In this scene, one of the main characters, Amos, is attending one of his seminary classes after he’s just finished reading Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith. I bought it immediately after reading this scene.
And on around the table it went, one student after another disagreeing with Tillich’s proposition.
[Editor’s Note: The theory that there is only one ultimate, unconditional concern, and that is for the unconditional itself. Tillich called it “our passion for the infinite.” Rob Bell discusses this at length on his podcast, called The RobCast, starting with episode 111, Pete Rollins on God, Part 1, and there are four altogether.]
The professor asked, “what about when the middle managers at IBM look in the mirror first thing in the morning, or last thing at night? What do they see there?”
“They see profit and loss,” Mike answered, “and I don’t mean metaphorically. They see the company they work for.”
Amos said nothing; his tongue seemed to have failed him. But he thought one thing over and over, the way he used to think a single thought in church on Sunday until he nearly choked on it: You are all wrong. You are all completely wrong about this. We live lives that are hopelessly broken, and we know it.
Haven Kimmel, The Solace of Leaving Early
I don’t shave my legs that often when it’s not shorts weather, but today I did. I have this habit of reading my Kindle for 15-20 minutes in the bathtub to let the aloe strip on the razor get soft so that I A) won’t get razor burn and II) won’t cut the shit out of my knees and ankles.
I love this book from beginning to end, having first read it in 2003, picking it up over and over as the years roll by. Every time, it’s a different story dependent upon where I am in my own life, and today was no exception. I’m reading along and I hit that last line in the quote, and I start shaking and crying with grief in the water- rocking myself and saying, “help me.” Of course I was talking to God. As Anne Lamott famously said, and I’m paraphrasing, “there’s really only three prayers… help, thanks, and wow.” “Help me” became my mantra, self-soothing until I could breathe.
My mother didn’t have to die for me to know that my life was hopelessly broken way before that… and yet, it was her death that broke the dam, because if there has been anyone in my life that truly contained “passion for the infinite,” it was her… and even then, it wasn’t for her own infinite possibilities. It was for mine.
She saw greatness in me long before I did, and I’m not sure she ever really grasped how my homosexuality, emotional abuse, and chemical imbalance combined to render me incapable of it in my own mind. I knew I wanted to be a pastor at 16, and back then (mid-90s), who would have ordained a lesbian? When those rules changed, I didn’t necessarily change with them, because the church that raised me still wouldn’t ordain me, even if I was the greatest theological mind in a hundred years (I’m not.).
I have long known that I am my biggest obstacle, and when I graduate with a BA and an MDiv, it will be because I have finally learned to shove myself out of the way. The external rocks have been moved- I jumped denominations, twice. At first, I wanted to be an Episcopal priest, but a stranger on the steps of the Supreme Court changed my mind. He was a UCC pastor, wearing a black shirt and a clerical collar. He told me that the reason he switched from Episcopal Church USA to UCC was that he wanted more out of liturgy than “turn to page 355.” I was literally stunned into silence.
Why did I want someone else controlling every aspect of my service except the sermon? I’m a writer. The UCC has no polity; if I wanted to introduce Anglican elements into my service, I had every “rite” to do so. When Dr. Susan Leo handed her pulpit to me, on every occasion I wrote the entire service, front to back. If I’d been any kind of smart, I would have saved some of those calls to worship……..
I found Christ Congregational Church because it was an eight minute walk from my house, but I had no intention of remaining there. The Episcopal church was an hour bus ride away, and that was all there was to it. My reasoning was that I could probably show up on Sunday mornings, but any kind of community like youth group or choir that required me to show up more than a couple of hours a week was out.
I had no idea until I happened upon the stranger that it was literally God stepping in to say, “ummmmm… I think this is where you really belong.” Let’s just say that I have internalized “retroactive continuity…” as if learning that one of my favorite pastor bloggers was now my pastor in real life wasn’t a big enough (rainbow?) flag. How did I not know? I never read his “About Me” page, and nearly jumped out of my skin when he mentioned his blog in church one day.
I am not naive about the gargantuan amount of work I need to do on myself to be ready for this task. If all I had to do was prepare the bulletin and get up every Sunday to preach, I could start tomorrow. But I have made so many mistakes in not taking care of people that the years I’m in school will be all about learning healthy coping mechanisms, clinical separation, and just generally trying not to fuck people up. Being a preacher is easy. Being a pastor is ridiculously hard… and I hate to say it, but there are thousands of people in pulpits already that have no idea those things are different… simply their ordination renders them capable of counseling people whether they know how or not, often to disastrous results.
I am leaning on the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber in Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People.
Those most qualified to speak the gospel are those who truly know how unqualified they are to speak the gospel.
God, please help me not be an asshole, is about as common a prayer as I pray in my life.
The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.
These are the thoughts that stop me from shaking in grief and insecurity. If my mother could believe in my infinite possibilities, I owe it to her to at least try to believe them myself…………….