Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Quick Life Update

Hello for the final time tonight, faithful reader.  Please read the two posts below, which complete my review of Jenny Jump State Forest and pose a few interesting (at least interesting to me) questions about fear.

As for my life, I am busier than a beaver or an ant before winter.  Over the last few weeks I have been preparing for the fall academic semester, hanging out with my wife and trying to relax as much as possible (to no avail).  Now I am in the thick of academia, about to plunge even further in its murky depths.  I am taking several fantastic classes this semester: Systematic Theology, Preaching, Writing as Faith Practice and Greek Translation.  I am also starting a unit of Field Education, working at a local Church in Trenton, NJ.  Needless to say, I am both eager and cautious about what lies ahead of me.  I hope, and fear, that I will be stretched this semester, in ways that I have never been.  I also hope that this will be a time of discernment for me, a time of questioning and finding answers, even if those answers lead to more questions.  

More than anything, I want to find joy and passion.  I want to know that I am at least getting out of the woods, even if I am not yet on the right path.  I want to know whether the light I see ahead is the daylight I so desire, or a train I should avoid.  I want to know if I am running away, or running toward, if I am escaping from or finally heading home.  Many of you know that I am caught in my thoughts between believing that I am called to parish ministry (being an ordained pastor) or academia (being a professor, or teach of some kind), or perhaps a third option (God only knows... literally).  Since I was in seventh grade, I have believed that I was called by God to do something.  For almost nine years I thought that that something was being a minister of the word and sacrament.  In fact, I never gave a second thought that this was my path.  

One day, during a class that aimed to view the pastor as a person, a class that focused on knowing oneself, the thought hit my like a train: what if I am not called to be a pastor?  I had been told this many times before, of course, that there were many callings, many vocations, many ways to live for God.  But I had never asked this question of myself.  I had been having a growing discomfort and apathy over the pastoral role, specifically the pastor as counselor and the pastor as administrator.  Slowly, I had begun to resent the fact that pastors nowadays, at least in the Presbyterian Church, are looked upon as administrators, counselors, healers, preachers, teachers, parents, prophets and a myriad of other things.  This seemed to me to contradict directly 1 Corinthians 12: 

"27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret?"

If not all are apostles and teachers and prophets and healers and interpreters and administrators, why are pastors supposed to be?  Why are we not calling more and more on our congregations to take up the gifts God has given them?  Why are we not, more and more, de-emphasizing the position of pastor, instead of lifting it higher and expecting pastors to be gods?  Pastors are simply members of the church, chosen, for a time, to lead, or to exhort, to comfort.  But this is the job of all.  And pastors are simply congregants who feel that God has given them something to say, a vision for the church.  They are no greater than and are not more gifted than the people in their congregations.

Compounding all of this was the fact that I had become more and more attracted to the idea of teaching.  I have always thought of myself as a teacher, and all through my life I have held in tension three future occupations: writer, professor, pastor.  I have focused much of my life on pastor, thinking that it was the "God-ordained" ministry, the only one that could be viewed as a true "calling," (and isn't this what many of us think?).  Yet I remember thinking often how wonderful it would be to teach, to see the light of understanding glow in students eyes, to impart knowledge, to learn from my students, to question with them.

As soon as I was struck by this thought, the thought that I did not have to be a pastor, I felt both great fear and a great release.  I was afraid for what I would tell my family and my wife's family, who had known me for years, and had heard me say many times that I was confident that I was going to be a pastor.  I was afraid to tell my friends, some of whom were depending on me, who were going to be pastors with me, who had asked me (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not) to officiate their weddings when I was finally ordained.  I was afraid of the fact that it might mean seven more years of schooling, seven more years of being poor.  I was afraid and ashamed that I had for so long talked to my wife about only being here for three years, and she had put some of her dreams on hold to come here to support me.  I was afraid that I was straying from the path.  And yet, simultaneously, a great burden that I hadn't known was there lifted off of my shoulders.  I carried it still, supported high and pulling slightly on my armpits, until I finally broke the news to my wife.  She sat in silence for a while, questioning, and then said what she has always said to me: "I will support you and love you wherever you go."  The straps on my burden broke.  I felt free, and yet still fearful.  Hard times and hard questions have followed, but God's love and the love of my wife have continued to sustain me.

I still do not know if I have simply shrugged off the cross I was meant to bear ("take up your cross and follow me," said Jesus) or if I escaped from my own preconceived notions of ministry and the call God has for me.  I don't know if I have left the path, or ventured toward it.  So this year is a time of discernment.  I'm still taking all of the necessary classes to be ordained (although I am no longer engaged in the long, tedious, expensive Presbyterian process of ordination).  I am still working in a church for a field education experience, about to do all the things that I have no passion for, to see if my passion is actually just tempered by fear and needs to be overcome by love.  

I apologize for that not-so-brief update.  It just poured out of me.  Thank you for reading, if you have read this far.  I am sure I'm not the only one searching for a meaning and a purpose.  Grace and Peace to you, faithful reader.


banananibor said...

It's reassuring to know even the academic super-heroes among us don't know what the heck they're doing. Welcome to the club...

Hey, at least you didn't decide you were "called" to be an astronaut or a professional unicycler. (!!) Education comes in all shapes and sizes and I doubt yours could be considered a "waste" no matter where you end up...

Marc said...

Robin ~ just in case you're interested, check out the video on dan heaton at:

extreme unicycling! Wooo!

Amy Florence said...

Marc, it seems to me that you are doing what you were called to do. You are open to God's leading and over the next two years things may become more clear. I know from our time in the study group that you have a gift for teaching. It also seems that you would be a wonderful pastor. Just keep walking down the path and I'm sure you will end up in the right place. And good for Sarah - a supportive spouse is probably the best gift God has given you on your walk.

KatieM said...

We are in the same boat, my grab and oar and enjoy the journey. I am thinking of doing a new blog...something as a point of release...thoughts?

love and miss you and your wife oh so very freakin much!

katiemac said...

Now I can be cool like you! I love you guys!

banananibor said...

Now you're making me want to change MY life ambitions. Holy crap. Or maybe I can do you think they let epidemiologists ride unicycles like that?

Amber said...

"You'll be fine no matter which route you choose" is what we will all say, and it is true, though it is of no help at this moment of indecision!
The nice consolation, for me at least, is that God has a hand in all things. Sometimes we take the most backwards, roundabout paths that miraculously end exactly where God intended for them to end. I look back on certain turning points in my life, crucial decision times, if you will, and I realize that God was opening some interesting doors that I never would have come to on my own. Had I done one thing differently, I think to myself, I wouldn't be where I am today. But is that true? I feel this strange sense that God took all of my "bad" decisions and somehow routed them back to His path. After all, only God could have gotten me to where I am today, even if I took a few detours.
The other nice thing about your predicament is that teaching and preaching can truly be done simultaneously. That is, you can be (and will be) a messenger of Christ in whatever career you choose. You can also look upon a congregation of believers as your students because, in many respects, though we should all be learning and discerning on our own, we do look to our pastors for knowledge and wisdom. Although, I don't know what the turnout rates would be on homework assignments and exams administered at Sunday morning worship services :)
Mark, your search is an inspiration, and I look forward to seeing where it is you do end up. There is no doubt in my mind that God has great plans for you. Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans for a hope and a future.

Laurie said...

I didn't realize that my blog wasn't showing up on my if you are so inclined, you can now click on my name and see a link to my blog! I'm not as eloquent or deep as you, my friend, but I keep it pretty updated. Take care!