Coming Out of the Discernment Closet

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Telling people that I’m discerning a call to ordained ministry can make me a little anxious. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it’s a much milder version of what gay people feel when they come out of the closet. And I think the response I get is similar also.

There’s the over-supportive: “Ohmygosh, yes, definitely. You should be ordained tomorrow.” This was an actual response from someone I had met 10 minutes beforehand.

There’s the under-supportive: “Oh…” 

There’s the I-knew-all-along: “Oh, yeah, I could have told you that when you were 16.”

There’s the mildly intrusive: “Can you still have sex?” (yes)

But ultimately, the anxiety comes down to the fact that I am still discerning a call, which means somewhere I have to acknowledge the possibility that maybe, perhaps I’m misunderstanding God, and my ordination is not a part of the plan. In which case I’d have to go back and un-tell all those people. “I thought I was hearing ‘ordained ministry’ and it turns out he was saying ‘maintained poultry.’ I’m going to start a free range chicken farm.”

Which brings me to what I most don’t like to hear when I tell people I’m in discernment:

“Good luck!”

I know this is coming from such a well-meaning place, but I like to think that if discernment is done right, luck plays no part in it. The outcome of my discernment isn’t a reflection of how good or bad I am, or how hard I’ve worked. Ordained or not, my only goal is to be the Cortney God wants me to be. And I can already tell you, I’m just the right person for that job.

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Elephant Dung and the Quest for Vocation

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I took this photo without using zoom. Don’t worry I was well protected- hanging out the window of a ’95 Nissan Sentra

In Parker J. Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, a book so good and small that I’ve picked up and re-read a handful of time, Palmer compares the soul to a wild animal:

The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal — tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly in the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the animal we seek.

I really like the wild animal metaphor for the soul. So I carried on the metaphor for an animal I’ve seen in the wild a time or two- the African Elephant. Yup, when I lived in South Africa, I lived an hour’s drive away from Addo Elephant National Park, a park about half the size of Rhode Island that is home to the highest concentration of wild African elephants. Each time I visited Addo, I had similar experiences which went something like this:

Drive through front gates. See elephant dung all over the road- must be elephants near by! Don’t see any elephants. Continue driving. Keep looking for elephants. Keep just seeing elephant dung. Mind you, there are no trees, just bushes, and we are looking for the largest living land animal.

An hour passes. Still driving.

Fresh looking elephant dung! But no elephants around. Still looking. See warthog – sing Hakuna Matata. See ostrich and monkeys. No elephants. Still driving. Decide to get out of car to stretch despite signs warning us not to leave our cars because of lions. Take a picture standing next to that sign so I can post on facebook and look like a total badass to all my friends at home. Back in car. No elephants.

Keep driving. Then…

Smell elephant dung. That fresh. This is it. Turn the corner and, bam!, a herd of elephants.

That, my friend, is what it’s like to go to Addo Elephant Park. My point? Searching for your soul can be a long pursuit, but you know you’re close when you smell shit.

It’s only figurative shit, of course.

 

Who Would Jesus Boycott?

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Recently a facebook friend posted a picture of a flyer he found asking the reader to boycott The Home Depot because it is helping advance the homosexual agenda. For this particular facebook friend, I’m sure he saw this as all the more reason to shop at Home Depot. I even indulged my curiosity and checked out the website of the Christian organization and sure enough there are pictures of Home Depot sponsoring and taking part in Gay Pride parades in various cities. (sidenote: no matter where your theology lies, you have to admit that this is a genius marketing strategy. How can I buy stock in Home Depot?)

I also have Christian friends who’ve boycotted Chik-Fil-A because of their support of Christian anti-gay organizations. (Time article)

Does being faithful involve boycotting certain businesses? Supposedly, boycotts work. And how could I begin to antagonize the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights movement. Should boycotts only be used as a last resort when all other efforts of communication have been met with disregard?

A few months ago I was organizing a trivia night fundraiser for my church. I had a well written letters on well printed stationery explaining our worthy cause and the tax deductions available for donations. I was dressed well and wore my prettiest smile to hand deliver these letters to some of our downtown businesses. In one restaurant I immediately met the owner and began my spiel, but he stopped me, “Not interested!” and he returned to his business.

And then I made this face:

And I vowed never to eat at that restaurant again. And I even told a few of my co-workers to do the same. And this business still doesn’t donate anything to my church.

