I finished my application for Princeton Theological Seminary today. I just got back from the Wendell Post Office, and the application is now in the mail. What a relief! Below you will find my 3-page autobiographical essay.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.”
I am a sojourner: always have been, always will be. The moment I think “I have arrived,” I have ceased to become a seeker. While there will be moments of clarity along my journey, I want to be a journeyer, a wanderer, a sojourner. Christ has called me to a unique life. A life where I am told to have an eschatological hope while living an “eternal kind of life.” How this all works out, I don’t know. But I know Christ is real, and I’ve felt His sweet and gentle presence all my life.
I grew up in a Christian home with my mother serving as the spiritual head of the family. She persistently reminded me (though at times, it felt more like nagging) to read my Bible and pray. We occasionally had good conversations about faith, and she explained why she cared so much for my spiritual development. Though thankful for a mother who cared for me, I did not care about my spiritual development. Yet, I was still on the journey, and as with most journeys, I did not traverse this one alone. A close friend of mine in high school challenged me on many theological issues, and I had no answers. Her questions planted seeds of doubt within me; I believed that doubt was the sign of my loss of faith, of turning my back on God. I became confused and troubled, lost in a maelstrom of religious questions and ideas, which eventually caused me to became bored with Christianity and increasingly curious about other religions.
While enjoying a short immersion into a naive syncretism, I knew in the back of my mind I would not forsake the Christian faith. The summer before my senior year of high school, I visited some friends at Sound View Camp in Longbranch, WA, and sat in on the Camp Director’s “Deep but Not Boring Theological Discussion.” As I sat with Christian friends and asked faith questions, I realized there was something I lacked: trust. My friends didn’t know all the answers either, but they were content to live with a sense of mystery and with a God who wasn’t easily explained. I found myself at a critical crossroad in my journey, and I made the decision to seek after Christ. However, in my senior year journal, there is not one mention of God or my desire to seek Him. It seemed I had failed, but Christ did not fail on His part of the agreement: He still sought after me.
My journey took me to Whitworth College, where I spent the following four years learning about Christian community and friendship, unity, and truth tensions in Scripture. Whitworth helped me become comfortable in my skin; friends, professors and mentors allowed and encouraged me to discover who I was and who God was calling me to be. At Whitworth I experienced the joys and trials of living in Christian community. While it was encouraging and exciting to live with fellow Christians, life at Whitworth was not easy. There was the time when I found out my first year roommate believed women shouldn’t be in ministry. Until this point I had naively assumed all Christians were uniform in their beliefs, so I didn’t know how to respond. This only became more confusing as I found out there were fellow Christians there, some who were close friends of mine, who held different views than me on baptism, just-war theory, homosexuality, theories of the atonement, eschatology and other theological and ethical issues. Christian unity wasn’t easy. However, I slowly began to appreciate the diversity of beliefs, opinions, worship styles and expressions of faith within the Body of Christ represented at Whitworth. God’s call to love people became more important to me than being right or winning an argument. Dialogue and conversations replaced debates and arguments, helping me to realize that throughout my life I would encounter, converse, and work with people who were also honestly following Christ with whom I would disagree. In these situations, the Christians’ call to unity and love must take precedence.
During my freshman year, I sat in my Introduction to Christian Faith course and first heard a phrase that would become essential to my vocabulary: truth tensions. While struggling with questions and doubts in high school, my analytically-geared mind wanted to obtain a definitive and absolute answer to every question. In my mind, every issue had a clean-cut, black or white, either/or answer that was knowable by reason. At Whitworth I learned this generally wasn’t the case. Humans had free will, yet God remained sovereign. These statements were both true, yet in tension with one another. It was both freeing and exciting to learn that Christianity was filled with paradoxes: ideas that seemed to contradict one another, but were true nonetheless. These truth tensions freed my mind to pursue God more fully without the restraints and pressures of finding the one, correct answer to every situation and issue.
At Whitworth, learning extended outside the classroom. One Tuesday night during the spring of my freshman year, I found myself eating dinner in downtown Spokane, WA, with over thirty street kids. For the next few months, I served with Cup of Cool Water, a ministry to street kids in Spokane. While my time with the ministry was short, it dramatically changed my perspective on street kids and homeless people. Street kids were not addicts, losers, dropouts or runaways. Instead, I saw broken and weary souls, youth who yearned for love, care and attention from someone, anyone. I looked forward to the Tuesday dinners and Saturday nights we spent walking around Spokane, looking for our friends, spending time with them in their neighborhoods and trying to share God’s love with them. God began to form within me a desire and passion to share His love with youth and with those who many in our society would consider outcasts, modern-day lepers. This desire to love youth led me to spend three summers during my college years working at two PC(USA) summer camps: Camp Sawtooth in Idaho for two summers, and Calvin Crest in California for one. Camping ministry provided me endless opportunities to engage in relational and incarnational youth ministry. While Camp Sawtooth and Calvin Crest were dramatically different ministry experiences, I saw the same thing each summer: students searching for an experience, an encounter with the living Christ.
