Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A "Brief" Update from the Newsdesk and a Meditation on Trains and Railroad Tracks

Just a brief update from the life of Marc. Life is good. Hectic? Yes. Sleepiness-inducing? Yes. Good? Definitely. My current schedule involves waking up between 6:30 and 7:00 AM after ignoring a beeping alarm for at least half an hour. Sarah and I then do crunches while listening to a worship song. Shower, breakfast and checking morning e-mail usually follow in some sort of order. Then, we're off to school at around 8:20, give or take ten minutes. From there, Monday through Thursday, I'm either in class or at work at the bookstore until 5:30/6:00 PM, at which point I (and sometimes Sarah) head home to cook and eat dinner and check evening e-mail. This concludes at approximately 7:30PM, after which I study/puttz around/occasionally harvest on farmville until around Midnight, at which point I flop in bed to read a chapter of a fun fiction book, then collapse for a good six hours of sleep and start the cycle over again. Friday's a little bit more relaxed, with class in the morning and then a lunchtime meeting with my church supervisor. Friday afternoon through Saturday are then recoup/relax/get other things done days. Sunday we wake up around 7:00 in order to leave for church at 9:00 (it's a one-hour drive each way), are at church from 10:00 til approximately 1:00, and drive back home to eat lunch at 2:00. Then I'm studying for classes on Monday.

This, at least, is the ideal week, and the rhythm for now. Last week I also helped to lead a Taize worship band (practice on Monday for an hour and a half and on Tuesday for 45 minutes). I will be doing this once a month. This past Saturday I was honored to play in the wedding of a friend's daughter and spent the day driving two hours to the wedding and two hours back. The wedding was beautiful, and I ended up playing the song that I used to propose to Sarah. Ah memories!

In a few weeks this rhythm will change as I become more engaged in my field education placement. I need to start allotting at least 4 hours a week to planning curriculum for two Adult Education classes I'm leading. I will also be preaching twice in November, which will require at least 8 hours of research and writing per sermon smashed somewhere in to my schedule. I will also start to attend meetings at the church on Tuesdays, cutting 4 additional hours out of my study week. Once I start to lead classes, a further 4 hours (including driving time) will need to be devoted to something other than studying. All of this means, if my calculations are correct, that Fridays and Saturdays, instead of days of rest, will need to be days devoted to studying.

So. You might not read from me much this semester! Or next semester. But I will try to update as much as possible.

On a positive note, the previous paragraphs were actually not complaining! I'm enjoying all of my classes and am very excited to dive into teaching and preaching and getting to know folk at the new church. I know quite a few people who have busier lives than I, and I am thankful to be involved in things I love.

On a further positive note, I present to you a short meditation on Trains and Railroad Tracks. Seriously. This is presented, for those who will understand what I am saying, in President Iain Torrance style: throwing a few random, seemingly unrelated stories together, then binding them up at the end.

On one of the Appendix DVDs for Peter Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings, Jackson describes the process of writing and directing the massive three-film undertaking as "frantically laying down the tracks" in front of a moving train. He and his co-writers on the film would literally be revising scenes and, in some cases, planning shots the morning before shooting them. He was often exhausted.

In the Presbyterian Church, folk often refer to people who are seeking to be ordained as being "on the ordination track." It's a track meticulously laid out, with five tests, a psychological exam, meetings with several committees, deadlines and a whole forest full of paperwork. The PC(USA) has worked hard to ensure the reliability of its ministers (as far as humanly possible), and this "track" shows it. For those not on the ordination track in the PC(USA), the future is much, much less clear.

After finally coming to terms with no longer seeking ordination (at this point in life), I have recently become more comfortable sharing this information with others. Some people react knowingly, sympathetically, supportively. They offer prayers. Others react with shock. "You know how hard it is to get a job not being ordained? You know the pension and pay are less? Right? What do you do with an MDiv, not being ordained?" These are realities that I have faced and questions I have asked myself.

For a long time I knew where I was going. The track was laid out for me. I went to a Presbyterian-related college, received a religious studies degree, applied and was accepted to the seminary of my choice. I just had a few more hoops to jump through, a few more tests to take, three years of schooling and then... BAM! I'd be a pastor. All the rails were laid out for me. All the forms were in my possession. I just had to follow the steps. Well, the rest of the story is old news by now for readers of this blog. I'm no longer seeking ordination.

