Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rest in the Unrest

A communal mural painted at the Wild Goose Festival 2014,
held in Hot Springs, NC. A sign next to the mural invited
passersby to paint on the mural; paint and brushes were
left out for our use. The rain blurred and ran the paint,
mud mixing with the colors.
So, it's been almost three years now since I left my PhD program and began to think about what I was going to do that didn't involve 5 more years of writer's block and student loans. I left my tiny church at about the the same time--my last Sundays were Advent in 2011. Both the tiny church and I were sad and frustrated at my leaving; I preached the four weeks in advent using the four chapters of the book of Jonah. It was fitting, somehow, that bitter sweetness of Jonah's fish tale.

I cast about, trying to figure out what would pay the bills and be at least moderately entertaining. I thought about several things like waiting tables and retail--at that particular moment there weren't any pulpits open nearby, and I was unwilling to relocate my children. So that left me in a bit of a bind--more and more
as the bills piled up, I felt like Jonah in the belly of a whale. It was an uncomfortable place, to be sure.

And then out of the boredom and anxiety and despair, I began to get creative. By the end of January 2012, I'd started to get a picture of what my ministry might look like: it would be a God-awful, tangled mess of interlocking ministries, overlapping and intertwining like a kitten with a ball of yarn. I wrote a blog post about it, Called to This Leaky Apartment:
There is a wild freedom in tentmaking. I have had the freedom to preach how the Spirit moves me these last three years. I listen to my colleagues talk about not being able to say what needs to be said, and honestly when you're working 1/3 time with no benefits, that's not really a concern. I've had the freedom and flexibility to raise my children, fail at a PhD program, read and write extensively. I don't think people should go into tentmaking because there aren't options--I think people should consider it because it's good for the soul.
Two months later, some of the projects I'd been working on came together, and I updated with The Apartment Still Leaks:
That's all. As I look at it on paper, it all seems much busier than I was last year, but all of the pieces fit together, in and around my parenting needs, and within a few miles of my home. It feels good to be settling into this space. It's great to pay the bills. And while it is not a traditional pastoral "call" I nevertheless believe I am called to each of these pieces and to the whole. 
For the record, this does not resemble what I thought I'd be doing after seminary. Not in the slightest.
Well, it's been a little over two years since I wrote those posts. I moved to a house where the roof doesn't leak--and I thank God for that every time it rains here. I've lived in a lot of leaky houses, and one's attitude about rain changes significantly depending on whether or not your roof leaks.

These days I'm doing youth and young adult work for 3 churches still. I continue as a chaplain at Rider University. We've started a young adult ministry that is growing. I've started taking on seminary students from Princeton to help with our programming, but also as a part of our ministry--to mentor and train new pastors and educators. Believe me, our youth and young adults do the training and mentoring.

Our Love of God (L.O.G.) retreat program grew in the last two years incredibly. We graduated a large senior class this year, and we'll be rebuilding with our younger students this year. So much room for growth and change!

I'm still preaching when I can. My writing goes up and down, depending on the inspiration and whether or not I'm too dang tired to move at the end of the day. The Art Journal project ended shortly after I wrote about it--mostly because each of the daily posts took a couple of hours to complete, and it turns out when one is working full time that those hours are at a premium.

I did offer spiritual direction with a few people, but I found quickly that my work required me to spend the energy I had for that with the adults involved in my programs--as much or more than the youth, we adults are in need of spiritual direction and prayer!

Overall, what we've created is a collaborative youth and young adult ministry, growing in the cracks of the sidewalk between three churches and a university. Some of our students are directly tied to the churches that support us, but many more have no idea who even hosts this thing. We've been calling it a Ministry of Many, or sometimes Holy Imagination, or sometimes just Youth Group/L.O.G. We just got funding for part of this work for another three years, and that funding shifts the center of gravity of our work to more urban churches in this part of New Jersey. It's going to be an exciting year ahead of us, and I can't wait to see how it turns out!

My work this year has included time spent with UMIO (United Mercer Interfaith Organization), including participating in prayer vigils for the people who have been murdered in Trenton this year. It's a lot of people for our little city. Some of our youth live close to where the murders have occurred. We are wrestling with how to be present and useful in this time and place.