After graduation, I decided to follow God to Wendell, a small town in rural southern Idaho. God has met me in Wendell in some very real ways: the joy and passion of students, the love and hospitality of families from the church and the support and open-mindedness of a congregation that doesn’t quite know what to make of me at times. Wendell United Presbyterian Church has allowed me the opportunity to share new worship music, create an alternative worship service, preach, and explore my various gifts, callings and interests. I have grown as a person, a leader and a follower of Christ during my time here in Wendell. Some of my greatest weaknesses are in the areas of conflict and confrontation. Communicating my feelings is hard when I know they may hurt someone else’s, or may cause conflict. Since coming to Wendell, I have had to deal with this issue on a number of occasions. Whether it was a youth ministry matter, a misunderstanding with a Sunday School teacher or a miscommunication during a Worship Committee meeting, issues came up that needed to be resolved. God has used these and other situations here in Wendell to teach, strengthen and challenge me. While I have grown fond of Wendell, working in a small town has not been without its challenges. Competition between small town churches is discouraging, and this has only increased within me the desire for a truly unified, ecumenical Church. Last summer I got my eyebrow pierced (after double-checking with my pastor). Within a month, my pastor received several comments and letters from people in the congregation who asked that I remove the eyebrow-ring for various reasons. While disagreeing with their reasons for the request, I had to decide what was more important: my freedom in Christ or unity within the Body of Christ? I chose unity.
One of the ways in which I have tried to seek for a more ecumenical ministry here in Wendell was to create .bE, an alternative worship service. When we have held the service, between 30 and 50 worshippers came from thirteen denominations and eight surrounding towns. .bE has opened the door for numerous conversations with pastors from different churches in our area. God has also blessed me with a friendship with an Orthodox Priest from my area. We meet twice a month at a local coffee shop to discuss ministry, theology and life. It is our hope to bring others together for this time of fellowship and dialogue. As we gather, share our stories and see how they fit with the Ultimate Story of God, we hope to help bring unity to churches in our area.
As I look to the future, much is hazy. One thing I know is that Christ has called me to follow and serve Him. God has given me a heart and passion for those who are on the fringe: people who are disillusioned with traditional church, who have had negative church experiences and who are looking for T(t)ruth and God outside of the organized Church. My passion is to meet them on their turf and to share with them the love and Truth of Christ in ways that are relevant, authentic and true to the spirit of the Gospel. This type of ministry could occur in a church plant setting, urban ministry, alternative worship gathering or some other venue. Over the past year, I have been in dialogue with other Christian leaders who are striving for this type of ministry. The Emerging Church movement seeks to bring the Gospel to a group of people who would not otherwise look to traditional church for answers to their questions. Some claim the Emergent movement is simply a fad, but what is fleeting and trendy about authentic Christian community, honesty and sharing the Gospel in ways that speak to a generation turned off by church? In preparation for ministry, I have become interested in the role of Christians in culture. How does the Christian Church remain in the world and bring Christ into the world? Most importantly, as we enter a postmodern era, I am concerned with evangelism: how do we present God’s Story to a postmodern and relativistic people and culture? How do we prepare to share our story, to give our reason for the hope we have, but do so in a way that follows the guidance of Saint Peter: “but do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15). These are important questions, ones into which I hope to invest time, study and prayer over the next few years.
Throughout my journey, God has placed incredible comforters and encouragers in my life. I have close high school friends who call, e-mail and pray for me. During my four years at Whitworth, I had professors in religion, art, writing, philosophy and history courses who befriended, mentored and shared their lives with me. While I served as a Resident Assistant during my senior year, I spent time each week with a Resident Director who taught me about the scandalous grace of Christ and the importance of honest communication. In the past year, God has provided some close friends and a youth pastor who have been incredible sources of joy to me. In all of these relationships, I’ve learned the importance of having a gentle spirit, being able to truly listen, and leading with humility.
I am excited about a future, and a God, that contains elements of mystery. God has called me to serve Him, and I look forward to having my calling clarified over the next few years. My hope and prayer is that I will truly live an eternal kind of life now, and be an example to those around me. The adventure continues and I remain a sojourner, traveling through life, seeking Christ and learning what it means to be a follower of Christ.