deconstructing life

Posted on May 23, 2014

2


I’m at a transition point in my life where I feel a need to rethink everything. What I’m finding is that life’s many experiences, both good and bad, over the past 8 years have been a part of deconstructing what I’ve been taught by the forces that be (media, culture, generational assumptions, institutionalization, etc). These experiences have uprooted things and have been a sort of earthquake leaving nothing intact, nothing unturned. What’s left? What needs to go? What must I keep? That’s what I keep asking myself.

As I consider going back to school (a seminary none the less!), I was asked to respond to these essay questions. I found them to be very probing. They helped me to go deeper and clarify what seems to be a leading. I feel that I have lived about 3 lives already. Starting another life at this point (age 56) is a bit overwhleming. But, on the other hand, if I am going to do this thing, I think I’d better take the time and make the effort to rethink everything, redesign what is needed, and reconstruct something that makes sense. I’m the kind of guy that can’t just work to work. I gotta have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I have learned enough to know that I must continue to identify my gifts and use them in contexts where they are accepted and appreciated. This is how I can create a meaningful life for myself. This is how I can make a difference. Is there any other reason for being? for being here? for living this precious, mysterious, and wonder-full life???Image

I thought I’d share my responses. I’d love to hear your responses.

Describe how you have discerned a calling to ministry and to seminary, and what forms you think your ministry will take.

When I graduated from high school, I went to Grand Rapids Baptist College (now Cornerstone University) and got a BA degree with a religion major and greek and bible minor. At that time I sensed a call to ministry but not to traditional pastoral ministry in a church setting. So I followed my heart, passions, and gifts related to developing my whole career as ministry. I began volunteering with the homeless, became a big brother, and began my full time career in a youth home with street kids. From there I took a job working in Special Education in Grand Rapids Public Schools, a multi-racial district with student that were 85% living in poverty. I worked in 10 schools in that district and then headed up a countywide program so I ended up working in 27 schools throughout the county throughout those 25 years. All of the youth I worked with had disabilities or were at-risk in some way. This is where I belonged. This I knew. But with funding cuts, I was laid off. I then took a job as a micro enterprise development facilitator with adults with developmental disabilities in a Christian nonprofit agency. After 5 years and more funding cuts I am now again laid off. These experiences have shown me that I am most at home with those that society has ignored and made invisible. This is where my ministry lies whether in the capacity of agency staff, volunteer, independent consultant (as I am now doing), or possibly as a chaplain. Over the years, my work and my approach has taken a gifts-based approach to creating a meaningful life even though it began with more of a career focus. This whole-life approach is a very spiritual approach to meeting the needs of those that desperately need to be seen, need to find their voice, and need to name and use their God given gifts. I have learned much of this alongside those with whom I am ministering, not so much as a teacher or mentor but more as a co-learner in life where we all need to find meaning and make a difference.

 

How would you describe the church (broadly defined) and its ministry? How does this view relate to your faith tradition and your relationship with the religious and spiritual communities in your life? 

In the spring of 2008, my divorce was finalized, my job was cut, my home foreclosed, I lost my kids half-time to joint custody, and I again fell into clinical depression. The first place I turned was to my church, a traditional evangelical denomination where I had worshiped for 30 years. I was desperate for community. I was falling through the cracks and needed connection. But church has become so commercialized that most of what I found was blank stares as people rushed back to the safety of their homes. As I staggered in surprise and pain, I was left wondering who this Jesus really was and what in the world did he establish here on earth if it was not to be there for those that had fallen and couldn’t get up. So as a result of my experiences of spring 2008, I also lost my faith, my concept of God and the church disintegrated, as I reeled in pain and devastation with no where to turn. In the next couple of years, I found that I was not healing. Doing the traditional Christian things (reading the Bible, going to church, traditional praying) were not working. It took a Buddhist Priest to lead me into the silence of Shambhala meditation for me to see that it was only through silence that healing could begin. Healing was not a matter of works, or of doing; but rather a matter of being, and listening. Within a few months, I found Grand Rapids Friends. I now worship with them in silence as my healing continues.

