Thursday, July 9, 2015

Still Looking for Direction, or, Death and Resurrection is Tough

This makes me think of the proverb "Still waters run deep."
Picture from
Do you know that deep sense of calm and groundedness that comes with a sense of purpose? Yeah, I have not felt that for a few months now.

Before I get too far into this post, let me say that this is not me describing a crisis of faith. Faith in the God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is alive and well in my life, if somewhat obscured by events. I’m also not trying to be barbarous to any person or organization that I have interacted with lately; if anything in this post seems barbarous, I apologize ahead of time. The intended purpose for anything on this blog is to articulate some of the stuff going through my head. I know that this post may seem angsty and petulant, maybe even have a “poor me” sense to it, but that’s not what I’m going for. Like I said; just working out my thoughts about purpose and the uncertainty therein.

And why is that, Tom? What has caused this lack of purpose?

Well, I’m dealing with the fallout of of leaving the Episcopal ordination process. I keep saying that I intend to return in a few years, but that does not mean that this transition is seamless. I’ve written recently that there is a process of mourning that I need to go through. Leaving the ordination process comes with a big sense of loss and inadequacy. In other words, I’ve been looking forward to a future ministry that is much more distant now than what it had seemed at this time last year. Not only that, but I also have a residual feeling that I didn’t measure up; that I failed out of the process. I know that I should not feel that way, but knowing that I shouldn’t feel that way is a far cry from actually not feeling that way.

Pursuing ordination was, for me, a means of connecting with God. In past spiritual direction, it has been brought to my attention that I have an incredibly intimate sense of God’s presence, compounded with an incredibly transcendent sense of God’s power and majesty. And what I have sought to do, through ordination, is make the rubber hit the road. Take my faith and put it into action. That’s why I’ve been so jazzed up over conversations about missional church and missional ministry. These are things that happen both in Church and in the world, making a bridge between those two realms. And that is called diaconal ministry.

So now that I’m not being formed to be that bridge builder, I feel like I’m adrift. I feel like I lack the purpose and direction that was so assured of me. Moreover, the sense of connection with God that I felt has become strained.

I should reiterate (in case someone tries to read between the lines) that this isn’t me doubting God’s presence (well, no more doubting God’s presence than I already have in a contrast of a personified deity present in the clouds, versus a more cosmic presence… but that's a thesis, not a blog post). Or maybe it is a crisis of faith, in the sense that this is a matter of faith and I have come to a crisis through lack of certainty. I am in need of aid. I feel spiritually lonely.

My mother-in-law sent my wife and me this meditation from Max Lucado that I feel is pertinent here:
We’ll try anything to get rid of our loneliness. But should we? Should we be so quick to drop it? Could it be that loneliness is a gift? A gift from God? A friend turns away. The job goes bad. Your spouse didn’t understand. The church is dull. One by one he removes the options until all you have left is God. He would do that? Hebrews 12:6 tells us, “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” If he must silence every voice, he will. He wants you to discover what David discovered and to be able to say what David said, “You are with me.”
Loneliness. Could it be one of God’s finest gifts? Scripture says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” If a season of solitude is his way to teach you to hear his song, don’t you think it’s worth it? So do I.

Now, I guess this loneliness that I feel should give me a sense of relief or anticipation... I mean, if I have found out that one avenue of spiritual expression is closed to me, that means that I can go back to square one and begin my process of growth all over again. That is a huge opportunity! But it doesn't feel that way, not yet. I am still mourning for the path that I thought was laid out for me, here and now.

I mean, none of this is to say that I can never be ordained. It may still come. But I'm afraid the timing will be off. If you've ever watched the movie Big Fish, you know that Edward Bloom arrived in the town of Spectre twice. The first time he was early and the second time, he was late. I fear that my timing with the diaconate will be a bit like that. But regardless, I thought that my path for the here and now was ordination. And as it turns out, it's not.

So while so many Episcopalians I know (e.g. people I've met at conferences, people I know online, and people I know personally), are coming off this incredible high of General Convention, I'm the one who has trouble joining them in that joy. I feel like I'm out in the cold, left looking through a window on their festivity. I know that everyone is on fire with Presiding Bishop Elect Michael Curry's words about going into the world and being church (doing ministry) that way. I want to get excited and do that too, but I've got this whole complex of thoughts and emotions that's keeping me out of the group.

But that's an opportunity, too. I have often felt like I'm the one out on the margins. I have journeyed on a path that has taken me in and out of the citadel that is Episcopalianism. But I have also felt that I'm the one with the knowledge of the citadel, and is nonetheless outside the walls, proclaiming "Prepare the way of the Lord!" and working with other people out here to make that happen. I just hope that at some point, I can move from this place I’ve always been, to within those walls, bringing the outside world to the church, and (in my opinion, more importantly) the church out into the world. I think that's a lot of what the Presiding Bishop Elect is preaching about.

As I bring this post to conclusion, I remember that I said I would be writing more about resurrection themes. For this time in my life, you can clearly see that there is opportunity for resurrection. I can see it and I want to live it, but I don’t know how. I’ll keep blogging about it, though.

~ ~ ~

Does this stir up any part of your own story that you want to share? If you feel comfortable, please share in the comments below. If you would rather contact me directly, please feel free to do so by email, or with direct messages on Twitter or Facebook.

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