I have been having interesting conversations as of late, but I haven’t had any conversations that have made me think “wow, God, really does want me to be a pastor, and so-and-so validates it.” I love teaching people–formally or not, professionally or as a volunteer, I love showing people something new. But, no one has ever asked me to lead a Bible study class or other Sunday school class. Churches have never asked much of anything from me, really. Both pastors at my previous church were utterly surprised when they heard I wanted to come to seminary, and underneath that surprise was a ton of skepticism and general unwillingness to help me know what I needed to know to be successful–or, what could have been most helpful, a courage to give counsel to me to help me discern for certain that this was the right move.
I deeply enjoy the subject matter here, but enjoying the subject matter doesn’t necessarily add up to a calling or even a strong aptitude for it–note my foray into mathematics for awhile. Which, by the way, I’ve started to miss–I’ve really started missing being able to go down to the public library and decide for myself what I want to read about for the next several months.
Aside from all of the negative feedback I’ve received from: my former churches as well as the level above my church for my denomination, and the psychiatric tests required by my denomination, and the personality tests from the school–aside from all of that negative feedback, I’ve gotten a strong feel for people who really do have caring, pastoral qualities. People who really are Christ-like and turn the other cheek and seek to help others. I am not one of them, though I have tried.
There is also the whole eagerness I had for being in great theological discussions and discussions about the Bible, and I have gotten the strong impression every time I open my mouth that I am coming from a place of white, male privilege (never mind my attempts just to be one human speaking to other human beings) and I would be better off just shutting the f up and letting people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and anyone else who isn’t a heteronormative, neurotypical, middle-to-upper class white male do the speaking. Sometimes people have just flat out said it–we don’t need the voices of any more white males in the conversation.
But, of course, if I try to assert myself at that point, then I am implicitly admitting that I am coming from a place of white-maleness, and therefore, I must be secretly a racist who has joined or is on the verge of joining the alt-right movement. As a human being, I can see that the old attempts to understand racial oppression in terms of seeing someone as less than human have given way to a flat-out war where one race can openly declare on another race (you’re privleged, you’re exhibiting microaggressions, you can’t say anything at all that is valid, your experience can’t inform me because it is completely from a place of white, maleness, therefore shut the f up), and if someone tries to counter with an argument that sincerely attempts to come from the place of one individual human being speaking of his own individual human experience, he might as well be a card-carrying klansman.
So, what am I supposed to do? Slink back to a nice suburban white community and forget about all of this, pretending that the world is still more or less like it was in 1986? Let everyone push me around and shut me up?
I am leaning toward the first option. My goal was to follow Jesus into a deeper relationship with Jesus–to find myself around people who loved the Lord and wanted to become more righteous and holy and pious in all of the best senses of these words when they still meant striving for a closer relationship with God. My goal was to come upon others who found that they needed to be talking and thinking about what it means to be a Christian and their faith journey all day long. People who begin and end their day with their faith, and what they do in terms of helping others and social justice is an outpouring of their life with Christ.
Instead, what I’ve mostly encountered are a lot of people walking around with chips on their shoulders, excessively sensitive to the next terrible thing a Republican or really any white male does or says that somehow indicates a micro-aggression or even a flat-out expression of racism. People wearing their sensitivity and preciousness on their sleeves. And by sensitivity, I mean sensitive to any and every un-PC thing that gets said or done that could possibly construed as offensive and turned into a blog or Facebook post that gains a boatload of sympathetic likes and commiseration. People who already have their minds made up about who God is or isn’t–a lot of them are borderline atheist, and an astonishing number of atheists are alos here.
The trend seems to be that the more eclectic you say that your post-seminary vocation is, the more likely you are to be held in high esteem for wanting to do some amazing, save-the-world alternative ministry with the most marginalized of peoples. Anything related to BLM and silly online tests that unveil you are a closet racist after clicking on a few faces gets unquestioningly accepted as the right and most virtuous thing to do and say, and way to be. It reminds me a lot of my old days at UW where the community organizer thought leader could basically say whatever he wanted, to the point of saying offensive things about Christians, and it went completely unquestioned for the most part because he was not to be critiqued or questioned in any way.
