11.12.2004

The Sword in the Stone

I suspected when things really started to line up to go to grad school that there was a reason behind it. To review, and for those that never heard the whole story, Brooke and I had three main concerns about moving and grad school and all of that. First, we needed to know that I would get in. Second, we needed to know that we would be provided for financially. Third, we needed to make sure that this was the direction our community saw us going in. To use a Christian-ese cliche, these three issues constituted our "Gideon's Fleece" before God; our series of confirmations that we thought we'd need--mostly out of our control--in order to be sure that this was the direction that God wanted us to go with our lives. That I got in to the HPS program at ND was a big enough confirmation. That they are paying me a small but do-able stipend is another bonus and confirmed our second issue. Though much less concrete, all signals that we got from friends, church, and family were "We'll miss you, but go!" But God didn't stop there. We found out that Dave was also going here and needed housemates. The house that we found here was in our price range and had plenty of room for him and for Greta. Then we learned that a young married couple of similar pursuits and beliefs that were also interested in community and were friends with Brooke moved in a few blocks away. They also had a newborn and seemed like ideal people to begin this new journey alongside of. Other smaller things fell into place too like the location of a nearby bike path and potential church community in the area. So many things came together that I began to get nervous. I know that God doesn't work under some cosmic karma where good and bad have to equal themselves out, but--call me a die-hard pessimist--I wondered whether these gifts and answered prayers were there to help bolster my faith should things not turn out the way we expected. In other words, if things got tough and we began to question whether or not we should have given up our lives in Columbus for this, we could look back to all of the obvious miracles that happened to get us here and be assured. The tough times came. And they have persisted. And I find myself asking the "shoulda" question more frequently. I think one of the toughest parts is that I didn't really want academia per se. I wasn't treating Element or our lives in Columbus like a stepping stone to something better. It was almost the opposite: by watching John have his mission(s) (Asia's Hope and Element) and seeing the things that Jeff has done with his gifts I began to wonder what I had to give God. I'm not an extrovert, don't find it easy to talk to people I don't know well, and have never been able to get my finger on the pulse of coolness. Even when I worked at Vineyard with high schoolers, I was always most comfortable dealing with the kids who wanted more than "Sunday School answers" to questions. I wanted to use any talents I've been given to serve but didn't know what arena would work best. Both B and I felt like I needed to be in an environment where I could look for answers to questions that had been on my mind for years and that aren't necessarily part of the everyday discussion. Academia, in that general sense seemed to be both a solution and a mission; a possible way I could challenge and be challenged as an ambassador for Christ. Of course things never work out that neatly. I can't just sit around a fire with a stack of books and discuss big issues with other people that are sitting around that fire reading their own stacks of books. I don't even really think that's what I'm "called" to necessarily. But I am continually surprised by how lonely this life is. How there aren't any people willing to sit around any fire and discuss big issues. How even here you are defined more by what you do--in this case related to your department rather than your business and measured by publications rather than paychecks--than who you are. And how, in the middle of the most Bible-belty places I've ever been, Church is seen as a Sunday morning event rather than a way of life. Needless to say, we haven't found many people to share the journey with. The prospective friendships we thought would be easy haven't been. And my co-students are not merely disinterested by the Gospel. To a certain extent, missionaries get big respect in churches. They are the people really willing to lay it on the line for God while the rest of us piddle around, restlessly flipping through the myriad channels of life. I think missionaries and pastors and the like really deserve the respect they get too. They've made tremendous sacrifices so that the Word is shared, so that people have hope in the midst of their restless lives. (What they don't deserve, though they get it too often, are rebellious children and people that put them up on a pedestal so much that they can't admit to the small stumbles that the rest of us take for granted.) I just wonder what my role is in the Church. I thought of myself going here as some sort of missionary-training work, but I can't see the rest of the Christian world really viewing Christian academics as valuable resources. In fact, with all the impact intellectuals have on the Church, you'd think part of becoming a Christian was learning how not to care about reading or scrutinizing difficult issues--how instead you're supposed to feel whatever is being delivered to you from the TV or the pulpit or the radio and then act on it in whatever way feels right to you at the time. So there's not any "respect" motivation to confirm that what I'm doing is right, no sense that I actually am training to be a missionary of sorts. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not sure why I was called here anymore. I mean, I can see the obvious ways in which God led us here and I would be hypocritical to say that He didn't or, worse, to turn from this path. But I can't see a place for myself in the Church when I'm done--when I have to actually make a career out of thinking--aside from the "goes to church on Sunday" role. And academic rewards from the worldly side have never been too alluring either. Oh well. B has always said that God would keep us here as long as He wants us to be here. So I can't just give up. It's just more difficult to deal with this sense of aloneness than I thought it would be.

8 Comments:

Blogger John McCollum said...

Erik--

I'd love to talk.

