|"God Holding the Newspaper" by Hector Oviedo
(This image comes from First Street Gallery Art Center, Claremont, California. The center runs a distinctive program for adults with developmental disabilities. The program is founded on the proposition that human potential for creativity and artistic expression is not limited by physical or developmental disabilities. Through cultivation of artistic expression, people with significant challenges can develop creatively and make important contributions to the cultural and economic life of their communities.)
My first grownup job was in a group home for mentally challenged women with behavioral difficulties—a neat euphemism, as I learned quickly. I was 19 years old with a brand new B.A. and a hunger for real world experience.
I got it in spades. I learned to cope with antique plumbing and with truly frightening antique wiring. I learned that psychiatric emergencies have considerable drama, but are manageable—and that their manageability sometimes involves encouraging police and medical personnel to do their jobs. I learned that sometimes patience won’t do the trick. I have no idea how many times we showed Marie how to line up the dots of nail polish in the washing machine dial and then push the button, but I do know that it never took.
But my deep learning that year was about diversity of gifts. Anna taught me. She was in her early sixties then, living outside of an institution for the first time since she was orphaned at age three. (Whether she ever should have been institutionalized as an adult, whether she actually had any organic mental impairment is a question I still ponder, but it was a rather moot point by the time we met.) Every day she walked to work at a sheltered workshop where she spent eight hours counting a dozen nuts and a dozen bolts into plastic bags, and stapling on a cardboard tag. Not my idea of a fulfilling job, but she loved it. She got up at five every morning to fix coffee for the house, and to prepare herself for the day ahead. Her job was a constructive use for her abundant energy (maybe the 5 a.m. pot of coffee wasn’t the greatest idea), and more to the point, it kept her in bingo money. She won the ham that had pride of place at our Easter dinner at a bingo game, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone more proud of anything. Anna taught me about joy. She taught me about possibilities denied and improbabilities accomplished. Most of all she taught me that all the gifts one has been given are good, are to be celebrated, are to be shared.
There are ministries in this world that I never would have thought of, and ministries I never would have thought to pay attention to, and there are theological schools preparing people for them.
Schools of theology have vocations, and they have personalities. They are a diverse lot. In ten years with In Trust I’ve visited fifty-some, and written about dozens more. Some schools feel just like home to me: Their mission resonates with my own, their way of being the people of God makes sense to me. Other schools are strange to me: I’ve left some thinking, "Sooner you than me." (And it’s proven true that that isn’t a matter of denominational affiliation, theological orientation, or even primary language.)
But I know that we’re all in this together, that every theological school has at the center of its mission the providing of leaders for the church, and that while each has its own set of challenges and each has its own niche (or had better, if it hopes to survive), there is much that schools have in common, much they have to share. And one of the most basic, most profound things we can share is prayer. Some schools can’t in good conscience pray with one another–diversity is real, and not always easy, but we can all pray for one another.
We’ve done so at the In Trust Good Faith Governance Seminars. That praying has been a sometimes challenging but always rewarding experience, especially when schools’ representatives state their needs so that a larger community of theological education can lift them in prayer. And so, in order to make In Trust’s online presence more truly a community, we are inviting you to pray for other theological schools. We’ll post five a week, and we’ll ask the schools’ heads to provide us with specific requests for prayer. Feel free to use them or to pray as you are led. You may not be able to pray in good conscience sometimes for what is being requested, but pray in any case. I know one very wise saint who, in the midst of a particularly rancorous divorce, prayed for his soon-to-be-ex wife every morning by telling God in exquisite detail what he thought the Almighty should do with her. He always ended the prayer, however, with: "But thy will, not my will, be done." You could do worse.
And when you can, take the opportunity to celebrate that you don’t have to do it all, that there are schools out there doing what yours couldn’t, and that the church is full of all sorts of people with all sorts of gifts. Rejoice in all of them–including your own.