Looking Back/Forward: Shabbat

At the end of this quarter, in one of my classes I was challenged to set a ‘Rule of Life’ for the remainder of my time in Seminary and beyond.  Challenged isn’t the right word.  It was an assignment.  Because of the fact that this challenge came in the form of an assignment rather than simply as a challenge from a respected friend, it has been difficult for me to implement much of what I said I was going to do.  For instance, bracketing my day with prayer, or taking the time to reflect on my day at the end of my time of study/work, has been hit and mostly miss.  Resurrecting this blog has been one way that I am going to try to keep reflecting and noticing how much earth is crammed with heaven every day.

Another ‘commitment’ I made in that ‘Rule of Life’ was to take a quarterly Sabbath, which is a day of reflecting, not producing (much), and looking forward to what lies ahead.  One day.  Today is that day.  This is my spiritual exercise of reflection and projection.

I was very hopeful at the beginning of this quarter of school that, by the end of 10 weeks, I would have a pretty good idea of what my life trajectory was going to be.  My classes were the perfect amalgamation of me: The Practice of Worship and Prayer, World Religions in Christian Perspective, and Lifelong Development.  Really, what I was hoping is that through my Lifelong Development class I would be able to discern where my life is headed.  I really saw two paths in front of me, with a possible tertiary path: Worship ministry within the life of the church; Teaching within the life of the church; or, possibly, teaching about critical engagement with people of different faiths and backgrounds.

In fact, I tried to set up a situation to hear from God about what he wanted me to do (it really wasn’t a set up, nor was my motive to do so, but in reflection it was also a set up): I applied for a Worship ministry job in North Carolina.  I was pretty confident that I would at least get an interview, but I also knew that I wouldn’t take the job unless it was absolutely perfect – with space for me to teach as well as lead worship, not just a music guy.  Much of the first two months of the fall was filled with some anxiety and anticipation about hearing from this church.  At the same time, I was feeling a little angst about my current work, and things were changing that I was pretty sure would mean that God was leading me on to something different, and soon.  My current work is actually significant in this reflection, so here is (again) what I do: I teach Christians about Islam and how to build bridges with Muslims in our communities.

Something happened, though, on a fateful Thursday in November, when I went with my friend Charlie to Illinois State University, where Charlie was going to be presenting Christianity to a class that was learning about inter-religious dialogue, taught by another friend named John.  It was in this setting, on this day, that I realized how much I love school, love students, love teaching, and would love to be a part of the ‘pluralism’ conversation in academia.  This was unexpected, and so real, and so outside of my scope of vision, that I took it seriously.  A little while later, while discussing my current vocational angst with a friend, my commitment to that work was renewed as I wait for the future to arrive.  While I have the platform to teach Christians to be open to others, I will utilize it.

Yesterday, while talking to my wife’s uncle John, I said some of this in a coherent way for the first time.  I said that I am going to pursue a PhD in the area of inter-religious dialogue, pluralism, or something of that ilk, because this is a new conversation that will last forever in colleges and universities, as well as in the rest of society.  I have realized that pursuing either worship or teaching ministry within the life of the church is limiting to my gifts – doing either professionally almost determines you won’t be doing the other, ever.  Instead, if I teach outside of the church and am able to impact positively the way young people view the ‘other’, not only have I done something significant, I can also offer my ability to teach and to lead worship to the church voluntarily.

What this means, looking forward, is that we will likely have to make some moves in about a year.  I will need to get a second Master’s degree, which will probably be a ThM (Master’s in Theology), in order to pursue a PhD.  I can’t do that in Peoria.  Nor can I pursue a PhD here.  That’s the worst part.  The best part is that I can finally answer the question: “What are you going to do when you finish your Master’s Degree?”  I’m very excited to continue to pursue this goal and see what the future holds.  For now, it’s time to rest.

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