Archive for March, 2009

A Board Exercise

A while ago I had an interesting experience that I relay to you because I think it is a good illustration of some of the things that I tried to explain this summer about discernment. Perhaps it will be a catalyst for me to talk more about those things in the near future.

It all began when Tami updated me about one of our far-away-friends. Said friend works for a Christian non-profit agency and a few serious issues had come up regarding safety, proper boundaries, etc. As Tami was telling the story I quickly became extremely agitated. Of course, this was a complicated and heart-wrenching story. But we all hear lots of those kinds of stories and we don’t get worked up over each one. I should point out that at some point I realized the intensity of my reaction to the story far outpaced my actual knowledge of the situation. I decided to assume that my assumptions were true in order to go with my reaction in order to understand it better. I have learned that such occasions are opportunities to learn about ourselves; only things deeply rooted within us stir us to such an extent.

As I went to get the laundry and thought about what had just happened, I came up with a few ideas. First, I thought that what had pushed my buttons was that this organization was operating out of fear and being pushed around instead of standing up for itself. Second, I thought about how it is sometimes the case that Christian organizations can be so concerned with helping everyone, that they help no one. That they can be so concerned with showing grace that they do not set proper boundaries. Staff can be hung out to dry without a proper support system and an organization can be robbed of its mission by being pushed around or by failing to focus on its particular task.

These thoughts were interesting, but I wasn’t getting too far (like normal, but this time things were unique, which is why you are reading about them!). Then a story of a former professor of mine helped me make a leap. This man started off as a pastor, because he really wanted to preach. Later he became a professor- in order to teach preachers. And finally he realized that his most valuable gifts (and he was gifted at preaching and teaching) were in the realm of administration, so he became a dean of a theological school. Now he helps develop theological schools across the world. Anyway, I admire this man for lots of reasons. It is probably for that reason that I thought: at their heart the issues in question were issues of administration. They are about making the tough decisions necessary to follow through with a vision. They are about making sure systems are in place to protect staff, to make sure processes are in place to deal with challenges.

I don’t know where this leads me. But I will have to keep my eyes open for opportunities to serve in this sort of capacity. I guess I will need to find a board of directors to join or something! Or perhaps not; that is on-going nature of discernment. Who knows where- if anywhere- this will lead, but a whole new little pocket of myself has opened up before me, and for that I am grateful.


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As I near the end of my education I’ve found myself thinking a lot about completion. What does it mean to complete something? Be complete? There’s a finality with completion, as if to say the end is here. But is anything every really complete? Is there ever an end or merely a string of relapses and revisions? I don’t know the answer to these questions but they’ve been on my mind recently. I hear that finishing your PhD is one of the most anti-climatic experiences of your life. You work on something for so long and with such intensity that its completion seems almost unnatural. Yet the completion of one thing leads to the beginnings of another. The beginning of a career. The beginning of a life that seems so foreign after so many years as a student. Endings are beginnings but it’s so easy to desire what has been rather than what is.

As a single male grad student/professor who has been moving every few years for over a decade, it’s hard to accept completion with any sense of, well, completion. My mobility has required me to sacrifice so many things, from relationships to friends to community, that completion in one city often meant resisting beginnings in another. But I always found a way to make beginnings as painless as possible and endings just as painless. I think this has something to do with how I’ve lived self-preservation in so many ways, strategically choosing every step, so that this ending would be a less jarring experience than the last.

There is always part of me that doesn’t want completion. Call it comfort or complacency, two things that I often find difficult distinguishing between, but I’d like to put down roots somewhere so that completion doesn’t stare me in the face once again. To live in a place I know I won’t be leaving for awhile would be so very nice. I think this just means I’m getting old. Or maybe it means I’m growing up. Either way there’s a sense that completion can be delayed and denied, at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

I think my last blog about absence and presence is related. Absence can be so very difficult because we fear completion and face uncertainty. Uncertainty. I think that completion has everything to do with uncertainty. The what’s next question that consumes our mind as one chapter ends and another begins. We don’t know what will come, only that it will come regardless of our preparedness. The question becomes, what now? Am I ready? Will I ever be ready?

