The longing to belong has been my primary mood of late. I've been meaning to write about this feeling for some time; however, finding the right words and the right attitude has been difficult. This post is a culmination of ideas and events that have led to a very solemn question: do I belong?
Allow me to preface the post with an apology, if I offend any individual with what I am about to write, I'm sorry. My intention is not to point fingers or to blame any individual. Rather, I just wish to express my concerns.
Times of transitions can be extremely uplifting. The newness of an environment can be exciting. There are the possibilities of a new job, new friends, and new sources of inspiration. In some ways, I have experienced all three of these things. Since moving to Pittsburgh, Heather and I have developed friendships with new friends and rekindled old relationships. Heather has a job that she loves. I finally found employment at Staples (again). Living closer to the city has allowed us to explore cool sites (I finally got to see the city skyline from Mount Washington). Newness is exciting.
However, transitions have their issues, too. It can be hard to move from a comfortable environment to an unfamiliar territory. With change comes introspection. If you have ever moved, then you can relate to the difficult questions that arise. What do I believe? Why do I believe it? And how do others view me? Ultimately, the questions can be boiled down to one: do I belong?
As I think about my time of transition and adaptation, my mind lingers back to Moses. Moses was misunderstood. He wasn't an Egyptian, and he wasn't really a Hebrew. The Egyptian leaders hated him, and the people of Israel disliked his leadership. He married a foreign woman. His brother ran an idol factory. His sister grumbled and complained. The people whined about how their freedom was so unfair.
Here's Moses, the leader of thousands of people, and yet, he was probably very lonely. It's clear; he didn't belong. God called him to a place where he didn't really belong. This frustration got to Moses. Out of anger, inspired by constant nagging and ungratefulness, he struck a rock. I am not condoning Moses' reaction, but I can sympathize with him.
Granted, I am not Moses. I am not the leader of any group of people. I am not claiming to be great. I just know what it feels like to not belong.
I am part of a denomination called the "Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." It's a small denomination, and as with most small organizations, there is a certain culture that comes with the group. And it's this culture that has caused some reservations.
Let me clarify by saying this: it is not an issue of doctrine. For the most part, I find myself agreeing with the Westminster Confession and the RP distinctives. It's really not an issue within most congregations (among the lay people). It's an issue of leadership and what's expected of me. As I think about these criteria (as arbitrary as they may be), I find myself at odds.
I was talking to a couple that attends our church about this issue. They both reminded me that not all RPs are the same. I agree. As we discussed the underlining issues more, the limits of my frustrations became more apparent. It's not an issue of lay people versus leaders. Rather, it's an issue of what is expected of me, as a potential future leader, versus established leaders.
I do not want to be at odds with people (let alone a denomination); however, I find that my questions and concerns are viewed by others as ridiculous, invalid, and generally a waste of time. Perhaps they are, but give me the chance to figure this out on my own.
There have been several instances at seminary that have really bothered me. I have had several professors mock the previous institution that I attended, and I have had several conversations with others who are quick to rebuke my thought process. Again, I don't disagree with the doctrines; rather, the disagreements stem from the way we arrive to these doctrines (and the way in which we practise them).
These quick jumps to rebuking and corrections have made me uncomfortable. And, since I have arrived, I have not felt that I truly belong.
I am lonely and I am not sure what to do. As it stands, I do not feel comfortable approaching certain professors.
With all this being said, let me say some positive things. As negative as my experience thus far has felt, I do not want to paint such a broad picture. There have been several positive things that have encouraged me.
1. God wants me here. I know that some of my friends would say, "Well, you didn't have to leave Gordon-Conwell in the first place." This is true, sort of. As much as I love Gordon-Conwell, and I have many fine memories of the institution, I did not feel really comfortable. Something was lacking, and I know that God wanted Heather and me to move. Being here, in Pittsburgh, has strengthened my understanding of Reformed thinking.
2. Heather has been a steady rock. Her love and patience has helped calm certain anxieties. She's been extremely faithful, and for that, I am forever grateful. Without her, this transition would have been impossible (on many levels).
3. Key people at RPTS have been pivotal and encouraging. There are at least four individuals on staff that have really embraced me and uplifted me in both words and deeds. I am extremely thankful for them. Their words of wisdom have been inspiring and convicting without being condescending or degrading. Along this line, certain friends have truly embraced, and may I dare say, loved me. They have been shoulders upon which I can lean.
4. Pittsburgh feels like home. I love the city and I love the friends that I have made (I am thinking specifically those outside the seminary context). In some way, I hope the Lord calls me to this city permanently.
As I move forward with my education, I pray that the Lord would provide a clear sense of direction. Likewise, I hope to find comfort.
Please be in prayer.
With much love,