John

11/12/2004 4:51 PM  
Blogger Jeff Cannell said...

E- too often our callings can kick the shit out of us. I forgot to tell you how depressing I found indiana winters. I believe God has called you there, but it sounds pretty sad.

remember ransom and frodo,

(our paul and moses in the desert)

A Buncha stuff has been hitting the fan in my neck of the woods, so I have now resolved to chuck any myth of a five year plan and now endeavor to hang out with my friends fear and trembling as we loosely embark nn my five hour plan. I have no clue as to the what and the hows of where you are going, but I believe you have walked in the right steps.

I know I'm writing too much. . . would prefer a real conversation some time

11/12/2004 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Gift From God.

We never can tell, at the time, the reasons God has for doing certain things just that he calls us and that we follow. But later we get to look back and be amazed!

I still remember that 'bump' E when God caused you and me to meet! Never has there been a more enjoyable, blessed, life-helping, joy-giving collision.

The hard times are just that hard. If you can still talk about God in the midst of that then you are right there. I love you my friend and thank God often that he brought you and B into this forgetful Englishman's life.

Pray is worth more than words so I leave it at that.

Andy

11/13/2004 5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

E:

Your post reminds me of an essay I read by Joachim Jeremias on The Sermon on the Mount. He presents a polemic on the belief that the Sermon is new brand of legalism.

The law calls us to rely on our own strength and do our utmost. The gospel brings people before the gift of God and challenges them to make this gift the basis of their lives. No longer do ethics, morality or morals mean a secular expression, but rather constitute a lived faith in which the gift of God preceeds God's demands. Further, the sermon is not a legal yoke by Jesus to be a perfectionist conception, an impossible ideal, or an interim ethic. Now, we are forgiven, a child of God and belong to the kingdom. We are not our own, but belong to God's city, a city whose light shines in the darkness.

The past two weekends that Q and I spent with you and your family including Dave ring true on the conclusion of Jeremias essay.

Don't forget that when you play flag football in the stadium, by chance you take one to the house, salute "touchdown Jesus" for me. I will take for responsibiltiy for the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty or fines which might be incurred from the ruling body of the Notre Dame association of flag football.

Matt

11/13/2004 10:23 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

"I thought of myself going here as some sort of missionary-training work, but I can't see the rest of the Christian world really viewing Christian academics as valuable resources. In fact, with all the impact intellectuals have on the Church, you'd think part of becoming a Christian was learning how not to care about reading or scrutinizing difficult issues--how instead you're supposed to feel whatever is being delivered to you from the TV or the pulpit or the radio and then act on it in whatever way feels right to you at the time. So there's not any "respect" motivation to confirm that what I'm doing is right, no sense that I actually am training to be a missionary of sorts."


(Warning: the following is a woefully inadequate response, written from bed, under the influence of painkillers.)


Erik--

I find your comparison of grad school to 'missionary work' very interesting. As you know, there was a time that Kori and I thought we were being called to sell it all, move to some other other country and be 'full-time missionaries.'

It became clear, however, that God wanted to use us to do 'full-time Christian service' while holding down a full-time job here in Columbus, Ohio. And I have to admit, I've often felt sorta depressed about that. I wonder if I read the signs right, if I'm wasting my time here doing things that seem so ordinary.

Every time I return from Cambodia, I find myself massively discouraged when I have to make stupid copy edits for stupid clients on stupid jobs so I can keep my stupid company and stupid house. But after a while, I realize that all of those things aren't stupid, they're necessary. And they're not even necessary EVILS. They're part of the context that makes up the mission field God's called me to today. So, in that sense, they're good and sacred and holy.

So, what's this have to do with you? In some ways, you and I have followed opposite paths. I didn't do all of the things I thought I was being called toward. I didn't quit the job, leave the home and go off to Cambodia. I didn't go for the career as a professional singer. I never did run for office, and thanks to the fact that my blog is public record, I'm pretty much out of the running for the next presidential election. But I think you and I are engaged in the same type of struggle. We both want to be 'great' in some sense. We both feel called to do something significant. We both struggle with feeling like we're missing out on reaching our full potential.

I really don't know if you made the 'right' decision, whatever that means. I'm not sure I did. But I do know a couple of things about God that help to put things into perspective for me (please be warned, these observations will almost certainly sound like pat answers. They're not. At least not for me. The truth has been hard-won. I'll need you to remind me of these things some day):

1) He didn't bring us this far to leave us. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to bring it to completion. Don't know how, don't know when. But God has invested a lot in you and in Brooke. He wants to do something truly important in and with you.

2) God is able to use everything for our good, even our mistakes. Our hope is for the future; there's little good in over-analyzing our past decisions. You can be 100% sure that, if you keep your eyes on Christ, he will perfect your faith and straighten your path. If you stick it out, you'll be fine. If you try for a while and fail, you'll be fine. If you quit today and go back to digging holes for a living, you'll be fine. Surely, goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life.

