On Trying to Stop Being a Theologian

Pascha 2013

To the Orthodox fussbudgets who get bunched-up knickers when I say, “theologian,” read this. Then go get a hobby.

The other day I got up at 1:50 AM. That is a bit early for me. Most days I am up around 3:15-3:30 in the morning. I get ready, drink my coffee, spend a few minutes waking up and reading my news, and then I write for an hour, by which I mean I write until my boys get up, promise to be quiet, break their promise, and then get scolded by me for not demonstrating behavior greater than I should expect of their age. So most mornings, my writing hour is more like a writing 40 minutes.

I don’t get money for this. Like a lot of people with PhDs, I am an independent scholar, which is another way of saying that the model for teaching colleges and universities — the jobs most of us would otherwise be working — has changed so rapidly, that the already highly-competitive market for full-time, tenure-track positions has become pretty much impossible. (Fun Fact: I know a lot of people, smarter and more accomplished than me, who are in the same boat.) Most of us survive through some combination of adjunct teaching and spousal support. Basically, we piece together incomes. We sacrifice a lot. I am fortunate enough to have a 9-5 job that with an institution of higher learning. I am not faculty, but I get to work with a lot of faculty. I get to use some of what I have learned in ways I never would have expected (e.g. knowing where to look for interdepartmental land mines). I also really enjoy what I do.

But here is my problem. I am a workaholic perfectionist. I have a hard time doing something if I cannot do a very good job at it. I have what my therapist once described as “unreasonably high expectations” for myself. That means most days I am frustrated at feeling like I have not accomplished enough. I do well at my job, but I know that with a little more focus, I could do better. I could be satisfied with most of my accomplishments instead of disappointed in pretty much all of them. So perhaps it is time for me to give up the job that does not pay. Perhaps it is time to give up the thing that makes me sleep-deprived, grumpy, and stressed out pretty much all of the time.

So I have been seriously contemplating giving up theology. Usually, when I say something like this, I get lots of warm fuzzies from folks. I appreciate the warm fuzzies, but I want you to understand that I have been thinking and praying about this for over a year now. I think about it a lot more than I talk about it. I understand that what I have written has helped people (so they tell me). I also know that quitting might encourage some of the (possibly-closeted) trolls who have trolled me so hard these past few years to be even more trollish to others.

But I am so tired. I pour everything I can into my work, and my family gets whatever spills over the top. This has taken its toll in ways that not many people know about. I have a stutter now. It is all in my head. It tends only to happen around my kids, when my stress level is highest. It comes out every once in a while in other places. But for the most part it is (was) a hidden problem. I know I should do a better job managing my stress. But I do not have time to manage my stress. The stuff that I would do to destress only makes me more stressed because it takes time away from all the stuff I have to do.

I’m just not sure I can give this up. I know that public theology is where my gifts lie. I knew that before I ever knew what public theology was. Someone recently described this as my calling. I am honestly not sure. Nor am I sure it makes a difference. Maybe it is more like an unhealthy addiction. Maybe I just have a martyr complex. What I can tell you is that I tried to take a break from doing anything theological for a few days. I lasted one day. Then I started feeling really anxious. Then I started getting up even earlier than usual (e.g. 1:50 AM). Then I started feeling guilty for not being able to take just a few days off. I had a few good writing days. But today was not one of them. I am writing this blog post right now because I can barely keep my eyes open. My kids were up extra early. I can hardly think about Hauerwas’s reaction to James Gustafson’s criticism of George Lindbeck.

Like I said, I am a perfectionist. It is what I do. I know myself well enough to know that even at my least perfectionistic, I will still pour everything I am into what I do. My family will get whatever spills over the top. That’s not right, but that’s the way it is. Perhaps reducing the volume of work is the best thing I can do for them, and for me. I’m just not sure I can do it.

16 thoughts on “On Trying to Stop Being a Theologian”

  1. Problem is, if you are going to call yourself a theologist, you might actually try writing about theology rather than basic moralistic therapeutic deist pap. Have you read St. Gregory the Theologian? THAT is theology. I’m not really sure what this is.

    1. St. Gregory the Theologian is amazing. I just got finished reading some St. Symeon. Also good stuff.

      Pap this may be, but I’m not sure you know what deism is.

  2. When we fall into a position of chasing after our life trying to keep up with it, instead of being out in front, something must change.

  3. I am left with more questions than answers, what is “public theology” from an orthodox perspective? Is it lay ministry, is it social activism? Is it traditional like a starats or is it innovative? I’m not asking because I need to further criticize or analyze this blog. I ask because if that is his goal, how do you define it?

  4. Closeted trolls? A Freudian slip, or a Jungian revelation of your unconscious? Do you mean to imply that they are homosexuals who are venting some unconscious, bitter rage at their homosexuality within? Because that is a bit fallacious to begin with, and then to continue, hypocritical. You, Master, should not condemn these folks, since you are so charitable, nor even mock them. Is it not hard for a Christian to understand why he has such unnatural inclinations condemned by his religion? Is he to “come out of the closet”” as they say? Help me perhaps to understand you, for I am only confused, and maybe even gay.

    1. Sometimes it helps to remind everyone that there is an elephant in the room. I think my recent post about Frs. Arida and Jacobse addresses your objections.

  5. David. I know you are not particularly fond of me. All our theological difference aside, your first commitment is as a father and husband. You are a young man. Everything else you can do later. The Internet is a very harsh and volatile environment. Don’t lose your health over it.

    1. I have nothing against you, Father. This is sound advice. My wife has suggested the opposite. I am continuing to pray and listen.

    1. Unfortunately that would limit his reach. IMHO very many of the people who benefit from what he has to say, especially young people, can access and share his work most easily by means of the internet.

    2. Except that he doesn’t actually seem to be saying much other than “why is everybody always picking on me and gay people?” Not much “theology” there. What benefit to young people is being provided? Really?


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