Saying Goodbye to the Old:
Earlier this month, I celebrated my final days as the Director of College & Young Adult Ministries at Frazer UMC. During the past two years on staff with the church I have called home for my entire life there were wonderful moments of learning, service, and growth. It was a rich spiritual journey and yet as I come to the end of this particular journey I find that God has given me more questions than answers.
My search for real life has led me through at least three distinct seasons of faith, not once or twice but over and over again. Jesus called them finding life, losing life, and finding life again, with the paradoxical promise that finders will be losers while those who lose their lives for his sake will wind up finding them again.
The promise contains truth that can only be experienced, and even when it is I do not know anyone who readily volunteers for loss again. My losses have been modest compared to most. After all, I am an educated, middle-class, white male who has never so much as broken a bone. I guess you could say that my losses have been chiefly in the area of faith, and specifically in the area of being certain who God is, what God wants from me, and what it means to be a Christian in a world where religion seems to do more harm than good.
When I began this journey into ministry just over two years ago, I was far surer of things than I am now — so sure that I decided to spend my time and energy helping other people become more sure of them too. Together we navigated books of the Bible and the complexities of human life and we even managed to overcome our preoccupation with our own needs long enough to tend to the needs of our neighbors. I counted it all a joy and yet there, too, is a darker side to these last two years.
Before moving from Montgomery to Durham, I was at dinner with friends from church and one of them asked me, “What are you most excited about regarding this new adventure?”
I don’t remember exactly what I said, probably something about learning new things, but that answer wasn’t as descriptive as it should have been.
Saying Hello to the New:
In order for something new to live. Something old has to die. It’s spiritual physics.
These steps from Frazer to Duke — steps out of leadership and into community — have been scary and uncertain, but necessary. I believe there is a work that God wants to do within me that cannot be done as long as I remain in a position of authority. That is, being a professional holy person for the last two years has almost killed me. The deadliness was not in the job as much as it was in the way that I did it. There is so much weight assigned to us to be special, to be unique, to be great, to distinguish ourselves, to be “set apart.” But in being “set apart” I discovered how much I longed to be with everyone else. Being in charge taught me how much I longed to be in community. And because I am so prone to buy into my own little act, and convince myself that I am larger than life I believe that taking off the mantle of leadership, at least for a season, is necessary for my salvation. I need the gift of mountains and seas to protest my disproportionate sense of scale, to make me feel smaller and less necessary. Like Job, I need to be reminded of mountain goats and sea monsters to help me find my proper places in the cosmos.
To properly and thoroughly answer my friends question, as I start at Duke Divinity, I am excited about the learning I will do. But what I need to learn most is not Church History or Old Testament.
I need to learn to be human again.
I need to learn that I do not run very many things nor understand very much. I have not successfully figured myself out, much less God, life and the world.
I need to learn to confess being as lost and as found as everyone else.
I need to learn to be at home in my smallness, at peace with the knowledge that the way I am loved is largely absurd.
I need to learn to enjoy my status as my Father’s awkward, backward son, absurdly treasured and irrationally loved.
I need to learn that I did not purchase this coat of many colors and have no reason to wear it as proud as a peacock. But I will, nevertheless, learn to wear the hell out of it — oversized luxury on such a small person.
I need to learn to stop having pretensions of greatness. After all, I am a circus act; I am a walking comedy. I am infinitely ridiculous; and yet I am infinitely loved.
I need to learn to die again to myself in order that I might live.
Perhaps more apt, the experience of death-in-life, the drowning of ego in a watery grave, turns us inside out. This is what I need to learn.
Like Joseph, who wore the Father’s coat of affection long before me, was thrown into a pit, I too am currently leaping into the void. While I can confess that there is terror in the free-fall, I am trusting that there is only love to be found at the bottom, thus I’ll be singing hymns all the way down — singing songs of my own descent. And by partaking in my own descent into the abyss, I hope that Christ’s story of resurrection will soon become my own.
This is my prayer.
(Patrick Craig is a graduate student at Duke University Divinity School)