Jesus and Jackhammers

I live in a city that is constantly under construction.  Hundreds of people move here every week; it’s an “it” city, a place to be, and so apartment buildings are blossoming like concrete daisies in every vacant lot and half-empty field.  There is more steel than sky now, and the sun is always crossed by a construction crane.

14974946At my school, too, there is construction.  The divinity building is adding a section to the front for, well, some reason.  They haven’t really communicated it to us students, but it does mean that on a regular basis class is punctuated by drills, chains, alarms, and jackhammers.  Last week we were having a communion service in our small chapel and there was a jackhammer going through most of it and I just couldn’t countenance that.

It’s not so much that I think Jesus can’t be present when there’s construction going on—far from it.  Nor do I think the ritual of communion is impeded by noise, or that such noise is either holy or unholy.  But it was just the perfect illustration, to me, of how much distraction there is in that building and in my life.  I’m in divinity school, and I do not pay attention to God.

Not a ringing endorsement for a pastor, really.

Some of this is the school itself and my many disagreements with how it approaches theological education.  But some of it is the noise in my own head, in my heart, in the places where I still haven’t sat down and understood that I saw a lot of death this summer and I’m super distant from my best friend and I have lost a lot of things there were very important to me and I am not dealing with any of that.  My pastor told me the other day that she’s trying to teach me to think theologically and Reader, that’s what I used to be able to do here.  That’s kind of why I started this blog, to sit with you and examine the ways that God shows up in my life, to encourage you to look for the ways God shows up in yours.   Don’t get me wrong—God is still showing up in my life, to be sure.

I just don’t mark it, and I don’t much care.

The jackhammers are too loud, you see.  I can’t hear the still, small voice right now.  I can’t even hear the thundering pillar of fire, to be honest.  I can only hear the jackhammers, and alarms, and the concerns of Doing the Next Thing and there is no ministry in that, to myself or anyone else.  To leave would seem the obvious solution, to go somewhere for a few days at least where I could hear my God think, where I could hear my heart beat, where I could hear my soul breathe again.  But to leave would be to miss class, to abandon my duties at my church, to lose money while I’m not working, to leave people in the lurch, to set myself back.

It’s about the gains outweighing the losses, right?  And they don’t, yet.  I don’t know what it will take for them to do so.  But I know that I miss my weekly chats with you, Reader.  I know that I miss the grounding of this theological thinking.  And I know that I pretty desperately miss the Jesus Who calls my name, a sound drowned by the damn jackhammers.

Where do you find your silent spaces in the midst of the noise?  How do you open your ears to God?  Teach me, Reader.  I have forgotten the way.

 

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind:  and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  (1 Kings 19:11-12, KJV)

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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)