiptoeing into online classes.
First-year tuition is half price: about $250 per credit hour. Merit scholarships and others are possible -- and I am a pretty smart feller, and have papers to show it -- :-) -- but then the place positively reeks of brilliance so that might not get me too far! And, my church might help.
Another part of "discernment" regards WTH I'd do with an M.Div. once I got it -- at just shy of 50 years old. I can write, and I can preach. I can administer.
But could I pastor? That'd be the biggest "God thing" of all in this, 'cause I can't see it. But who can say?
This fall, I could take Intro to the Hebrew Bible (Genesis to Kings) and Intro to Christian History (Reformation to modern), on site and Hebrew Wisdom Literature during a weeklong seminar in October.
Calling God. Calling mammon. Hello-o-oo? Are y'all really calling me?
If you enter, you'll enter smirched in pig blood. If you're good, you'll be good because you'll always keep in mind you're smirched.
"But could I pastor?"
Let's hope you'll always keep living the question, not to mention that you've already been pastoring.
My response was that if the education you get is worth anything at all, then it ought to provide you with a background that leads to an understanding of what you want to do with it when you're finished, not when you're starting out.
My guess is that you'll figure it out when the time comes.
Feodor, I would like for you to consider a mutual outing of ourselves. I have no burning question or anything, but I might someday. If not, that's cool, too. Or, we could e-mail. If you like to do either, so say, and I'll put my e-mail address in a comment until you say you've grabbed it, then remove it.
Alan: You're right, I know. So far in life, academically, I've studied stuff that interests me, but made sure I had a practical thing to do with it (political science, economics: news writing and editing. history: historical research and writing.)
I'd prefer the MTS, but the M.Div. is the credential for a pastoral ministry, which would be the practical thign in this case.
On the schooling - there's something refreshing but unfinished about autodidacts, especially rednecked ones. Personally, I'm on the skeptical/sociological end of the theory of knowledge spectrum, at least in this field, and wild mystics more intriguing than so-far-and-no-farther theologians, wmo seem neither fish nor fowl.
we need more communicators and adminstrators in the church. poor preaching and lack of boundaries have really hurt the church. i think you'd be great. you have an inkling, a feeling... keep following it. what you find will be your passion. where your passion lies, so does your call.
exciting we've met, now it's 10x the excitement! and just shy of 50? in my school, you'd be in the majority!
As to the whole issue of the almighty dollar, I would echo Feodor's comment. If, indeed, the decision is correct - and that is not really known until after the fact, is it - you need to set that aside until after some more basic questions are considered. Does the program offer a way to take your skill set, your experience, and shape it to serve the church and through it the world? Speak with an ordained clergy member or five from your denomination in a variety of ministries, from local parish ministry to chaplaincy to specialized ministries (education, mission work, whatever might be out there) and find out how they worked through fine-tuning their own sense of ministry, and how the M. Div. program helped or didn't help them on that path (remember, the M. Div. is a professional degree that fills a particular social need; ministry is God's work, and you have to negotiate the two agendas in order to get where you believe God wants you to be).
The last issue is one I cannot stress enough. What does the good Dr. Mrs. think of this? As a clergy spouse, I will tell you, right off the bat, it is not easy. At all. Even on really good, easy-going days, it is hard as hell. I know that I run a distant third in Lisa's priority list, behind the church first, then our children. I understood, in some vague way, when we married this was how it would be (we put off having kids for four years and enjoyed our alone time very much); it was only upon reflection, and sometimes in the midst of long stretches where we hardly see one another, that I realized the reality of just how hard it all is. Late nights waiting for her to come home. The various runs to hospitals all over the place. Strings of funerals that sap the energy and emotional vitality (death is not quite a constant companion, but is never far away either). On a night when you might plan an evening together, there might come a call, and you have no choice but to insist - "Go!"
I have known marriages that couldn't handle the strain. I know the bonds that hold us together have become nano thin on many occasions. These are realities, too, and not very fun ones, either. I am not telling you any of this to discourage you; I am telling you this so you will be aware of the many facets of life as a clergy person.
