When I wrote to family and friends in April 2008 to tell them I had renounced my ordination, I felt I needed to offer some kind of explanation for why I had taken this immense and unusual step. Explaining myself was not easy to do, in part because I could think of so many reasons, or categories of reasons, for why letting go of ordination seemed to be the right thing for me to do at that time.
Here's what I put in that letter:
"Of all the variety of reasons I could articulate for letting go of ordination--psychological, theological, ecclesiological, ecological, anthropological--front and center is my conviction, born of experience and reflection, that being ordained gets in the way of my being freely and fully myself as a human being on this earth. I have likened my being ordained to a piece of old clothing, once a favorite, now well worn and rather ill fitting, even constricting, and best retired or recycled. Perhaps it 'worked' for me when I was first ordained; perhaps not. Now it no longer allows me sufficient freedom and room to be myself. I no longer wish to be a "professional religious person," at least not a spokesperson for any particular religious entity; when I speak or write or make art, I want to speak or write or make art wholly and freely as myself on behalf of myself."
There's so much more I could say about that one paragraph (and the rest of that letter) now, from the perspective of nearly two years later. I see some things more clearly now; while some are still pretty muddy! But I've been thinking especially about that list of reasons: psychological, theological, ecclesiological, ecological, anthropological.
I remember making double and triple sure that I was being honest there, rather than simply trying to be clever or witty. So I went back through that list many times to be sure that I could authentically give at least a brief amplification for each term and how I understood it in relation to myself and my action. Almost as if it were a check list:
1. Psychological: "check" (that was the easiest one, since it was obvious that somehow I just couldn't make it work for me to be a real person and a symbolic religious one at the same time)
2. Theological: "check" (that was pretty easy too--in fact that's probably the one that got me started in the first place--chafing within the confines of traditional, credal Christianity, even in its more progressive forms)
3. Ecclesiological: "check" (that too was almost a no-brainer, and it relates back to both 1 and 2 as well as to an Episcopal priest's sworn commitment to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church")
4. Ecological: "check" (although I don't quite remember how I got that to fit so neatly--I think it goes back to number 2)
5. Anthropological: "check" (this was the most "out there" of the reasons--it had something to do with something I had read about the anthropological distinction between the role of priest and the role of shaman. Not that I considered myself a shaman, but I knew I didn't like being in the role of priest, anthropologically speaking--was not even sure I believe it ever serves the best of human purposes)
Over the months since April of 2008, I have veered back and forth in my efforts to simplify and summarize my reasons into one basic reason, so that I could more clearly and effectively tell my story. But I have a feeling that to boil it all down to one reason, or one primary reason is to risk serious distortion in order to run from ambiguity.
That my quirky personal story and my psycho-emotional development (and lack thereof prior to ordination!) form the primary reason behind renouncing my ordination, I have no doubt. And yet to say that it's only my "quirky personal story" tempts me to minimize the potential significance of my story for others and thus to conceive of the telling of it as a personal, private extravagance.
Would any art or literature or music ever come into being if every creative impulse got undervalued, edited and muffled in that way?
As I move along step by step, it is becoming increasingly obvious that my theological and ecclesiological questions represent issues that are very much alive right now for all kinds of people and for nearly every traditional religious community wise enough and awake enough to wonder what it will mean, and what changes will be required, to continue to exist in meaningful life-giving ways. (And my psycho-spiritual questions certainly highlight some of the issues and challenges for ordained people of all sorts.)
Perhaps it would be more faithful and more honest of me (and more courageous) not to force some over-simplification of my story and instead to honor the intertwining strands of it. Maybe they will sort themselves out more clearly as I go along, and maybe they belong together, forever intertwined.
At least one person has suggested to me that a holistic, interconnected understanding of life would push that question even further. "It may well be," she said to me, "that you find yourself desiring to express yourself and your story right now because there are so many people out there hungering for just this kind of story." In other words, it's not just about me and my story and some self-centered, self-serving love of creative expression (though maybe it's partly that!).
Hmmm. A kind of quantum physics meets Carl Jung's "collective unconscious" sort of idea? If we are none of us isolated creatures and all things are connected, both by shared atoms and molecules and by the energy-matter continuum, on some fundamental level, how could it be otherwise?
How to Be Free (Really)
1 week ago