In short, Christianity has, for a lot of these folks, become a contest to see who can be the most virtuous in the worst kind of liberal, PC way. They unquestioningly and unhesitatingly connect their words and intentions to what Jesus said, and are certain they are just as right about who Jesus was and what he would have wanted us to be doing as any of your Bible-belt fundamentalists. What’s more, there really isn’t a huge amount of discussion or conversation in public forums about loving Jesus and praising him and developing a more meaningful spiritual life.
Are evangelicals, charismatics and Pentecostals really the only ones who seek out a more reverent and fulfilling and closer relationship with Jesus? Perhaps a few Catholics who attend most of the masses or have entered monasteries do as well. I got the impression from reading Dorothy Day’s journals that her relationship with Christ went hand-in-hand with her social justice initiatives. I couldn’t say from reading them which one came first in her life, but she certainly never seemed to neglect one in favor of the other.
After that, you have a lot of people who I think are more or less hanging on to the faith of their childhood out of fear of completely abandoning it, but aside from that, they really aren’t much different than the atheists I worked with for so many years in the non-profit world who were so adamant about proving how they, too were on the right side of history when it came to being moral and good, and were even that much more righteous and eager to save the world because they didn’t believe in God.
Our culture seems to have created all of these people with something to prove to others about themselves, and nobody with any real particular desire to just accept who they are with a fullness of knowing and not needing to prove a damn thing–just going and doing.
Maybe it’s the age differences, or perhaps I have been out of touch with the liberal, academic world for too long. Maybe it’s the fact that almost everyone you bump into over the age of twenty-two who is in the workforce or in grad school is now a millennial. The millennial generation isn’t probably as unique as a lot of marketers would like to think that it is–what people say about it is not that different from what people said about Baby Boomers and Gen Xers when they were in their twenties and thirties. But, when almost everyone around you is in their twenties and thirties, the qualities of the twenty or thirtysomething become indistinguishable from the culture itself. With Baby Boomers retiring and Gen Xers not being as large of a generation to begin with (and having a much higher suicide rate than the generations that sandwich them), you are inevitably going to be seeing many more people who are younger than you who act and think like you did when you were that age–you think you are the most special, virtuous person on the planet destined for great things and you have to be constantly proving it to everyone you meet. You think that you are epicly righteous by railing against the hypocrisy of your elders and established institutions.
My opinion is that everyone is a hypocrite if they believe in or stand for something strongly. You are inevitably not going to be capable of completely living up to your ideals. As long as you don’t egregiously commit hypocrisy–like preach against gays while having a gay relationship–then you should be free to do good and be happy as best as you can, and not be constantly wondering if someone is going to come along and condemn you for being some kind of a hypocrite.
In final thoughts for this post, I am simply faced with too much criticism and negativity everywhere I turn. Most of it isn’t directed at me, although there has been a lot more lately than I would have expected. I can only deal with so much negativity, especially when there is so very little constructive recommendation for improvement tied to it. Am I perfect? No. Do I sometimes end up behaving in ways that I criticize others for behaving? Yes. Could I have tried harder, said more, done more, here or there? Of course.
The fact remains though, that the experience of being here and growing into my perceived vocation has not really ever come close to what I expected it to be. If you expect me to shoulder all of the blame for why that is the case, I am okay with that. It doesn’t change my argument that says I simply don’t belong here. At the end of the day, whose fault it is or who could have done better doesn’t really matter if every single sign is pointing toward the EXIT sign.
If I was ten years younger, perhaps I could still see enough of a runway in life left for me to change and get better, and try harder and hang on longer, but I am not. I am forty, almost forty-one. I have a little son to think about. I am running on the final fumes of my one-time belief that God wanted me to be here, and the car is puttering on the verge of stalling.