So much time has passed that it is now, ironically, easier to describe my little crisis than when it was actually happening. In fact, let me be so Orphic as to condense the story into a crude spoken voice poem (opa, everybody’s favorite!). try not to nod your head too sharply in syncopated time.
A boy abroad. A boy without a broad.
Work the work.
Working the work.
A dawn alights.
Not work. Germany.
An absence of leave
Without a leave of absence.
Weeks advance, weeks decline.
Looming like an event.
Like a loom in the mill.
Taught, too much.
A breaking point?
Burning, for burnout?
Supervisor confronted teacher.
Would you, you could, will you still go?
Even if you lose,
Would I, could I, should I, will I still go?
If my job doesn’t cut me a break for a break?
I would go, I should go, I will go!
For Christian I am!
Sweat beads. Hands clammy.
Time ticks, nervous ticks.
My job: no time now: time to teach these dear students.
Time ticks. Bells ring.
A showdown: the test of wills,
the test of allegiance.
God embraces; Mammon glares.
Second meeting: negotiation.
Second brooding: anticipation.
Job to be loosed, at last?
Sweat beads. Students clamber in.
No time now: time to teach.
A rupture in the ceiling.
A breach in the darkness above.
Light streams in, rafted in on prayers.
Mammon tumbles, howling.
God howls, lighting, battering, embracing.
Sweat beads vanish. Bells ring.
Third meeting: green light.
Peace, joy, thanks – the teacher embraced.
In other words, despite the fact that I had announced my travel plans weeks before leaving, despite the fact that before re-signing my contrast I had mentioned explicitly the conflict of dates, despite the fact that I’d never heard a single negative word, and despite the fact that I had arranged for a qualified sub, and despite my friends continuous encouragement “it’ll all be okay” – despite all this, only days before leaving for Germany, I was asked point-blank: “Elliot, is there any way you can change the dates? Do you know the deans are not happy about this? Are you still willing to go, even if you lose your job?”
Hearing it like this, I’m certain you can’t grasp how cataclysmic this episode was for me. But I tell you: this was one of the defining moments of my life. I have always had “issues” with money; not the least because Jesus reifies it as, perhaps, the chief rival of God’s sovereignty in our lives (as well as the fact that St. Paul describes the love of money as the root of all evils!). I have always insisted on “putting God first” in my life, and not merely psychologically or subjectively, but in terms of my daily, practical, demonstrable “life patterns”. At the same time, I felt an increasing burden, sometimes amounting to a palpable ache, to have more time for “ministry-type stuff” (e.g., personal academic formation, personal spiritual formation, personal-level outreach, etc.).
And then all of a sudden -- as close to “out of the blue” as I can imagine from my own life – one morning I was asked point blank: “Will you serve God or Mammon? Will you sacrifice your job for the Kingdom? Will you conform or be transformed?” And, amazingly, I said yes to God, to His Kingdom, to His priorities. All of a sudden, before I’d even reached my desk for the day, I was suspended over a menacing abyss, swaying beside a saving ledge. Below, God and the risk of unemployment from a job I love, from the money I live by, and from the security I have come to enjoy. At my side, Mammon’s reassuring S-shaped hook-hand, the peace of fiscal security, the stable-looking ledge of complying “sensibly”, and the slavish desire to please my “overs”. To sway forever, indeterminately, would be to fatigue and rot. Only one way: let go; answer; jump; fall.
And fall I did! I simply let go.
The only thing more incredible than my supervisor’s pointed questions were the words that came out of my mouth. “Yes, Supervisor, I am willing to lose my job. I made my priorities clear long ago. And, while I love this job and my students, my life, Supervisor, is more than my job, more than money. I must serve God first.” I couldn’t believe I was actually saying this, and so promptly! And I did so with your help. With your prayers. As I wrote in the midst of this crisis (here and here), I felt the effects of prayer almost like invisible water currents surging around me. Even now, the memories of such consolations warms my heart.
Why is now such an apt time to disclose this? Because I’ve reached a similar crisis point, albeit by different means and, in fact, not even on account of myself. (Smile: no spoken word this time.) In exactly fifty words: Two weeks ago my supervisor told our office assistant, my friend “Vanessa”, she can no longer leave campus for lunch. No reason. “Vanessa” complained, mildly, to the deans, which led our supervisor to chastise her and (successfully!) alter her contract: no lunch break, albeit with a slightly earlier departure time. I was absolutely incensed! I was, and am, ready to quit over this. It’s basic labor injustice of the most petty kind, and has apparently received full administrative approval. Even if “Vanessa” weren’t my friend, I’d still have to protest. If they can so easily edit her contract (and during a semester!), none of our contracts is safe either. Further, “Vanessa” is and has been an integral part of our program, and I simply won’t abide my supervisor trying to tyrannize us.
Things are still up in the air, but already “Vanessa” has had to spend two days on campus, exactly as the deans instructed her to do according to our supervisor’s whims. I'm encouraged in my zeal by the fact that I am not the only one incensed by this tyranny. Even without peer outrage, however, I am compelled to press this issue. "Vanessa" said to me a few days ago, "Kust so you know, I think you're right." I thanked her for her vote of confidence, but quickly added, "I know I'm right." "Vanessa" has also told me numerous times to be careful, not to be too brash. "Be careful?" I reply, "Careful about what? Doing the right thing? This is not a mere 'cultural difference'. This is WRONG, and I would be too if I don't fight for what is RIGHT."
On the one hand, this it not, strictly, your fight; so you may find this whole post petty and insular. On the other hand, at the risk of melodrama, I think it is your fight, since justice is the fight of all people of good will. I began this here “crisis” post with recollections of answered prayer; I close it with a call for more prayer. My anger has subsided a lot over the past few days, but only in terms of emotional intensity. In terms of my determination to make a stink in the name of justice, I am not one iota less zealous.
Please pray for this situation and for my heart. Do so in the Spirit, and, more exactly, in the spirit of Psalm 99:
The Lord is King: let the peoples tremble;
he is enthroned above the cherubim:
let the earth shake.
The Lord is great in Zion
and high above all peoples.
Let them praise your name, which is great and awesome;
the Lord our God is holy.
Mighty king, who loves justice, you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
bow down before his footstool, for he is holy.
Moses and Aaron among his priests
and Samuel among those who call upon his name;
they called upon the Lord and he answered them.
He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud;
they kept his testimonies and the law that he gave them.
You answered them, O Lord our God;
you were a God who forgave them
and pardoned them for their offences.
Exalt the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill, for the Lord our God is holy.