"Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart. "
-Rumi

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reflections on seminary, my call, and interfaith dialogue

So first of all, hello! I know it has been ages since I have written!  I suppose I felt at a bit of a loss as to what to write about, and I wasn't really certain that anyone was reading.  However, I have a question that was posed to me today that is weighing heavily on my mind that I would like to put out there in the hope that it will trigger thoughts and conversations of value in others (and hopefully with me).  

I am in the midst of my second year of seminary as a Masters of Divinity student. I came to seminary with the idea that I would not be pursuing a traditional ministry path in the parish, which I still have no intention of doing.  I do not feel as though this is where God is calling me or where my strengths are.  However, I did come to seminary with the (what now seems crazy) notion that I should pursue homeless and hunger ministry options because of my work as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and the experiences I had at a local homeless shelter during my time as a VISTA.  I wholeheartedly thought this was what I was being called to by God.  That all came to a crashing halt this fall after a series of less than ideal experiences and interactions with what was to be my field site for the year.  Among the experiences, I was told by one individual from the organization that no one would ever take me serious in homelessness and hunger outreach because I am white.  While I have no way of knowing if this is true, it certainly did make me question my ability to be effective in ministry of any form really.  Other events ultimately made me call into question whether this organization was really the place for me, and whether this was really where God wanted me to be serving for the next 9 months.  Turns out, its not! 


In the midst of all the chaos of this, I had a profound, yet challenging conversation with a pastor from the church I attend here in town.  He told me at one point that some times God closes doors on a call. Straight forward enough, right? Well for me, this came as abrupt and a surprise.  It was something I didn't want to hear. I came to school with homelessness and hunger as part of my plan. That is what I thought I was called to do.  I planned on it.  I like having a plan. God shouldn't just change the plan like that. What was I supposed to do if he closed the door on this call? Just get a new one? How? Who does that? Really God? I already came to seminary. What more do you want? 

Needless to say, I wasn't happy with this pastor's statement to me about doors closing on a call. My initial reaction was frustration, and not even with God at first, but with the pastor.  I didn't voice that to the pastor, but I did to my family.  How could he say that?  Looking back on it now, there is incredible wisdom in that simple statement. God truly did close a door on a part of a call for me.  He simply showed me an even better, more incredible opportunity for me.  This call, one to engage in interfaith dialogue and work, is one that has been budding since college for me. (If you want to know more about this, please ask.)  I just failed to recognize it as a call to a form of ministry.  I thought of it as an academic interest instead.  I couldn't be happier with my new field site and the work I am doing to address the hate crimes against minority religious groups in the country.  The whole experience this fall has opened me up to one of the mysterious ways in which God works in and through our lives to guide us to where we need to be in our call and ministry if we are just open to it.  I am so incredibly thankful for this guidance and transition in my discernment.  It is so much better than I could have ever imagined, and I feel truly blessed by my experience so far with my field site.  

So onto this question that I've been pondering for the last 9 hours.  In a discussion with my field site supervisor today, we were talking about the differing views of/approaches to interfaith dialogue by Christians.  It is interesting to note that my field site supervisor is a practicing Muslim, and I dearly love that we are engaging in interfaith dialogue as we discuss interfaith dialogue! Besides that, she is an incredible and inspiring woman.  We noted 3 main positions on what seems to be a continuum of sorts.  

  1. There are the people who think that we should have absolutely nothing to do with people of other faiths or "unbelievers" as some refer to them.  (I particularly detest that term as one who does have meaningful relationships with people of other faiths.)
  2. There are those individuals who chose for whatever reason to not really engage with people of other faiths but do not seem to have a strong feeling one way or another against it. 
  3. There are people more akin to myself who actively and enthusiastically engage interfaith dialogue and have relationships with people from other faith traditions.  
From there, my supervisor proceeded to ask about Jesus. What sort of people was Jesus known to interact with? Did society in his day approve? Well, NO! He challenged the status  quo.  In fact, he completely flipped the status quo on its head.  We as Christians are called to love our neighbor.  We are all beloved children of God.  Then THE QUESTION came.  The one I can't quit thinking about...it just keeps running through my head.  How do I answer this. How do I respond? How do we act as Christians today in light of it? What does it mean in light of my call? So here it is...
Jesus was the one who showed love to all the "wrong" people.  Who are those people in our society today?  Who are the people that Jesus would befriend? Who are those that our society looks down upon as "other" or somehow "less than"? 

Now, what are we going to do about it? 

P.S. I know it is really a series of questions.  She only stated it as one. I added a few for clarity.