If You Could Do Anything …

I guess it’s probably not surprising, when someone is in vocational transition, for people to ask them, “If you could do anything for work, what would you do?”

Anyway, within the last five days or so, it seems like a lot of people have been asking me some version of that:

“What would your ideal ministry look like?”

“What do you really love to do?”

“In the next five years, what do you wish you could be doing?”

Yesterday I was driving to visit my nonagenarian grandmother and, as I often do on long car-rides if I don’t nearly fall asleep instead, I had an epiphany. The epiphany was,

“I want to teach a class on Roman Catholic literature!”

That's a Jenn Story

Cue angelic epiphany music here.
(Also, don’t judge my drawing. You’ll note that my epiphany was NOT about wanting to teach art. Or science.)

Maybe just 20th century Roman Catholic literature, although the original trigger for the idea was pondering The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, which I just read as part of my spiritual direction training. The Roman Catholic literature idea is a blogpost in its own right (but may I just say with breathless excitement #FlanneryOConnorWalkerPercyGrahamGreeneJRRTolkein? I mean, awesome, right??).

That’s not normally how I answer people when they ask those questions, though. Normally I say something like, “Well, I really love listening to people’s stories, and coaching them on their spiritual journeys, and teaching–especially teaching stuff that I’m excited about learning.” Today I told someone, “CS Lewis said to write the kind of book you want to read, and I’ve tried but I can’t do that” [mostly because the kind of book I want to read is Roman Catholic literature, and I’m not Roman Catholic; or CS Lewis books, which have already been written by CS Lewis–and when I try to write in the genre of Narnia or the Cosmic Trilogy I fail miserably] “but I think I could probably teach the kind of class I would want to take.” That was a little bit of an epiphany, too.

One time, in answer to those questions, I spent a couple of days writing a proposal for the Gradually-Less-Nebulous-Nonprofit. Maybe at some point (tomorrow?) I will post some of it here. It involves listening to people’s stories, and coaching, and teaching, and some public speaking/seminar-type deals, and retreats. This is what I want to do, but it’s sort of scary, because then I think,

“There are other people who do this already, who are really good at it, and who do I think I am, and do I even begin to think I’ve got something else or more to offer than they’re already offering?”

And, “If it’s a nonprofit, why on earth would anyone donate to it, when there are other, already established, reputable nonprofits?” (Not to mention, the idea of responsibly setting a salary for myself is scary.)

And, “If I decide that really, it should be for-profit, no one could donate even if they wanted to, and then how would I keep costs down for potential clients/students, and either way, what if no one wants to take the courses I hope to teach?”

And, “How does one go about choosing a board of directors? And what are they supposed to do, anyway?”

And, “What the heck–I don’t know how to do this stuff. Maybe I’ll go back to professional nannying.” I mean, it’s an honourable profession–and I am still training to be a chaplain … even though I won’t have certification for at least two more years …

Guys. This is terrifying.

Is this (and, say, lack of funds) why so few of us actually do what we would do if we could do anything?

What would you do if you could do anything? And are you doing it?


What Might Make Jesus Want to Punch Someone in the Face

This one time my Paul said, “I hate when people pick on you. It makes me want to punch them in the face.” This was, of course, an expression, and if you tell me you’ve never heard it–or even used it–before, without actually intending to punch anybody in the face, it will make me want to punch you in the face.

Just kidding. But see? I say it, too. I am happy to report, however, that even though this expression has passed both our lips at least once, I have never known either my husband or me to punch anybody in the face. However, I would be lying if I said I weren’t also happy that he has this sort of sentiment. I guess I’m not enough of a feminist to mind when husbands stand up for their wives. I guess I might as well go all out and admit that sometimes I think I can get a little crazy, and other women can also get a little crazy. I think men have their own version of crazy, but right now I’m talking about woman-crazy, and please. Let’s not pretend both of these things don’t exist.

What I want to say about woman-crazy is … actually not about woman-crazy. What I want to say is that I really appreciate it when the husbands of women who might be acting a little crazy at some point, stand up for them anyway. I mean, I appreciate it when Paul demonstrates that he is devoted to me even if I am acting irrational. I also mean that even if I am in a scenario where I am on the wrong end of some other woman’s crazy, when that woman’s husband stands up for her, I have a ton of respect–for him, and almost, by association, for her. I may still secretly never want to interact with that woman again, but I literally rejoice inside when I see her husband standing up for her. This is because he’s her husband, and frankly, that’s his job.

There’s this verse in the Bible that says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5.25). I have constructed something of a theology of marriage around the idea that marriage is meant to be a human mirror of the relationship of Jesus to His Bride, the Church, but right now I just want to talk about Jesus and His Bride, the Church. I guess the verse doesn’t say, “as Christ loved the church and punched her detractors in the face,” but I still think the concepts are related. There’s a little bit of self-sacrifice that must have to go on every time I act ridiculous and Paul stands up for me anyway. And so I have to think there’s a little bit of anger and personal affront that Jesus must feel when people pick on His Bride.