I will also tell you there are many days Lisa wants to quit. She will tell me she wants to give it all up, and move back to DC so she can work in the delicatessen where she worked while in seminary. She has spoken recently of wanting to take a sabbatical. It wears you down - if you serve as a pastor of a congregation, your life is not your own, no matter how hard you try and pretend otherwise - and chances for true re-creation are few and far between (Lisa relies on naps, mostly; that and baking).
Yet, when she is on - and she is rarely ever "off" - that is not just what she does. Ministry is who she is. Blue-skying and BSing about quitting and even taking a year off sound nice - "Let's travel! Let's spend a year overseas!" - and I have no sense that God would be angry or reject her if these paths were taken. Yet, I remind her - God will still be there, and the sense of something vital having been lost will still be there.
There are many things to consider when thinking through the call to ministry, in whatever form it may take. You are already a fair way down the path. Maybe a class or two to get a sense of whether or not "this is where I belong" clicks in your head.
But then there are a myriad of ways to serve that you could follow. Simply don't worry about it. You will recognize it when it comes.
Begin and see what happens.
Fuck age. 12 years is more than Jesus had. Not that I go in for that compare-faith-life-to-Jesus sort of thing.
(The first answer that comes to my mind regarding WWJD? is that he sure goddam wouldn't be seen wearing a sweatshirt with that on it.)
"Got Done..." You'll never be 'got done' with this. The degree will just be a stutter on the way. As far as age is concerned, your larger experience will allow you to understand what you will learn in ways not accessible to those in their 20's or 30's. You may, no, probably will find that you have been in preparation all along already.
Money and time and energy will not be the major resources that will be drawn down during this period. It will cost more of your ego than you can now imagine. No more shell to protect you. You will go spiritually naked into the world which will relish your vulnerability.
Yes your 'you' will be "protected", but not the 'you', you think you are.
Now if that is not the way it goes, if after all that work, you come out just the erudite redneck with a preacher's degree then that would be the waste. I don't think that will be what goes down however. Don't fear that, nor any other out come.
P.S. You could do with an id reallocation and an ego reduction anyway.
On the rest, they did everything they could to alert the prospects that they would enter one way and leave another. Some of the current students actually had a palpable air of rattled discombobulation about them. Bring it on. It might kick my ass. But I've been self kicking for awhile already
Does ER need the witness protection program?
I agree totally with DrLBJ - the ego cost in parish work the huge price. And here your experience could work against you.
Demanding people will be easier and, where necessary, everyone else will be more forgiving with Luke because of his youth.
That, you ain't got.
About six weeks in to her first semester, just after we had started dating and were still in the "get-to-know-you" mode, Lisa came to me, weeping, because the accumulated bits of info, just from her survey classes, had collapsed the foundations of what she then called her "faith". She felt not just lost, but wondering if there would be anything left. I told her that, yes, there would be, but it would take the rest of her life to put those pieces together.
Her experience was not unique. When I started, I remember several students either crying, drinking, or otherwise acting out as they realized that what they thought they knew was mostly crap, and what they were now learning wasn't as solid as the old "truths" they used to build their castle-in-air they called "Christianity".
Since you've been through that part already, in your crab-like move from Southern Baptist to the UCC over the years, I do not think it will be quite as emotionally or psychologically or spiritually traumatic for you; you will see others, however, for whom it will be.
Because the real threat to my faith and ideas about God was going on outside the classroom but at the same time: The last heaving and ho'ing of the Cold War, sabre-rattling, the Strategic Defense Initiative and the likelihood of a nukin'. With a backdrop including the forced reading of "Alas, Babylon" in an English class and "The Day After" phenomenon on TV. In those days, my concept of God got so tiny, the thread of my faith for so thin, it's a minor -- or perhaps major -- miracle that I came out the other side at all. Once on the other side, I realized two things: I had let my concept of God get too small; and that my concept of God couldn't possibly have a damn thing to do with God. It's not been smooth sailing since then, but -- knocking on wood -- I haven't suffered such a tsunami of night terrors and emptiness since then.