Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Looking for "my place in this world"

If there are millions down on their knees,
Among the many, can You still hear me?...
Hear me asking, "Where do I belong?"
Is there a vision that I can call my own?
Show me...I'm
Looking for a reason, roamin' through the night to find
My place in this world - my place in this world
Not a lot to lean on, I need Your light to help me find
My place in this world...

(Michael W. Smith, "Place In This World," from the
1990 CD Go West, Young Man
A month ago, one of Renee/iphy's posts talked about being "in a season of waiting...in that space in-between the death and resurrection." I remember being moved to tears as I read her words, although (for better or worse) that's nothing new. (If I keep on reading Renee's stuff, I'm gonna have to purchase Puffs by the pallet-load!).

Like that old Roberta Flack tune, she was "singin' my life with [her] words." I really identified with this image: "my only prayer is that somehow there is a presence in my emptiness. that somehow there is a holiness in my moments of breathing, of cupped-open hands, in this long waiting i find myself living in." As I've found with all Renee's writing, the stuff this posting helped me dredge up was not comfortable...but was dead-on, nonetheless. (Thank you again, my sister - I think...)

It happened again tonight.

At an AA meeting on the north side of Chicago, God spoke through a man celebrating 30 years of sobriety, when he said, "Now that I'm retired, I am trying to figure out who I am outside of being just a-guy-with-a-career." As he said that, I had one of those "cosmic V-8 moments," and I finally came to understand at least a part of why I've been "stuck" where I am...

In leaving Kansas City, I not only left my job and my address, I left my identity (as a friend among friends, a committed member of powerful communities of faith and recovery, and as a worker among workers) in order to pursue seminary and ordained ministry. In effect, I swapped one identity for another.

Now that it's clear that I won't be able to do the ordained ministry path (at least not for a long while, anyway), the question is: so who is Steve, now, apart from the telecom/church/recovery guy, and apart from ordained ministry? So far, the terrifying answer (the answer I really would rather choke on my own vomit than admit) is this: "For the most part, I don't know."

I hate that.

There is, however, light among the clouds. I may be seeing dimly, but I am not entirely in the "can't-buy-a-clue" column. I know that I know and love Jesus, in a clear and powerful way... even when I struggle to pray, let alone meditate (especially about this topic). I know that by God's grace, I am a sober person in recovery - even when going through these changes, and these doubts, has made a drink sound like a real good idea at times. I know that no matter what denomination or setting I end up in, I will always be Lutheran enough to understand the balance of faith and works as my brother and pastor Joe Crowther put it: "What are you called to do, now that you don't have to do anything?"

And I also know that God has given me these gifts, and these bits of knowledge, for a reason. I'm a pretty darned good actor, but I really couldn't manage to fool all of you, for all this time. So there's got to be something about all this that is beyond just "what I feel." The testimony of the saints vastly over-trumps that one small group of church folk who told me that I have no gifts for ministry, just because I'm deeply in debt.

So what next?

For way too many years, my friend Eric Amundson has been telling me that he didn't see my path in congregational ministry - and that writing was going to be a part of whatever I ended up doing. I'm finally coming to agree with him - both from his own encouraging, that of a number of my friends both in Kansas City and at LSTC, and from the support of a number of new friends in the blogosphere (Rick, Drew, and others) - all of whom have continued to both open my mind and kick my nether-regions when I've needed it. I wanted you to know that I have heard you all.

I'm just grateful to God for each of you - for your prayers, for your encouragement and feedback...and for your putting up with my whining and questioning ad nauseum. (Well, all of you except for my brother Mike Moore - who keeps reminding me that the best place to find "sympathy" is between "sewage" and "syphillis" in the dictionary. Ditto for Eric's dad Jerry, who would second that notion...)

But, to be rigorously honest, I also hope I get some kind of clue about which way to go before I end up I completely broke. (Which ain't too far away, right now. I'm not there yet...but I can see it from here...) "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go..."


New Life said...

