Monday, May 11, 2009

From Basketball to Theology: A Brief Story of Love and Vocation

In elementary school I was a three-sports kid, each according to the season: soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring. In third grade I decided I would leave behind baseball, my least favorite but best played sport. While I would continue to play recreational soccer for a couple years, that sport, my second-best played, would also fall away. Most importantly, I declared to my parents, I would put all of my energies and hopes into that sport in which I had no particularly clear skills or physical advantages yet was unequivocally my favorite.


A bewilderment to my parents, the logic was clear as day to me. I didn't like baseball, soccer was fine -- but I loved basketball. It had stolen my heart. So it was beside the point that I was neither tall nor quick, neither post nor shooter, neither dribbler nor defender. Why would I possibly give myself to anything else?

So I played. And I improved, to a point. My last days of glory were spent riding the bench of the JV team my sophomore year of high school -- a team, as it happened, led by A.J. Abrams to a season one-missed-buzzer-beater-short of undefeated -- and that was that. I never questioned my decision, because it was one made out of love, and not out of peer pressure, parental pressure, or (God forbid) a realistic consideration of my talent. And now my love lives on vicariously in the San Antonio Spurs.

This story came to mind in reflection on theology as vocation. I was always a bit of a nerd, always got good grades. Both of my parents earned their degrees in electrical engineering, and my dad has been with IBM for more than 25 years. Apart from my NBA ambitions (ahem), I always assumed implicitly that I would follow in the general family path of engineering/business/management. Why not? I'd be good at it, I'd make money, my family would be provided for. Sounds like a good life.

But like baseball, I had no love for that future. I know plenty of people who have and do, so it is no slight on that realm of professions to say it held no interest for me. My vocation simply did not and could not lie in that direction.

Film was probably the soccer element here. I did and do have profound love for cinema, and considered going into the film industry as a writer and/or director (or cinematographer!). But for various reasons I decided against that future, not least due to the slow realization of my calling.

So, sitting at the dining room table on the cusp of my senior year in high school, tomes full of college and career advice and information spread out before my parents and me, what was the ticket? What might be my future? To what was I called? What was my vocation?

What, in other words, did I love?

There was the answer. I knew I loved theology: that wide mystical world of endless talk about God, and everything having to do with God, and all the endless spirals and tangents bursting out from that supreme Subject. The moment I heard the suggestion, there was no turning back -- and in six years, I haven't for a moment. There was an actual profession open to me which would consist in reading, teaching, speaking, thinking, discussing, and writing on the things pertaining to God. How could I refuse? That vocation into which I have been called will even pay the bills -- won't it? -- and with my whole heart, billowing up out of the depths of my life and my mind, expanding into every facet of experience and thought, I love it.

And, in the profound knowledge that so many either do not have the opportunity to realize such a decision or are not given the answer in as blinding a clarity or as early a time, I have only gratitude.

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