ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



What is resonating now…

Some things I’m reading that make me say ‘yes’:

From Richard Beck:

Edging Toward Enchantment: From Deconstruction to Reconstruction

…but you can’t go back. I often tell my students that there is a threshold of doubt, that once you start asking certain sorts of questions there is no going back. When it comes to faith there is a class of questions that, once you get to them, just don’t have any answers. When you reach these questions you’ll live with them for the rest of your life…

Something has to give. If you want to maintain a hold on faith the season of deconstruction has to be followed by a season of reconstruction. But a lot of doubting and disenchanted Christians never make the decision–and it is a decision–to commence with the work of reconstruction…

Edging back toward enchantment is practicing faith. Not practicing as faith. But just what I said: practicing faith.

And from Hugh Hollowell:

Why I am a Christian Humanist:

…if there is a God, either that God is way more loving and accepting than I am, or that God can give my spot in eternity to someone else. Because while I do not get to decide what God is like, I do get to decide what sort of God I deem worthy of worship. And if that God isn’t more loving than me, more generous than me, more open than me, more accepting than me, then that God isn’t worth my time or my devotion.

And also from Hugh: today’s thoughts on “Bonds and Betrayal“.


Easter faithfulness

So… may I share a secret?

I don’t know what to do with Easter.

Here’s the thing… I was scientist once upon a time. I still process the world that way. Yes, I may have come out as an ‘N’ the last time I took a Myers-Briggs test. Doesn’t matter. I still have a lot of ‘S’ buried inside. I analyze and test.

Everything. All the time.

And even when I act as an ‘N’ (which may or may not be a lot of the time now), I still have the ‘S’ part of me lurking nearby. And here’s the problem: Continue reading “Easter faithfulness”

This far, by grace

As my family prepares for our move to Laurelville, it has been interesting to think about how we got to this place. At first, it seems like a pretty drastic move: X-ray science to Christian camping. The education and work of the last eighteen years of my life would suggest that I have had the perfect job. And at the important times when I’ve had a choice between science and ministry, and I’ve been pretty consistent in choosing science. So what happened this time?

I decided I wanted to take a closer look – to “raise my Ebenezer”, if you will. I want to give thanks for what has come before in order to live fully into the future.

(If you don’t care to read this autobiography, just skip it. I’ll summarize below.)

1990 – I was a junior in high school. Out of nowhere I received a phone call from the youth minister of Allegheny Mennonite Conference to talk about my position in the conference youth cabinet. Unfortunately, there had been a mix-up. I didn’t know I was part of the youth cabinet. Nobody had said anything to me. And it was supposed to be a two-year term, but I was leaving for college in little more than a year. Nevertheless, after clearing up all of these confusions, I ended up serving for a year on the cabinet. This mistake in communication changed everything for me…

1991 – The conference youth minister was also the director of summer youth programs at Laurelville. She encouraged me to consider being a counselor for the summer camps after I graduated from high school. Not much encouragement was needed – I had been a camper at Laurelville for eight or nine years and was glad to join the summer staff. And I met Ordinary Spouse that summer.

1992 – After my first year of college at Goshen, I really wanted to return to Laurelville for a second summer. But my advisor had encouraged me to apply for a summer program for science majors. (I was studying physics.) So I decided to use a “fleece” like Gideon: I applied for the program and committed to being a part of it if accepted. Well… I was accepted, and so I spent the summer as a scientist, rather than a counselor. This choice (science over ministry) seemed to become a recurring theme.

1993 – I spent the winter semester studying in Costa Rica. Part of the time I lived with a Mennonite pastor and his family – people who became very dear to me. My host mother told me that one day I’d be a pastor, and I took that pretty seriously. In fact, the whole semester was so disorienting (in a good way!) that I decided to take a year off in order to think about the future of my academic studies: Should I continue in science or adjust my focus?

1993-94 – I spent the school year away from school doing voluntary service at Laurelville. Most of the year was spent in the dining hall, where notions of Christian hospitality were being formed. The summer was another chance to be a counselor. At the end of the summer, Ordinary Spouse and I were engaged. I often describe this as the best year of my life; certainly the combination of this year and the semester spent in Costa Rica were profoundly influential. And when I returned to school in the fall, I continued in science – in fact, I added chemistry as a second major.

