Because writing an allegory in place of an application essay is a tad left of plumb, I wrote a postscript to the story that begins here. This is it.
I hope I can be forgiven for this unconventional essay. It is probably obvious that I am deeply passionate about storytelling. In thinking about how best to relate my academic journey thus far, my call to ministry and my hopes for the future, it was important to me to show, rather than only describe, how storytelling has helped to make sense of my experiences.
I did not finish my undergraduate degree. My academic career up to about midway through college was success upon success; I loved school and gobbled information like a ravenous child. Learning came easy to me. Around the age of nineteen, however, I could no longer form a coherent narrative that made sense of education. I didn’t know why I was in college. As much as I enjoyed learning, it felt pointless—no longer worth it only for its own sake. My grades took a nosedive and I quit school before I could eke out a degree, a dozen or so credits short of a B. A. in Music from Azusa Pacific University.
It was only in retrospect, after a decade of “wandering,” that I understood my disillusioned malaise as something more than an angsty Gen-X cliché (though there was a little of that, too). I couldn’t have told you at the time that my problem was a story problem—or, rather, a lack-of-story problem. All I knew then was that college was preparation for church ministry, and the call to a life in church ministry sounded like a death sentence. (I also had a Gen-X penchant for melodrama.)
During those wandering years, I married a worship leader—a very bad idea if one is trying to escape church—and that kept me orbiting close enough to “the Tribe” to stay warm, as well as to witness a shift toward missional theology and practice and to listen in on the emerging church dialogs. I read a lot of good books and saw a lot of good movies (and some bad ones) and had long, meandering conversations with all kinds of people about those books and movies and other important topics, such as God. This immersion into story was a new baptism, an unexpected sacrament that imparted grace and catalyzed in me an ongoing process of spiritual formation. Every which way I turned, I bumped into Jesus and was changed.
In the meantime, I fell headlong into a career for which I was not, on paper, qualified but for which I was, by accident, prepared: book editing. I couldn’t help but notice something, after notching a few titles by prominent authors on my editorial belt: Most Christian nonfiction books, study guides and group curricula are written under the assumption that spiritual formation can be activated by information. (This assumption is shared by many in the broader culture; not a week goes by that I don’t read a blog post or editorial espousing access to information—usually via the Internet—as the cure-all for humanity’s ills.) This is diametrically opposed to my experience.
I have edited more than two hundred books and worked with dozens of authors, including Tony Campolo, Gloria Gaither, Gary Smalley, J. I. Packer, Kenneth Boa, Joel Hunter, Shane Claiborne and George Barna. Their work, and that of many other Christian writers and thinkers, has immeasurably impacted my spiritual growth—but not in the ways I believe were intended. Rather than galvanizing spiritual transformation, their information has lent me a vocabulary to articulate my journey with God to other believers. It is not a gift I take for granted; the ability to contextualize my experience within “the Tribe” opened wide the door for me to belong. Once I belonged to the Tribe, I couldn’t help but love the Tribe. And once I loved the Tribe, a life in church ministry—to which I was called long ago—sounded . . . exactly right.
This is the reason I want to study for my Master of Arts in Intercultural Service: to help the Tribe rediscover the singular power of stories and storytelling to form our lives in Christ. There is an enormous gap, I believe, between how the church seeks to change minds and hearts and how hearts and minds are actually changed. The church has, to a great extent, bought into the fallacious notion that its biggest competitor is science, that we in the West sojourn with a native tribe defined by facts. But our native tribe, just like every other human culture past and present, is shaped by its stories. And that’s good news! Because the Tribe of tribes is called to be shaped by Story, too.
How can we make the shift? And how can I help? I don’t know yet. But I believe the MAIS course of study, with its focus on the intersection of Christian mission with diverse cultures—stories shaping each other!—will help answer these questions. I realize that a majority of seminarians who seek an MAIS are preparing for service in the global mission field, while I am not; I am called to serve here at home, in the local church. Yet I believe the kind of ministry I am called to perform—helping the Body of Christ use its imagination—is fundamentally cross-cultural. With all due respect, there are few endeavors more foreign to the church’s existing culture. It is my hope that the course of study designed to prepare global missionaries for intercultural service can also prepare me to tell really good stories to a church that has forgotten how to speak the language.
Any thoughts, bloggy friends?