March 12, 2007

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…

…The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” — Ephesians 4:1-13

“God’s call may be heard through a spiritual experience. The experience may be unsought and unexpected but vivid and indelible. It is so clear at the time it occurs that we would not think to question it. At first it may leave us speechless, but later able to speak of it. It is attended by gratitude, love, and humility. A spiritual experince may include an image from God that lasts only an instant but is branded in us forever.”Listening Hearts, Discerning Call in Community, p. 47

It’s not everyday one gets to share with the world what people would call a “religious experience”. But what happened to me this past Saturday morning has, and continues to have, such a profound and lingering effect on me and my spirit that it is something I feel the need to tell, if only so that you, the reader, might be given a window into such an experience when it really does happen to someone. Those who frequent this space might think I’ve finally gone bonkers or over the edge, but, no worries – I assure you that’s not the case. Afterwards, after sending an e-mail about the experience to my good friend Dona, I vacuumed the house, did the laundry, cleaned the rabbit areas, went grocery shopping, and brought dinner home to my lovely wife. I wasn’t foaming at the mouth or speaking in tongues, and I even enjoyed a glass of chianti while waiting for our take-out.

I say this was a “religious experience”, because what I experienced Saturday built upon life experiences that resulted from a somewhat similar, but not quite so, experience I had thirteen years ago. Just so you’re aware of the context of this most recent experience, I will recount my first experience, at which time I was given what in religious circles would be considered receiving my “calling”.

It was a Sunday afternoon in May of 1994. Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say it was period in my life of great tumult and inner chaos. I suppose, given that I was about to turn forty, one could say I was ripe for a mid-life crisis, but in fact, I had already been wrestling with an “inner crisis” for the better part of a decade. Having been brought up in the Episcopal Church, it had been over a decade since I had attended church on a regular basis, and while I considered myself to be a “spiritual” person and interested in religion off and on, I would hardly have considered myself at that time to be a “religious” person.

I was taking a walk around a school that was near where we lived at the time, and without any previous warning, the world kind of stopped around me. I “saw” myself dressed in black, with a clergy collar around my neck (although I didn’t understand it was a clergy collar at that time). The sounds of the afternoon disappeared, and it seemed as if I was locked in some silent space in time. It was then that I heard a voice, as plain as if someone was speaking directly into my ear, and it said simply, “You will be a priest.” I know it was a voice I heard, because I remember distinctly replying to it, saying, “I don’t what that means”, to which the voice replied, “Find out.”

And that was it. The sounds of the afternoon drifted back in, and there I was, standing alone in a schoolyard, wondering what the hell had just happened.

After telling my wife and asking her what she thought I should do, I began a two-year period of discerning what that experience had meant. Understand, I didn’t even know how one went about “becoming a priest”, or, for matter, what Christian denomination it involved. After meeting with the priest of the church I used to attend (and started attending once more), I entered a spiritual counseling program and attended various churches in the area before coming to the conclusion that my calling was to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church – a calling affirmed by my spiritual counselors and several members of the clergy whose lives intertwined with mine during that period.

Three years later, in 1997, I entered a formal discernment process in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and had my calling affirmed at the parish level before meeting with the diocesan committe responsible for choosing who gets in and who doesn’t. (If you get in, you go to seminary, and hopefully receive a Master’s in Divinity before actually being ordained a priest.) Well, as you might guess, I didn’t make it. Rather than saying that they disagreed with my calling, I was turned down (and they were very forthcoming about this) because the diocese believed their particular need was for minorities, and that they already had enough white, heterosexual, and happily-married priests. One can draw your own conclusions, but there is no “fairness doctrine” when it comes to Episcopal dioceses choosing who will become priests. It may or may not be right, but that’s just the way it is.

In the summer of 1998, six months after being turned down by my Massachusetts diocese, a priest from the Diocese of Kentucky, who I met while attending a ministry conference in Tennessee (this figures in the experience I had this past Saturday), invited me to try the same process in his diocese, and so, after thinking and praying on it, Tracey and I moved to Louisville later that year. Without going into all the gory details (this will come in the next installment), after going through the same process there, I was turned down in Kentucky as well, in the winter of 2002. In a subsequent meeting with the Bishop there, he expressed to me his belief that I had a calling, perhaps even to the priesthood, and even offered to write a letter of support for me if it ever came down to that. But after going through the rigamarole twice, I was pretty gun-shy about trying a third time somewhere else.

Well, I wasn’t just gun-shy, I was psychologically devasted, and mentally and spiritually fried. Even though the sense of needing to pursue my calling remained somewhere in my spirit (without going into more gory details, this is how we ended up in Arizona), the sense of exhaustion, failure, guilt, anger, depression, and general lethargy ultimately won out, and I – gladly – resigned myself to the fact that that period of time in my life was over; sort of a “been there, done that” kind of thing. While still retaining my membership in the Episcopal Church, I stopped attending church regularly – it simply hurt too much to go – and basically shut down the operation, if you will, for the purposes of self-preservation.

And that’s basically how I’ve spent the last 5 1/2 years. And that’s exactly where things stood until this past Saturday.

A couple of notes before I close:

1) You’ll note I’ve discarded the “The Great White Shank” moniker for this, and the subsequent posts in this series. I’ve done this deliberately, for two reasons: 1) this is highly personal and serious stuff; and 2) regular posts as my Goodboys alter-ego “The Great White Shank” will continue in this space during this series – still more evidence that I haven’t become a raving, drooling lunatic. That way, those regular visitors who would prefer not to have to contend with this kind of personal writing can simply avoid it in favor of the usual fare.

2) Because I’m still feeling “aftershocks” from this most recent experience, I’ve chosen to divide it into installments, so that the reader can follow along with the experience itself and its after-effects as they happen. Some of it is pretty freakin’ weird, if you ask me.

So, there you have it, the stage is set. More coming soon.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by at 00:40 | Comments (4)
  1. Hey Doug, been reading your blog for a while. What’s going on? Need another recommendation from an old friend?

    Comment by Pete J — March 12, 2007 @ 7:43 am

  2. Mr. J – Great to hear from ya! No, no recommendation needed but in the future, well, who knows? Some amazing stuff going on, as you’ll read in the next few days. I’d be interested in your your take on it afterwards, if that’s OK. Can you send me your e-mail and phone offline to

    BTW, we’re planning on being back for Easter so hopefully I’ll see you then.

    Comment by Doug Richard — March 12, 2007 @ 8:13 am

  3. Some of what you wrote tracks very closely to the tumult and thinking I’ve done the last decade or so, without the religious experience. I’m interested in seeing what you have to say next, and speaking for myself of course, I admire people who are willing to share such deeply personal thoughts.

    Comment by Dave E. — March 12, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

  4. […] Listening to the lyrics and music wash over me, I realized that “real” and “love” are not words to be taken lightly. Is my alter-ego “The Great White Shank”, and my roles as husband, lover, Goodboy, and project manager nothing but a cheap facade? Is the life I find myself living so different from some existence I should be, but have no guts to pursue? After my experience of two weeks ago, I sure feel as if I’ve appeared out of some fog bank to find myself thousands of miles from where I was, but where is it I should be? Regardless of what Lennon’s lyrics say, maybe I do need some time alone to understand everything that’s happened to me recently. I’m clearly wrestling with impulses far and beyond anything I could have imagined when I wrote that post a year ago February. […]

    Pingback by GoodBoys Nation - Archives » Real Love — March 31, 2007 @ 9:40 am

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