So, I’ve mentioned this before but I have a long, embarrassing and scatterbrained history with the academic world. Thankfully, I only have two projects left, and they’re both largely complete. The most consistent bright spot has been here with the CCO. In dumbing down a few years into a 5 minute talk I want to cover a few things that I’ve wanted to bring up for years.
The first is comes from more of an experiential personal slight. If you are single by the end of this journey, or indeed beyond it, that is ok. Jamie Donne at Jubilee 2017 delivered a beautiful message at one of the breakouts that basically observed that the church has made an idol out of marriage. Every sermon about love has a marriage metaphor or focus, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 has been hijacked to represent only a romantic love for another person when it could represent the love of Christ we are supposed to demonstrate to everyone. When you tell a Christian you are single, there’s a very good chance they want to take the Job’s friend approach. They want to “help you”, they want to “fix that”, they want to set you up with someone. And when you refuse, they get offended or pitying. So now we have this other set of platitudes: “Don’t give up”, “You’ll find someone”, “God is using this time to make you a better spouse” (That one actually came from Jamie) and I’ve heard the Genesis claim “It is not good for man to be alone”. I need to point out that I’ve had a few exceptions, but generally it’s annoying.
I used to see it as a defect like people thought there was just something deeply emotionally and spiritually wrong with me. There is, but it’s not related to that. But really this barrage of pity and “Job-ian” help seems to be just a phase you have to get through. I have reached the point, whether through age, or the fact that all of the people who know me have known me for 2 and a half years at minimum, where people have just given up or more charitably, they’ve accepted it.
I may be coming at this from the perspective of someone who will never be in a relationship and doesn’t want to be, but even you will and/or want to be, don’t make it a central concern. I don’t know how to put this politely so I’m going to rely on the Apostle Paul. 1 Corinthians 7:32-34. Before prefacing this by saying he has nothing against those who are married, he notes that “an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs-how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world- how he can please his wife and his interests are divided.” Where I have failed, and where you may have failed, is in dedicating the time you would have put into a relationship to something unproductive.
Singleness in not a problem. Idleness is. What’re you doing in place of pursuing a relationship? Are you learning more about what you’re ostensibly here for? Would you rather spend more time with the people in your life? Is there a hobby you can pick up? Do that. I’ll give you an example. It was kind of sparked by a conversation I had with my mother several years ago. She’s trying to start two business and it took her a while. Her friend had recently tried something and told her to do it. This was to take time during her walk in North Park with her dogs to reflect on exactly how much time she had wasted over the course of a week doing basically nothing, including the time wasters that were routine. She asked me to the same, and we were both horrified and embarrassed by the results. Seriously, if people thought about how much time they spend on their phone or just thinking and getting lost in what they want to or should do, they’d probably want all of it back once they’d tallied it up. I’d wake up at 6:30 in the morning and nothing would get done outside of breakfast and news reading. For a few years now, outside of this and trying to set up a whiskey-focused business. I’m weight training, studying about spirits (that is, whiskey, rum, bourbon, and by obligation, tequila and vodka), and trying, and occasionally failing to write 1000 words every day. When this is over, because that’s what my job is going to be (and because especially algebra had taken up an inordinate amount of time), I will work to learn Final Cut Pro. The point is this: I was wasting enough time every day, that all of that fits into the time where the idleness used to be. This idea of course applies to those who are in a relationship, but I want to impress upon the people who aren’t that the burden on us is double what it is on them. Outside of work and school, those who are in a relationship and are married have another obligation. We don’t.
However, there are some generally unproductive things that you are forced to go through, namely, the academic world. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that “if you are young and want success, a college education is mandatory.” Derek Melleby observes, in his book The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness that so much of what goes on here is “shallow, irrelevant and destructive.” In searching for the alternative in this place. that which is deep, meaningful and restorative, you come to find it here. Whether with the team at Point Park, here at LaRoche or the 4 other CCO groups I have even a passing acquaintance with, this place has consistently been a bright spot for me. I’ve lost my way over the last two years so I’m extremely grateful to have this through the rest of the game.