1994-96 – I finished my undergraduate studies. During the summers, I was an undergraduate researcher in Ann Arbor, where (soon-to-be) Ordinary Spouse had begun her graduate studies. I had also received a number of invitations to explore seminary studies during those summer breaks – supposedly my name was suggested by one of my professors. Those invitations went unanswered.

1996 – Ordinary Spouse and I were married at the end of the summer, and I began graduate school in chemistry immediately after we returned from our honeymoon.

1996-2002 – Graduate school. I think every grad student encounters a time when they want to quit. Four or five years in, I was starting to think about quitting going to seminary. Thankfully, Ordinary Spouse had enough wisdom to suggest that maybe my low point wasn’t the best time to change directions. She suggested perseverance in my graduate work and re-evaluation at a better time.

2002-04 – Immediately after finishing grad school, I started a two-year post-doctoral appointment at the National Synchrotron Light Source. In many ways, the work was very similar to the work that I did in graduate school, and it was the perfect training ground for my current job. This was not a time of re-evaluation.

2004 – 2012 – I knew that I couldn’t stay in the post-doctoral position indefinitely, so I was actively searching for a long-term position… in science. I was pleased to be hired to work for GM/CA-CAT – the position that I’ve held until now.

2012 – Seemingly out of the blue, I applied for a position at Laurelville that came to my attention on the day before the beginning of Lent — a position that pays one-third of my current salary; a position that I may be completely over-qualified for; a position that represents a complete break with the science that I’ve done for the last 18 years; indeed a position that is incredibly similar to the one I held during my year of VS at Laurelville. And by the end of Lent, I had accepted the position, our family had sold our house, and we were getting ready to move.

Ok – you’ve either slogged through that biographical stuff, or you’ve come here for the summary. I’ll put it like this:

My new job at Laurelville will be quite similar to much of what I did when I worked there 18 years ago. So what was the point of leaving? What good was all this science? To put it bluntly: Was this all a waste of time?

You know what? The person who is going to Laurelville now is not the same person that was there 18 years ago…

  • Eight additional years of school means that I don’t think of anything the way that I did then.
  • I am a whole lot more comfortable with doubt. Challenges to my faith don’t cause me anxiety.
  • Four different congregations have given me a chance to explore gifts and calling. In some ways, I think it must have been something like a seminary-of-the-world.
  • I’ve blogged quite a bit about hospitality. This thinking has been refined, especially in the last few years, and it motivates this move.
  • I’m married. Ordinary Spouse is anything but ordinary. It has been a joy to watch how life and faith have developed for us during this time.
  • I’ve now had a taste of the American Dream. I’ve found it to be lacking.

As I’m typing these things, a couple of things occur to me. For one, each of these changes deserves a blog post of its own. For another, I realize that I have no sense of wasted time – only thanksgiving and a curiosity for what comes next.

Anyway, that’s all for this blog post. It’s a bit messy, but I’ve been writing it for a few weeks now, so I’ll let it go and work on something else.

What am I thinking?!?!

I believe that I’ve just entered a midlife crisis, but Ordinary Spouse says that’s ok, as long as I’m honest about it.

Say what?

Read on…

My occasional readers will know that faith is a constant struggle for me. Over on my ‘About‘ page, I say this…

I’m trying to be a disciple of Jesus. Really trying. But I’m not always successful, and I have a hard time reconciling my suburban middle-class life with my faith.

And roughly two years ago, I wrote this…

On a typical work day, I begin my morning in my house in suburbia, safely isolated from the world’s pains. At the appropriate time, my garage door goes up, I pull out in my car, close the door remotely, and drive to work. Once at work, I show my ID to a guard at the guardhouse, and drive through the gate and into a fenced-off research campus. I carry out this process in reverse when it is time to go home, and I tuck myself safely into the garage once more. Everything is clean and sterile. Not once do I have to deal with anyone else’s reality. For all I know, the whole world is middle class.

