Saturday, July 16, 2011

Seminarian Identity Flux

It's easy to lose sight of what matters. I have been preoccupied much of this year with anxieties and fears having to do with success and competence in ministry. There's something to the internal logic of seminary and its culture that pushes this emphasis; the incessant process of evaluation almost demands it. Theological training is a crucible, and from what I understand it is not unusual for those receiving it to find their faith tested even as they are being trained to shape the faith of others. So I do not here make a fundamental criticism of seminary, but I must contend that it is in and of itself a very different kind of thing than normal Christian discipleship and formation.

Part of my test, part of what seminary means to me, is coming to understand the Christian leader that I will never be. I will never be a driven, self-organizing, energetic community-creator continually spawning new ministries. I have to say this to myself because I perceive that ideal to be prevalent in contemporary Christianity and close to what people are looking for in a church planter--a vocation currently receiving much attention in my denomination and school. It is cognitively dissonant (and, therefore, emotionally distressing) to me to train to serve God's kingdom with mannered, workman-like competence as the guiding principle.

But I recognize my own baggage at play in resisting such a curriculum. I know that I need this training, but the fierce core of my soul will ever resist the notion that professionalism will suffice. This serves as a convenient excuse to disregard professionalism's qualities--neatness, timeliness, diligence, consistency, etc.--as the phony trappings of a bourgeois clericalism. I must find the third way betwixt fleeing such responsibilities and embracing them as the essence of churchmanship. It's my internal struggle between the feisty legacy of the Jesus movement and the slow-to-change ecclesiology of Anglicanism. Moreover, it's my nasty, cheap-trick fight between my sloth and the gospel demand that I roll up my sleeves and do some work.

I am deeply grateful for a friend who recently, through no intention of her own, reminded me of what matters. She has often had this function in my life, and has accomplished it most recently by preparing to move to India in order to be Christ among orphans there. It is the rarest kind of friend who through simply living their life in Christ recalls for you what most deeply moves and energizes your faith and being. For me this is loving God purely and from the heart, and actively bringing his love to "the least of these." If only every day at seminary were a lesson in this truth, saintliness might spread like wildfire.

Recognizing this alone does not accomplish the hard work of growing in love for God and love for others. However, prioritizing these objectives may very well be my ticket to negotiating a proper balance between my personal spirituality and public professional responsibilities. If I can consistently treat the latter as irrevocably important but always relative to Christ's prime directive ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart... Love your neighbor as yourself") then perhaps I can find a way to healthily channel my charismatic passion through Anglican ecclesiological structure. If not, then I will at least have grown in the core of what it means to be like Jesus and will not have wasted my heart trying to live by the dictums of professional competence.

I've got to level with the world of theological education: In my heart I never wanted to be an exegete or a scholar, nor a simulacrum of Tim Keller exuding white collar competence and theological sophistication from the pulpit. I just wanted to love Jesus and love people, and be in a community where that could be lived out in faithfulness to the word but apart from flaky, anti-intellectual fundamentalism. Gaining Anglicanism has been a welcome and fruitful gain in that process, but integrating my core passions while yet struggling through the cycle of sin and forgiveness has made for a bumpy road.

I need prayer. Prayer that the Lord will help me to live simply and from the heart. I want to be able to possess the integrity of love while not disregarding the obligation of professionalism. I want freedom from sins which so readily ensnare my body, heart and mind. I want to live in to the hope and purpose that God has for my life.

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