The Path

I had a friend who chose a new path the other day: to become a self-supported artist. What a daring choice: the world is fraught with those who choose such a path only to drown in a sea of debt. My friend’s case is different in many ways; but that’s not necessarily germane to the ensuing blather of thought that is running through my mind this morning. Let me conclude this thought by encouraging you to peer into the artistic mind of my friend, and perhaps even buy something. I know that one of my self-Christmas gifts will come from here.

But his choice made me think about many of my own. Of course, Todd also has me on this introspective kick; you could read over at CT about Todd’s own considerable questioning of a path, including wanting to blaze a trail that’s been repeatedly blazed by many–but rather it would be blazing in his own soul, not in the Eastern U.S.

I’ve been thinking about what would dare convince God that sending me to Huntsville freakin’ Alabama would make me a better minister of His Word. /me laughs Let me tell you–I’ve asked that question at least a thousand times in the last four-plus years. I have a variety of answers to this question, and they’re simply peppered in my everyday life.

First and foremost is that I’d always had this burning desire to be an engineer, despite not truly understanding what that meant. It was more of a desire to have a title–“Hey, man, I am a rocket scientist!”–than any desire to do anything truly great. The many inspired people I know have had clear dreams about what they wanted to do with their lives and career; me, I just thought being an aerospace engineer would be cool.

It isn’t; not for me, anyway. It’s like solving a puzzle, true, but all too often I have all the pieces. That’s no fun. Without a lack of complete pieces, there’s no challenge for me.

I did finally find out what I should be doing–in a way–on a June night four years ago. Compared to the road of being an engineer, I’m just steps down this path, rather than the nearly-completed race I am in my degree track. They’re important steps, to be sure, but the engineer in me can’t help to look at the would-be preacherman and holler, “Hey, ya bum! What’re you doin’ back there, eh, ya slacker?”

But that’s the rub: it’s all one path. I’d desperately love for it to be two paths, because then I could set the engineer-boy on a path, pat him on the head, and tell him I’ll catch up later. He’d provide us with lots of funds and a new car and all the geek toys we could want to make everything else go cool. But it’s not separate paths–it’s the same one.

I realized this last night, but only because Darin, our Youth Director at church, was sitting in a hospital with his wife and infant son, hoping and praying that Thomas’s digestive problems will be cured. Instead, Ron, our associate pastor, was in his place. Ron preached rather than doing a more traditional youth program, and he said as much to me afterwards. “You know, the reason I got out of youth is that I found that I was preaching more than programming. I figure that they get enough preaching on Sunday morning.” He’s right, in a way, but that room was spell-bound as he told a good chunk of his life’s story.

I cannot explain the weird kinship I feel with Ron; it’s somewhat the same of what I feel with my friend Paul. With Ron, part of it is our shared family; his wife, Rachel, grew up in the same church that I did in Ohio. Both of them are ordained ministers, and they were friends at Duke Divinity School [and Aley UMC, because he grew up there, too] with my brother’s old Youth Director, Mike Schneider, who was also friends at Duke with my friend Chuck Frost, who attended Mission Fest with, you guessed it, Paul. The circle of friends grows even wider, when you consider that the pastor who led Ron and Rachel to Ohio first was Heth Corl, who was the pastor at Aley all through my formative years, including that 14-month stretch where I was the lone acolyte every Sunday we were in town.

So it’s little surprise to me that I like Ron; we know too many common friends. =) But there’s something else about Ron, something ineffable–that, I guess, he’s much the same person I’d like to one-day be. I look at what he does–preach, teach, sing, play guitar–and go, “Hey, I could do that.” It’s much the same thing that Paul does, too, but they have their own varied backgrounds.

Part of me has always been frustrated that I left Mississippi behind in my search for a path to ministry, because I left good people like Paul “behind”. Horsehockey–Paul’s closer to me than he ever has been, and he might even move over to the North Alabama conference when all is said and done with his M.Div. Part of me has always wondered what might have been if I’d stayed in Mississippi, taken that scholarship offer to Belhaven for music, and studied religion.

I think I’m a better person for being on the path I’m on. Hopefully I will have learned something from this divergent path. I know that, comparatively, it is a road less traveled by men of the cloth, but perhaps that will make some of the difference.