To be honest, I don’t know how to live with this.

I have often described my struggle by saying that my faith and work don’t really communicate with one another. It’s not that they’re in opposition to one another. They just don’t connect. I like my work. I’m doing precisely what I’ve been trained to do. But I’m not passionate about it.

So what am I passionate about?


For a while, I’ve found that focusing on hospitality has served as a guide to me. It doesn’t necessarily tell me where I’m going, but it does serve as a standard by which I can discern my way. And what is hospitality? As I’ve come to define it…

Hospitality is opening up a safe space for each of us to be authentically ourselves, and in that space to encounter God.

But what does that have to do with a midlife crisis…?

Sometime in the past year during one of our family’s trips to Laurelville, I told Ordinary Spouse that I’d probably enjoy working as their host. (The host welcomes guests and is generally on-call to help with any needs that arise.) “If that job ever opens up, I’d like to apply for it.”

Well – it opened up sooner than I expected. About four weeks ago, I saw it posted on Laurelville’s website. And even though I was fairly certain that there were too many obstacles in the way, I sent in my application.

Evidently, Laurelville was as interested in the possibilities as I was, and after three weeks of discussions I accepted a job offer last Friday.

I’m giving up well-paying job doing exactly what I was trained to do. I may or may not be over-qualified for what I’ll do now. But it’s a rather drastic break with the past and an entirely new direction in life.

This makes no sense to lots of people – especially the ones that I work with. Sometimes, it doesn’t even make sense to me.

I’m writing this just before I publish this blog post. As I was proof-reading things, I realized that parts of this post might sound pretty bleak. And that is precisely what I’m not feeling right now. In fact, I’m feeling energized by just about everything (with the possible exception of trying to sell our house).

And yet, the last four weeks just leaves me shaking my head and trying to catch my breath. I hope to do some more reflecting on all of this in the coming days, but this post is already too long and our family has already started to vigorously prepare for the move. I’ll be working at Argonne through the end of May and will be working at Laurelville by mid-June.

Since the beginning of my blog, my angst regarding middle-class life in the suburbs has been a recurring theme. I wonder what happens now.

Small steps in merging faith and life

In my ongoing struggle to merge faith and belief with career, occupation, and life in general, I recently received a little answer to prayer.

I’ve written about this struggle previously, but I kept wandering/wondering without direction. Then, a friend from my congregation wrote some thoughts on her blog that really spoke to my feelings of both hope and despair…

A very big conviction of mine is something I don’t even engage in. The P-word…..Poverty. I read about it, cry at stories in the media, worry about the excess in my own life, wonder if we’re giving enough money to church & charity and dream about living in a “new monastic” community yet I continue to sit here in my comfortable suburban home, carting my kids to soccer & classes & friends’ houses, planning vacations & going to church on Sunday. It just doesn’t add up.

So where do I go from here? Hmmmm. Good question. And I pray.

Just reading that was, in some sense, a relief. There are other people who are struggling the same way that I do. (And not just “other people”, but rather my friends!) So I left a comment and exchanged some emails and we’re trying to figure out how to continue this discussion. I’m hopeful for what might come out of this conversation.

MWLR II: My personal roller coaster

Music and Worship Leaders Retreat ended over a week ago. The entire weekend was predictably awesome, if one can predict such things based on just a single year of previous experience. I’m still scrambling to get my head around everything the resource team had to share regarding our theme of rituals.

The weekend was also something of a roller coaster for me – an emotional one brought about by some of the challenging topics we were considering. I’ll begin at the end: that I’m energized and hopeful and looking forward to wherever my journey of faith might lead. But sometimes the short-term is frustrating – really frustrating.

What follows here is fairly personal, although I don’t mind sharing it. After all, my ‘About’ page says that I’m going to attempt to write about “trying to live a faithful Christian life in the suburbs.” Well, for me – this is it. It doesn’t get much more raw or real than this…

(But be warned! This gets long. And it’s basically just me processing. Nothing that makes for good reading.)

Continue reading “MWLR II: My personal roller coaster”

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