Lately, I have been thinking a lot about vocational goals. I’ve been asking myself “why” I do what I do. Since I process things better when I write about them I ask you to forgive me ahead of time for this somewhat lengthy, jumbled, narcissistic blog post. That said, over the years readers of this blog have helped me think through things, so why not share my thoughts once again?
In a few weeks I will begin my doctoral studies. I have chosen to continue forward with my education in fear and trembling. I’ve read the reports on the job market for future academics. In the United States there are more Ph.D.s being awarded than new teaching positions being made available, unless you count low pay (as in “I need food stamps”), no benefits adjunct work. Most institutions prefer to hire low-cost adjuncts rather than full time educators. Many institutions are abandoning tenure, which means even those professors who find full time work should be aware that there is no assurance that things will be the same from one year to the next.
If you read The Chronicle of Higher Education with any regularity you will see the horror stories. I’ve never made much money, nor do I know what it is like to live with excess financial resources. So, while I want to make enough to survive, money isn’t something I’d miss if I worked a low paying teaching job. Also, I am not the most ambitious person. Honestly, I’m not one to dream of something like tenure. I can say in all honesty that I never foresaw myself teaching somewhere where I’d have that opportunity. I have desired full time work though, someday, which I don’t think is too much to desire.
Many of the things that scare my peers don’t concern me. You know what scares me? living somewhere I hate. I am very picky when it comes to location, culture, and community. I was born and raised in northern California, so things like the nearness of clean beaches bordering the vast ocean, or trails winding through the Redwoods, or the hustle-and-bustle of a multicultural community like San Francisco are more than perks to me. These are expectations. I moved away from home almost four years ago. I’ve lived in Portland, Oregon, and San Antonio, Texas. While there have been some things about these places that I’ve enjoyed there is hardly a day that passes where I don’t feel homesick, sometimes overwhelmingly so.
Listen, I enjoy reading, research, and writing. Though my teaching experience is minimal I have cherished my few opportunities. There are few things I enjoy more than a hearty discussion, which is why I wanted to become an educator. Since I take my Christianity quite seriously, and I find myself drawn back time and again to the study of the Bible, it seemed to make sense that I should pursue a career teaching the Bible (though if you know me you’ll know why I haven’t seriously considered pastoring).
How naive! I didn’t realize how my own studies would continue to shift my views. It didn’t occur to me that I might become the sort of person whose beliefs–while firmly placed within the confines of broadly embraced Christianity orthodoxy–disqualified him from affirming the Statement of Faith that must be signed by full time professors at most evangelical institutions of higher learning. On the other hand, I have known that I would never be the sort of person whose intellect would earn me a post at Yale Divinity or GTU. In fact, I don’t think I’d qualify to be a student there let alone an educator. Now I sit here bemoaning that my lack of IQ will prevent some opportunities while my lack of conformity will prevent others.
While I am thankful for the friends, colleagues, and mentors who have come into my life during my short foray into the world of academia, there are some aspects of this culture that bother me deeply. It is as dog-eat-dog as the business world. People bite and scratch for survival, because the opportunities are few. There is a lot of posturing. I’ve been told by some of my peers that they have chosen to minimize their social media presence because they fear that something they put on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog will be used against them by the admissions committee of a doctoral program or the hiring committee of the place where they are applying for jobs. I’ve been told that my blogging is a waste of time. I should use this time studying this or that topic if I want to make myself into an attractive candidate. This sort of high stakes, fear-based living does not appeal to me. I have concluded that I’d rather live the life I want to live than enter the academic rat race. Again, yes, naive, but honest.
This is not to say that I have lost interest in the subjects I study. I haven’t. Nor have I abandoned my dream of being a teacher, at least not completely. It is to say that I know myself and I can see that much of academia is not the studying and teaching, but the politicking, fighting, surviving. I’ve found myself a bit depressed about it all, or maybe I’m maturing, or maybe the sad fact that I am more of a pessimist than an optimist is catching up with me? Whatever the case may be there is no denying that I have found myself asking these three important questions:
(1) Why do I want to do my doctoral studies when I know that traditional jobs for educators are few?
(2) What alternative opportunities may exist that I am overlooking? or that may not exist that I need the ingenuity and entrepreneurship to create?
(3) Why do I sense the desire to educate? and who do I find myself wanting to educate?
Honestly, I have been answering (1) by reminding myself (A) I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and it is a great opportunity (especially studying under someone like Craig A. Evans); (B) I’ve made it this far, so I may as well finish; (C) my current education has not provided me with many opportunities, so I may as well give myself a few more years to add content to my CV and to buy myself some time.
As regards (2) a million ideas have gone through my mind. I can watch something like a Ken Burns documentary, or even Jerry Seinfelds’ Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, and I think, “Somehow this is a model for another way to educate the church and/or public.” As technology changes the way people educate and receive an education changes. I wonder if I should think more about investing time in the world of online education than preparing for life as a lecturer. Of course, there is blogging (which I do), podcasting (which I’ve considered), and other online mediums that have caught my attention. For example, why isn’t there an ecclesiastical history equivalent to The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps (not that I’d be qualified to do it, but someone must be)? or a talk show about theology or biblical studies that is like Philosophy Talk? Maybe there is a better way to educate local churches, like seminars on early Christianity? or a group of lecturers who create a traveling seminar on early Christianity for local churches?
Also, my time in San Francisco has forced me to ask myself, “Who do you want to educate?” The bulk of my teaching experience was as the Director of Education for the San Francisco Lighthouse, an inner city church near the Tenderloin District. One summer I taught verse-by-verse through the Epistle of James. One summer I taught an introduction to the New Testament. Many of my students had a high school education, at best. I was stretched and challenged to transform my graduate level learning into easy, accessible teaching. Many of my peers are fighting to be the future faculty of Baylor University or Dallas Theological Seminary. I think I’d be more interested in teaching in a small, inner city college or seminary in San Francisco, Oakland, or New York City. (This is why I can’t understand academics who won’t make the effort to educate the public.)
Also, as Christianity becomes less and less a religion based in Europe and North America, and more and more one based in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, I have pondered whether or not I might teach somewhere other than the United States. Maybe there are more opportunities elsewhere? Maybe I’d enjoy teaching up-and-coming pastors in another part of the world more than fighting for a job here in the United States? I don’t know.
This is part of my answer to (3). The second half of my answer is this: my education has benefitted me greatly, intellectually and spiritually. Teachers have changed my life, which is why I’ve been drawn to teach. People like Daniel Segraves, Jeff Garner, Gary Tuck, Brian Morgan, James Sawyer, Jeff Louie, Marc Cortez, and Jim De Young have impacted me forever. I’ve seen how much teaching can change a life, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. I know, naive.
In a few weeks I will begin my doctoral studies. I’m not 100% sure that I’m making the right decision. We’ll see. I continue forward in fear and trembling, knowing things are not as easy as I imagined, nor as simple as I had hoped, but as long as I keep reminding myself “why” I’ve gone this far, and why I am not stopping, maybe I will make it through to the other side, and maybe there will be an opportunity that at this point in my life is merely a dream with shadows.
If I fail you’ll know where to find me. As Oscar Wilde is reported to have said,
“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears
is said to be seen in San Francisco.
It must be a delightful city and possess
all the attractions of the next world.”