Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Fish Vomit

The irony is that while I was having my D.Min. students read Eugene Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant, I was learning again what fish vomit smells like. See, I thought I was on my way to Tarshish, to a place and a job that seemed an amazing gold ring for my carousel and roller coaster career (to mix a couple of midway machines if not actual metaphors). Once again I am bound for Ninevah, there to preach whatever little message God has given me to preach. I am covered with fish vomit, but that is not a bad thing all in all. It means it matters to God where I am, where I am going, how I am going to work-out this call with which God called so long ago.

I will not bore you with details. There is little comfort in knowing that I was almost but not quite the person "they" were looking for. In any case, it reminded me of a terrible moment in my professional life some seven or eight years ago when I was one of two finalists for a position at the seminary and, to my mind, a shoo-in, when at the eleventh hour and forty-fifth minute another guy emerged and got the job. It was a no-brainer for the school--he was clearly the superior candidate. I know that.

I just didn't feel that. Still, I tried to distinguish between being rejected and being unchosen. They are different things, of course, though each leaves your emotions similarly raw and your knees similarly jellied. And in some ways being unchosen is actually worse, if only because Election, God's choosing, and Covenant are so crucial to our faith history and identity. It is good to publish books and articles...but if no one chooses to read them; it is good to be the finalist or near-that for a glossy job...but if you never get it; it is good to be a husband, a father, a friend...but if others do not choose you every now and then over against some other need or purpose or history, it is pretty disheartening.

So maybe I need to regard fish vomit as the smell of my election and call--which is to say, being one of the often and essentially unchosen by people and institutions, maybe I can smell this harsh detour back to my original destination (as a work-a-day pastor) as a kind of incense and blessing,

In any case, I am not going to Tarshish. Come June I am on the way to Ninevah, though I do not know where that will be precisely. My prayer is that wherever I am on July 1, that will be the place God has given me to serve and, I pray, thrive. If I bloom where I am planted it will be because even the fish vomit was a kind of fertilizer.

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