My Strange Vocation, Part 4
I enjoyed some aspects of my life at Eden Seminary. It was stimulating learning about the Old Testament from John Bracke and the Pentateuch from Walter Brueggemann, translating Philippians from the Greek with Gail O’Day, and traversing the history of Christianity with Lowell Zuck. But even at the best moments, I couldn’t shake off the realization that I was disregarding my inner vision. What I was doing made sense, but it wasn’t what I knew I was called to do. Unfortunately, what I was called to do did not make sense. But it wouldn’t stop nagging me.
It all came to a head one day at the end of Brueggemann’s Pentateuch class. It had been a fine session, full of many insights into the biblical story, and everybody seemed to have had a good time… everybody but me. As we were packing up our things, Walt asked us with a smile, “Is there anything else you’d rather be doing than this?”
I loved studying the Bible. I had come to seminary eager to learn more. But I had to admit that there was something else I would rather be doing.
As I stepped out into the courtyard minutes later, I looked up and watched a jet plane high above me, silently leaving a stream of white in its wake. I was surrounded by Gothic buildings in a place designed for withdrawal from the world, a place where we were invited to meditate on the past. But my mind was on fire with the present. That jet was a case in point. Less than a century before this, we humans didn’t even know how to fly. Now we were routinely sending people into space. How had we changed so quickly? What ramifications did this change have for the development of the human race? Most importantly, what was God doing in the midst of all this change? There was an untold story here, I believed, and it was a continuation of the one we were tracing in Brueggemann’s class.
But no one around me showed an interest in this subject. On the contrary, members of the faculty were constantly ridiculing capitalism (and by implication, the work world). I, too, was critical of the larger culture, but I felt that a blanket dismissal was too simplistic. I wanted a critical engagement with my culture—one that required a detailed understanding of who we were, of how we had become this way, and of where God could be found in our midst.
I had a choice before me. I could stay in seminary and become a parish minister, telling the old, old story of God’s concrete involvement in the lives of people long ago and far away. Or I could go back out to secular employment and keep watching for what God was doing out there now.
Again, Nancy and I had long, intense discussions, and finally we decided to leave. She had an accounting job, so we stayed in St. Louis but of course had to move out of seminary housing. We leased an apartment in Ballwin, a suburb west of the city. However, we only had one map of St. Louis and it extended no farther west than Lindbergh Blvd—over ten miles short of our new town. This was long before GPSs or Mapquest, so we had nothing to guide us. When I realized this, I was horrified. “We’re living off the map!” I told Nancy.
And we were. . . in more ways than one.