To Make Sure You Get There Alright

 

Matthew-BoultonBy Matthew Myer Boulton

Maybe it’s because of our location, once described as the country’s frontier and now as its heartland, “the crossroads of America.”  Or, speaking of roads, maybe it’s because our signature sporting event is a celebration not only of speed but also of the very idea of a 500-mile journey.

Whatever the reason, the notion and experience of a journey has always been close to the Hoosier heart.  Some of us travel far and wide.  Others of us basically stay put, welcoming travelers with that legendary Hoosier hospitality.

I say this as a relative newcomer, my family having moved to Indianapolis from Boston just a few years ago so I might serve as president of Christian Theological Seminary.  Now, Boston is a friendly place – but there are differences.

“The notion and experience of a journey has always been close to the Hoosier heart.”

My very first week here in town, I found my car nearly out of gas, and so asked a stranger for directions to the nearest gas station.  After providing them he offered to follow me.  A bit taken aback, I said, “Why?”  I’ve never forgotten his answer.

“Well,” he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, “to make sure you get there alright.”  Still a bit off-balance, I declined his offer – but as I drove to the station, I smiled all the way there.

We still have a long way to go on this journey we call “Indiana.”  There are too many hungry kids in our neighborhoods, too much violence in our streets, and in our homes, and in our hearts.  The great teachers and traditions often turn to the theme of journey in their stories and instruction – and this is no accident.  It’s part of the genius of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, for example, that the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, end not in the promised land, but on the verge of it:  in sight of the land of milk and honey, but not there yet.

We’re not there yet either, and we need the best in our traditions to propel us and challenge us to take pride not only in the distance we’ve traveled, but also in the distance we will travel today and tomorrow.

“We’re not there yet either, and we need the best in our traditions to propel us and challenge us to take pride not only in the distance we’ve traveled, but also in the distance we will travel today and tomorrow.”

One of the most beautiful ideas in the Christian tradition is the idea of vocation or “calling,” of living life as an answer to a kind of summons.  Dag Hammarskjold, former secretary-general of the United Nations and a man of extraordinary spiritual insight, describes it this way:

“I don’t know Who – or what – put the question, I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”

Which is to say, his life became:  a journey, a great adventure of discerning and living out what we are meant to do, what we are inspired to do, what we are drawn to do – drawn as if by a magnet outside of us that pulls on something deep inside of us, something that’s been there all along.

What we may need most are intentional, extraordinary conversations about this kind of journeying, and this kind of purpose.   Not only so we can each clarify our own callings but also so we can support each other along the way:  whether we find ourselves at a crossroads, or turning around a great track of 500 miles or more that always, in the end, brings us back home.

So let every Hoosier follow his or her own path – but let us also take care of each other, all of us, as we go.  And if any of our fellow travelers ask us why, we can always say, “Well, to make sure you get there alright.”

Matthew Myer Boulton is the President and Professor of Theology, Christian Theological Seminary

All the Crazy Parts

By Callie Smith, Program Manager for Lifelong Theological Education, Christian Theological Seminary

One of my most memorable dates happened at a seafood restaurant. I’d never eaten lobster, and it was obvious. I coped by being playful: cracking jokes, acting silly. My date chimed in, and we were having a great time. Then my hand slipped. Food flew right into his face. Even when the rest of the food had dropped down to the table and floor, he still had one damp kernel of corn stuck to his forehead. Believe it or not, we got a laugh out of that, too. Believe it or not, he even asked me out again.

“Playfulness can redeem just about anything. Imperfections and mistakes are okay when we’re playing.”

Sometimes I think that playfulness can redeem just about anything. Imperfections and mistakes are okay when we’re playing. Children at play are learning and getting new experiences. We give them space to fumble. When adults do things in a playful spirit, we give each other permission to fumble, too.

“There’s a certain playfulness among people who come together with all the crazy parts of our lives and try to figure out how we’re going to live with ourselves and with each other.”

Willingness to run with imperfection is one thing I love about playfulness, and it’s something I love about spirituality, too. For all the rules and regulations we may associate with organized religion, my experience with people of faith is that a lot of us are coming together to figure out how to handle life. Mistakes, conflicts, suffering, the curve balls that surprise and frustrate us – there are so many things in life that would never in a million years count as “right.” Yet, there’s a certain playfulness among people who come together with all the crazy parts of our lives and try to figure out how we’re going to live with ourselves and with each other: neighbors, strangers, and even the divine.

I suspect this 17th year of the Spirit & Place Festival will be my favorite one yet since the entire week of November 2 – 11, 2012 will be devoted to the theme of ‘Play.’ On November 3rd, it will be our pleasure at Christian Theological Seminary to welcome Carrie Newcomer, Phil Gulley, Scott Russell Sanders and Krista Detor for the show Miracles, Myths, Lyrics and Lies, a humorous study in story and song of the playful side of spirituality. Believe me: between now and then, I’ll be doing my best to live up to this year’s theme!