Thursday, July 2, 2009

Internal Dialogue



I was looking back in my writings and found some notes I had made when I was getting to grips with the idea of vocation. This seems to be a good time to dust it off.

God wants me to be a priest. (Well I’m pretty sure he does anyway.) I know! Me! Of all people!

Right. Two things on that. Firstly you may want to consider how you express that to other people if you want to avoid the men in white coats being sent for and secondly, we’ve been here before haven’t we?

Yes we have, at various stages throughout my adult life. But that’s the point. It won’t go away.

So … what… you’ve heard voices? What did I say about men in white coats?

Don’t start.

So how have you heard this call if not through voices?

Well not voices in my head certainly: it’s been a long standing feeling that asserts itself now and then and demands that I pay attention to it. Sometimes it comes through the things that others say in conversation or through hearing a sermon – very much so this time, through my own private devotional time and ... erm … oh dear … erm … through dreams.

Dreams!

Look, I’d really rather not overstate this one, O.K. They were just part of a whole wider thing.

So let’s just consider what happened last time you felt this call.

I know. It came to nothing. Perhaps the timing wasn’t God’s timing: but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a call. Maybe that’s why it seems so insistent now.

And the times before that?

I think those times were preparatory nudges. It was first mentioned when I was twenty for goodness sake: no-one becomes a priest in their twenties. Well hardly anyone. And the other times … well, I don’t think I was in the right place, spiritually, emotionally, geographically … I’m not even in the same denomination as I was then.

So you rationalised those nudges away?

Yes.

But you’re taking this one seriously?

I think I may have run out of excuses.

And you think you have what it takes?

I don’t know. What does it take? I’ve been a committed Christian for thirty five years or so. I’ve been around more clergy in one guise or another than I care to remember all my adult life and I’ve discerned no particular model. Do I have what it takes? Other people have seemed to think so and in the end it’s not down to me is it?

So what do you think you have to offer?

Well, I’m a Theology graduate, a qualified teacher and a qualified counsellor. I’ve had up-front leadership roles in the church for years and I am a licensed Lay Minister: you’d think that was a good starting point wouldn’t you? But it’s not like I can pop down the careers office is it? It’s not a job like other jobs. “Good morning. Got any leaflets on vicaring?” You don’t choose it. It chooses you. Who in their right mind would choose it anyway – other than masochists obviously? It’s not exactly a career choice. It doesn’t offer great pay and prospects with high status and lots of fringe benefits. If anything it’s really counter-cultural in that respect. Long hours, low status and low pay. You may even not get paid at all with the way church finances are these days and have to carry in your other job to pay your way. Yippee. Bring it on.

You’re not exactly selling it.

Sorry. You see I’m trying to use unchurchy language here which isn’t easy. My clergy friends talk about mission and ministry and service and despite what I just said there is the privilege of working with God. It has to be awesome in every sense surely? I see priesthood as being with people; being an advocate for them and seeing God in them while desperately hoping that they see God in me. I just have a problem with unpacking mission and ministry and service and really hope they don’t encompass the sugary and lobotomised “Just come to Jesus” approach, the aggressive evangelism which says “Well I’ve done my bit. I’ve told you about Jesus. You’re going to die in your sins so don’t blame me.” or the “It’s in the Bible so you’d better believe it.” style because I think they are all basically signs of inauthentic religion and I’d rather lick my own armpits than buy into any of that.

That’s not very pious.

I don’t do pious. It’s not in my repertoire – not unless I’m messing about anyway. I’m too pragmatic for that. My feet are firmly on the ground and my head is nowhere near the clouds. For goodness sake I’m an Enneagram profile four which if you apply it to Biblical characters puts me fairly and squarely (and unsurprisingly) in Thomas’s camp.

Anyway, you don’t like Christians. You’re always telling people that.

That’s not strictly true. I have a love-hate relationship with the church but that’s true of most people I know. As for Christians they are a hard group not to make generalisations about or stereotype. I do have a thing about “Not in my name” when I rant about the nutters on the fringes who do mad things. You know: Dickheads for Jesus, that sort of thing. In the end I don’t think people take enough notice of personality types and churchmanship. I was never destined to be a Pentecostalist or a Creationist because my brain just doesn’t work that way. Anyway, I have to say I sometimes wonder what “Christian” means when I see so many poor role models and interdenominational bad-tempered exchanges. Take the Phelps clan in Topeka. Am I supposed to call them Christian and if I do am I not tarred with the same brush for calling myself a Christian too?

So what will you do about this calling?

I have no choice. I have to follow it up or I’ll never have peace.

Are you sure you’re up for this? For the emotional turmoil; the possibility of rejection; the disruption to your family, professional and social lives; the additional study; people perceiving you differently ….?

Am I sure? No, given a free choice I wouldn’t want any of those things but I don’t feel I have a free choice. I have to follow it up. It isn’t going away. Things will never be the same again.