God did not direct His call to Isaiah – Isaiah overheard God saying, “. . . who will go for Us?” The call of God is not just for a select few but for everyone. Whether I hear God’s call or not depends on the condition of my ears, and exactly what I hear depends upon my spiritual attitude.
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for his Highest
I think the term “divinity school” may be a little misleading to some people. Contrary to what you may think, it really isn’t a place where you go to learn to be divine. For instance, I’m pretty sure Bette Midler did not go to divinity school in order to become The Divine Miss M back in the seventies. I can also tell you with a high degree of certainty that Divine, star of such movies as Pink Flamingos, Lust In the Dust and Hairspray, never set a high-heeled foot on the campus of a divinity school. And while it may appear that some high-profile divinity school alum see themselves as divine, I’m still going to have to place a high degree of certainty they didn’t learn that in school, but, rather, came to that conclusion on their own.
Okay, so much for what a divinity school is not. I just wanted us all to be clear about our topic. Some of you may think I’m a little flip about a lot of subjects – and you would probably be correct. There are two things I believe are important in this life – not to take ourselves too seriously and making sure we take ourselves seriously enough. I’ve been guilty of the opposite of these things many times over the years. Perhaps because of a wounded soul, I developed an extreme sense of self-righteousness. It mattered very little what I myself did, it was what you did wrong that occupied a great deal of my time and energy. For the second half, I tried desperately not to take myself too seriously, at least on the surface, because there were too many bad things going on in my head just below the surface. I didn’t want to take a good look at who I thought I was.
A friend mentioned to me a couple of years ago that she had gotten her “em div” from Truett. Have any idea how difficult it is to look up something when you’re not very sure what they said and, therefore, have to idea how to begin to spell it? Perhaps it had something to do with the New Math? Why, yes, I could have simply asked but then it would look like I didn’t know what she was talking about. Men are taught only about two things in this society. One of them is that you don’t ask for help – apparently it makes you look weak and stupid. You’re just supposed to know stuff. I already knew I was weak. I certainly didn’t want to look stupid in addition.
But I’m a persistent fellow and I finally figured it out — all by myself. M.Div – Master of Divinity. Oh, and I looked up Truett since I also had no idea what that was, either. George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Mystery solved — and I didn’t even have to ask a question. My manhood was intact!
There was a time, long, long ago, when I expected that I would probably become a minister or a missionary. Wait, let me clarify. That would be a Baptist missionary or a Baptist minister. I wasn’t exactly certain what that would involve, but it was a career path that seemed open to me at the time. Actually, by the time I was thinking along those lines, my life was already crumbling at the edges. I knew that to be true, but was actively developing my ability to compartmentalize my life. Since I was able, at times, to wall off bad things going on in my life, being a minister still seemed to be a viable option. It was with a great deal of disappointment and, consequently, anger that I let go of that idea by age seventeen. Over the intervening years, it seemed to me that a lot of Baptists had become a bit rancid – preaching an agenda of hate, thinly disguised as love. Perhaps, though, that’s a story for another time.
But the idea has persisted for all these years. For most of those years, that was a matter of great annoyance to me. But, I have an eight-year-old living inside me who, it turns out, is my moral compass. Admittedly, I held some powerful magnets close to the dial of that compass for many years in an attempt to throw it off course, but it stayed true anyway. That kid knew who he was and still does, even when I’d all but forgotten. He’s the one part of me who refused to give up. He’s the one part of me who valued me. The other parts were trying to kill him — were trying to kill me. I have some very disagreeable parts.
Even so, it came as a surprise to me to realize the thought of a ministry was still with me. I mean, how much was I really supposed to deal with here? I’d already stumbled back to church, gradually decided to try out their Wednesday night suppers (I might actually meet people there), finally decided I could at least try on a Sunday School class for size, and actually joined a church. That’s a lot to soak up over a matter of months after so many years away and my nervous system was already close to its breaking point. But, if I thought all that had been pretty frightening, it was nothing when compared to the thought that a call I’d heard so many years before had followed me through a lot of awful places and still survived unscathed.