This one is kind of weird, and is still under construction in my tiny brain:

3) It may be to God's glory to 'waste' you for his kingdom. We know that the whole thing is upside down. The first will be last will be first will be servant will be master and so on. God's highest purpose for you might be to use you in anonymity. Like Henri Nouwen, but without fame.

When I was younger, I had people tell me "John, if all you ever do is sing for a local church, it would be such a waste. With your talent, you should be making albums." Even if I was as good as people thought (which I'm not), I'm not sure that sounds like a waste. Sounds like the sort of thing God asks his people to do all the time. "John, you are MADE to be a missionary/pastor/politician/[insert someone else's dream for my life here]. It would be a shame if you spent your days in Columbus, Ohio making an average income, living in a below-average-sized home."

Erik, you have prodigious talents. You have a keen mind. But don't be discouraged if God wants to use you in an extremely limited (from your perspective) capacity. Maybe you'll be a world-famous philosopher. Maybe you'll just be the sage of some high-school history department or design firm conference room. Maybe you'll sell refrigerators, and be a great dad and husband. That's good enough, right?

So, what should you do next? Not sure. I do know that God wants you to draw close to him, give yourself to the people around you and love the heck out of your wife and daughter. I pray that you'll receive great pleasure from those things, and that you'll let tomorrow take care of itself.

I'll write you a hell of a reference letter if you ever want to go back to design firm project management.

11/15/2004 3:53 PM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/15/2004 3:55 PM  
Blogger Scott Sloan said...

E, here is my reply to this statement that you posted.

I mean, I can see the obvious ways in which God led us here and I would be
hypocritical to say that He didn't or, worse, to turn from this path. But I
can't see a place for myself in the Church when I'm done--when I have to
actually make a career out of thinking--aside from the "goes to church on
Sunday" role. And academic rewards from the worldly side have never been
too alluring either.

I just wonder what my role is in the Church. I thought of myself going here
as some sort of missionary-training work, but I can't see the rest of the
Christian world really viewing Christian academics as valuable resources.
In fact, with all the impact intellectuals have on the Church, you'd think
part of becoming a Christian was learning how not to care about reading or
scrutinizing difficult issues--how instead you're supposed to feel whatever
is being delivered to you from the TV or the pulpit or the radio and then
act on it in whatever way feels right to you at the time. So there's not
any "respect" motivation to confirm that what I'm doing is right, no sense
that I actually am training to be a missionary of sorts.


I do believe that you have a place in the body of Christ, and that God will use "intellectuals, and thinkers," as much as he'll use feelers, and emotional types" within his church. Thinkers and intellectuals keep us feelers and emotional types on the straight narrow path, and not going off the deep end. It also keeps us from falling into heresy, and pop-christianity (i.e. The Purpose Driven Life). Thinkers and intellectuals maintain sound doctrine as it is described in Timothy in the church.

We also need thinkers and intellectuals to scrutinize, and weigh some of the books that are being written for the Christian audience. For example, many authors like one of my favorites, John Eldredge, have been close to the heresy of "Open Theism".

Thus we need a place for deep discussion of controversial topics that come out of academia that challenges the church, we need people to scrutnize topics and treatises that are accepted by the church, we also need people, to keep teachers, preachers, and pastors accountable in regards to how they are guiding their flocks.

Anyways those are some of my comments. God will use your mission field in academia for great things.

Also, I miss yourself and Brooke.

11/15/2004 5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

E-
Man, I don't know where to start, but how about this -- you and B are loved and missed, my friend.
I think John and others really did an awesome job bringing some perspective. I particularly liked John's comments regarding God's use of people in seemingly mundane circumstances, and Scott's comments concerning the need for the big-brain types to keep the emotionalism of the Church from spilling over into chaos/heresy. But for my two cents --
I do not believe the Church has yet figured out how to adequately respond to the challenges of modern or post-modern ideology and science. As we have often discussed, many who share the values of the Church remain outside of it because the Good News of Jesus is often bound together with what is, in my opinion, an un-Biblical anti-intellectualism and distrust/hatred of science.
E, my friend, I have always admired the fact that you have been able to integrate your love for the Lord with your love for science. I can tell you with some confidence that it is unlikely that I would now be a Christian if not for your example and the many conversations we had those years ago when my conversion took hold.
All this is to say that while God may have you at ND so that later in life you will be the most-loved history professor in the local high school(as John described), you may also be at ND because the Lord is preparing you to lead an intellectual revival/renewal that the Church has needed for generations and will draw millions into the Church who would not otherwise be there.
We cannot know why, exactly, you are there just yet, just as we cannot know the full impact of our actions and words down the line. I just know that I believe you are where the Lord wants you, and so, while we miss you, I encourage you to gut it out. Love you, man.

Brant

11/19/2004 4:19 PM  

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