and what are you going to do with that?

If you are younger than twenty-five or have a job titled “intern”, people will always, always ask you about your future. When you are feeling OK, you will take this in stride, as you probably should. You imagine people need a narrative to understand your transient self, that they are triangulating your position – where you’ve been, where you’re going, ah-ha, there you are.

And if you’re not feeling OK about this, as a great many of us at any given time are not, you imagine people cannot fathom that you might be in this moment for its own sake, not as a step somewhere else on a path towards the ambiguous  idea of “career” – which would be crumbling quickly before our generation even if we hadn’t mostly rejected ladders and trajectories. You imagine they are really asking you when you will become a real person.

You did?
What’s next?
A Master’s.
In what?
Theology (I chose my major on purpose, thanks)…
Then what?
A doctorate.
And what are you going to do with that?

I tell them I want to teach and write, always wondering what else they would expect someone to do with a doctorate in such an abstract field and also wondering if they know what they’ll be doing eight years from now.

But that’s not what I want to tell them at all, not what I would tell someone who seemed to really care what I wanted out of life.

I would tell them that an education is not an instrument and I may never do anything at all with it. I have no way of knowing where I’ll be in eight years. But I can’t imagine regretting the years or money or work or tears because when I’m studying theology, I am worshipping in the deepest part of my being, and when I’m reading and writing, I feel God’s pleasure fierce, and I can’t pray too well but I am thankful for the world and I am broken in intercession for it and I am communing with God when I am thinking.

I would tell them that I want students like most people want babies. Not to make them parrot my pet theories and not to shatter their egos and worldviews, not even to mold them into some ideal critical-thinker, social-engager, like some teachers seem to think they can create by being iconoclastic enough. I want students so I can serve them, ask them to open their eyes and see what Jesus saw, invite them into a bigger vision of God’s kingdom, make a space safe for their questions. I want to see more people live like Christians, no less than that; but not out of fear or guilt, out of love and freedom and trust in the wild in-between.

I would tell them that there’s something in all this about the poor, and hopefully about traveling, and reconciliation between races and classes and everybody, really, because we’re all so fragmented even if we’re not supposed to be as wounded as someone else – we are all always healing, such is life.

But what I want to do with my degree, my stuff and my time, my life? Yes, I’d like to achieve some lofty goals and undo some bad stuff, lead some things and write some books. I even want to end slavery and poverty and partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

And I think they can only end if it starts at my dining room table. That’s my Big Plan, inquisitive middle-aged people: if I never do anything else, I hope I will serve a lot of meals to my friends in my life. I want a huge table made of really heavy wood and lots of tablecloths. I want to make meals out of real food and serve it in great heaps so people know there is enough, they can rest, I want to welcome everyone. People don’t learn love and service and simplicity at conferences or blackboards. They learn them in the rhythms of life, in the gentleness of friendly conversations, in the let-your-hair-down comfort of a meal among friends, even among students and homeless people and people of different races and immigration statuses and lifestyle choices. You know what I think evil is? I think evil is people using each other. I think evil is people looking at each other and seeing something other than people. That can end at my dining room table.

So if you’re trying to triangulate my coordinates, here’s where I am – I’ll be among books, food, and people. I’ll usually be doing old-fashioned things like holding hardbacks and chopping onions and writing letters and being kind. That’s where I am now, and it’s where I’m going, and it’s where I find God, and maybe someday a silly degree will have been a part of it all, too.

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  1. I was just looking at internships not more than an hour ago, how funny. I think asking people what they do, what they have done, and what they will do (career wise) is rarely a good conversation. It so often turns into overt or subtle judgement.

  2. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  April 9, 2013

    I think when people my age ask people your age that stuff they are actually remembering their own selves back then and wondering where the time went and what the heckola happened to their fabulous plans. They are wishing for a second chance at your hopefulness and your energy, at your lack of being beat down and discouraged and wishing for all those little decisions back that, at the time, didn’t seem to matter, but added up to their lives. They are not judging you; they are judging themselves.

    Of course, by they I mean me. 😉

  3. Janet

     /  April 10, 2013

    Jacqueline in Atlanta is so right. We are not asking the questions from the same perspective from which you are hearing them. I LOVE what you have to say. Keep writing. And cooking. And serving.

  4. Janice Graves

     /  April 11, 2013

    sometimes, like me, they are just wanting to know how to pray for you. I love to read your blog. I bet there will be many books in your future. After all you inherited the ability to write in an interesting way. keep going. Love you, grandma


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