I guess some boycotts can be petty. But some can be worthy. What do you think?

Miss Dale’s Opus

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Yesterday morning, per my usually Saturday schedule, I stayed in my pajamas and watched the best thing my cable had to offer- Mr. Holland’s Opus on TBS. Now this movie came out when I joined the band in 6th grade so there were a couple of months where my friends and I loved this movie and watched it over and over. (Similarly A League of Their Own came out the year I first played coach-pitch softball and I still maintain that that’s the best movie ever.) But this morning I watched Mr. Holland’s Opus and saw something new: this movie is a little depressing.

It’s a movie about a young musician who takes a job as a high school music teacher so he can pay the rent, but in his ‘spare time’ he can pursue his real goal to be a famous composer. Of course life happens, his wife gets pregnant, the mortgage is loaned and over 140 minutes, we see Richard Dreyfuss age into an older man as he teaches 30 years worth of students about music, when then, the music program at his school is cut and he is forced to retire.

How depressing! As someone who’s basically thinking about the pre-beginning parts of her career, it’s a tough pill to swallow. You mean my dreams might not materialize even with hard work?

Because also yesterday morning I got an email about my discernment process and apparently I scheduled that interview before this interview when I should have scheduled this interview before that interview. It’s not that big of a deal, but the whole process can feel so fragile and hiccups can make me requestion everything.  It’s easy to pray and ask God “Is this right?” but it’s hard to leave him room to answer.

The discernment process is as much about obedience and humility as it is diligence and confidence. With how much I think I know how God is calling me, I can never be certain. That’s where faith comes in.  
Luckily (spoiler alert!) Mr. Holland’s Opus doesn’t just end with a forced retirement. His students from the years come together to perform the opus he had worked on throughout the years as well as tell him thanks for his teaching and inspiration. What he didn’t want to do turns into what he was supposed to be doing his whole life. 
So maybe if this whole ordination thing doesn’t work out, I can start teaching high school band for thirty years, inspiring students to love music and believe in themselves. Or not. 

This IS a post about Love Wins

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I finished Love Wins. It took a little longer than expected. Mainly because I had to catch up on The Biggest Loser and there was a new The Office (loved it) and 30 Rock (okay). But I did easily finish the over-discussed book and now feel obliged to write about it because every other blog I read has.

I think I spent more time reading about Love Wins than I actually spent reading the book. And with how un-shocking I found the book,  I have a theory that Rob Bell paid or planted John Piper and the other naysayers just to build up hype. If not, I should just refer to Piper’s ‘farewell’ list when I’m looking for something new to read.

Nonetheless, Rob Bell finds a new way to tell an old story and I really like that. Bell writes like the lovechild of Ernest Hemingway and C.S. Lewis, which draws no complaints from this reader. The book does reach toward an audience that has directly or indirectly been scathed by American Evangelical churches’ theology and it’s because of that that I hope that if my grandchildren ever pick this book up and be dumbfounded by the passages that describe this present theology.

The one complaint I have, the same one I have with all Rob Bell’s books, is that he doesn’t include any references. Not that I’m one to go through and check a bibliography, but it feels like a number of times he quickly comes to a conclusion then continues to build more arguments on it before I’ve had a chance to completely grasp said conclusion.

Conclusion: (if you’re reading this you’ve probably already drawn your own conclusion) worth it.

In other news, be sure to watch the NCAA Division II Basketball championships tomorrow afternoon at 1pm. My own alma mater, Bellarmine University is playing. Go Knights!

This is not a blog post about Love Wins. Yet.

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So I’ve spent the past hour occasionally reloading the tracking information on a package UPS is delivering to my house by the end of today. It’s the Amazon.com package containing, among other things, Rob Bell’s newest book, Love Wins. I placed the order March 4th, the book came out March 15th, but I’m just now receiving it because of the high demand. Of course I’m neither presumptive enough to write about a book I haven’t read nor important enough to receive an advance copy of the book, so this is not a blog post about Love Wins. Yet.

That said, I like Rob Bell. I work in campus ministry so I think of Rob Bell and Nooma probably the same way my second grade teacher thought of LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow: just press play and for 15 minutes, the t.v. does my job! Also, it’s not that Rob Bell pushes the envelope or is all that radical, but he has found a way of preaching that holds the attention of my generation. (When will the Vatican send an investigator to verify this miracle?)

But you don’t

have to

take my word

for it.