Frankly, I am a bit daunted by the work ahead of me/us. Several times in this last year I have been tempted to flee the scene, fly the coop, do a bunk. This is messy work, full of personalities and frustration. I feel a call to justice in this work that borders on self-righteousness--and then tips all the way over the cliff. I often lack the patience and love to have these conversations around race, gender, class, money, sexuality, and culture.

Roots of a tree (or maybe a few trees)
along the French Broad River in Hot Springs, NC
I confess putting down roots does not come easy to me. Settling in to a community requires a giving over of oneself, a surrender to place, a sacrifice of one's own good for a community's good. Does that sound drastic? But I know that I have spent 8 years since I left California avoiding that commitment, never sure of what is coming next, never quite finding the solid ground to settle into, never willing to settle into unstable ground. Every time I hang my pictures I have to move again. Every time. This last move (my 6th home in 8 years), I didn't hang pictures for two years. Finally in March I pounded some nails into the wall and did the deed. I have my fingers crossed that we can stay here a bit--why don't you cross yours too, while we're at it.

In 2010, while still at Tiny Church, I preached a Pentecost sermon, Burning Bushes and Other Such Foolishness:
Let us begin with sneaky. Burning bushes, the quiet love of a friend, tiny flowers in a place they should not be, a small chapel in the woods, a small act of kindness that causes a person to pause. The way a phrase floats on the wind to hit our ear in the exact right way, and then stays with us for days and years to come. Indeed, the way one word might define an entire decade or even a lifetime. My word has been “rootless”, and is perhaps now “longing”. What is yours? What one word frames these questions for you: “What is a lifetime?” and “Why do I live it?” What is your burning bush? Where do you remove your shoes in reverence? How and why do the words “I am who I am” settle over you? In what place of indescribable significance do you see the presence of God? 
I was reminded of these words this last weekend at the Wild Goose Festival as I contemplated the possibility of a job description that had floated across my social media recently. It was sort of a tailor made dream job, but it would mean I would have to move. It would mean walking away from this ministry I have been working on for two years. And I'm not ready to do that.

So here I am, left with a distaste for rootlessness and an incredible longing for community. And I am left with the anxiety that if I settle down my roots and commit to this community that it will be like hanging the pictures, and I will have to move again. This is how it goes for us humans, isn't it? Fear of rejection leads us to walk away before we can be rejected--better, it seems, to stay rootless than to have deep roots cut out from under us. And yet, and yet, that incredible longing to belong here--to settle slowly and carefully into a place and a people who will nourish me when roots are cut--I am called to that too.

I've learned so well that God laughs at mortal plans. I know better than to say that this is where I will be forever--the second that comes out of my mouth is the beginning of the end. I was telling a friend yesterday that while I know I need to plant my feet and do some heavy lifting work-wise, I was a bit leery, as the ground beneath me is constantly shifting. But I was reading a bit of Kierkegaard's essay Either/Or a while back, and in the Seducer's Diary I found this passage:
I have always loved, on a moonlit night, to lie out in a boat on one of our lovely lakes. I take in the sails and the oars, remove the rudder, stretch out full-length, and gaze up into the vault of heaven. When the boat rocks on the breast of the waves, when the clouds scud before the strong wind so that the moon vanishes for a moment and then reappears, I find rest in this unrest. The motion of the waves lulls me, their lapping against the boat is a monotonous cradle-song. The swift flight of the clouds, the shifting light and shadow, intoxicate me so that I am in a waking dream. Thus no, too, I lay myself out, take in the sails and rudder; longing and impatient expectation toss me about in their arms; longing and expectation become more and more quiet, more and more blissful, they fondle me like a child; the heaven of hope arches over me; her image floats by me like the moon's, indistinct, blinding me now with its light, now with its shadow. How enjoyable thus to splash up and down on a stormy lake--how enjoyable to be stirred in oneself.
So it's been two years and the pictures are hung. I actually am growing two plants now. As long as I can, I will stay here in this place and love the people in this community. And perhaps in the possibility of finding rest in the unrest, I might trust God's inscrutable plans enough to settle my roots deep and wide, risking the pain that comes when the roots are cut.

After all, how enjoyable it is to be stirred in oneself.


  1. um, blogger ate my comment while I was changing gmail accounts to get the comments...

    Love the post, love your journey, keep writing. And we should make a phone date.




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