Tuesday, January 12, 2010

34 I Can Only Imagine

After our marriage Shannon and I were at South Bay Jr. Academy for a little while longer. They held the second of three receptions for us (another one at PUC) and it was a great privilege. I believed wholeheartedly that I had now picked up the second and better half of my ministry team. We were going to chance the world and make it better while getting God’s people ready for His second coming.

In no time at all we were back at PUC for our junior year. Having been given old couches and old furniture, we moved into a one bedroom apartment. I had actually once again been clueless as to the fact that I’d been away for a year and tried to run for religious vice president while in LA. to only again have been summarily defeated. After one of the happiest years in my life, it was back to the grind of studying Hebrew and theology and psychology. As that year started I had another very shaking moment, finding out within a few weeks of my own marriage that the pastor who baptized me was having marital problems and that largely due to that he was no longer a minister. He contacted me a few years later after I had both been and stopped being a minister when he by chance crashed into my mother. He was apparently fairly heartbroken that I had not lived up to my promise and after we got off the phone wept in front of my mother.

There was a definite realization that year that I did not like school at all. I liked debating and I liked learning but the classroom concept of sitting there and getting lectured had grown old. I also was now part of a different class but because of the way I’d created my schedule I had as many classes with the senior class as I did with my own. I was back in the Honors program though with a different class than I had begun. Natalie had been the girl that I had argued with my freshmen year at first, then it had moved to Sophia. This year I argued with someone who had been with me in the beginning but now was a year ahead of me, Laura Aagaard. She was brilliant and clever and seemed to be able to think about the big questions and shrug them off unemotionally, realizing that sometimes the asking was as important if not more so than the answers; she said as much to me once and I wish I’d let that sink in more. She actually listened and then while half-rolling her eyes at the silliness I was arguing answered it with sharpness that could cut a diamond.

But the arguments I was getting very emotional from were with the theology majors. There were still brilliant people like Julia who seemed open to other perspectives but they were in the minority. The two I remember most vividly frustrating me were David Moore and Jason Decena. David frustrated me because he seemed to think that there was only one way things could exists, that our experiences had to be in a singular road, a narrow path. He was conservative and stubborn and wrong in my mind (we actually argued 10 minutes once about whether or not when you get into the presence of God that you immediately fall on your face). It took me years later that he was better than most of the people I’ve known since then or before if for no other reason than that he had passion and conviction. (I still have a lot to learn today but I’ve never been able to stomach people who don’t stand for something.) My main frustration was that he didn’t seem to give room that different experiences could be legitimate. It took a few years of growing up before I realized that by listening to me, by engaging in these sometimes trivial conversations he was considering them and his side of the conversation was far more humble than mine was.

Jason was the complete opposite; he was polite and listened and smiled and made jokes. One time we were discussing something that I can’t remember but was of critical important and I made some points on the chalkboard. After I had done so, he gets up and he gets the chalk and says that its always distracting to be in class because when people write on chalkboard, their butt jiggles and then he demonstrated. (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry you learned this because it means that you will be focused on the wrong thing at least the next time you watch someone write on a board). Then he smiled his 1000 megawatt smile and said something about how it was good that I was thinking about these things. Being right to him was secondary to showing that people could get along, that Jesus came first and we’d figure out the details later. Both David and Jason were musicians and could praise God with music and purer emotion than perhaps I ever did.

But I simply couldn’t stop arguing because I thought that there was truth and finding the right way mattered. Then and now I simply didn’t do a good enough job of living with the reality that ideas are secondary to the way they affect people. Everyone of these theology majors and professors had their own views which they believed wholeheartedly but they seemed to present it with their whole heart and while that’s where mine were coming from my arguments then and now came across as so harshly that it well might not have mattered if they were right. My arguments too often emerge as condescending and while the condescension is not intentional, it was because I was right and they were wrong. When people pointed out that I had even had complete 180’s about certain things and now was arguing the opposite of what I used to, it didn’t give me the kind of humility that type of awareness should.

One of my professors, Myron Widmer, a man with an incredibly kind demeanor and approach to him said to me then “You pick the hills you’re willing to die on and everything else is flexible and there are very few hills you should be willing to die on.” He encouraged me to try to connect better with the department on a human level and so I attempted to do so. Every time there was a test, I would hold a study session in my house initially for just the theology department but then for the psychology one as well. Shannon and I started having people over almost every Friday night for socializing after vespers and almost every Sunday morning for brunch. I helped create a theology department intramurals team, the Saints (we played almost every single sport and won less games than I can count on one hand over the course of the years). But as is my tendency I kept people at arms length, typically only very consciously having people over once. I told myself that it was so that I could be a more gracious host and have more people over but I had begun/continued my pattern of knowing everyone but letting almost no one in.

I almost became human at that time but it was ideas that ate me, arguing over them, academia encouraging my mind but I was failing to shape in any good way as a person. Part of this was that I would focus on ideas and the other part probably just as big was the fact that I was trying to be this model of a pastor. I am not sure where I got the image of what a pastor and his wife were supposed to be like but I was trying very hard to become that. Shannon was both young and low key enough to go along with it. I was happy trying to do it, seeing it at as a way to stay in shape if you will. It wasn’t that much different than my running. After the three months had ended, I had decided to take the streak to a 1000 consecutive days of running and I was doing it. I joined the cross country team and I was getting faster and becoming a better runner. I really imagined that if I put myself in the cookie cutter mold of a pastor that anything I had extra and all of the questions would get trimmed off. I was trying to “let go and let God” and a thousand other mantras. Let me be clear that during the beginning of my junior year it was fine. I was loving it in fact thinking that I was headed there, not even recognizing the frustrations as such but mostly as merely inconveniences but that can only hold for so long. And in retrospect, it was only a matter of time before it all came falling apart.

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