Hey bro,

In 1997 my wife came to me and said we need to go check seminaries. We had left great jobs in TV advertising and two six-figure incomes. The seminary I was going to attend needed a marketing person and my wife and I agreed that we would "tag-team" for them. They would get both of us for 1/10th of what we made + tuition. We saw using our experience and gifts as a form of ministry. God was all over this! I received a call from the Dean who decided to go with someone with "more theological" background. I was a bit shocked and thought to myself, "He has no idea what he just turned down." At that moment, it may as well have been God who spoke. I gave up the idea of seminary that i had carried on my soul for 12 years and moved on with a new chapter in my life. We lived off our savings for a while and even got down to our last $800. We went from major corporate jobs to living in someone's basement. Then we ended up landing a huge account in our ad agency which we ran for the next four years. In those four years I worked and served in a church. I needed those four years. I thank God for those four years. I am now completing my 4th year of seminary. (differnet seminary-- different world!) There are still no guarantees, but I feel like I am coming home.

I just want to encourage you to keeping trusting God. God really does have a plan. Rest in God and place one foot in front of the other. I always say to myself, I am going to walk through the open doors. If there are closed doors it must be God. I no longer try to force closed doors open. It gives me peace.

Sorry for the long ramble.

God be with you.


steph said...

Steve - these are wonderful words. I need to read them again, more slowly, and digest them because there are many threads come together as I read.
Thank you for your honesty that speaks to me today. THese words of Michael Smiths' song are powerful. This question of who am I, what am I here for are ancient and current. They are the call of the soul for living, for breathing, for hope. My road has been a winding one but at last I am beginning to see the answers to these questions. They do come, they will come to you.
I will hold you in the Light as you continue your courageous search for them.

and on that note...it's off to work I go too.

bobbie said...

hey steve,

have you ever thought of para-church ministry?? congregational-less, but full of opportunity and most of the time a paycheck. i think most ministries would love a theologically trained employee. just a thought.

Peter said...

Hello Steve,
Great posting, with much resonance here.

When my wife was ordained and we moved to her settlement charge ( a pastorate that the national church matches with a newly-ordained minister; it's a requirement of ordination that ordinands are settled first--later, they can seek their own pastorate. Clear as mud?) in a small town in rural Manitoba, I became unemployed, then under employed. As it turned out, the pastorate was an exhausting one, and there had been plans to hire someone on 1/4 time as staff associate (basically, helper).

I applied and got it. When my wife became pregnant with our child and went on maternity leave, I was the logical choice to substitute full-time, and did, for about 6 months until she was back. This meant preaching, visiting, funerals, everything but communion as i was not ordained. I even tested my calling by attending a Lay Pastoral Minister's course.

In one sense, the whole thing was a disaster: I didn't fit the rural pastorate expectations, and didn't have the skills and aptitudes for that calling. In another sense, it was pure gold--I learned so much and experienced so much in that time, that I am calling on that experience and knowledge constantly in our present congregation and in writing.

I paid dearly emotionally for that experience, but every nugget pried from it is better than breaking even.

Sorry for the long posting, but where I'm going with this is: if you shouldn't be in a pastorate, don't beat yourself up. In my experience, mainline protestant denominations are light years behind our RC brothers and sisters in creatively employing people with gifts that don't fit a pastorate. And none of your seminary experience is wasted, especially if you turn out to be a writer--it's gold waiting to be dug out.

I realize this is cold comfort if you don't know what you're going to be doing with your life (join the club), and if money's tight (ditto), but you are of value--priceless in God's eyes--and make no mistake, if you keep open to possibilties and are willing to make some mistakes along the way, you'll find what God has in mind for you. In my experience, it happens before you quite realize it.

You're in my prayers, amigo,


Pat said...

It sounds like God, Steve. Reminds me of Jesus' teaching that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it can't live. I believe this is true of spiritual callings as well as our own righteousness. Rick's testimony is a great example of this.
To quote another musician, "The waiting is the hardest part."