For the past two years I have been wrestling with how my ministry would be expressed in the world. This discernment journey has taken me “around the block” and back again many times and during this past summer I had finally made my decision, I choose not to be ordained in my denomination of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I choose not to be a pastor, or a chaplain, or even a spiritual director. I choose to be something else, what that something is has only just begun to take shape.
This may seem inconsequential to most of you but for me it has been a difficult decision. I graduated in 2013 with my Masters of Divinity (MDiv.) degree and it was with the intention of being ordained, primarily because I believed that is what one did when one received an MDiv. But you see it wasn’t my intention when I entered the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) at Seattle University in 2007. At that time I just wanted to be better informed in order to conduct Labyrinth retreats with more meaning. What happened as I progressed through my degree programs of Spiritual Transformation and MDiv I discovered I had talent and passion for learning and I wanted to share what I learned with others. And the truth of the matter is as an ordained pastor I would not be able to share all that I learned simply by the constraints of the job. I actually would have a greater voice if I wasn’t ordained.
So I chose to be a scholar, a learner of faith with the purpose of spreading what I learn back in to the world. This is important because we aren’t 1st century people; we live in the 21st century. That means we have a perspective on our faith that those living in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries did not have. We have a history of being, or not being, people of God, just as the Jewish people of the 1st century had a history of being, or not being, a people of God. We have had our moments of living as God asked and we have had our moments when we have forgotten God, just as the Jewish people had and have. It is the task of the scholar to educate the people of God of their past and how can we do that if no one studies it?
In the last two years I have become interested in how our Christian faith is connected to our Jewish roots and to our younger sibling in the faith Islam and that interest has led me into the differences in how we read Holy Scripture as compared to our 1st to 3rd century faith ancestors, and the differences are striking. Those differences in perspective has shown me it is important for people to understand what the writings of Paul, Gospel Writers, Jewish Prophets, and Muslim Writers actually wanted their listeners to know, what was the message they were transmitting and how does that message resonate with us today. All those authors wrote and spoke was revolutionary in their time and I want to recover, at least for myself, that revolutionary message. I want to know what they wrote that was specific to their time and not relevant in the 21st century and what part of their message guides us forward into our own future. And, I want to share that news, that revolutionary news. I have no illusions that I am going to be another Marcus Borg, or a John Caputo, or anyone else who is way more learned in theology than I will ever be. But I can read what they have learned and pass it on to those who will listen.
You see scholars are often, well nearly always, not thought of as being relevant to world. When anyone envisions a scholar it is as a stuffy old man or woman who is a bit rumpled and surrounded by books and papers. It is someone who is absent minded and lost in the past, with no idea about what is going on in the world today. But that is not who learners/scholars are.
Scholars are connected to the world by stories, and threads of the past that live in the present and the future. The old quotation “if we don’t remember the past we are doomed to repeat it,” has never had more meaning than in today’s world. We are currently reliving a past history where the disadvantaged and those who are different from us are forgotten and made the objects of hate and fear. It is the role of the scholar to remind the people of who they are, and whose they are. It was the role of the prophets in Jewish History, it was the role of John the Baptist, and it was the role of Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad. All of them called to their people to see each other, everyone, as themselves. Today we have and had people like President Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King who have called to us to remember and just like those who went before us too many are not listening.
I will never be an exalted a scholar like Desmond Tutu, or Elisabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague or Elisabeth Schüssler Florenza. But in my small part maybe I can pass on their learning’s to someone who will become exalted. That is enough for me. As the saying goes I am a very small fish in a very large pond and I am happy with that. To give back what I have been blessed to receive is more than enough.
There are many others like me out there, people who read, and study waiting for the opportunity to pass on what they have discovered beyond academics or a very small circle of friends. What each has is a nugget of truth and bit wisdom that needs to be heard. This choice is not prestigious, very few scholars make it to super star status and I am grateful for that. But the time has come for the telling of the past mistakes and success’. To help everyone remember that the eyes of the other are your eyes and to harm or denigrate the other is to harm and denigrate yourself. Scholars have a role to play in the world that is greater than writing dusty tomes that will be read by only a few. The past is relevant to the present and the future and it is important that we remember that. I would like to add my very small part to that story. To offer a tiny bit of knowledge that just might help someone else see the world differently.
My choice, my decision, my path not the easiest of routes to take, and it wasn’t an easy choice but I choose to be a learner, a scholar, a passer on of knowledge.
My prayer for all of you to listen with open mind and heart to what the teaching says, it just might change your life.
Ruth Jewell, ©December 15, 2015