I do need to talk about Jubilee. I don’t feel obligated by the group, I feel obligated personally. Jubilee is where I became a Christian, but for Christians, it is a reorientation. It’s somewhere that even those who are more pessimistically inclined can start a different offensive against those ideas (can find something a bit brighter) from an improved foundation that is built over the course of a weekend. There are one message especially (that I don’t have time to go over) from this year that has worked over the last few months to calm me down, find a center in God and sort of rein in my worst instincts. More importantly, it’s a place where the group you’re in crystallizes into something truly unique. I’ve seen it here, and at Point Park. So, when everybody here starts talking about Jubilee, especially when signups being around October, consider going. It is going the high point of your year every time.
A few more points from a talk I picked up from Jubilee. It was in a talk by writer, pastor Justin McRoberts. His point was about taking your time, and working on God’s time and not yours. The reason this sticks out to me is because he came right out and said “some of you won’t finish in 4 years,” then paused and asked if that was ok. His point was that maybe the people in the room aren’t going to make it through the traditional 4-year span. It took me two, two-and-a-half years to get out of algebra, no matter how much I threw at it. Is it ok fo you if you aren’t able to follow the cliched timeline? He observed that people put so much pressure on themselves to get stuff done in a timeframe that -feels- normal. They have their whole lives mapped out, they want to be higher than an entry level job or their definition of a third tier (maybe a management position). They don’t have a plan for what happens if they reach their goal in their time. What creates this timeline, is a platitudinous step-ladder: If you do well in high school, you’ll get into college, you do well in college, you’ll get a good job. Everything is an obstacle to that final “great job” that sits on the other end of the graduation stage. I know maybe 10 people for whom that worked and it’s only because they were realistic about it.
In place of this platitude, McRoberts advocates two things. The first, is the importance of a Sabbath, a time where you spend focused on God and things that aren’t your job that make you happy. You can go full-stop the other 6 days but the 7th day is about recreation and reorientation. He decried this valorizing of “burning the midnight oil” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead. To illustrate this point, he put three brands of energy drinks up on the screen and he said “this is not what you put in a human. This is what you put into a machine to make it go further and faster for longer than it should.” We are fallible, we get tired. He did not advocate procrastination, he advocated rest.
The second thing, which allows one to have a Sabbath was to have patience with yourself and to be able to work more on God’s time than your own. This is what has bothered me the last few years. I have always thought I’d be out of the academic world by now. I thought I’d be out of Pittsburgh three years ago. As we speak I am once again looking to make a decision about whether or not I will still be here in October (The call of the South gets louder every year, and there’s a particularly interesting job over there). Point is, I’m already onto the next thing. But what I didn’t notice until February was that I was putting so much on what was next that everything I was doing between now and August was a placeholder. I didn’t put much into what I do at the church, I didn’t really care to see people. After all, what’s the point of seeing people if you are finally leaving? Everything became about helping to make that decision.
Here, I do need to add something. People were not generally my primary concern. Especially crowds of people in social situations. I joined the teardown team at church to be useful and to avoid the crowd in the lobby after the service. I am not, at my core, a people person. People start conversations with me, not generally the other way around. Three years ago, this break would’ve been a lot easier and I could pull it off without hesitation. Now, I legitimately love these people and I love what I do at the church and here at LaRoche because it makes their job easier.
However, I recently realized that I run the risk of feeling like I’m too important, too consistent and yes, I admit, there are times where I have felt “irreplaceable” (I am not, but I don’t want to put more work on the team when I can do it). On the other end of that. I seriously care about these people and making what they do at the church easier. When LaRoche is over, which it will soon be, I can’t entirely imagine not serving at that place in the capacity I have for the last three years, no matter how much I’d often rather be in either Atlanta or Houston the other 6 days of the week.
So here we are, and I still have no idea what makes more sense. And just today, I stumbled upon a proverb that I had as my desktop 3 years ago, that I’ve completely lost sight of. Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” We make the long, generalized plans. We’re going to wherever “here” is in 5 years. God knows where we’re actually going and also cares about the details of what’s going on now. Working on God’s time and not ours allows us to be concerned with and perhaps even enjoy where we are now, without putting so much into the future. So, if you’re on the track, if you’re behind, that might just be ok.