In a sea of many who believe themselves the few with “ears to hear,” do we really have the chutzpah to respond to our calling?
One day, still too young to walk, my parents carried me through a parking lot. Nearby, a stranger remotely locked his car. This man “beeped” his car with his keychain controller and took a few steps away, only to be halted by a second beep. Puzzled, he turned and pressed the keychain once more, then resumed his procession. Again, there was an echo. The man, now with more vigor, returned to his vehicle and watched intently as he “beeped” his car for a third time. It is unclear just how long this lasted until my parents realized and, themselves befuddled, explained to the flustered stranger how I had been causing the echo.
The Seattle School was not on my radar until November, 2013 (roughly two decades later). A return to higher education while taking steps into the oft-volatile career path of the entrepreneurial artist, all within a theological framework both progressive and confessional, seemed a tall order. Remarkably, this School is real. It just meant lifting my life across a continent.
It was New Year’s Eve and, with my application fully submitted, I purchased tickets to fly out of Boston for an interview circa March. On January 2nd, I received an email from Rachael Clinton trying to explain some “Theological Leadership & Calling” something-or-other, and she said I could merge the interview into this earlier visit. It sounded lovely, but declined for what felt like obvious reasons. Hours later I scrambled to take it all back. In a fun twist, the airline gave me more money by switching the flight into late January, and the way was clear.
What I did not realize until early morning January 3rd were the substantial injuries suffered moving out a friend on the 31st. Weeks of painful walking, hours of rehabilitating exercises, and months of not being able to squeeze a tube of toothpaste—let alone play the guitar–were ahead. The beauty of finding this School was wed with one of the more difficult seasons of my life. It was excellent! It was the worst.
When I arrived at the School on my first Seattle morning, Rachael and Nicole–no longer behind computer screens—greeted me warmly at the door. People whose faces I had come to know while learning about the school appeared incarnate left and right. Keith Anderson was talking about the history and trajectory of our geographic location…I had one of his books! Naomi Wachira glided in to play songs during a reflective intermission… her TEDx talk was in my browser’s recent history! Ron Ruthruff was wearing a shirt so distasteful I found myself second-guessing everything I had come to believe about the School. The whole ordeal was a nerdy, existential, effervescent experience—very “pastoral” in tone, too (note the acronym).
What I remember second-best was the Firefly DVD series set poignantly in Derek McNeil’s office. What touched my heart more, though—something I am learning to let happen—was the moment my interviewer near-wept. It was not dramatic. I was not fishing for empathy. Both were being honest, and now I can observe: this was the first time someone had sat with me and heard my story to the point of tears. However sparse, those tears traveled further any of my flights.
This was not merely a school with fascinating teachers and edgy self-descriptions. I was cautioned that, particularly as a student of theology, this was not an institution where one pays a certain amount of money and time to receive a degree that leads clearly into a profession. There was, and is, much work to be done. At The Seattle School, the idea that one is “peering into the machine” is how I like to think about it. To attend would mean to be heard, to be a deep participant in one’s own formative educational process. I’m skipping a few pages now, but with deep reflection and without reservation, I said yes. This was/remains worth a transcontinental extravaganza.
Bob Dylan is commonly credited for defining a song as something “that can walk by itself.” I have learned many lessons, and been given much—love, talent, health, responsibilities, and home. I can echo well, and have a musician’s ear, but these serve something. And no, the answer here is not “God,” because God is always the answer. What does it take, say, for me to carry a lead melody out of the silence? This is not the first silence, nor likely the last. This is not the first sound in the world. I mean to move beyond the art of mere imitation, and speak right now of (and in) my own voice. These are my steps. This is my indwelling, a wounded walking: knowing and becoming known by God.
If Alex’s reflections on his admission process in light of the second annual Theological Leadership and Calling Retreat piqued your interest—we invite you to join us on January 21. Learn more »