Living the Questions: Where Are You?

Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the first post in the “Living the Questions” series. These are some reflections on the first 5 questions that God asks in the book of Genesis. For the first question, we turn back to Genesis 3: “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But God called to them, and said, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:8-9)

When I was doing my chaplaincy internship at Good Samaritan in Minneapolis, we had a particularly intense time for our group where we’d work through a lot of our emotional past and talk about things that are extremely difficult to talk about. As an introvert, the beginnings of this exercise were a certain form of Hell. Every afternoon would start out with my supervisor going around the room and checking in. She’d come around to me and ask “Where’s Eric today?”

This was a question of location, though not geographical. A lot of times we think the question of “where” is simply a question of physical placement. But, like Adam and Eve, we often hide ourselves. We don’t want to be found out, exposed, embarrassed, or discovered. So we hide. And when we hide, it can be awful hard to establish exactly where we are.

So where am I right now?

Tough to say. One of the frustrating parts of seminary, is that it prepares you to be leaders of the “church of tomorrow”. But then we are sent out into the church of today. Things that we talked about in seminary simply aren’t factors in the parish — at least in mine. Even something as foundational as biblical interpretation isn’t discussed because the assumption is that we all read the Bible the same — after all, we are Christians, aren’t we? (that last bit should be read with mild sarcasm).

Also, when you’re in school preparing to be a pastor, no one tells you how absolutely lonely it is. It has been a really lonely first year in the parish. This is speaking as a newlywed and so I can only assume that being a single person in ministry can be just as difficult, if not more so. It’s terribly lonely.

So if I’m living this question of “Where am I?”, it’s a little depressing to analyze it. Sent out to a brand new place where we know next to no one, to lead the church of today after spending 3 years (and how much money?) learning how to lead the church of tomorrow.

BUT

In all of this, I have to remember who is asking the question and who is doing the seeking. When we don’t know where we are, when we may be more lost than found, there is One who refuses to let us stay lost. We have to trust, no matter what vocation you are currently serving — whether you’re a teacher, banker, or candlestick maker — there is a spirit that quiets our unease. Our discontent won’t stop tomorrow. But like the poet, Rilke, says, the point is to live the questions, not answer them.

Cheers,
Eric

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Living the Questions: Introduction

A few weeks ago, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary said farewell to a highly esteemed group of graduates, including yours truly. It was the end of a journey and the beginning of another. A main event of the graduation weekend was the actual service itself. It was a combined baccalaureate/graduation service.

Our preacher was our former sem prof [and current Augsburg religion guru] Marty Stortz. As a part of her sermon, she included an invitation to live some of the deep questions of the faith. She outlined the first five questions that God asks in the Bible as questions that we should use for reflection and a kind of personal Bible study now that we’re out of seminary. So for the next week or so, I’ll be reflecting on the first 5 questions God asks in the Bible. Here they are.

Question #1 — Where Are You? (reflection on Friday, the 15th)

Question #2 — Who Told You? (reflection on Monday, the 18th)

Question #3 — What Have You Done? (reflection on Wednesday, the 20th)

Question #4 — Why Are You Angry? (reflection on Friday, the 22nd)

Question #5 — Where Is Your Brother? (reflection on Monday, the 25th)

I think there is a lot to be gained from exploring some of these questions, not only for us as Christians, but for us as people as well. They’re questions that reach to the foundation of who we are. So, at least for the next week, I’m going to live these questions and spend some time in reflection on here.

You’re welcome to join me in reflecting on these questions and sharing this journey with me. I look forward to our exploration.

Cheers,
Eric

What If Seminaries Were Like Tech Startups?

I have some awesome news! I only have one more class period left in my time in seminary. I know. Super exciting. After a 3-hour block on March 28th, I’ll be done. Yes, I still have an online class and that whole “12-month internship” thing, but still. Exciting. But I have to tell you something… After 3 years of school, I feel like 87% of the stuff I’ve learned, I’ll never need again.

Now there are really two ways to look at the educational process of seminary. There’s either the reference book way which is education gives you the information to look back on and discern how to incorporate it into ministry. Then there’s the eyeglasses way (the term isn’t perfect, but follow me anyway) which gives you a set of lenses through which you can see the world and articulate ways to lead the church.

I can’t help but feel that most of my seminary education has given me a reference book. Which gives me all kinds of information to look back on, but not keen enough sight to see. Is that model really preparing anyone to take part in ministry with and for a world that, for the most part, doesn’t see the point in going to church? I don’t think so. But it forces me to ask the question…

What if church was more like a tech startup? What is it in startup culture that seems to bring out the most creative and innovative ideas? When we look at some of the most successful tech companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon), we see some of the best innovation in the communications world today. And these companies are thriving. Ahead of everyone else in their field.

And then there’s the church. The morality police. The out-of-touch place where people go to get married and buried.

The essence of a startup is that you create new solutions to new problems. It means being creative enough to come up with new ways to fix old, broken processes. The church had a problem in the late 90’s when church membership (hardly a barometer of religiosity, but still) began declining. So, as all good seminarians would, pastors racked their brains to find answers. But you know what was one question I bet they didn’t ask? “What did I learn in seminary that would help here?”

Creativity and innovation come up nowhere in the seminary curriculum, and yet I can’t help but think that those are the traits necessary to be successful when you’re trying to help form communities. I’m not saying that church history and all the stuff we learn now doesn’t have it’s place… But what would it look like if one class for one semester simply asked us to go find something in the church that isn’t working well and come up with a better way to do it?

I’m not trying to say that we should all have this kind of education. I’m just saying there are some people, like me, who don’t do well in the simple transfer of information style of education.  I think there are some students who would absolutely love seminary if they were allowed to be innovative. They would at least be more passionate about what they’re doing.

And in my 3 years of classes, I can count on one hand the times I’ve left a class feeling passionate.

Cheers,
Eric

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