Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I'm Not Seeking Ordination..., Pt.1: Nagging Questions.

by Tim K. Snyder

For the past six months I've been in some deep discernment with a very close group of family, friends, mentors, pastors and faculty here at Luther Seminary. That discernment might best be described as a "nagging." If I could have left it behind me and not confronted it, I would have...because it was awfully disorienting. And I tried. And that didn't work. The questions that just wouldn't leave me alone went something like this:

Is there room for me in the ELCA to do what I'm called to?

What meaning can be made out of the previous season of life as a mission developer at The Netzer Co-Op?

What is the most faithful way to be committed to my Lutheran tradition? Does that even mean serving as a leader in the ELCA?

What is God calling me to now?

What kind of future do I understand God to be calling me into?

As it turns out, these aren't the kind of questions that could be honored by simple answers and I'm not actually "done" answering these questions. But a few insights became clear over the course of months of listening...

(1) It's clear to me that a better way to think about that first question (as opposed to an actual "yes" or "no") is to think about the way that vocation always means a deep "yes", and a corresponding deep "no." A commitment to be part of a community comes with boundaries. Sometimes those are expressed theologically or confessionally. Sometimes those are expressed simple in terms of time. Of course how one commits to something complex like the ELCA is nuanced. For me it became clear that I wanted to commit to the ELCA out of a vision to make more room for different kinds of faith expression in this church. It also became clear to me that if you're going to renovate the house, you probably shouldn't just start knocking down walls before checking to see if they are load-bearing. Ordination is a "load-bearing wall" in the ELCA at this point. This is particularly true for someone who happens to fix the stereotype of a young, white male candidate for ministry. There's not exactly freedom for creativity in that place.

(2) The three years I spent at The Netzer Co-Op was the most formative maybe precisely because it cost me so much. And honestly I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. But at the same time I won't romanticize it. This past fall I gave a guest presentation in a class on Developing New Missional Communities and I described the situation that started the co-op as "asking a bunch of twenty year olds to do ________ for $10,000." Maybe you already know this, but there are LOTS of things a 20 year old would do for that kind of money without much critical reflection. Many of the responsibilities that came with that were far too similar to being asked to grow up too fast in church leadership circles. The whole Lutheran Posterchild narrative still haunts me. It was demoralizing narrative for me.

(3) There's limits to any metaphor but one that has had a certain resonance for me and my experience of the candidacy process was that of an engagement (In the interest of full disclosure...since I've never actually been engaged this is sort of fabricated). And it seems to me that if you have any serious doubt to whether that's a life-long commitment that you really intend to keep, it's probably better to simply take the time you work that out. Working those questions out while planning for a wedding just doesn't seem fair to either side. Of course in the candidacy process its a bit more complicated than that because there really aren't "safe spaces" to express those doubt and serious concerns. That was my experience anyways.

(4) Something about time and being present to it emerged as a spiritual theme I wanted to be attentive to. The candidacy process is kind of like jumping on a trendmill set for full sprint. They've got that process nailed down and that pipeline spits you out on the otherside like a human canon. I found it very difficult to be fully present to the amazing things and people that were going on around me because there's this insane program of conditioning candidates for what's next in the complicated array of possibilities that lies ahead. That has surprisingly disappeared instantly. Maybe that's my problem.

This post is already obnoxiously long and so I'll wrap up this first part...

Since making a final decision just a few weeks ago, what is has been surprising to me is that I've found far more support for this decision among faculty than students. Of course my close circle of family, friends, pastors and mentors were strong in making sure that I knew they supported me no matter what. And I love them for that. But what I didn't expect is that students — and in particular other Master of Divinty/candidates — would at times get if I were somehow making a commentary on their decision. It's been weird. Of course Master of Arts (non ordination/roster) have been the most encouraging of the students. Maybe it's because they understand the risks I'm embracing on that front.

To be honest I don't blame them. It only confirms for me the lack of space to question, agitate or raise non-negotiable concerns in the candidacy process while in it. It's frankly sad. But there's grace there too.

to be continued...



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Blogger tjackson80 said...

I support this decision 100%. I also like this blog very much, especially for its candor.

I have a number of reflections on the things you have written here and, if you're interested, would like to engage some sort of blog-ian conversation.

If you want, I'll post my thoughts/comments here as well as at your originally posted src and we can talk it out?

3/25/2010 03:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Judy Hedman said...

Congratulations Tim! It isn't easy to be in the "pipeline" of any education program or vocational path and then change directions. I'm glad you have the support of those closest to you. Don't be too hard on those that question you. From personal experience, I know the feeling of being in a room full of dedicated learners with a laser focus on their goal and saying "this ain't for me." Blessings

3/25/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Christine Anne C. said...

Hi Tim.
Of course, some choose to ask difficult "trajectory" questions while remaining in the candidacy stream, which as you say is not necessarily "safe". Discernment of vocation is holy work either way and one would hope that all would honor it as such. I "get" the risk your choice contains. Tim, you are a deeply and uniquely gifted person, and I am grateful for your honesty and transparency. My hope is that you keep your MDIV friends in the conversation as you seek God's guidance in where all those gifts best fit in the Divine Scheme of things. The questions you are asking are important ones that beg to be shared and discussed. Hamdulillah (thanks to God) for you Tim and good luck!

3/25/2010 04:05:00 PM  

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