Of the top five things that factor into my sense of ‘being’ is the strange reality that I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Even writing about it feels odd akin to discovering that you are actually adopted or better yet, that your entire life has actually been shaped and sustained by a force you least expected. Think of the great plot twist in Dickens’s Great Expectations when Pip realizes after so many years that seemingly pragmatic humanist rise to fortune under his own cunning and skill only supplemented by the wealthy Miss Havisham, but was actually the result of a dark benefactor shaping his ends that he encounters as a boy: Magwitch. Pip’s so-called self-made journey is nothing more than a (havi)sham in the end.
My life has been such a bildungsroman as well – times when I had the audacity to think that I deserved my life, that the accomplishments and failures that marked out the data points of my days were of my doing alone – that I was the egoist and ‘overman’ of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra in so many ways. Yet the truth is that I am not so much an architect nor a cartographer worth of this sojourn by any means. No, the reality is that God is very much a reality and my vocation has been bound to who God is for quite some time akin to what the Gospel of John sees as the intimacy and fury of a fruit bearing branch engrafted to a deeply rooted vine.
It is not an easy vocation by any means and the further I can ‘into’ it (I was ordained in 1995) the more mysterious and just plain weird it all is.
I am currently reading Charles Taylor’s magnum opus A Secular Age this summer – a sprawling 800+ page tome that seeks to locate the contours, valleys and peaks of this so-called ‘Secular Age’ in relation to the West. No one is better suited for this challenge to be sure than Taylor. In the introduction he speaks of his task as essentially’re-telling the story of the West, as he puts it “to get straight where we are, we have to go back and tell the story properly.” (29) Part of the story Taylor wants to tell is that over 2,000 years the issue of God’s Death (after William Hamilton, Tom Altizer) or ‘Dying’ (think the Victorian anxiety surrounding Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach as the ‘Sea of Faith’ recedes into the distance) is vastly overstating the condition of modernity. God is not retreating from the public sphere – what Taylor terms the ‘subtraction’ theory in that God is being pulled out of discourse inch-by-inch as Fox News would have us believe. Rather, according to Taylor, God is very much still a core component of society and continues to be so. Now I am not going to redact the 800+ pages of his tome (it is certainly worth the read though!) but he does paint a compelling argument. Sooo… why am I rambling on about Charles Taylor in reference to the vocation of pastor? The fact is that as long as society continues to seek and be sought by a very ‘real’ God, the more I will be found in the mix of the conversations and silences that follow waiting for the still, small voice to nudge us yet again – the rough beast of WB Yeats’ ‘Second Coming‘ slouching ever so nearer and nearer toward Jerusalem to be born among us yet again…