Why do the work of a lay catechist in the Diocese of Dallas? Not that long ago, I couldn’t have imagined doing anything of the sort. I was too busy trying to make money.
I started taking my faith seriously in 2004, when on a long drive across the Mohave Desert, I had a kind of conversion experience. Off to the side of the CA freeway, in tears, I recognized that the very real misery I was experiencing in my life had come primarily from my resisting the call of the Spirit away from the mad pursuit of wealth and power. I finally accepted God’s call on my life, promised I would stop resisting the Spirit, and nothing has quite been the same since that day. I certainly wasn’t seeking a big change in my life, but God found me, quite literally in the desert.
At first I wondered whether anything that happened to me that day was “real.” After all, I heard no voices and saw no visible signs. I just had this deep-seated feeling that everything was somehow going to be different, even if I could not at all articulate what that meant.
I started attending a Bible church and learned to love the Scriptures, but continued to have persistently pesky questions about the Christian faith and about the Bible. In part to work out answers to these questions, I started teaching. I built a ministry on the west coast, teaching in my spare time eight-hour seminars for Crown Financial Ministries on what the Bible says about money.
It was here that I fell in love with teaching the Scriptures to laypeople, particularly on the topic of generosity. There was much fruit that came from this ministry, in terms of evangelism, healed marriages, giving and discipleship. But I still wasn’t getting my pesky questions answered. I found that the more I taught, the more questions I had.
In 2008, after a period of illness, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an event which ended my professional career as a portfolio manager on the equity proprietary trading desk for a large NY-based investment bank. Strangely, my first inclination after I got sick was to learn Biblical Greek (I still doubt this is normal). I started taking on-line classes at Dallas Seminary and eventually moved here with my wife to Dallas (from San Diego) and enrolled full time starting in 2009. I went to seminary primarily to try to get my pesky questions answered.
After I got to seminary, I had another “conversion” experience, this time, in a history of doctrine of class, when I realized that my understanding of the Christian faith was seriously deficient because it left no real room for the church. It was all well and good to love the Bible, but what makes for a “valid” reading of it? Who decided what ought to be in the Bible anyway? I needed the church for that. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to be able to answer all my pesky questions on my own.
Around this time, however, I wandered over to Church of the Incarnation for an Evensong service on a Sunday night. The choir started singing Psalm Eight and I started weeping. I had filled my head with all kinds of technical things, but was dry as a desert spiritually. I really needed the church, but I also needed a spiritual life. Seminary wasn’t really helping with that. Once again, as I was getting my questions answered, newer and deeper ones would surface.
I intended to go on and do a PhD in Patristics, the study of the Church Fathers, when my MS flared up again and my doctors advised me against continuing. When I asked my doctoral adviser what I should do, he told me two very helpful things: (1) I needed the Eucharist every day and (2) I needed to hear the Gospel again. So I went back to Church of the Incarnation for Morning Prayer and never really left. I can’t quite explain why daily Eucharist along with Morning and Evening Prayer have made such a big difference in my life, but they do. Most importantly, the Episcopal Church taught me something about the mystery of the Christian faith. Apparently we don’t have to get all our questions answered in a rational way. This was a huge step forward for me spiritually.
As I came into the Episcopal Church, I knew I wanted to teach, but no one quite knew what to do with me. I was an ex-hedge fund manager who liked reading the Church Fathers. I was rapidly developing Anglo-Catholic sensibilities, but came from a free-church evangelical background. I loved the Bible, but craved incense. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently Anglicanism was an ideal place for me. There were some things that required right answers, but certainly not everything.
Yet, having been in the Episcopal Church for a while, the big difference is that I am doing much now with a far greater contemplative focus. In fact, I recently became an Oblate in a Benedictine Monastery on the West Coast. I’ve really grown to love silence and contemplative prayer. Since the BCP comes out of a Benedictine environment, it has been relatively easy to apply the lessons of the monastery to my life and work in the Episcopal Church.
Despite my love for intellectual exploration, it’s really been in learning to be quiet that greater spiritual richness has come. I’ve had to learn how to look for spiritual assistance as I research and teach. I’m still trying to learn how to be less in control. I’m really trying – albeit haltingly -- to learn something about humility.
So, after all these years, I have answered a lot of questions. I’m not at the same place I was when this journey began. I love the church with all its delicious mysteries and complexities but dislike its penchant for division. I love the Gospel, but wince at its corruption. I love the Scriptures, but am dismayed at those who employ it primarily for ideological purposes. But learning how to be more comfortable with ambiguity has been a big part of the journey. Anglicanism has uniquely given me space to work through this. The result has been lots of joy.
I don’t know what the future will hold. As someone living with a chronic disease, there are few certainties. What I do know is that my job is simply to be faithful. I show up, having worked hard to prepare, and try to be a conduit for the Holy Spirit to work. God has given me the ability to teach and wonderful, engaged Christians to teach. I do the work of a catechist because it’s what I love to do. In fact, I can’t think of much else – short of gazing on the risen Christ – that I’d rather be doing.