When I finally got up the courage to ask what she thought of some old dude considering a run at divinity school, my pastor said, “I think that would be a FABULOUS idea. And Brite is just right there in Fort Worth.” Gee, I think she may have been more excited that I was. You know what? That may have been all I needed. The odds of my making it to divinity school are pretty slim. The fact that someone I respect highly not only thinks the idea is a good one but that I could actually do it is more than I could have imagined. It allows me to believe that there’s still a ministry out there for me even if it ends up looking a little different than I originally envisioned it. Actually, it probably looks a lot different than what I originally envisioned. But, then, my life today also looks a lot different from what I had imagined. We do with what we’ve got.
Of course, any divinity school worth its salt would probably want to know why they should let me in since I don’t have a college degree. You know, institutions can just be so picky sometimes. Still, they may have a point. After all, a Master’s generally assumes a Bachelor’s degree.
The list of reasons why I didn’t go to college is long and, frankly, the sound of violins playing in the background as I told the story would get very annoying. Suffice it to say that by seventeen, I knew it was going to do me no good to attempt college. It’s not that I’m not bright enough – I’m told I am. There was a part of me that knew to the core my life was crumbling fast and picking up speed. You don’t plan for college when you don’t expect to live past eighteen. Even after making it past eighteen, I knew I’d never have made it to the end. Perhaps someday, I told myself, knowing full well that was not going to happen. Fatalism, as it turns out, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I even remember the exact moment I realized that call was still with me. Not the date, mind you, but the moment. We were singing a hymn called, “Here I Am, Lord.” You can probably tell from the title this hymn was going to be a slippery-slope for me. The song was composed in 1981, which means I’d never heard it before. After all, I’d walked away from church approximately twelve years before Dan Schutte wrote the hymn. Even so, my little mind was racing as we started the first verse.
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send? 1
Well, even I could see I was in real trouble by this point. “Whom shall I send?” Surely, the answer must be “someone – anyone – else.” With fear and trembling, we got to the refrain and the words, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” And I realized at that moment that, as Oswald Chambers put it, I had overheard God fifty years earlier asking just that question: “Whom shall I send?” And my question back had been, “Is it I, Lord?” And then my reply, “It is I, Lord.”
Now, before you run out and start a “Let’s Send That Boy to Divinity School” fund, allow me to mention that I’ve come to realize we all have a calling – with or without divinity school. For some, that calling is as simple as “love thy neighbor.” In every instance, I believe, the call is to be the best person you can be – every day. Obviously, we all fail at that task on a regular, well, daily basis. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t try. Fail again? Try again. After all, the redemption is in the trying, not necessarily in the accomplishing.
So, divinity school seems like a long shot. That’s okay. Instead, I began to read – voraciously. The few brain cells I have left like to soak up all sorts of ideas. C.S. Lewis said, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” I’d have to add that an old-ish man can’t be too careful of his reading, either. What I proudly thought of as my open, progressive, welcoming mind had actually become my closed, backward, unwelcoming mind. Don’t agree with me? Step away if you know what’s good for you. In the end, that’s a very lonely place to live.
One of the things I’m trying to do these days is keep my options open. I have no idea where all this will lead me. But I’ve learned that the way I did things for a very long time lead very quickly to nowhere — then kept me there. Still, there’s a difference between being blindly lead and having faith that a path will appear when you are ready to see it.
The Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s that last part that seems so difficult for most of us. When I allow myself to get very quiet, I already know what I truly cannot change. I also know some of the things I can change. Mostly, I’ve ignored the wisdom to know the difference and plowed ahead, instead, with Plans For the World as Ben Sees It. That created a tremendous amount of static in my life, effectively drowning out the call that’s followed me all my life. The shortcut I took ended up taking me far off the path, lost in a place where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees – in a place where I couldn’t see me for all the other “me’s” I’d thrown in my way.
Today, I welcome others to follow along with me as I travel on a new path, staying open to discovering what it is I need to find. Today, I ask for the wisdom not to know all the answers, but to be allowed to stay open to discovering, instead, the questions. Today, I’m trying to ask what, for me, is once again a familiar question.
Is it I, Lord?
And you. Is it, perhaps, also you?
1 Here I Am, Lord, © 1981, 1983, 1989 Daniel L. Schutte and NALR.