Putting Down Roots

what I’ve been working on lately
January 22, 2012, 12:07 am
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Something that’s been taking up much of my free time lately–that is, the time that isn’t filled with watching babies learn how to walk and do jazz hands, or playing the ukulele in the worship band at church, or learning how to shoot pool in smokey bars–is the arduous, wonderful process of applying to seminaries. For a long time, I’ve felt a distinct call to be a pastor, to make my work the act of fostering communities that share the good news that God loves everyone and cares about everyone.

Other friends are taking the GRE and memorizing vocab words and calculus formulas and, I don’t know, analogies or whatever; I am answering questions like “describe and reflect on your life journey and vocational directions towards which you are pointed.” Sometimes I find this wonderful and compelling and I am just thrilled that my life is such that people want me to answer such questions; other times I’m just tired of trying to find synonyms for the word “calling.”

One of my great feats (I was rewarded for this with a beer and a pineapple-spinach pizza by a friend who’s also applying to seminaries) was to complete a 4-page spiritual autobiography. Unbeknownst to me, I had drafted the whole thing in 14pt font, and so at the eleventh hour realized that I could include a whole other page of revelations, formative experiences, and insights into “the vocational directions towards which I am pointed.”

Because it’s something I’ve put a whole bunch of work into, and because I, at least, find it interesting, I thought I would pass it along. It’s alot to read in one post, so you get half today, and you might get half tomorrow, unless I forget, in which case you’ll get the other half before, say, Wednesday.


Before my mother got thrown out of our church for being divorced, before my father convinced me that Christianity was all about judgment and hypocrisy, before I watched the image of Jesus in America become more and more linked to exclusivity and conservatism, before I swore that I would never be joined with something so negative, before, even, I knew how to read, I was a three-year-old kneeling in my closet, having taped a watercolor cross to the door and named it my church. I was repeating the words of the Lord’s Prayer as my sister sounded them out. Neither of us knew what we were saying, but we knew, in some part of ourselves, that it was holy.

It took until high school and many, many walks with a friend who was gentle and kind, who listened and asked questions, who was a Christian but did not seem intent on proving me wrong, that I–convinced that I would remain an atheiest–followed a  nudging inside me and somewhat unwillingly went back to church.
I found that the real Jesus was nothing like the Jesus I thought I knew. Reading a borrowed Bible and sitting through small group meetings and worship services, I found a Jesus who pitched his tent among the broken people of the world. This Jesus loved people unconditionally and challenged the  powers of empire, legalism, and religion with the unflinching truth that God is Love. This Jesus was irresistable, and he was calling me to follow him. And so, shocking my shaman stepmother and agnostic father and the friends who had heard me berate Christianity for years, I started following Jesus.

I split my college years between a radically liberal, secular college and an all-girls, evangelical Christian summer camp where I eventually became the program director.  I lived every day in the tension of feeling completely at home in two communities that mostly wanted nothing to do with one another. My first years at college, I told almost no one that I was a Christian. Still new to the church, I knew what folks thought when they heard “Christian,” and I didn’t want to be lumped with the conservative, judgmental, hypocritcial image they had in their mind.

Eventually, very gently, I started “coming out” to people. As I told my story, I started hearing theirs:  how Cody had been evangelized while guiding a whitewater rafting trip (all of the guests stopped paddling in the middle of the river and prayed for the salvation of her soul); how Julie had been told in 7th grade that she had to choose between Jesus and being gay. These were people who had been wounded by the church, and I–someone whom they trusted and respected, but who was also a Christian–had the chance to show them just a glimpse of the Jesus who had captivated me. As I shared with them my own story and the story of Jesus, I saw that they were just like I had been a few years before: people who did not know they were hungering for a glimpse of who Christ really is, people who needed the Good News that God loves them unconditionally. I realized that I came alive most fully when I was helping others to encounter the living God.

Meanwhile, at camp, I saw more and more of what vibrant Christ-centered community could look like: people being frank and honest about their brokenness, being committed to joy and inclusivity, working to make sure every person knew they were loved. My job eventually came to include preaching to the whole camp twice a week at evening services, as well as facilitating the planning of those services. As the supervisor of a 30-person staff, I went on long walks with people who felt like their lives were falling apart; sometimes I helped them sort things out, and sometimes all I could do was listen and nod and remind them that there was a God who loved them and would sort things out eventually. More than enjoying being part of Christian community, I realized that I felt most at home when I was building and leading and supporting such communities.


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