You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death for you — C.S. Lewis
It has been nearly two-and-a-half years since Nanny passed away. Even harder to believe, in a little over a month, I will have finished my seminary education. Many people think that graduate level theological training would have the effect of solidifying one's beliefs. In reality, at least in my experience, the exact opposite is true. I thought I had come a long way in deconstructing my belief system. The truth is I have barely started. It feels as if I've barely broken ground.
After I finished CPE this summer and startedmy last semester of seminary, I've been incredibly tired, on the brink of burnout. One professor, one I trust as a friend and mentor, noticed this and decided that I needed something different. I needed space: space in which to experience respite from fighting against something. He felt that, in all my efforts of fighting against, I'd been afforded little time to discover what it was I've been fighting for, or more importantly, what I've been standing on. With his support, I've begun the process of unearthing my foundation. This process is by no means complete, but it is vital.
In seminary, we talk a lot about deconstruction. And we do a lot of it. But more often than not, it tends to be a very heady, academic endeavor. We find ourselves in a polarized, dualistic environment, where everything is this or that, with very little connective tissue between what we are told are completely incompatible opposites. There's the fight between the liberals and the conservatives, the hardline evangelicals and the pluralists, the dunkers and the sprinklers. The list could go on. But in all of this talk, this jargon, this doctrine and dogma, there's very little deliberate space made for self-discovery.
People believe, thought Shadow. It's what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen. — Neil Gaiman, American Gods
In discerning my call first to ministry and most recently to chaplaincy, this professor has allowed me to think more about why I enjoy this particular branch of ministry. Here's the long and short of it: chaplaincy is not about answers, but rather, ambiguity. Sure, patients and families often have deep, guttural questions nagging at them. And while they might like for me to give them an answer that makes sense, more often than not, my presence is comfort enough. It's nice for them to know that they have someone willing to sit with them in their doubt, pain, heartache, tension, et cetera.
This has an even more interesting implication for me personally: my beliefs don't matter. Not to my patients or families or staff. They don't need to know my comprehensive doctrine of God or Jesus or the Spirit or salvation or baptism or whatever. They aren't expecting a thesis from me, much less a doctrine or a rock solid credo. What they need from me is me, or more specifically, the person they believe I represent. They need me to be in touch with their beliefs, or sometimes, their lack of belief. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about being "all things for all people." Maybe that's my call.
So while I'm putting on the badge and the lab coat, I have a chance to dig up and unearth my own foundation, and I'm finding that there is more to the ground upon which I stand than I ever could have hoped or imagined. It's not strictly Christian. To some, it's not altogether religious. Some of it has to do directly with God, while other parts are more loosely related. But it all has to do with love and with faith. Love for people, and faith in people. Love for people who are like me, who are different from me, who make me smile and who make me cringe. Faith in people in whom others have no faith. People who are outcast and marginalized and potentially unlovable. People who are easier to hate and vilify than they are to love and embrace. This is my foundation. It might not sound like much, but it's what I have, and it means something.