My Advent, Reader, was not much for waiting. It was, in its own way, much closer the story than the sanitized ecclesiastical season we’ve since created (about which Interpreter had a marvelous sermon on Christmas Eve)—I did not cheerfully put up decorations and hold still, breathing in the presence of the Spirit. I finished a semester, learned new ways to be frustrated with church, drove some 1,200 miles or so in a week and a half, and gathered the people who know my name to remind me who I’m supposed to be.
I’ve forgotten, you see.
Seminary—no, I can’t blame this entirely on seminary. Well, divinity school; they are different, actually, though the difference is often more in pride than practice. There are politics here, as everywhere else. But here in divinity school I find that my soul is closed. There are many reasons for this, some of which I’ve related to you and many I have not. You may have noticed, Reader, in my erratic posting and my rather bleak entries that I’m not quite having the spiritual awakening I was perhaps hoping for. And that’s the crux of it. No matter whose or what’s fault it is, I was hoping for seminary—divinity school—to tell me how to live out this call, to teach me what it means for me to be a minister in God’s world. It has not.
This breaks my heart, to be honest. I am disappointed, which is a terrible thing to be. But in being disappointed I’ve allowed myself to also become disillusioned and distant. I will not survive the next year and a half as these. I will not survive the next week as these, really, and so in this space where I didn’t finish my Advent series and I didn’t properly wish you a merry Christmas and I’ve not kept to the schedule I promised, I make my new year’s resolution: to stop waiting for someone else to teach me my call.
I hoped for so much in seminary and here’s the thing: hope is a stupid, idealistic concept. Hopes can be broken, shattered, and lost. Hope is an intangible idiocy that looks at what is and asks but what if; hope is something so often placed in other things and so rarely placed in oneself. I hoped—but now I find myself having a dance party to The Greatest Showman soundtrack (go ahead, listen to it; I don’t care if you think it’s trite, it’s stirring and inspiring and outrageously full of the best kind of foolish hope) while I pack up my apartment to move yet again, the third time in a year and a half. This doesn’t count the times I’ve moved for the summer, for Christmas, for whatever where I was just living in someone else’s space; this doesn’t count the fact that 3/4 of my things are tucked away in boxes back in the Land of Pilgrims, waiting for me to return and be a proper adult that doesn’t move so much. I hoped for so much, and it hasn’t come true, so now I need to sit down with God and figure out where my hopes should go.
As I pack I’m finally cleaning the books and cards and pencil cases I’ve not touched from this summer’s violation, finding the pack of Newport cigarettes hidden behind the Toni Morrison books and the used Band-Aids stuck to the Garfield cartoon collections. I’m reading all of these titles I haven’t even really been able to look at as they silently showcased yet more dashed hopes, and I’m realizing that I had so much to work with way before I ever entered divinity school. God did not call me to school; God called me to ministry. Don’t get me wrong, Reader, I don’t advocate for anyone who feels God’s tugging to set up shop and be a preacher on the spot. I understand and support the levels of training and accountability that ordination tracks require. I will finish this degree, and I will jump through the hoops, and I will learn from people and places that I never would have encountered otherwise. But I don’t need divinity school to tell me that God is calling me by name, that God is reminding me who and Whose I am, that the wonder I had before I started this at the incredible majesty and absurdity of faith is still there, under the ash that is currently my hopes.
So I’m going to go drag out that wonder and do this for me. I’m going to hope in great music and small victories and the people across the world who know my name and remind me who I am when I forget. I’m going to hope in this new apartment even though I am so scared that my hopes for it will be struck down, too. I’m going to stop waiting for divinity school to teach me anything and start learning it on my own, remembering the part of me that loves to discover and ponder and puzzle. I’m going to spend time in places that are life-giving and not in places that aren’t, which means I’m going to be pretty scarce at school and pretty constantly at church. I’m going to admit that I’m afraid of everything I just said I will do, and then do it anyway.
What that means for us, Reader, is that I’m going to take leave of you for a while as I go look for how to do all this. I know that this sounds like a bad break-up letter and I’m sorry about that. I’m not leaving this space forever, but I’m taking from now until Easter to look at what my life is and what both God and I hope it should be and measure how far apart those are. And then, dear Reader, I’ll come back and tell you what might bring them closer.
Christ is born, Reader, and that is amazing. But on this fourth day of Christmas that just means that we who knelt in that stable must now get up and walk to the empty tomb that changed everything all over again. Have a phenomenal 2018; fill it with hope, dangerous and outrageous and wild, and let no one stop you from acting in that hope. I’ll see you in Eastertide.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)