I’m feeling distinctively rootless these days. I’ve graduated my PhD program. But I don’t have a full time job. We’re living in a place that has a lot of benefits, mostly related to relative quiet, but a fair amount of inconveniences–one bedroom, no air conditioning, meaning it’s particularly inconvenient (okay, fairly miserable) when it is hot and particularly unsettled when I think about Vianne’s situation (we’ve made a space for her, but it’s not something that can be useful for too much longer).
I work a fair amount, teaching a number of classes, but no job security or expectations are offered by either Fuller or Azusa. Meaning I work quarter by quarter, not able to plan. We had to change pediatricians, because California ended its great program for kids in families with limited means, and cast everyone onto Medicare, which is accepted by a significantly smaller amount of doctors. Amy and I have very minimal benefits, enough to get us in a hospital but not something that encourages anything near checkups or minor issues (I get very Pentecostal again when I lack good insurance…). My car had an overheating problem when we came back from our trip last week, as a sixteen year old Honda Civic coupe, this isn’t surprising. It’s already too small for more than two people, but it’s the car we have and the car that gets us to the places we need to be.
My PhD was paid for entirely by fellowships, which were renewed each year based on my performance. Each year they were renewed, yet each year was a feeling of persistent rootlessness. Would this be the last year, I wondered each year. Yet, thankfully, it lasted to the end. My M.Div, however, wasn’t so finely funded. Loans are due and after 12 years in higher education, there’s still loans from my undergraduate days. Repayment now looms very strongly as there’s no PhD program offering refuge anymore.
There are no job postings in my field, not ones that fit my background and training. Yet, there is little more I could have done better in light of my finishing. Dissertation passed with Distinction (the highest rating), 4.0 GPA throughout, dissertation manuscript accepted for publication by Fortress Press, good evaluations on my teaching at Fuller and APU.
With all that, I am cast into the whims and fancies of the academic world, with only occasional retirements and the small possibility of created new positions offering a modicum of hope that there’s something more permanent than being caught in the adjunct vortex.
Then there’s church, a church we’re members at, a church we started attending because in the midst of a long church shopping after being married, that was the one that provoked a “yes” in each of our souls. It’s a big church, though, and we’re not big church people. It’s a church far away. And I’m increasingly interested in a holistic experience that allows my church community to be in, with, and among my actual community.
I wrote a dissertation on that, after all. It’s something I not only desire, but can provide a nauseating amount of theological justification for, and back it up with practical examples. Every time I drive to church I feel rootless, a church led by a great staff, with some wonderful people, yet located in an upper-middle class neighborhood that is a 1/2 hour freeway drive from where we live. That’s not to say everyone there is enjoying the bounty of a fully realized American Dream, but many are. My car is almost always the worst in the lot.
Amy is a full time mom, a choice we made together, following the passion of her heart and what she feels God is leading her to do. Which I honor and celebrate, especially as I see everyday the boon that is Vianne, and the intelligence and strong personality that she has. Having Amy around her is a great benefit. But it has costs, the costs of trying to live on my adjunct salary in the middle of one of the higher cost of living regions.
We don’t know where to go. We don’t how to be where we are at. I’m feeling especially rootless, not only because of my present but because I’ve been in a wilderness mode of life since, by my estimation, I was 9. Lots of opportunities and experiences, continually uprooted, tossed hither and thither, never finding roots, never having what I would call a home of my own.
Recently, this rootlessness has become fairly exhausting. It’s nothing horrible. There are a lot worse stories out there. Like a perpetual drop of water, however, it digs deep and becomes distracting. I’m tired of it.
Yet, there is nothing but to keep pressing on.
Lest this sound like a litany of my present complaints, know that’s not the reason for my writing all of it. Writing is my way of renewal, a way of release, a way of searching for light by sketching out what is in my mind. And this, thus, is not a litany of complaints, left for their own sake, as though I’m leaving my rancid trash on the side of the road in order to clear my head. No. I list these because I want to express my context. I didn’t just graduate with a PhD, I graduated with a PhD in Christian Systematic Theology.
Which offers the challenge. I cannot simply gripe and whine, making a list of my complaints or challenges and leave them at that. Because in the midst of all those complaints is also a work of God. And I can list those as well. Works of God that led me, and then with Amy, into the choices and situations that are resulting in these challenges.
Writing is my way of renewal, and maybe by sketching out my thoughts on this rootlessness, seeking wisdom for my own sense of self and purpose — even as I continue to seek real, palpable answers — I can find myself walking with others who are rootless in similar or distinctive ways.
Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
I sought God. Now I feel rootless. That shouldn’t be surprising. But it is tiresome at this moment in time as I think about how to best support my family.
I seek God. I hope for rootedness.
Curiously, I originally sat down to write a little bit on my ideas about a missional community, one that I may want to get going when, and if, I ever find myself in a place of at least relative permanence (defined as having some commitment to stay for at least a year, rather than constantly aware we could move wherever a full-time job is found). I think that’s where I’ll keep musing, even as it was likely good for me to share my theological situation at first.
Theology has never been about musing for musing sake. It was the road I took when I had significant challenges and sought “the ancient paths, where the good way lies.” Now with letters after my name there’s the challenge to keep it this way, and maybe, just maybe, by walking this road openly I can be a help to others on this path, the rootless, the dislocated, those who seek God in the midst of challenging questions, where they feel there is no way but forward, and there is no way possible to go forward.
That’s the place I’m at. And in the rootlessness I feel the shadows of despair rising, seeking to choke me, ruin me. Stronger -sometimes just barely stronger- is the substance of hope, that hope that has shocked me and surprised me, leading me to take the steps that led me farther up and further in. Holding onto that hope has led me through transformation in every part of my life, but there’s more yet to be transformed. The shadows thicken, reminding me how many ways I yet need Christ in my life, and his people.
From this, my theology and missional musings proceed.