Today, at a luncheon for the Teaching Ministry Program in which I am enrolled, we were asked to share how we learned that we were teachers and when we discerned that teaching was a vocation, a ministry. As I sat listening to Faculty Mentors, Site Supervisors, and fellow students -- all with wildly different and intriguing testimonies -- I tried to find some type of pattern in my life, some type of story.

When the time came for me to speak, I began with the family myth of arguing with my grandmother and winning, at which point she announced that I would either be an lawyer or a pastor. I noted that, in accord with several of my peers, I understand things better when I try to make them understandable to others. I mentioned watching my mom go back to college, finish graduate school, and begin teaching, while I walked through elementary, middle and high school. I told how she always encouraged me to follow where God led, and how she constantly reminded me that our calling from God doesn't have to be in church ministry. I shared that she believed teaching was her ministry, her calling, and that she pursued it with passion. I related my love for the church, and my discernment of a calling to work for God with God's people, and how that lead me to seminary.

Then the story stopped. My voice hiccuped. I flailed for a second, wondering how to put what happened next. "I fell of the ordination track," I said, "and I'm not under care under anybody right now." I felt my face twitch. I didn't realize how hard it would be to say that sitting in a room of people, most seeking ordination, most working in the church. Ranged around me were nearly twenty people who had finally found their vocation, and nine of my peers who were learning with me what that word meant. I realized how much of a loss it had been to fall of the tracks, to get derailed.

"I fell off for a variety of reasons," I continued, "one of which was that I realized I was more comfortable as a member of a church, but not as the leader of a church. I feel more alive and full of light being one of many." That was another thing I'd only shared with a few people. I felt sweat on my hands. My body shook a little. I always have a strange reaction to being vulnerable, to sharing something deep and true about myself. I can preach a sermon, give a talk, teach a class and speak confidently, no knee-shaking involved. But when I talk about something deep and true about myself, I fight to stop my body from quivering. I fought this afternoon.

I pressed on and told how, with the help of Lori, my field ed. advisor, and Jan Willem, my supervising pastor from last year, I discerned that teaching might be where God was leading me. I spoke about applying and being accepted to both the teaching ministry program and the dual degree MDiv/Masters of Arts in Christian Education program, and about my joy over finding a great faculty mentor and site supervisor. By now I could barely keep myself from shaking. I was about to say something deep and true, but, simultaneously, something that I had just learned while speaking the previous sentence. I could tell it was true because my body was "like a hill on a fault line," as Rich Mullins put it. I said: "And now I finally feel like I'm no longer frantically laying the tracks down in front of myself. The tracks are there in front of me again. I feel like I'm in the right place."

I hadn't realized until that point that I had been in a Lord of the Rings place, a Peter Jackson place. I hadn't realized that I'd been frantic for almost a year, lost and flailing. I hadn't realized the depth of loss and confusion that had come from falling off the track on which I'd been riding for almost a decade, since I received my call in seventh grade. I'd been trying to build the railways and conduct the train for a year, all by myself. And I had been exhausted and burnt out (read my previous posts for proof). But suddenly, I could see the tracks again. Not the whole route, but at least a few miles ahead. I knew that I was on the right path.

I still don't know yet whether I will teach in a church or in a college or seminary. But I know that for the next two years I will be where God wants me to be: learning about education, living with people I love, loving the people of the Princeton community. I have found myself again, or, perhaps, remembered that I have been found. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, I have remembered now what I forgot, and that I have forgotten it. I have been living my life forgetting that I've forgotten, not realizing how lost I felt, how lost I was. But now I remember that I was lost, and in doing so, have rediscovered that I have already been found. Praise God.


Sarah said...

I love you, Marcus. And I'm looking forward to traveling alongside you on the tracks God lays out in our lives.

Amy Florence said...

It sounds like you are on the right track!

Abu Kaidman said...

Thanks for sharing that, Marc...I'm desperately on the lookout for the right track, myself, and am glad to hear that you've rediscovered yours. Hope springs eternal and all that! In the meantime, where are you and your lady going to be during the first week or so in Jan.? Down in NC, or near Princeton, or Michigan, or Option D?