Monday, May 12, 2014

Mix CDs and mustard seeds

Photo by Linda Tanner
It was six a.m., and I was driving to Duke Divinity School for orientation.

I was thinking of a recent faith conversation with my brother. I did not articulate my point of view clearly, and I was wondering—if I can’t speak definitive answers about theology, do I have any gifts at all for ministry? Has my vision has become too vague?

Naturally, these thoughts led me to the recurring whisper in the back of my head, that little voice which says, do you really believe any of this at all? If you are so scattered, so vulnerable sometimes, so unwilling to prove anything concrete—can you truly be a shepherd for other believers?

I am not ready to become a pastor, I was thinking. I have squandered this wilderness time in Cherokee. I have not prayed enough. I have become more cynical, sometimes snarky. Seven years after the “doubt crisis,” I am still an intermittent doubter—sometimes of God and sometimes of myself.

Besides, I thought, I know that I am good at teaching. Why change careers now? Teaching GED classes matters. It is meaningful. For the most part, it is safe.

My mix CD changed to an old Nickel Creek tune.

Can I be used to help others find truth if I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie?
Can I be led down a trail dropping breadcrumbs that prove I’m not ready to die?
Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted
I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothing’s safe
Oh me of little faith

When the song was finished, and my tears, I pressed repeat. I pressed repeat about eighty times, singing along as a plea, as a prayer, until I arrived at Duke.


Imagine, for a moment: this is how it has been for you and doubts.

You have a question and you climb down a rabbit hole to follow it to its depths, because if you don’t you will always wonder, you will always worry. And when you follow it down, you find the hole does not go on forever; there is something solid below, something to stand on. You stand on it.

But you don’t live into these questions every day; you can’t spend all your days chasing shadows and digging holes. So most of the time when the shadows cross, you watch them go. They are mostly shadows you’ve already followed all the way down.

You are going on your memory, and like all memories it is hard to retain the certainty of that feeling. You did find solid ground that day when you reached the bottom, you are certain…right?

The thought of starting seminary this fall terrifies you, because you know you will be diving down into some of the holes again, and it is possible they are deeper than you have yet known.


I arrived at campus, still a little weepy, humble.

But as soon as it had begun I could sense that they were going to remind me why I was here.

They said remember that you are loved deeply and gifted uniquely by God.

They said remember that the church does not exist for its own sake; it needs to serve and love the world; it is the body of Christ on earth and it must sometimes learn to die so that it may come to life again.

They said remember that the kingdom of God is about all of us—poor and rich, privileged and unprivileged, powers and marginalized, believers and doubters, black and white—seeing each other as children of God, seeing each other as both gifted and broken. It is about all of us, giving and receiving and sharing together.

I remembered. I remembered that this is good news, particularly for the poor and broken. I remembered that the kingdom of God has grabbed me and continues to grab me, that this is why I believe in spite of my doubts, that I can be healed from my loneliness and my numbness and my fears, that I am not in this for a stable job but for a vision and a sacrifice and a resurrection. I remembered that joy is a fruit of the spirit.

I drove back thirty-six hours after arriving, my heart hurting from the good news and the good people and the good God. I felt crushed, wrecked for my status quo, and certain that this place will continue to draw me forth and form me. It was not the first time I have departed that place in tears of longing and belonging.

When I played the Nickel Creek one last time as I drove over the last mountain back home, I heard it differently.

Oh me of little faith. Perhaps a little is enough. Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. He said, a mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it is planted in the ground, it grows and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and all the birds of the air nest in it.

I am embarking on a good and beautiful journey. I am ready to plant my small, sometimes-wavering, vulnerable seed of faith in the soil. I am ready for the Spirit, and the risen Christ, and my new community, to make it grow into a tree where birds will sing. 

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