At the time I applied to write for WIT, I was just finishing up my master’s degree. I was looking to write for non-academic audiences after four years of intense study that was rewarding but rather insulating. The odd part about this experience is that I’m usually very inclined toward insular activities. I had intended to continue on in academia (although with enormous trepidation given the current state of the university job market) and thought nothing of pursuing other types of theological work. But it was during seminary that this new longing emerged, one I couldn’t quite put into words at the time because it was new and foreign to me, but also familiar, like I had been progressing unknowingly towards some latent destiny.
Now, I would probably identify this as an altruistic urge to serve others by fostering spiritual healing, or what Christians might call the impulse to minister–something along those lines. I say impulse because the word minister is so bloated with specific connotations that reference very particular professional roles (priest, pastor, deacon, etc.) that contain but also obscure that basic spiritual instinct to serve. It’s an instinct that’s branded into the identity of these religious offices, but unfortunately, we find it difficult to uncouple that ministry instinct from these concrete ecclesial careers (with which I still do not identify). Like most people, I believed the whole idea of ministry was intrinsically wedded to these particular institutional manifestations. Still, theology itself seemed unique to me in terms of being a discipline that self-consciously embraced both its academic and practical applications (even though most people eventually commit to either of those tracks) in a more interdependent manner. I thought blogging might be a way to draw from and bridge both of those rich traditions.
At the same time, theological sexism was increasing in evangelicalism, and the only reason that mattered to me personally was because it was being played out so publicly on the internet through social media and celebrity pastor figures. I couldn’t avoid it. Even if you weren’t evangelical (which I’m not), the fact that certain people were so determined to diminish women’s leadership and spiritual authority made the whole dispute inescapable, and truthfully, it did hit at that newly-fermented ministry interest growing inside of me.
The irony of my involvement in these “gender wars” is that I actually had no ecclesial aspirations at all, whether it was becoming a pastor or “leading men” in any other capacity. When I look back at some of my earlier posts, I’m surprised how passionate I was about things I told myself never applied to me. I’m sure loyal readers of WIT would be surprised to learn that joining WIT as a way of contributing to the gender debates was a rather calculated decision on my part. Clearly, it was personal for me, despite thinking I could abstract myself from the discussion (since I had no plans to enter the pastorate anyway). How sorely mistaken I was, not only because what happens to other women within the body of Christ also happens to me, but because theological sexism is a versatile hermeneutic that has proven its applicability to a wide variety of issues both inside and outside the church, always finding ways of providing handy explanations to many of our contemporary cultural questions.
Apart from this, it was deeply inspiring to learn about the lives of individuals throughout Christian history who successfully integrated theological reflection and spiritual practice. Likewise, it was inspiring to see how my classmates–most of whom were already “in the ministry”–constantly subordinated their theological learning to their vocations. It seems to me that theology is one of the few disciplines left in the world that cares about this question of praxis, a question that looms large even for “strict” theologians, many of whom consider their intellectual output to be a kind of ministry. I don’t think I’ve met a single theologian who never thought once about the possible social and spiritual applications of their work. Being, believing, and doing are three separate activities to the secular mind, but theology always promotes their integration. And often this formula of believing and doing is policed in tyrannical ways, but the fundamental holism that underlies this paradigm seems to be what the world needs right now. We need liberatory theory, but we also need hands that are committed to enacting our theo-visions within the world. As I begin my training in spiritual care and counseling this fall, I’m reminded how joining WIT was a crucial step towards cultivating my growing desire to be faithful to the Christian tradition in this respect, and indeed to the life of Christ itself, in using knowledge and spiritual wisdom in service of others.