I don’t think that I have really appreciated the depth of life change that has accompanied my career change of seventeen years ago. Seventeen…just writing that makes me wonder where the time went. Even the reality of a child getting married this Spring hasn’t effected me as much as the realization that, what I have affectionately referred to all along as my second life, my ministry life, has really consumed the majority of my adult life. For some odd reason, in my own little universe, I have been lulled into the illusion that my engineering life was primary and this pastoral thing has been a relatively new experience. In fact, it’s only recently surfaced in my consciousness that true reality is totally opposite to my perceived reality. I’m sure that others close to me and some that I’ve dragged along can distinguish the difference quite easily and never would have made that mistake.
On thinking about this particularly vexing turn of events, I’m realizing more about myself and, for that matter, the role that I was called to seventeen years ago. I’ve always been wired for a sense of engineering I think. I was blessed, or cursed depending on how you look at it, with a strong mechanical aptitude. That means that I can build, or learn to build almost anything. As hard as I might have tried to stray, I’ve always found my way back to absolutes. I like to be creative, but even in my creativity my default setting is in order and absolutes. Apparently I carried that inner reality into ministry, even without being conscious of it. I learned to study. I learned to interpret. I’ve learned to throw myself into trying to figure out the absolutes of God. In my pursuit of faith and leading others along their own journeys I’ve even found places where I can stop off and plot and plan and strategize to build and improve and all that I was wired to do. It worked well for me for a great deal of time, even seamlessly at times, as I made the transition from mechanical engineer to spiritual engineer. That’s why I missed the reality of the change. It’s only within the past few years that I’ve begun to realize that absolutes don’t matter as much as they once did. Don’t get me wrong. What I mean is that I still hold to the reality that there are absolutes to my faith. The Bible is absolutely God’s word to His people. As such, it is absolutely true. There is absolutely a chance for every person to have an eternally secure relationship with Him and there is absolutely an alternative for those who choose otherwise. I think that there are principles that are absolutely valuable, not even because the Bible says it’s so, but also because I’ve been doing this long enough to have witnessed to many consequences for choices to not follow them. But in and through it all, its apparent to me that all of this is not absolutely essential to what I now do for my life’s work. It’s apparently more about who I am than what I know or have studied.
That’s a huge revelation. As Adam Sandler already indicated in “The Wedding Singer”, “That’s information that I could have used YESTERDAY!” I’m pretty uncomfortable with this new reality. People don’t care what I know. They don’t necessarily care what I’ve discovered or studied or contemplated, unless I can put it in a relatively interesting 30 minute presentation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that they’re shallow, it’s just that my presence is more important than my knowledge. People care more about character and community and compassion. It’s very unsettling. I wish that someone would have shared this bit of reality with me before I followed. I can work more readily on my knowledge than I can my personality. There’s too much of a temptation to be sarcastic, pessimistic, and a lot of other –ics too numerous to mention. In other words it’s to easy to become an ass, in the biblical sense of course.
Knowledge I can work on in private, while I’m being caffeinated, just me and a laptop or a few books. Personality and presence have to be lived out amongst people, friends and the not so friendly. Could it be that maybe God has delivered me to this state of being for me and my own formation and not to save the world? It’s a humbling possibility and, to be honest, not all that comforting. This is relatively uncharted waters for me. I’ve never really had to concentrate, not that I shouldn’t have, on my presence until recently. It’s not that I don’t hold to absolutes. I absolutely do, in the essentials of my faith. It’s just that my list of essentials is not what it used to be. I’m sure that some of this is good, but it’s a bit harder to hold on to.