catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 11 :: 2006.06.02 — 2006.06.16


A road map, in retrospect

Editor's note: The following is an adaptation of a piece presented during a chapel service at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.


I must admit at the outset that the idea of God calling me anywhere often makes me cringe, both for its overuse and, at times, in my humble and quite possibly inaccurate estimation, misuse.  I often find my discomfort coming not at the end of what people think God is calling them to, for I certainly have no authority on which to judge such things, but rather on God’s end, and more specifically in the image of God that is conjured up in my head as the result of such talk. 

What I would actually like to spend my time doing, instead of professing to all of you in writing what God’s call is on my life, would be to have a big theological discussion about who or what or how God is and how this God makes God’s self known to us and how all this affects how we live.  Part of my problem is that, surprisingly, in my fourth semester of seminary, my image of God is a little fuzzy, and that’s being quite generous.

I have realized through the process of thinking out the story of my call to seminary that I often think through the words and ideas of those around me.  It is like other peoples’ mouths are the ones speaking out of mine, with my role being that of putting together all the things that I like that I hear being said around me.  And no, even this image is not my own, I heard it spoken by a fellow student earlier this week.  Sometimes this is frustrating, but I also realize that it is something that I appreciate, even rely on, and that I gain much from.  I have also realized that the ideas I am using have come to me almost exclusively in the last week.  The two scriptures I have chosen I did so primarily because I have heard them each used meaningfully multiple times recently, and I will mostly leave it to you to apply them to my words or your own thoughts as you see fit.  I believe that if I were to talk about my call to seminary in another week, the result might be rather different.  Perhaps this is the plight of all those taking in such richness all around them every day.

The most audible voice I heard calling me to seminary was that of Randy Smith, my campus pastor at Bethel College.  After making the trek to northern Indiana with Randy and some other Bethel students for a seminary sampler three years ago, Randy repeatedly informed me that he thought AMBS would be a good place for me.  To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how this call actually translated into me coming to seminary.  There was never a time that I can remember actually deciding to come to AMBS.  As a math and physics major whose main career goal is to be an astronaut, seminary didn’t seem the most obvious or direct next step to take.  However, the thought of full-time graduate school in engineering was not only unappealing but downright scary, and changing pace for a while didn’t seem like such a great loss.  Surely I could benefit from using the other side of my brain for a while.  So the more people asked me what I was doing after college, the more I found my answer slowly morphing from "I have no idea" to "I think I’m going to seminary."

Several things were underlying this desire to come to AMBS.  There was the desire to expand my horizons a bit, to branch out, but my desire also stemmed from a continuous shift I had been observing over the more recent years of my life, that is, an increasing questioning of the faith that had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember.  This questioning came not necessarily because I thought this faith was wrong, although that was true in some cases, but more out of a need to somehow make my faith, my relationship to God, my own.  I heard it put well recently in a class discussion.  A non-north American peer stated that in his country, deciding to follow Christ means something.  It means asking yourself, am I going to lose my family, my friends, my job?  I have absolutely no parallel to this in my life, in fact, I can’t think of a way to claim Christianity more opposite to this than what I have experienced.  This seemed to lack integrity to me, and I wanted my faith to be something I had chosen, and that I would choose repeatedly to give my life to, not something that was handed to me that I could be okay with and that I half-heartedly followed out of default, when there was nothing else standing in the way. 

Secondly, there was the community aspect.  I was leaving Bethel, a place that seemed to have been perfect for me in the previous four years of my life, and a place that when asked my favorite part about it I would unfailingly say the people.  I think a good deal of the fear I felt regarding going to grad school in engineering was the lack of community I foresaw at a large school.  Quite frankly, I needed a Mennonite aerospace engineering school.  The church was another community that I was considering.  All my questioning had led me to question as well my place in the church, and whether it was a community I wanted to be a part of.  I think that I partially believed, or at least the thought crossed my mind, that if I came to seminary and was really allowed to examine what I believed, the result could well be my leaving the church out of integrity and respect for the differences I was sure I would find.   

My original plan was to stay at AMBS a year and then move on, but that didn’t exactly work out.  I’m still at seminary, partially because I just didn’t figure out anything else to do, and partially because I chose not to figure out anything else to do.  My first year came to a close with far too many windows left open, ideas left unexamined, resources left untapped.  Somehow I think I might feel like that at the end of three years as well.  

So what has happened?  First of all, before I left Kansas to come to Elkhart I had a meal with a pastor friend of mine, who is an AMBS grad.  Among all the good advice she gave me, she said that on one hand she envied my coming to seminary greatly as these had been some of the most formative years of her life, and, on the other hand, she was most glad that it was me stepping into this and not her, as it had also been one of the most wrenching and challenging times in her life.  I have continually come back to those words during my time here, and have found them to be so true. 

I am currently looking at this dichotomy through the most recent challenge my spiritual director has given me—that of integration.  She noted that my passions in the realm of body, mind, feelings, ideas, and relationships often seem to be flying all over the place in their own directions, sometimes even butting up against each other.  She also noted, and I believe wisely so, that the times when all of these things come together, and when I can see them working together and can let them reinforce one another, that this is where I thrive the most.  Since she said this four days ago, I have come to see it as a near-perfect naming of what seminary is all about, and maybe what it means to have abundant life as well.  Not only is this what seminary is about, but it seems that AMBS holds a dynamic identity in both challenging people towards this, even demanding it of them in intense relational and intellectual settings, and being a place where such intensity pushes, supports, and encourages one towards growth and integration of these things perhaps more than most locations in life.  I will leave you with a few concrete thoughts on how I see this happening. 

I for one, now that I am past the half-way point of my MA, think that I am perhaps on the homestretch of realizing the first 1% of all the things that I don’t know.  Unclarity abounds, as do words by graduate students that don’t really exist, and the goal of actually learning things that I can say I do know as opposed to repeatedly realizing all that I don’t know seems far from the reality of how I spend my days.  I have been challenged in peer relationships, relationships with professors, relationships with ideas.  I have been blessed in the first two of these categories, again just in the past week, through shared meals, intense discussion groups, a conversation with a professor I was feeling at odds with, and an adviser who again asked me how I was doing and then listened intently to my thoughts.  I think I have found somewhat more of a love/hate relationship in the realm of ideas, with those such as covenantal nomism, or the problem of what to do with a Hitler or a Rwanda.  I encounter ideas and experiences of peers daily that completely blow out of the water everything I think I might believe.  I also have daily encounters with people who give voice and words to what I am thinking, to my concerns, to my excitement, and often these are the same people who have just blown an idea of mine away.  I am guided by those who are living honestly and with integrity in their confusion and disillusionment, and by those who live through more certainty, a certainty out of which they are willing to engage my questions and insights.  Perhaps these two groups are also not as distinct as I am presenting them. 

As for my place in the church, I am in the thick of moving from a deconstruction of a faith I cannot hold for myself into a reconstruction of the faith I feel I am called to.  And even as I take steps backward and realize those conflicts in belief that I feared I might find in coming to seminary, I am more and more aware of those things in my faith tradition that I feel are calling me.  And I have found people who are in the same process, yet have an intense love for and commitment to the church, a model I hope I can uphold, and maybe even feel called to uphold.  All these things do not point to simply intellectually striving for God, but I believe they are the heart of what it means to live, move, and have our being in God.  I leave you with a word of thanksgiving, for the many communities we find ourselves in, and the ways we are challenging and forming one another towards God, whatever, wherever, whoever God might be.

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