Just One Thing? Is it possible to find a way to balance our interests?

I’ve just made it home from hanging with some smart and thoughtful people at the Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. I had the opportunity to respond to a paper, and my response may appear later in the journal Ex Auditu. I particularly enjoyed this gathering because the symposium is largely designed to foster conversation at the nexus of the Church and the Academy, encouraging that balance of orthodoxy and orthopraxis. This is important to me as I have a PhD in Biblical Studies, have been teaching seminary courses in Bible, Biblical Greek, and Theology, but have also been a pastor for nearly 25 years.

Recently I moved from a life of juggling teaching as an adjunct instructor at two institutions and serving as founding pastor of a church in the heart of Washington, DC to life as senior pastor of a wonderful church in Minneapolis, MN. I am happy not have my life divided up as much as it was, even though I miss very terribly the communities I left behind at Bethel Seminary of the East, The Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, and of course the church that started in my home: Peace Fellowship. I informed the Search Team of my current church, Sanctuary Covenant Church, as I was being considered for my new position, that I am invigorated through teaching and nurturing my “academic side,” and that I needed to be able to keep that part of me alive. This symposium reinforced my desire to keep balancing academics and practical application in the life of the church.

But despite my desire for “balance,” I have frequently felt pressure to pick “one thing.”  There is wisdom in that. I have no real track record of published work because being a pastor, husband, father, and teacher didn’t allow me much time for writing. Certainly working in one area (i.e., pastorate or a college/seminary) would allow me a chance to focus. In the past I turned down opportunities to teach full-time because of both life situations as well as my commitment to particular pastoral callings. Yet I hope, perhaps naively, to remain connected to both worlds.

When I was in high school, balance was appreciated. We did not have to choose between being in the band and playing sports: many of us did both! When I played football I didn’t have to choose between offense and defense; I played both. Even though growing up in NYC I attended a high school that specialized in science and mathematics, most of my peers and I developed a deep appreciation for arts and literature, and many excelled in those areas as well. I also refused to choose between serving God and being studious, even though some people saw those things as diametrically opposed!

I continue to value balance. I tried to model it for my children and still encourage them to live lives that are balanced. Yet I confess that having the kind of balance that I desire within this world that forces us to “specialize” and “pick one thing,” is not easy. I struggle. I am currently under contract to write a commentary on the New Testament letter called “1 Peter,” but that work is going slower than I had hoped. I am also presenting a paper at the Society of Biblical Literature in November, but most of the church people I serve would not have much interest in that. However, I feel a calling to keep working at this balance.

Well, I know what some may think, because I’ve been accused of it before: “Dennis is a ‘Jack of all trades, but master of none.’” I’m an amateur musician; I’m as active as I can be cycling, playing racquetball and lifting weights; I’m interested in classical music but also many other genres; I like foreign and independent films more than mainstream ones; I’ll read a variety of literature (fiction as well as non), in my seminary teaching I’ve taught courses relate to the New Testament but also focusing on the Hebrew Bible — the list of my “balanced” interests goes on.

Yet I suppose that many people are just like me in this regard. So I hope we can encourage each other. I think we who try to live such a balanced life are the better for it. Although we might not know everything about one topic, I think it is good to know some things about lots of topics.  I appreciate the experts, who focus closely on one particular area, but I also want to celebrate those of us who try to balance many interests and hope to have some reasonable level of competence in them. I need your prayers! And if you similarly-minded folks care to share your concerns with me, I will pray for you too!

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