Christianity in the New Reality

Oh, Reader, I could use a whole lot of Jesus right now.

It’s been a hell of a week for Americans—for the world at large, really, since America has had nearly 100 years to wrap its long fingers around the limbs of every other country.  I have been disappointed by my country quite a few times, but this is perhaps the first time I’ve been frightened by and for it.  The reckless foolishness, the open childishness, and the marginalizing endangerment of the new administration—in only one week!—are exhausting.  My spirit hurts, my heart hurts, my body aches from marching around Washington, D.C. to remind the world and myself that I matter because I am a woman, not in spite of it.

And I won’t lie, being in seminary is not making it easier.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I attend a pretty liberal divinity school—far more liberal than I am, in some areas.  The anger and the pain of the students here feed mine such that we all starve from them, our very souls gnawing at empty insides because we see only that which is cruel, that which is unmerciful.

I do not know how to recharge from that.

dscn2067Because I do not believe that I, as a Christian or as a faith leader, can walk away from this.  A family member called me out earlier this week in accusation that I wasn’t preaching love, kindness, and forgiveness because I went to the D.C. march and am unapologetic about my reasoning.  But what is love that does not pull the loved one away from evil?  How kind is it to avoid confrontation such that others are harmed because of my unwillingness to speak?  At the end of days, how do I ask God to forgive me if He has to say, “I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me“?

I’ve no intention of turning this blog into an activist space in terms of recruiting you to do anything, Reader; I have other spaces for that, and I hope you do as well.  Nor do I particularly want this to become a conversational space about which politician we dislike this week, not least because I am tired of having those conversations without the benefit of looking people in the eye and saying their real names.  For me, this blog needs to remain a place in which I catalog and describe the God-shaped space in my life and how that shifts and shines.  Heaven knows I need to be more aware than ever before of God’s constant Presence.

But I challenge you and I challenge myself to bring faith into all of our conversations in this new era.  Who is starving, physically and spiritually?  Are we contributing to their inability to be filled?  Are we ourselves, we God-made vessels of the imago Dei, trying to survive on not enough?  Who is parched, and how can we offer both water and Living Water that does not drown and does not cause further thirst?  Who is strange to us, and how do we welcome them?  How do we welcome the parts of ourselves that we cannot yet face because we have bifurcated our own souls, our families, our friends who are too “other”?  Who has been stripped naked, who stands in the harsh light of this day without rights, without safety, without hope, without love, without kindness?  Who is sick, who is trapped in prisons of their own making or of ours?  Have we gone to them and called them by name as children of God?

In the least of these is God.  In the greatest of these is God.  In the average of these is God.  In us is God, for in Him we live and move and have our being.  How shall we act as though this is true?  How shall we move forward as those who have claimed and been claimed by Jesus the Christ?

From wells of worship that never run dry, though we may feel as though there is only dusty earth at the bottom.  May God stand with you in the days ahead, Reader.  May we both recognize Him as He does so.

Help me understand your orders. Then I will think about your miracles.  I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised.  Don’t let me be dishonest; have mercy on me by helping me obey your teachings.  (Psalm 119:27-29, NCV)

Jumping Off Cliffs

The West Wing is one of my favorite TV shows ever; I love the writing, love the pacing, love the casting, love the challenge, love the applicability of it.  In the sixth season (it ran for seven), the president has to appoint a new chief of staff.  When he asks his chosen person, he says, “I need you to do something for me…jump off a cliff.”

Big news in the Land of Pilgrims, Reader—I have made my decision on where to go to seminary.

It’s funny; a lot of folks have been asking me if I’m super excited now or so relieved or really geeked about going, but I have to admit that after I sent in my acceptance I felt…nothing.  Not a bad, soulless kind of nothing, but just the utterly exhausted can-I-please-go-home-and-watch-Disney-films-now kind of nothing, the nothing that comes from having emptied myself.  Do you know what this feels like?  This decision was a bare-knuckle fight to the very end because it was so incredibly important to me and because I so very much don’t want to repeat the mistake of my first master’s program, namely attending a school for all the wrong reasons.  I needed to get this one right.

And I have no idea if I did.  It was a fabulous exercise in watching my words, Reader, to have so many people tell me how to pick a school.  They cared about me and this decision, I know they did, and I honor their concern for me.  But it was so hard to hear again and again “flip a coin and if you’re disappointed, you know;” “throw darts at the choices;” “really sit down with which one has a more solid program;” “go where your gut tells you;” and, of course, “go where God is leading you.”

It felt like God had checked Himself out for this part as effectively as Rizzo and Gonzo right before the Ghost of Christmas Future.

It wasn’t that I felt like God had abandoned me to make this decision, but it most certainly felt like He was letting me get there.  There was no billboard announcing the merits of a certain school, no magically tingly feeling when I read through the materials of one or another.  I had narrowed my starting list of more than 60 schools to five, then three, then two.  Still no open portal to where God wanted me to be.

So I talked to everyone else—or, at least, it felt like everyone else.  I talked to admissions counselors, to alumni, to current students, to friends who had known that school once, to my poor friends who had no stake at all, to friends I haven’t really talked to in years but who are doing some kind of ministry discernment of their own, to God, to myself, to my plants.  I wanted to be sure, you see; I wanted to be right.  God wasn’t telling me which school to choose, so I wanted to make the best possible choice I could on my own knowledge.

But time doesn’t care about whether or not you’ve gathered enough facts; I had to make a choice at last if only to free up the other school’s resources for some other student.  And I will say this about the process of applying to seminary as opposed to “regular” graduate school:  they care that this is hard.  I had several folks from several of the schools check in with me to reassure me that I could take my time, that they were there if I had questions, that they prayed for my discernment no matter the outcome.  (Legit, these folks were praying for my process; trust me on this one, after eleven years in higher education that kind of concern for an applying student is not something you expect.)  But I had to choose—I had to jump off the cliff.

One of the blogs I follow had a really apt illustration of that sense of heading off to grad school and how totally out of your depth you suddenly are.  I am heading off to yet more school, to incur yet more debt with definite uncertainty of work to support that both now and in the future of my denomination (as people love to remind me, the Church is changing), to a state where I’ve never lived with a populace different from what I know.  And the hell of it is that I knew all of this when choosing.  I turned down a school that offered me a full ride and another that would put me right in my comfort zone of people and places I knew, and I had to do that because I need to jump off a cliff.

It’s not about being suicidal, Reader, or even different for different’s sake as a friend accused me of recently.  It’s about knowing that this has to be completely different from anything I’ve done before or it won’t work.  Going to seminary is an incredible investment in a ministerial career, but going somewhere that you absolutely must trust God to help in the transition and accomplishment is a commitment.

Now I’m not advocating that everyone up stakes and replant themselves in order to prove their trust in God.  But I am saying that I have made this huge, life-changing choice, and I’m not going to be super geeked about that.  I am highly aware of what I turned down for this and there are parts of it that I will regret forever because I can’t do everything.  And somewhere I have to be okay with that; somewhere I have to say that this cliff is tall and the water is deep, but God is faithful and that is enough.

 

 

Have I not given you your orders? Take heart and be strong; have no fear and do not be troubled; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go[.]  (Joshua 1:9, BBE)