The fear of uncertainty is something we all face. We would rather have things the way they had been, before all the stuff. We don’t want completion, so we hang on as long as we can until, finally, we realize that we stand at the precipice between endings and beginnings. We stand there alone and wonder. Completion could be filled with so many possibilities but often regret takes over and we try to maintain what is already gone. At the precipice we look backward to the past and forward to what we cannot see. So often I experience regret when completion nears. I think of all the things I should have done differently or what I could have done to change things. In my life regret is an emotion that I’ve had to experience to get to what’s next. After regret comes possibility and hope, two things that make beginnings so much easier.

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Absence and Presence

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet but I’m an almost PhD. Last year I accepted a teaching job with an unfinished dissertation (the big bookish thing I’m required to write as a final project). While most of it was written prior to moving to my college town, I just haven’t had time to focus on it. So, the last few months I’ve been hunkering down to write amidst my other responsibilities at the college like, you know, teaching and grading.  Tonight I was thinking a bit about absence because I haven’t even visited our blog in a couple of months, yet the blog still goes on without me.

I’ll have you know that I was shocked beyond all recognition that our blog still exists without my presence. As if to say that my presence is necessary for the continuation of life as we know it. But that’s often how I think, that somehow I’m necessary for the world around me to function properly. Call it ego or narcissism or whatever seems appropriate but I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t think this way sometimes.

In my apartment complex my neighbors are a mid-twenties couple. He works construction and is in the National Guard. She is a server at a local restaurant. He was just deployed to Iraq for a year. Absence. She doesn’t talk about it much but when she does all she can seem to muster is the strength to say, “I just want him to come home.” The absence of someone leads to questions of when we will see them again or when we will hear from them, maybe even for the last time. Absence can make us go a bit crazy. I’m a testament to that small fact.

Then I think about my mom and the way that absence and presence confront her on a daily basis. I’ve mentioned my dad before, how there was a car accident 32 years ago and he is mentally and physically disabled. Every day she confronts the absence of the man she married yet his physical presence. Absence and presence are experienced simultaneously, which I can only imagine makes life so much more difficult. The disappointment that must come from experiencing absence and presence on a daily basis makes my head (and heart) hurt.

Yet, maybe my neighbor’s experiences are not so far away from my mothers’. To experience the presence of a person in our thoughts and prayers, in the images we have scattered about our homes, may be almost as vivid. I think we all experience absence differently, yet our emotions are probably pretty similar. We hope for the absence we experience to be transformed into presence, yet often we know that presence will never return again.

I really don’t know where this blog is going. It’s a relief not to have a point sometimes, especially when I’ve had to write with such intention and purposefulness for so long. But I do wonder how absence makes us into the people we are today. Whether it is from the absence of a parent, sibling, or friend who is no longer living or chooses not to be a part of our lives. Or maybe it is a relationship that you hoped would work out but ended in heartache. Absence tends to make me wish for what has been rather than hope for something different. I’m not sure why but I hope for a return, from absence to presence, rather than a transformation in my own life and thought. Yet, this transformation is impossible if we hold on so tightly to the memories of those we’ve lost that we aren’t willing to allow ourselves the space to live once again. We are blinded by our desire to return to a past we remember (and often idealize), stripping ourselves of our ability to live right now.

Maybe this is all about living. If you’ve read my other blogs I’m sure this comes as a shock to you, that the question of living is central to my thoughts. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so the cliche goes. But absence makes me tired. Very, very tired. I wonder if creating space to live despite those absences is one of the most difficult things we’ll face. This struggle is so intensely personal that it’s hard to share it with others. Absence can’t be overcome but rather must be transformed into gratitude, hope, peace. Transformed into the very thing that we didn’t think possible.

I’m curious if you’ve thought about absence and presence in your life.

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