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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.

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4 thoughts on “My Strange Vocation, Part 4

  1. I was talking with a friend of mine who just completed seminary recently and he asked me if there was anything other than ministry I’d rather be doing–if so, I should do that instead. I turned it around and asked myself that about medieval studies; is there anything I’d rather be doing than this? Well, yes, but I also realized I share the different angle you so plainly stated–when working with medieval things, my colleagues get so into rebuilding the past, creating the world that will never again be so that we can admire what it might have been. When I teach that (as I think you may have noticed), I’m much more interested in making it live, making it relevant, making it something that matters to people right now. So, in a roundabout way, I get that difference of objective you felt; glad to hear it, albeit on another plane, from someone else.

    • Yes, it does come through very clearly in your teaching that you want to bring the past to bear on our understanding of the present. And in fairness, I do believe that my teachers at Eden wanted to do that, too. I wrote and rewrote an extra paragraph in this piece that just ended up being cut… about how the path I was following should not be interpreted as a criticism of anybody else, least of all the faculty at Eden, who were wonderful. I just knew that I needed to go in a different direction.

      I’m glad that my own experience is helpful to you, and I continue to pray for you to know the direction you must go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Ron

  2. apocalypseicons on said:

    I have just skipped out of the podcasts- so love that Joseph which was today’s reading incredibly- to have a look at your recent posts.
    Your honesty and sincerity as to how you feel comes across so much, here. I too, having worked in the scientific industry, have a great interest in new developments and the potential of humanity. We can get totally immersed in contemplative life to such an extent that we fail to surface again into the real world. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could live with one foot in paradise and one foot firmly rooted amongst everyone around us at the present time. ‘On earth as it is in heaven’.

    God Bless Ron

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