In my last post, I promised to talk about how I’m attempting to answer the question of what happens now that I’ve stopped collecting pieces of paper. That was a few months ago. I’ve tried several times to put a coherent answer together, but it never seemed quite right.
In the last few months, several people who have been accompanying me on this new journey have recommended reading Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. I’ve only been able to make it through about two chapters because it feels like Fr. Richard is speaking directly to me, so I have to digest it bit by bit.
He and these trusted friends all tell me I am entering what is called the second half of life, which seems weird to say when I’m only 38, but I believe they’re correct.
Rohr talks about the first half of life as constructing the vessel of your identity, or what I called “collecting all the pieces of paper”. The problem we run into is that the things that helped us construct the vessel don’t serve us well anymore when we reach the second half of life, where we have to learn how to fill the vessel up. I’ve done all this stuff, but what does it really mean?
The United Methodist Church has an answer to that question, at least for those of us that are ordained Elders- keep climbing the ladder. Do a good job in the church you’re appointed to and we’ll give you bigger and bigger churches. If you do really well we’ll give you prestige positions like being on the Board of Ordained Ministry (check) or chairing other Annual Conference committees (check). And if you reach the top of the ladder, you get to be a District Superintendent or maybe even a Bishop (no thank you).
Even if the United Methodist Church were not facing a split that will fundamentally reshape how we function as a global church, I found myself deeply unsatisfied by the institution’s answer. The things about it that gave me life no longer outweighed the things that dragged me down, so I knew it was time to step away.
I didn’t give up my credentials. I remain an Elder in Full Connection, and the Bishops in Tennessee and Kentucky graciously agreed to make my work at Family Scholar House as Project Manager for LouieConnect.com an extension appointment (the UMC’s term for any ministry beyond the local church).
It has the practical benefit of adding to my years of service for my pension, but more importantly, it’s a recognition that I am continuing the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ- announcing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind. (Luke 4)
The work I am doing allows me to meet new people every day, to connect with all kinds of different groups I likely never would have encountered were I putting on a robe and stole every Sunday. My work is a kind of chaplaincy to every person in Louisville who works with people on the margins, which is a taxing job with demands I understand very well.
And yet I struggle to make the pieces fit into a coherent whole.
My spiritual director recently confronted me with the question: “where do you feel most right with God”? The best answer I could come up with was “helping other people experience a connection to God”.
The title “pastor” gave me very defined ways to do that- preaching, presiding at the sacraments, teaching the Bible, being present with people in times of great joy like a wedding, and great grief like a funeral.
Now that I don’t have those defined ways, at least not on a regular basis, I have to work to define how I still play a part in people experiencing a connection with God. I don’t have the definition the institutional church gave me anymore. I have to figure it out for myself.
For the first time in my life, I don’t have anyone to tell me who I am.
So at 38, I begin my second half of life. I hope to use this space to tell you what, more importantly who, emerges.