I now see that the church has fallen into the same trap as the rest of American culture. It has become an integral part of the consumer society; creating and maintaining jobs that provide services that people pay for as they sit on padded pews. The church was no longer the people, it had become an institution made of consumers and professionals creating an exchange of comfort, security, and certainty, along with personal peace and affluence; while the “least of these” were relegated to invisibility. It is Jesus that goes thirsty when we neglect to see the thirsty person outside our doors, reeling with the pain that I so recently experienced, the pain that I never want to forget.

The church is meant to be a dynamic body that lives with and for the poor, the least of these, the marginalized, the invisible; a body that is integrally involved in every aspect of the greater community but that “has each others’ backs” in a smaller more intimate community where there “are no more poor among them”; where we are nothing more or less than “the least of these” giving food and water and company to each other which are the addicts, the prisoners, the homeless, and hungry living together and celebrating life.

 

Tell us how you first heard about ESR (Earlham School of Religion), why you have chosen to apply, and how ESR can contribute to your ministerial formation.

After being being laid off again, I could no longer provide for my kids whom I have had joint custody of for the past 8 years. I moved out of our home and moved in with Scot Miller and Jenn Seif and their children as we expanded Sandhill CSA in a new location. Scot is a graduate of Earlham School of Religion and sees that time of his life as a time of great spiritual growth and transformation. Although his shift is much more dramatic from atheism to Quakerism, addiction to sobriety, I feel I am at time of a great inner shift in my understanding of Christianity and the Bible, the Church and its work here on earth, and the great chasm between what the demand of culture has dictated the church to be and what Jesus was all about. The last few years has been a tremendous unlearning for me, an unraveling, an earthquake leaving nothing intact. It is time for me to devote the time and effort to understand what happened in my life, to find a language to express these things, to develop my story in a way that might impact others to go deeper, to desire the greater things. One of the most significant things that I learned while walking alongside people with developmental disabilities is this: Each of us comes here as a gift and full of gifts. As we learn to identify, name, and use our gifts in a context where they are accepted and appreciated, it is then and only then that our lives become meaningful. This is how we make a difference.

Ways that I need to further develop spiritually is to more clearly see what is happening, to understand the life of Jesus, the Way we are to follow, and finding the words both verbally and in writing to express these things to the greater community. Understanding is good for the individual, but unless it is expressed, it cannot whet the appetite of others.

 

Tell us about your spiritual journey. What is your understanding of God and how God is at work in the world?

After my Dark Night of the Soul experience in the spring of 2008, my concept of God has become totally unraveled. I went to Grand Rapids Baptist College in order to come out the other end with a clearly defined and stated “world and life view”. We used systematic theology to create certainty (which gives comfort and security). One of my first and most disruptive understandings is that these are simply the downloaded gods of our age, the trinity of comfort, security, and certainty that is worshipped in a consumer society created by empire. Most of American Christianity does not worship the God of the universe. We worship a god that we can fit in our brain, a god that we can fit in a book; a book containing “everything we need for life and godliness”. If there is a God, that God is much more than what our culture, our churches, our nation defines. If we can contain and control god, then we can contain and control his creation. It is only then that the machine can continue. We need cogs if we want a machine. But if the cogs find a voice, they are no longer cogs, and the machine falls apart. They become human beings created in the image of the God of the universe, human beings that can turn the machine on its head.

I no longer believe in the god of our fathers. But I do believe that Jesus came to show a completely new and different way of living.

A Way of love where each and every person is equal and valued for who they are.

A Way that needs the “other” with all its diversity.

A Way that “Sees” the other and the other exists in the Light of being seen.

A Way that needs each and every person’s gifts expressed.

A Way that accepts and appreciates the other and their gifts.

A Way that accepts the responsibility to be stewards of the welfare of each other, my brother’s keeper, and stewards of all we have been given; the earth, the universe, and its vast resources.

 

I now can see that the Object of our worship is not what we name with our lips but rather what we do with our lives every moment of every day. Don’t tell me… show me.

Advertisements