Monday, May 14, 2007

on ambition and humility

It is not easy for a dedicated feminist theologian to admit that she has a certain affection for the confessions of St. Augustine. Countless contemporary theologians have launched various critiques of Augustine's theology and how it has negatively affected Christianity through his negative view of women and problematic views about the body. I do have a certain affinity for Augustine's Confessions though, an affection cultivated by an inspiring teacher (Sallie McFague), a brilliant translation
(Garry Wills, Penguin Classics), and a willingness to lose a bit of myself in the process of reading.

This week I found myself returning to a particularly biting chapter simply titled "Ambition". It begins with Augustine saying "I panted after honors, wealth, marriage - and you [God] just laughed." I returned because this week I was struck with serious doubts about my own ambition for honour. I had a sort of "state of the union" or summit meeting with my two main theology professors, the meeting that apparently most people have at some point in their academic career, the meeting where they say that I am doing ok but that it is time to step up my game and take things to the next level. The meeting where they say that it is time to start taking things seriously and working hard to maintain focus. They were extremely nice about it, but at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if I'm on the right path, if I'm really cut out for this work, if I should be doing something else...

It can be hard to tell, sometimes, why I want to be a part of theological academia, it is certainly not about the money, professors generally aren't millionaires. It is perhaps about the recognition, the "fame" I might get even inside my own little denomination. It is perhaps about the potential job security of having teaching credentials and being the right age to step-in as the so-called "Baby Boomers" retire from academia.

But it is also about the love of wisdom - erosophy if you will - that pulls me along this path. And my love of wisdom is so tightly tied-up with my love of God, that for me, this is a faith journey. Once in awhile I think it is good to get a sort of "wake-up call" that forces one to re-examine one's life choices. Especially if the final calculation is a hopeful one. So thank you to my professors for the scholarly coaching, and thank you Augustine, for examining your life in a way that helps me examine mine.



  • Christian - thanks for the nudge - this post was brewing last night but didn't quite make it to posting status until today :)

    By Blogger Shannon, at 2:34 PM  

  • And, ahh, it was worth it. Good observations. Thanks for your honesty.

    Panting after honor is a curious affliction for ministers - lay or professional, uneducated or over-educated. I wonder about that Groucho quote, amended slightly for the context: I wouldn't want to minister to people who'd have me as a minister. (I don't know if that fits the context, but it's a fun quote to throw around.)

    I guess, though, this is a good reason to keep a sharp sense of humor - so one can laugh even at one's own sillinesses. In the end, after all, the best we can do is the best we can do, if even that good.

    And besides... we deserve a little indulgence now and then, don't we?

    Shannon, you are one of the best ministers in the church right now.

    By Blogger Christian, at 4:31 PM  

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