“The greatest religious problem today is how to be both a mystic and a militant; in other words how to combine the search for an expansion of inner awareness with effective social action, and how to feel one’s true identity in both” — Ursula K. LeGuin
I’ve always had an internal war between 2 passions, ministry and activism. Even at my most atheistic point in life, I still longed for deep silent meditation, sought spontaneous inspiration, loved deeply personal interactions with people about the BIG QUESTIONS, and envisioned myself as a radical pastor marching full speed ahead into the future building the communism of love. Dr. King is still my most influential role model.
I’m now at a sort of decision point in this war. I’ve been completing a political science bachelor’s degree for the past 3 years. I originally intended to continue in grad school studying advanced political & social theory, stuff like Marxism, feminism, democracy, etc. However, once I got deep into the poli sci courses, my “spiritual” cravings kicked into high overdrive. I decided to change my plans and explore becoming a Universalist minister in the UU tradition. I blogged about that goal and its connection to my Quaker involvement here.
The decision I face in the next two months is whether to take a course in “Liberal Theology” at Meadville Lombard Theological School. It will cost $1000, but my mystical ministry sub-self is really insisting that I do this to prove that I am really called to ministry more than I am to activism. My logical Mr. Spock sub-self wants to insist that I look rationally at the fact that I can just finish my poli sci degree and enroll at Meadville in the spring.
I wrote the following email to a group of local Quakers to ask for help in discerning this step.
As you may know, I’ve been on sabbatical from Northside FM since last May. This was motivated by a persistent struggle I have with sleep problems that are most intense on Sunday mornings, as well as a sense that I was being led to pursue full-time ministry in the Unitarian-Universalist tradition. I am now at a turning point in that latter leading. I am only three courses away from completing my undergraduate degree in Political Science at Northwestern University. I also have an opportunity to take a course in “Liberal Theology” in the fall with Meadville Lombard Theological School.
For the record, I still consider myself a Quaker and find that worship in silence still creates deep experiences of insight and clarity. I’ve been worshipping with a few Quakers in Evanston on Saturday mornings at for the past few weeks and am glad to have created that opportunity. My leading to ministry outside of Quakerism is premised on what sort of ministry work interests and excites me.
However, I am feeling somewhat unclear on some parts of my discernment. As always, I am torn by divergent desires which take the shape currently of activism versus parish ministry. I have tried a few experimental steps in each field and find that the results don’t yield clarity.
Parish ministry attracts me because it brings in more of my natural talents, however, I am also passionately concerned with the ongoing economic crises, ecological threats, and systemic racism & sexism that plagues our society. Should I abandon ministry and just work on the social issues? This isn’t a new question, but it now has a clear decision point in terms of academic choices.
I am open to meeting with any of you one-on-one, a phone conversation, or support/clearness committee meeting.
There have been six key experiences this past 15 months or so that have sharpened my impasse. First, I stepped back from attending my Quaker meeting due to my sleep disorder and to take an opportunity to explore other involvements. In particular, I wanted to find out if there was a home for my ministry interests.
First, I began attending a Black New Thought congregation pastored by Bishop Carlton Pearson. Pearson is a former Pentecostal like myself and his ability to create a multiracial ministry are inspiring to me on many levels. However, Pearson’s congregation didn’t grow very well here, and as his parents are facing serious health issues, he has reduced his time in Chicago to once a month.
In order to still advance my goal of being part of a multi-racial inclusive church, I am planning to get involved next with People’s Church of Chicago. The sleep disorder has proven to frustrate that intention, though it still seems right given my sense of leading.
My second experience was becoming involved with the “Post Christian Chicago” meetup. I’ve made some great new friends who share my struggles with growing up fundamentalist. Many of them are much younger than me, so I occasionally get to play wise old man, though more often just an old fool.
Thirdly, being part of PCC connected me to the attempt to create a “Sunday Assembly” meeting in Chicago. SA is a “godless congregation that celebrates life.” It was the closest experience of creating a church I’ve ever had and I am grateful for that. However, conflicts about the direction of the congregation led three of us to withdraw and to date the Chicago group has stopped holding monthly services.
Fourthly, feeling frustrated with not being part of a congregation in a meaningful sense, I launched “Compassion Center Universalist Ministry Project” meetup in my neighborhood to try and find other people who shared my passions. The first meeting was interesting and turned in a couple of odd directions. This experiment is still too new to evaluate.
Fifthly, I will be holding my first meetup for the “Communist Love and Freedom Project” which I envision as a cell for study, activism, and media creation. This goes the opposite direction from my religious involvements, as I see it as entirely activist. It is open to religious persons, and I hope that some will become involved. This experiment is even newer.
The sixth experience has been my membership in the Socialist Party of Chicago. I am too eclectic and critical of Marxism to fit into most socialist organizations, so SPUSA is the most logical place for me given my third-party political orientation. However, the local is struggling to be viable. In August the National Organizing Conference will be held in Chicago and I’ve proposed a workshop on Religious Socialism. Perhaps something will come out of that event that will have legs.
I’ve now reached the point where I am considering dropping the “ministry” path entirely. However, activism hasn’t been all that fruitful. Going back to the political theory grad school option is still possible, but that almost feels like failure and defeat.
I welcome and seek comments from all directions.