Wednesday, June 28, 2006

what a fellowship

On the day before I left Oberlin, or maybe two days before, I was waiting for Rachael to meet me at Beth's house, and I saw that Beth had a copy of the Fellowship of the Ring lying out. I haven't read Lord of the Rings in about ten years, and the first time I "read" it, it was read aloud to me by my dad. I have fond memories of that reading, but I don't remember the actual book very well, and I wanted to read a novel, so I decided to start reading it. I became quickly caught up in the story, and in Tolkien's prose, and I went to Mindfair the next day and bought a used copy.

Here's what makes this interesting and noteworthy to me. I have found a lot of connection between my own life situation and Frodo in the novel. Frodo grows up in the Shire, under the watchful eyes of mentors, and living in a place that he is deeply in love with. Then, he is called to leave. This parallels my own experience leaving Oberlin. I knew that it was time for me to leave Oberlin, but in doing so, I leave behind a lovely network of friends and mentors. It is painful to leave a place that is so dear to me. I found myself echoing Frodo's reluctance and ambivalence about leaving his hometown.

Now, I didn't have to flee ring wraiths, and I was not set upon by barrow-wrights and monstrous willow trees in my journey. But it was (and continues to be) a fearful journey- I don't know exactly what's going to happen between now and the end of August, and I certainly don't know what it's going to be like in Chicago.

Another parallel is perhaps more important. Frodo can't get out of the Shire, or to Rivendell on his own, let alone getting all the way to Mordor on his own. (The analogy breaks down when one reads Chicago as Mount Doom, but we'll worry about that later...) Frodo is blessed with companions and guides that he does not expect. In the past week, I have met some of those folks in my own life.

At the Fund for Theological Education Conference in Austin, I met a lot of cool folks. One of them, Nathan, is also going to be a first year student at Chicago Theological Seminary next year. Nathan and I connected immediately, and we have a lot of common passions. Our creativities seem to interact in particularly productive ways. I think we both have a lot to learn from one another, and when I told Rachael about him, she said, "it's like God gave you each other." Now, I'm not saying that Nathan is as cool as Tom Bombadil, master of the trees, rivers, and forests, but the two of us have already laid the groundwork for Pirate Church in Chicago. You're all invited. ("Now, we will make the forces of empire and oppression walk the plank! Arrmen!")

The gift of meeting unexpected companions and guides continued after FTE. Now, I'm at the Indianapolis conference of the welcoming and affirming groups of the UCC, Disciples of Christ, and Baptist denominations. Last night someone introduced me to Jacki, someone who I've known that I need to meet for awhile, apparently one of the noteworthy Baptists to come into and out of CTS. I was immediately impressed by Jacki's intentionality, and the way that she instantly offered to be present in my seminary process in whatever ways were helpful. I just came from a meeting of the Baptist folks here, and she was the "holy listener"- she took notes on emerging themes in the free-flowing conversation, and then reported to the group in an eloquent and spirit-filled way.

Last night, as I was reading about Frodo and his friends meeting Strider, the ranger, I thought of Jacki. Strider is someone who has the exact skills and knowledge that will help the hobbits; Jacki seems to be a similar person for me. It is exciting to meet the people who will be part of your fellowship over the next few years...

I don't know exactly how to extend this metaphor. I don't know exactly what I'm being called to do. Maybe these are some of the folks who will walk with me into empire, and help teach me to dismantle it. Maybe these are the folks who will guide me through the depths of academia, and hold of the Balrogs of, I don't know, term papers. Or binaries, or assumptions, or despair, or burn-out, or creeds, or something. Long enough for me to cross the bridge...

On the other hand, I suppose that Frodo doesn't really know what he's getting himself into. That's okay. I trust where God is leading me, even though I'm really sad about leaving Oberlin and Rachael for a time. (Today in a dyad I was talking about my sadness of leaving Oberlin and Rachael, in response to the question, what is in your heart that needs to come out. My partner asked, "Are you afraid?" I said, "No, I'm not afraid. Just sad." I think this is appropriate and holy, but freakin' hard.)

So, off I go, into the adventure some more. I will probably hope that my summer does not continue to parallel the Lord of the Rings, as I don't want to face any Balrogs or Sarumans. (It is a damn good read though.)

I don't know what's going to happen, but I know some of the people who will be with me. I guess in this metaphor, all of the folks at my homes that are praying and supporting me are Sam and Merry and Pippin- stalwart and loving and always in my corner and faithfully showing up, over and over.

John Dear, a radical activist Jesuit priest, quoted his mentor Philip Berrigan during his talk at FTE. (Philip Berrigan was another radical activist Jesuit priest, famous for burning draft cards and leading other radical actions during Viet Nam. The two of them were once arrested for beating on an F-16 carrying nuclear bombs with a hammer, in response to the Biblical call to beat swords into plowshares.) I'll close with my new favorite Phil Berrigan quote, about this life we lead of love and struggle.

"Well, at least it ain't boring."


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