Friday, November 12, 2010

The path of no more resistance

I am honored and awestruck to be writing as a contributing scholar for the "State of Formation" project--link to be added once we're live! Here's my first post--the state of my formation!

For years I was both drawn toward and resistant to the notion of seminary. I was resistant because, in my mind, seminary was something that led absolutely and necessarily to ministry in the church (Christian church, that is)—an occupational fearzone for me after years in the “fish bowl” of church life as the child and grandchild of American Baptist pastors. I’d tell my husband that I was born doomed with pastoral gifts—I love public speaking, connecting every day experiences to spiritual questions, journeying with people through transitions, and I even know a few guitar chords. Occasionally I’d read through course descriptions for Introductory Hebrew or Christian Education at the nearest theological institution, but the inquiry would end as I shut down the computer, declaring emphatically, “There’s not a single course I’d choose to take!” Satisfied that no “inward sign of an external call” or “outward sign of an internal call” (however that is supposed to go…) had yet appeared, I’d move on, always taking with me a sense of both dread and possibility.

The dread was easy for me to identify and articulate. The ministry is not an easy life, and to this day I am highly suspicious of anyone who suggests otherwise. While I didn’t walk in my father’s ministerial shoes, and I’m not certain I ever will, I lived near enough to see the toll it can take to feel called by God to be present for people in their suffering. There’s a personal toll, there’s a family toll, and, for his generation, there were few mentors who modeled a way to set boundaries and care for one’s own fragile spirit.

The possibility I felt was more nebulous and hard to define. As much as I had lived the ugliness of church life (I am old and wise enough now to recognize that ugliness is a likely guest in every human community from time to time.), I also knew…and know…the gifts. I love being part of an experience of communal singing each week, and I participate with the gusto of my father’s father, my paternal grandfather. I have come to admire many gentle, humble men in the church—people like my mother’s father, my maternal grandfather. I have benefitted from the legacies of my grandmothers as well, and the wisdom of women has shaped my life personally, professionally, and spiritually. I now think of a shared experience of worship as the setting in which I reset my compass each week. I gaze on my husband with greater tenderness. I watch my children grow to be more fully themselves as they engage with a community of people pledged to care for them. Though my mother died nearly eighteen years ago, it can feel as though she is beside me in the pew, and when I hear a thought-provoking sermon, I hear in my mind the resonance of my father’s preaching voice and the well-considered silences that created space for questions to sink in.

As I write now, it is easy to contemplate the sense of possibility. I have developed an appreciative eye for what it is to claim a set of beliefs and practices within a community, and an even more appreciative eye for what it is to read about, write about, wrestle with, create for, criticize, and rest into a tradition that is explored in the company of “the other.” The dread that once sucked the air out of my lungs feels distant, a black and white photograph of a time when I naively believed a theological education would narrow the world instead of open it. The first step led to the next, and the next, and the next, and I am astonished all the time to see how different this experience is from what I imagined it would be. Where I expected separation, I have found integration; where I expected a single path, I have found many; where I expected a sentence to a life I didn’t want, I have found the privilege of the life that I am in and that is in me.

I’ll save the stories of those first few steps for another day, and close now with gratitude for the privilege of being on this journey. I am awed by each of the writers and the varied paths we have taken to this time and place, and eager to “meet” the readers who will give this dialogue meaning and purpose. Peace.