Sunday, August 25, 2013


Tomorrow I’m going to see a doctor. Those close to me know that I have been experiencing some joint and muscle pain pretty much all over my body for a good while now. I had to work through some things regarding insurance to get to a doctor, so I’ve been waiting a good while to begin getting some answers. In the meantime, I have had some relief from someone who has done Feldenkrais with me and have gotten a great deal of encouragement from a friend who is a massage therapist.

I honestly have no idea what the problem is. I started out thinking, maybe assuming, it was one thing, based on my experience with it as a medical researcher and as the sibling of someone who has it. The observant eyes of people who work every day with folks who have this kind of pain have helped me come down from my mountain of assuredness about what the problem is. I’m both encouraged by that and a bit more frightened. Encouraged, because what’s wrong may be completely treatable and I won’t have to take nasty drugs for the rest of my life and still watch my body slowly lock up and deteriorate over time.  Frightened, because now I’m back to uncertainty and as long as the cause is uncertain, there’s the possibility it could be even worse than what I’ve assumed it was.

Here’s the bottom line, though. Over the past few months, I’ve progressively lost strength. I’ve also lost about 25 pounds. There are days when I can barely move at all when I get up in the mornings. Other days,  I move just fine. Every single day, though, carries with it a degree of pain in my neck, shoulders, hands, wrists, knees, and ankles. I am, to put it succinctly, worn out from dealing with it and beyond ready for answers.

If you are the praying sort, I would welcome your thoughts and prayers over the next few days/weeks as I work with my doctor to sort through the potential causes for the pain, stiffness, and loss of strength. To say that I am frightened a little may seem to some as a lack of faith. It isn’t to me. I’m scared and I’m pretty sure God gets that.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

On leaving ministry for farming

I’ve been asked if I view this next step in my career/vocation as ministry. It’s an interesting question. I think there’s only a small segment of the population -- a segment with which I happen to spend a lot of time -- that would ever think to ask it. I guess when a person who’s spent her whole adult life making a living in some way working for the church or churches or those who love churches, then it makes sense to ask when she’s almost 48 years old and decides to leave theological education to become a full-time farmer if she sees this next step as yet another movement of following God’s call into ministry.

I’m overly educated as a pastoral theologian. I’ve spent the better part of my life viewing the world through one theological lens or another. I’m inclined to make meaning using theological concepts. And, on a practical level, viewing this next step as just another movement of God’s call into ministry helps justify the student loan payment I continue to make, as well as the heavy investment of my time, energy, and soul over the last 26 or so years. It’s natural to want to see ministry as one continuous thread through my whole career. Then, maybe, my life would make sense, in some grand narrative way. Right?

On the one hand, there's a temptation to use the question to point to a growing sense that the church needs as broad a definition of ministry as it can muster to accomplish the enormous task of being salt and light in the world. Certainly caretaking of the earth and environmental stewardship is part of accomplishing God’s work in the world. I don’t want to do anything that takes away from a renewed sense that ministry is something in which all people of faith participate. If calling my new work “ministry” helps accomplish a deeper awareness of Christian vocation, then I say confidently, “Yes, Of course it is.” Thinking theologically comes relatively naturally to me and I am inclined to continue considering how my work in this world is in some way connected to God’s work in this world. Certainly I pray that it always is, well, at least for as long as I believe that’s a helpful way to view the world and my work in it. And, I believe churches would do well to encourage all people of faith to consider these questions about their work. I don’t, however, think that’s where this question posed to me is coming from though.

The question leaves me uneasy, perhaps because it is a flashpoint for the grief of leaving behind work/career/focus to which I’ve given a great deal of attention for a long time. When I committed to such work, I never imagined I would do anything else. I believe when we step out of what we’ve known for so long into that which is unknown to us, we often do so with a search for what is familiar. We cling to forms we recognize, and do so at our own peril. When we look for what is known, we run the risk of missing the beauty that the unknown can bring to our lives.

The answer to the question of whether I view this next step as ministry is simple. No. I’m farming. It’s the most honest answer, at least from my theological perspective. I believe ministry belongs to the church. It is not for me alone to decide whether or not my work is “ministry” per se. I don’t feel any particular need to label it ministry to somehow add value to the work I’m doing. Its value is inherent in the work itself, not the label I or anyone else gives it. Any urge to label it ministry for me is only an attempt to cling to that which I have known, instead of letting go, so as to embrace fully the graces and gifts that this next step offers. In saying no, I also don’t fall down some slippery slope of defining how one person’s farming is ministry and another’s is not. And it allows me to state firmly and confidently that I don’t think that what God was up to when I chose to follow along a path that led to ministry 26+ years ago was any more or less significant than what God is up to in my life now. Neither God nor I have abandoned the other.

My theology professor in seminary taught that from the perspective of the Christian scriptures, there really is only one call that can be identified. It is the call to follow. Period. I’m okay with that. It’s worked just fine up to this point in my life. And I have to admit there’s something really freeing about remembering that right now.