What's changed.

Well, this is officially the longest that I've neglected my blog since I started it. I have a few free minutes this morning, so how about an unnecessarily long update for the friends in diaspora, and a chance to personally/publicly codify some of the transition that I've gone through in the last few months?

I've spent the 5 years since Angel and I moved back from New Zealand working personally towards Episcopal priesthood, and communally towards some vague religious reform specifically in the Diocese of Olympia. I feel that I had a level of professional success in both endeavors. I was put forward for postulancy (that is, I was almost there for ordination) by the Diocese after a long, but not abnormal, period of discernment, and was in seminary to that end. I was helping to re-organize the discernment and ordination process in our Diocese, I'd held a diocesan position helping create new programming for young adults, was regularly invited to speak at conferences, wrote articles for national publications, and generally hung out with a lot of people I respected and admired. I had breakfast with the presiding bishop and a bunch of other influential people, and even went drinking with Phyllis Tickle at one point, where she taught me the definition of an Irish Carbomb. I was preparing to apply for a doctoral program as an attempt to do research that I think would have helped me make a name for myself. Basically, I'd decided what I wanted to do, was doing it successfully, and looked to have a decent career ahead of me.

At some point in November or December though, I realized that I was miserable. I've felt a vague sense of malaise about both ordination and religious reform work really from the beginning, but by the end of last year I was feeling physically unhealthy and couldn't sleep at night, and psychologically I was subtly angry about life, probably depressed, and generally feeling like things were out of control. I was working 55-60 hour weeks, Angel was complaining that I was making her miserable, I had a social circle that overlapped with my work circle to an unhealthy extent, and was drinking to compensate for stress. I was excited about some of what was happening with work, but to be honest by the end of the year I didn't really care. The costs of work in the church were outweighing any benefits I could perceive, and my energy for the cause was exhausted. For the kids out there, all of those things are warning signs that you're burnt out, and you should change something if you can.

When we left New Zealand, I'd gone through a short period of really intense stress finishing up my thesis, but other than that we had gotten used to a balanced lifestyle - work, exercise, vacation time, lots of good friends, a healthy diet, a balanced budget, and so forth. Having lived in the US, we knew that coming back there would be a lot of pressure to participate in the New American Dream - which is of course to make yourself hate life by working ridiculous hours at some unethical organization so your boss can get rich and you can get a massive mortgage in the suburbs, get fat, and get a new car every two years. We vowed not to do that, but while I wasn't exactly on that path I did somehow end up on something like the religious/nonprofit world equivalent - living an unhealthy life in an unhealthy culture for reasons that I didn't really remember.

So, at the end of the year, to Angel's relief and with her blessing, I decided to reboot everything. In a period of about two weeks, I dropped out of seminary, told the Doctoral program I wasn't coming, let the bishop know I was pulling back from the ordination process, quit the job that was sucking my life-force, started turning down new appointments, and decided to work only my half-time job at St. Margaret's (which I generally like) while I sorted out what was next. In January I applied for a job with a non-religious non-profit and went through 3 interviews before being turned down, but in retrospect it was a good thing - it helped me to realize that I needed to get out of my burn-out for low-pay pattern, which I would have been repeating there. So, I decided to quit church work, and probably non-profit work altogether, to get into health care. (This is, of course, the opposite of the traditional existential crisis path, where you're supposed to quit the corporate world to go serve the poor or whatever.) I've since completed a program to become a Nursing Assistant (which I really liked), and will be looking for work in about a month once I finish up my work at St. Margaret's (where I've made my resignation public), and officially transition to a new stage of life. I'll start super-cheap classes at community college in June as pre-requisites for nursing school, which I'm really looking forward to. We're making a little bit less money, but we've gone on a budget so we're completely fine, and my future financial prospects are much better in nursing than they were in ministry.

And, I decided to stop making life miserable for myself and for Angel, and to get healthy. We've streamlined our diet so we're eating almost entirely fresh produce (I love Full Circle Farm!) and healthy proteins and carbohydrates, not drinking more than 1-2 times a week, and almost never eating out. I've spent a lot of time on the house-husband role, and have gotten pretty good at cooking delicious, healthy food. We're also on our fifth month of a swim/bike/run exercise program that seems sustainable (our bodies don't seem to be breaking down, time commitment is manageable, we did it through the worst part of winter so weather shouldn't be a huge factor), do yoga at least once a week, and we'll run our first sprint triathlon at the end of May. I'm in the best shape I've been in at least since high school (probably ever), and feel kind of addicted to the endorphins now, with no plans to quit. I don't know why it took so long for me to realize that regular exercise and a healthy diet really do make you feel better than beer, fried food and workaholism.

I don't quite know what happens with the prior career in religion at this point. I'm sure the experience will come in handy at some point. I'm still chipping away on a memoir as I feel like it, which is the story of my religious experience, and I'm working on a benefit concert for Multifaith Works again this year. Other than that though, I'm happy to just shift focus and put that part of my life on the back-burner while I enjoy the new path.

The transition has been a strange, cathartic and sometimes painful process to this point, and I'm sure I'll feel a complex set of emotions when I'm finally out of religious work altogether. I do appreciate the support I've gotten from the folks who've listened to my complaining about it, and the understanding I've gotten from the people with whom I just haven't wanted to talk about it with, despite their understandable curiosity.

Comments

divatobe said…
Thank you for writing/sharing this. A little eerie in that I'm processing almost the exact thought/career choices right now. Again, thank you for posting.
Tim Mathis said…
Thanks for reading it - let me know if you want to get together for coffee sometime, or just have lunch some Wednesday. I'm getting to the point where I'm not quite so wrapped up in my own angst anymore, and would be happy to chat.
Lorilei said…
I'm so happy that you're on a path that makes you feel so much happier. How can you affect change if you're miserable yourself?
Dave Paisley said…
"my future financial prospects are much better in nursing than they were in ministry."

Yeah, even homelessness has better prospects ;)
ROBERTA said…
wow...wasn't sure what i was expecting but it wasn't nursing:)

you amaze me Tim....and that's a good thing:)
Sherril said…
I concur: wow. You are my new life transition hero. Best wishes, my friend.
Mike Croghan said…
Tim, I'm really glad to hear that you're going down a path that brings you hope and joy. Discernment is freakin' hard, man. Sounds to me like you're doing it well.

Good on ya, brother.

- Mike
Curtis Farr said…
I'm glad that you're finding yourself in a good place. Godspeed, my friend.
I'm glad you're feeling better and will be curious to see where life takes you next, as well as some reflections on the previous chapter as you reflect more on it. Take care!

B.J.

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