19 April 2013

Scattered Thoughts on the Killing of a Killer, Redux

In the aftermath of this week, I decided to revisit my thoughts on the killing of Osama bin Laden. My thinking has changed slightly over the past two years, and I have edited a few parts of this post to reflect that.


On September 11, 2001, I was told of the attacks more than six hours after the fact. Within a year and a half, I was watching my father depart home for the impending war in Iraq. I watched and prayed the night the attack was launched. I welcomed my father back as his unit marched past the memorials dedicated to those who had given their lives for the freedom of another nation. I remember waking up one Sunday morning to hear that Saddam Hussein had been captured and I watched the night they announced his execution.

Nearly two years ago, as I slept before an exam, I was awoken by a text message informing me of the death of Osama bin Laden.

This week, I watched the attack and resulting manhunt in Boston unfold almost in real time. After Newtown, Aurora, and so much violence.

These events are the stories I will tell my children; these trying and terrifying times that have shown the best and worst in humanity are what I will remember, just as my parents remember watching the unfolding of Vietnam, the moon landing, and the assassination of JFK. Just as my grandparents remember the Korean War, VJ and VE Days, D-Day, and Pearl Harbor.

Unfortunately, I must recognize that the death of Osama bin Laden will not bring a sudden end to the fighting in Afghanistan. Killing and capturing the perpetrators of the the Boston attacks will not end the cycles of violence that led to such bloodshed, panic, and chaos.

These events are not our V Days.

In light of this, how do we respond to a death? A human death, even if it was that of a man committed to violence and the triumph of Chaos. Surely, it will bring some closure to those who have lost loved ones in the attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan. The survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing are undoubtedly comforted; surely, all of Boston is able to sleep a little easier tonight -- if only slightly. For this, we can be grateful, and we can pray with those who still, and will always, mourn. May they find peace.

But even more assuredly, the loss of human life is tragic.

Poets often say best what needs to be said, and so I turn to the great English priest and poet, John Donne, as quoted by my friend Josh:
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

 And now, let us turn to the Good News, that the the glorious Resurrection, of Christ our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, will bring us all the closure that we so desperately need in the that eternal Kingdom where violence has no place. Hear the Gospel, as preached by Donne:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.

Kyrie eleison.
Forgive us all, for we know not what we do.
Lord of Peace, remember us as you come into your Kingdom.

Rock on.

12 April 2013

Reflections on Beginning the Ordination Process

Today, I had my Meet and Greet with my synod's ordination committee.

Let me start off by saying that I left the meeting feeling as though the panel members affirmed my calling into the ministry in the ELCA. I have never heard any of my seminary friends, all further along in their respective processes than I am, say that they left such a meeting feeling affirmed (or even good). The four pastors who interviewed me were very gracious, insightful, and kind. The questions were direct, but served a purpose. I know that as I get further along, the questions asked will become more probing, more difficult, less affirming. We can expect -- and should demand -- nothing less from those overseeing the ordination process. Our future pastors should be well-prepared for tough questions. The process should find and select those capable the herculean task ministers regularly face. Today, though, I feel respected and valued -- not just as a potential young clergy person, but as a candidate for ministry. I left feeling that there is hope.

Looking at the path ahead, however, I realize the problem with how most liturgical traditions "do" ordination. There are certain demands placed on students, and these demands are at odds with one another. On the one hand, it is expected that students be able to drop everything, possibly move across the state, region or country, take classes full time for at least three years, and spend spare time working on ordination requirements (in my case, it will be at least three years after completing my MDiv). This assumes candidates are young and relatively un-tethered by family commitments. The move and time commitments assume that one does not have children, that one's spouse has not started a career (assuredly, he or she would have to give it up or postpone it), and that one has several years to devote to the awkward stages between laity and clergy.

On the other hand, ordination is an expensive process. It requires that one have a well-stocked savings account to raid to pay for school, living expenses, psych evals, CPE applications, and "registration fees." Ordination can easily cost well over $90,000 (assuming you don't have additional requirements like an extra year at a denominational school). Such expenses are only affordable to second-career candidates.

The Church needs leaders from all walks of life, from every age group, from every background. But when you look at the process and all that it requires, the denominations really seem to be asking for a 40-year-old, single former lawyer. (May God have mercy on us.)

I'm excited about my future, even though it's a long road. I certainly didn't answer this call for the financial security. I know that I can no sooner shun this vocation than I can my humanity. I look forward to participating in and even leading the ministry of the Church. But it still scares me.
Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go apply for jobs so that I can pay down my debt during my gap year.

Rock on.