“One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempers uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” (Screwtape) ― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempers uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.” (Screwtape)
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Over a month ago, I wrote a blogpost about people who still hold to their tenets of faith but are Done with church. I indicated that I fit the average demographic for that group, and that I even understand where they are coming from. Because I did this (and because I originally said, “I’m not planning to leave the traditional church (yet)”–which I thought made obvious that I don’t plan to leave the actual CHURCH because I specified traditional, until it occurred to me that there could be all kinds of interpretations of traditional) there were some people who got a little nervous, supposing that I was obliquely saying I was planning to become a “Done,” too. Well, it turns out that if I hope to become a fully certified hospital chaplain at some point, I have to be an active and endorsed member of a church, but even if that weren’t the case, I wasn’t saying I was planning on becoming a Done. I’m not planning on becoming a Done. I’m interested in the dynamics of change the Church Universal is in right now, and I have opinions about it, and I’m even presumptuous enough to wish to have a say in some restructuring, I guess, but I still am committed to the concept of Church, and to the process of belonging to a local iteration of Church, and the reason–I mean The Reason–is that I believe that even though human beings in general, and maybe American culture in particular–have skewed what the Church was meant to be and what it currently is, the Church is still Jesus Christ’s Bride. And I, whether I like it or not, am still a part of her.

I love Jesus. His Bride is probably the craziest woman I’ve ever met and sometimes I have trouble loving her for His sake. But His sake is why I love her. He loved her enough, not to punch her detractors in the face, but to give Himself up for her–I meandie for her. My individualistic American Christianity says Jesus Christ died for me, and I guess I think that’s true, but I don’t think it’s true exclusive of the fact that He died for Her. I think that, though it is Jesus’ sacrifice and love that saves me apart from anything I can do myself, all the same, my belonging to and participation in His Bride is my contribution to that salvation process. I couldn’t belong to the Church if Jesus hadn’t saved me from myself, but I am not sure to what extent I can be sure I’ve been saved from myself if I’m not willing to be part of the Church, no matter how psychotic she may sometimes be.

So I guess that’s why, even though my Paul and I are currently searching for a church home for the first time in a long time, I’m committed to the process, and also interested in working with people who think they are Done with the Church. Because I think she’s important. And sometimes I imagine that Jesus, who I guess is still waiting for His Bride to be readied for their wedding, thinks, or even says to her, “I hate it when people pick on you. Sometimes it makes me want to punch them in the face.”

It’s an expression.

That's a Jenn Story

Gallarus Oratory, Dingle, Ireland

The Safe House

When I was visiting the BroFam the other week, TheBro and I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron.


We were, as were so many, disappointed. Still, one detail in the movie, to tell you about which will not constitute a spoiler, kind of stuck with me as a “thinking point” as soon as it appeared: At one point, the Avengers retreat to what they call a “safe house.” They need to regroup. They are battle-weary and conflict-ridden and they need a place to be, well, safe, and work these things out.

While they were retreating, I thought, “I want to host a safe house.”

Then I thought, “Except that in the shows, the safe houses are always compromised, so maybe that’s asking for trouble.” My Paul and I watch a lot of movies and television shows with people fighting for causes (whether worthy or believable or not) where their lives are at risk. At least once in the storyline of probably the majority of these shows, some character or group of characters flees to a safe house … and then their cover is blown and bad things happen but still, ever since I heard of it, I’ve been drawn to the concept.

I realise this is pretty similar to the way-station idea I blogged about before, but I think there’s a subtle difference. A way-station is maybe a broader term that could encompass safe houses, but it seems to me to imply a place to take a load off your feet as you go along life’s journey. A safe house–well, that’s for people who are going through the wars. And there are a lot of people I know who are, on some metaphorical level, going through the wars. And surely even more people I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to turn anyone away who thought I could be genuinely spiritually helpful to them, but, as safe houses in the movies generally serve one branch of a mission or one side of a battle, there is one segment of the population I’m particularly keen to serve.

The group of people about which I am increasingly fascinated–and learning–is what one notable blogger calls “The Dones.” These are (at least some of) the people the recent Pew Research Study was about. Contrary to popular belief, the Dones aren’t relinquishing their Christian faith. They also aren’t “nominal” Christians (Christians in name only) or people who never got involved in their church ministries, or even, really, people who got mad at the church and walked out. They have been burned by the church before, but that’s not why they’re leaving. They just feel, apparently, that the church as traditionally envisioned is not allowing them to follow the callings God has put on their lives, and so they’re moving out so they can follow God better.

I am not Done with the traditional church model, but if recent research I heard about on a podcast is to be believed, I fit pretty squarely–descriptively at least–into the demographic that makes up this movement. What’s more, I suddenly have  a significant number of friends who, like me, are starting to ask the questions and are teetering right on the edge. So, The Readership, I think I know what I want my Nebulous Nonprofit to be about now. I want it to be a “safe house” (in an ideal world, it will one day become a physical place for people to come and retreat, but I think it can be a virtual one, too, at least for a while) for people who have–or had–a Christian faith that is under fire. I want it to be a refuge for people whose faith isn’t working the way they thought it was supposed to and they need a place to be safely honest about that, and to figure out what needs to happen to their faith for them to go on. I want to host a haven for those having a difficult time with their church or who might be discovering that maybe church isn’t what they thought, and they want to figure out what it is instead.

I don’t really think we need more churches, and I wouldn’t make this a condition of The Safe House, but I hope the upshot of all this maybe virtual but also communal soul-care would be to equip each other to go back into the fray, not for the purpose of “fraying,” but because life is a battle sometimes, whether we like it or not, and maybe, strengthened together, we can each move back into a local manifestation of church, better able to sustain each other regardless of what we find there, and better able to support and defend that crazy institution which has been called both Christ’s Bride and His own Body.