Two months ago, I jigsawed everything I owned into four modest suitcases and boarded a Southwest flight from San Francisco to New York City, successfully completing my first cross-country move to begin a three year masters program in divinity at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan. At some point after my arrival, that fabled, gnawing voice that seems to haunt most American 22-year-olds stumbled upon a megaphone and began using it liberally to broadcast those hopelessly unanswerable questions I'd wanted to leave on the West Coast: the ones about vocation, purpose and future.
A month in to my program, after preliminarily discerning that I don't want to work in a church, I started a love affair with my Google search bar: "What can you do with an M.Div. if you don't want to be a pastor?"; "Ph.D programs in American studies"; "Top law schools US."
I was drafting an e-mail to a friend of mine whose spouse went to law school at Stanford, wondering if his husband would be willing to meet with me to help parse through some of these questions about where I hope to land after I graduate. "I'm just not sure what I want to do with this degree," I wrote, struggling to remember why I applied to seminary in the first place. With friends settling snugly into careers in medicine, law, education and business, I feel embarrassingly naked, knowing only that I love books, people and Netflix.
Finally, just before boarding a flight back to the City after a weekend with my boyfriend in Phoenix, the clarity I was craving came to me.
Seminary, for me, is not primarily about utility, about what I will be able to do with my degree after I don the red robes of my institution and receive my diploma. Contrary, my years in seminary are an unimaginable privilege, a time and course that are encouraging me to continue becoming the kind of person I hope to be: a man who constantly interrogates his presence in the world, and tirelessly fights-in faith that his efforts matter-for those whose voices and experiences have been unfairly silenced. Seminary, I graciously remembered, is a purposed endeavor precisely because of its ability to subvert the questions my society teaches me matter most: will people be impressed by my job title? Will my salary buy me a designer living room? Will people know my name before I introduce myself? Instead, it illumines far more pressing ones, questions that-if left unanswered-will compromise my character: will I be a person who sows love in the face of uncertainty and death? Will I be bold enough to decry oppression in all its pernicious forms, even when it means I lose my job and security? Will I choose my children over my career?
Union is a place that has offered its cobblestoned-halls and ancient books as a crucible for my uncertainty. "For now," these walls have whispered, "these questions are enough."