Sunday, November 05, 2006


OK, that's it, no more whining. I'm done complaining. Negativity is no good, neither is all the drama. Life was hard and now it's mostly fixed. Things are falling away - things I really thought there was no way I could get out of. I thought I was locked into a life this year, but it turns out you're not really ever locked into anything, outside of God's love.

I will not live the life the culture expects. My seminary culture, the church culture, the work culture, they all expect a level of commitment that is simply not healthy for the human body (at least not at my age...maybe in my 20s). I will no longer play the game.

I told someone the other day that I understand once I'm in ministry I'll be always on call, 24/7, and she said she didn't agree with that system, and I realized, wait, it's actually not required. Of course there are things - hospital visits, deaths, weddings - that cut into otherwise "off" time. But there's no reason to answer the phone on your day off. If you have available time that is truly available, then people will get used to that and honor it.

Or so she claims. I know that it will be an uphill battle because our culture expects everyone to work harder than she should. So why should the priest be working fewer hours than the banker or the insurance agent? Well, maybe because she is supposed to be modeling life in God, and life in God necessarily includes healthy periods of rest and work. For crying out loud, GOD took a day off!

If it means I can't be a priest, oh well. I am not going to sacrifice my health for the priesthood, or for seminary for that matter. Our campus paper had an issue about burnout this week, and someone wrote about how he just can't turn down any opportunity and thus chooses a life of burnout. Great, dude, except one day your body is going to give out, or you'll be less effective as a minister, or you'll just lead one more of those churches where nobody is modeling the life that God desires for his creatures.

The sad fact of life is that we do have to make choices, and turn down opportunities. We can't do it all. But that's why it's delightful to live in the community of saints - because together, we do it all. If you are the hand and I am the foot, then you doing something I wish I could do - well, it's a bit silly to think "I wish I could do that" since another part of my own body is doing it! The individualization of our culture has led us into the lie that each of us must do it all. The truth of the gospel is that we are meant to live life together, in communion with sisters and brothers, and we act as one body to accomplish the purposes of God on earth. This means we each of us have a job to do, but none of us has to do more than that. No matter how many opportunities present themselves.

What if we thought of opportunities that come our way as a chance to offer another sister or brother something that would really give their life and ministry meaning? We don't have to selfishly hoard - we can say, I know I'd be good at that, but so would John over here, and I'd like to tell him about it. That way, the good thing still gets done, I stay healthy, and John's life is also enriched.

Sounds like a pretty great system to me!


Anonymous said...

Stepping back seems like a sensible choice to me. I think feeling like you've always got to be working feeds an unhealthy clericalism, too — if the priest can spare the time to do something, he or she should, because the lay people can't handle it. Parishes are healthier when the ordained leadership is involving the laity in as much of the community's work as possible.

You might also be interested in this post of mine from a few months ago. I blogged about passages from Kathryn Tanner and Benedict XVI on God's attitude toward work and rest. I think there's something to be said for the idea that our inclination to overwork is not just harmful to ourselves, but sinful as well. Keeping the Sabbath is in large part about rest, after all. (I post all of this in full awareness that I, too, overwork myself!)

Caelius said...

Echoing Father Tessone, one of the many signs of a healthy Christian community is that the rank and file of the congregation is sufficiently empowered that the clergy and lay leaders get regular rest like any other worker. That said, the tendency to overwork is strongly coupled to leadership. Paul kept telling to Timothy to slow down and relax a little.

But the bigger problem (as far as I can tell) is with the culture of the seminary. It's one thing for seminary culture to be all consuming in a setting like Nashotah House in which the life is centered around a quasi-Benedictine focus of stability with regular corporate prayer in a common tradition, physical labor, academic work, and some form of leisure. But Fuller draws from a wide variety of denominational traditions. There's important formation Fuller really can't provide. So it seems that many of Fuller's students are working in a role of lay leadership in their churches of supervision etc., while trying to keep up with academic work, working a part-time job, and also trying to build up a Christian community at Fuller simultaneously. No one can serve two masters.

Nor am I really trying to blame Fuller for the situation. Being a multidenominational seminary is a difficult thing, just because ideas about clergy training and certification vary so widely.

Stasi said...

Chris, thank you so much for your post! Everyone should read it! I was so touched by the quotations from Tanner and Benedict (wow, first thing I've read by him that didn't give me negative feelings). Tanner's comments on God's scandalous grace and mercy are certainly in line with my thinking, but Ratzinger's idea of the exile being a "forced sabbath" - that was not something I've heard before, but it does make sense, and truly gives me pause. Wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

Heh -- yes, there are a number of good things to be found in Benedict's theology, even things that surprise us progressives. I wish the direction of his conclusions was closer to some of the great things he says along the way.

But Tanner is good stuff all the way -- I love her work.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Lots of good thoughts about rest - really made me think!