About three weeks ago, my life was in a state of relative clarity. I was settled into a great MDiv. program at San Francisco Theological Seminary in Pasadena and I had it pretty well figured out that I was going to be in Ramona for the next five or six years finishing that degree and doing Youth Ministry at my church. But a couple of Tuesdays ago, I got the word that the SFTS Southern California program was being eliminated, without much warning or practical support figured out for the students, especially not those students whose degrees will still take a significant amount of time to complete (such as myself), effective June 2011. In short--and I hesitate to write this for hope that the program might be miraculously salvaged in some way before this plan goes through--this means that am going to have to transfer. A discussion on the power plays being made and the disregard for the Southern California students by the Northern Campus elites will have to be saved for later.
Initially, upon receiving this news, I only considered programs that I could complete from my geographical location in the San Diego/Southern California area such as Bethel Seminary (probably too conservative for me), Fuller Seminary, George Fox online, and Azusa Pacific's San Diego campus. But yesterday I began to rethink things.
This is a big deal that the SFTS So. Cal. program is being eliminated. I mean, it's not like it just got started yesterday. It has been there for something like 20-25 years--about a quarter of a century. When something like this happens, I don't think it should be taken lightly or disregarded as a mere inconvenience. In fact, I tend to think that God likes using these sorts of disruptive circumstances to open us up to more radical and even more disruptive invitations than we'd otherwise be open to considering. I almost think that God has a sense of humor in these kinds of things, just waiting for us to notice the irony.
When I emailed my professor with the schools to which I am considering a transfer, she adamantly supported me but went as far as to make the suggestion that I consider a school with even more emphasis on academic rigor. She suggested that I consider a school that would better offer me the opportunity and the preparation not only for ministry but for doctorate level work and to be not only a pastor but a thinker for the Church. Quite a huge and humbling complement (one with which I am inclined to disagree). My professor suggested Princeton and Union.
Now, to give you some background, in 2008 I went through a prayerful discernment process between three options. One option was to focus on ministry in Ramona and work on a Master's along the way, hence my work in Ramona and my entrance into the SFTS Pasadena program. The other two options included Union and Princeton. Now over the past three years or so, I've made friends with two Union alumni who both raved about the program, I've had two friends go to Princeton and I have one very close friend who's planning to go to Princeton (this much more recently). So when my professor listed these two schools as her suggestions, there was a level of irony and history behind her words.
So, to say the least, I've decided to slow down my decision making process some more. Is this one of those moments in which God plans on using a disruptive interruption to invite me into an even more disruptive and radical direction? The only problem is that I love what I'm doing here in Ramona and I love being near my family. Indeed I'm here because of God's invitation in the first place. A move back east for school would involve leaving this wonderful and challenging context. So could it be that these enticing alternative options are more like temptations than invitations? Could this simply be a temptation to turn a stone into bread--to finally "prove" that I'm not as dumb as I look by going to one of the county's top theological schools?
Is this a situation where I need to have the courage to creatively and radically embrace a fresh alternative or is this one in which I must move ahead with resolve in the direction in which I've been called (namely, ministry in Ramona) without falling victim to distraction and doubt? How on earth should I see this? These are the questions that have kept me out of bed and on my computer at this time of night...
I was not expecting to have to make these kinds of decisions at this stage of my journey...