This is the truest truth I know–
God is not real
until my feet hit the frozen ground
on the morning after
a wild raucous
of indulging in every last
drop of doubt.
Years ago, when I relocated to the Atlanta area after grad school, Sister wasted no time in “encouraging” me to visit a church where her friend was the pastor. After about ten months, I decided to visit the big Baptist church on the corner so she would stop nagging. I stumbled into the building, whiskey seeping out of my pores from the previous night, spiritual baggage dragging behind me, and found a seat in the back corner of the sanctuary. I tried to steady my spinning head as thoughts of “I won’t fit in here, they’re just like every other Baptist church,” and “What am I doing here? Church is no place for a non-believer like me,” buzzed through my spirit. But when the first stanza of the hymn, “Great is thy Faithfulness,” played I felt like I was back home. I managed to keep my guard up through all four verses, but when the pastor stood from the pulpit and proclaimed “your doubt doesn’t have to be your dirty little secret,” I began to weep.
I quietly slipped out the back as soon as she finished her sermon and sat in my car and cried while listening to the faint sounds of the closing hymn coming through the stained glass. I watched as the congregation filed out to the parking lot after church, and after sitting there in the quiet, long after everyone had left, I told God, “maybe.”
After that Sunday, I slowly and timidly became more involved in church. Then, one day over coffee I
confessed to the pastor that I could never join a church again, because there was no church anywhere
that had enough room for all of my spiritual baggage. She smiled and said, “wanna bet?” and left me
with a quote to ponder: “Give everything you are to all the God you know.”
Just as I was becoming reacquainted with God and settling into the idea of becoming a regular backrow Baptist, I received a call from a local United Church of Christ to be their Director of Music. I spent almost an hour on the phone with the pastor trying to explain to her why I was happy to be called the director of music, but I would never be a minister. I could hear her smirking through the phone, but she assured me that I would be welcomed at the church, and that I could have whatever title I felt comfortable with.
I lost count of how many times I corrected people from calling me the minister of music, because I was adamant about never, ever, ever going into the “family business” of ministry. Surely God must have been smirking through those moments I spent correcting people on my title, because from the first moment I walked into that church I felt God saying, “wanna bet?”
It was during my time at that precious church that I felt the first twinges of “what if?” about ministry. Leading music, planning services, being part of the liturgy, serving the community, engaging in social justice activism, and caring for the congregation—all of that felt right to me. Being in that kind of rhythm in that kind of place felt like coming home. But I didn’t feel called, because my faith didn’t look much like the faith of the ministers I had been around. I didn’t feel called because I was reluctant to follow in the family business of ministry like my Grandfather, my Dad, and my sister and brother-in-law. If we’re talking about a burning bush or Damascus road kind of calling, then I still haven’t experienced anything like that. Instead, what I felt then, and what I feel now, is a nagging, overwhelming, unquenchable questioning of “what if?” pushing me toward ministry.
My latest adventure started with a phone call to a few dear friends who did NOT do what I wanted them to do. I spent about an hour on the phone with a dear friend from college who I used to get into some pretty fun mischief with, and at the end of a very enlightening conversation, I said “well, you haven’t given me any of the answers I was looking for. I needed you to tell me that this is all a horrible idea.” So, I hung up, waited a few months, and called another friend. “Seminary,” I said, “I need you to tell me that it’s a horrible idea.” I could hear him grinning through the phone, and after about an hour, he did not tell me that going to seminary was a horrible idea. “Thanks a lot,” I joked, and hung up with even more things to think about.
So then I sat with the idea for months. Why seminary? Why me? What even is calling? Why would I ever take a nosedive into something that I have spent years running from?
Initially, I felt crazy for even thinking that seminary was a place for a foul-mouthed, wildly irreverent, most-of-the time believer like me. But, the more I have been living with the idea of going to seminary and doing ministry, the more it feels like I’m finally doing something that doesn’t feel like I’m wearing someone else’s clothes.
I do not know the exact job title for the ministry that I am called to, but I know that I am called to a ministry that involves showing up for the hurting, speaking up for the oppressed, welcoming the questioners, and giving all that I am to all of the God that I know.
I am thrilled, humbled, amused, and a little bit nervous to announce that in August I will begin a M. Div program at Central Baptist Theological Seminary through their Women’s Leadership Initiative.
So, what does this mean for me? Right now it means that I’m laughing at this entire situation. . .a lot. I never thought I would find myself here. This news means that very soon I will have my nose in a book 99.999999% of the time. I will still write. I will still tell stories. I will still blog–when I can. This news means that I am immediately going to solidify a self-care plan so that this adventure doesn’t wreck me. But mostly, this news means that I am leaning into my own “what if,” and trusting in a God that won’t let me go.
One of my biggest fears about following this nudge into seminary was that seminary would ruin me. But I’ve come to realize through this discernment process that maybe the point of seminary is to surrender myself to the ruin of my carefully crafted plans and persona to make way for something new.
This something new begins in August. I’ll need your prayers, your shared stories, and probably a little bit of whatever you’ve got in that flask to see me through.
Here we go!
Also on Clothesline Confessional
We must learn that somewhere between your answers is where we’ll find the next right step.
Maybe it is all about a cup. Maybe the thing we most desperately need to be the church again is turn our attention to a cup. We need name-knowing, porch-sitting, story-sharing communion.