Penned by Tori Jamison
Many call to ministry stories begin with a deep knowing or a dramatic moment of realization, followed in quick succession with the knower running fleeing church life to pursue careers in business or as far from the church as possible, diving into family or art or literally anything else, until they can’t anymore – and then they show up at seminary. My story isn’t that at all. I heard the voice, I felt the deep knowing and my community acknowledged that they also knew I had the knowing and so off I went, confident. I graduated seminary by the skin of my teeth and running as fast as I could get from the institutional church.
And I’ve been thinking about a lot about Jonah, of “gets swallowed by a whale and is still a punk while sitting in digestive juices for three days and gets his own book in the Hebrew bible” fame. See, Jonah gets this call from God to do a thing (go preach repentance to Nineveh) and he runs. Lots of commentators make a big deal out of him running the opposite direction from where he was told to go, but what I find interesting about Jonah is his confident swagger. He runs but gets on a ship and when the sea gets rough, they draw lots and blame Jonah, who asserts with no nuance who he is and the name of his god, and that they are welcome to solve the problem by throwing him into the sea. The sailors oblige, and into the sea goes Jonah… only to get swallowed by a fish. He skulks and mutters for a while, covered in digestive juices in the dark, and then the text says that he petitions his god with a prayer that amounts to “God has to save me because I have work to do that God gave me to do so get on with it, God!”
I also ran with reasons aplenty from the institutional church but not ministry. I’ve taken all kinds of jobs and calls since graduating, and have met some incredible people, been a witness to the miraculous and the mundane. I’ve seen a baby born and held hands with the dying and everything in between, and yet, l
Like Jonah, I thought that shouting my call while going my own ways was enough.
It isn’t, and I’m worn down by running- the moving every few months to this or that pulls me farther and farther away from the divine deep knowing. What I’ve been doing is in the name of the good work and justice (mental health first responder! Care for the youngest! Communities of belonging and safety for everyone! Farm and feed the world!) but I am increasingly more disconnected from a call to contextualize sacred service in a community.
I haven’t been running from everything in life and I’ve certainly grown and learned. I came out as queer last year as undramatically as I could conjure simply by putting on Facebook that I was in a relationship with a same gender partner.
Spoiler alert -if an ancient book can be spoiled –
Jonah gets out of the fish but his swagger continues. He preaches to Nineveh and then informs God that God should make good on God’s promise to smite them. God does not, and gives a shade tree to Jonah. When the tree dies, the last words of Jonah in his book are informing God that the tree ought to still be alive, and that Jonah himself is right to be angry, even to death.
I too had my very good reasons for running, but now that I am a distance away by time, geography and circumstance, perhaps now I can reconsider a retooled return. Like Jonah, I have never doubted the deep knowing, but unlike Jonah, I do not wish to end up under a tree angry that it is not enough.