Helplessness Blues (Some Incomplete Thoughts on Why I'm Getting Ordained)


I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way that you see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon, you will see

What's my name? What's my station?
Oh, just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say, "Sure take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly lit halls and determine my future for me
And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you someday soon, you will see
 -"Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes

If you were to ask me why I am pursuing ordination into ministry, my best response would be to play "Helplessness Blues." Why have I dodged ordination for so long? I'd play that song. How do I feel about it? Cue it up one more time. I can't tell you why, but the song has burrowed its way into how I think about calling and vocation. I hesitate to explain what the song means to me because I feel like it robs it of some sort of magic. But consider this an open-handed moment that may or may not make sense.

I was raised up uniquely. The son of a minister, but in the context of traveling to churches to do chalk drawings, dramas, and puppet shows then spending summers at youth camps. My folks never pressured me to follow in my dad's footsteps, but I still felt the expectation from beyond. Working there, I remember being asked, "When are you going to take over?"

As I have continued to pursue ministry in that original context, in writing, in going to seminary, I have felt a weird pull.  And I don't know where I fit in. I don't know my station. I love to write. I love playing around with drama and responsive readings, with art and video, different means of prayer. I basically want to take the bag of creative tricks that I learned growing up and see what they do in a church. Ah, but I don't know what that would look like. So maybe it would be better to be a cog in a machine.

Yet even then I have my reasons or excuses. I believe in the priesthood of all believers. Any Christian is a minister and thus the idea of ordination seems superfluous unless we're going to ordain teachers, sanitation workers, engineers, artists, farmers, stay-at-home parents, and everyone else. And maybe we should. Yet there is something to saying, this is the vocation to which I have committed myself.

And I don't know who to believe. I don't believe what I believed when I was 10 or 20 and probably won't believe what I believe now when I am 40. Faith is a messy process and I am a messed up person in that process. Even though I know it not to be true, I feel like I need to have my crap more together than I do.  Ultimately, I don't want to screw this up and I'm not even sure what this is.

I have been stuck, scared, and uncertain. I have felt frustrated and helpless.

If I know only one thing, it's that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak
Yeah I'm tongue-tied and dizzy and I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues?
Why should I wait for anyone else?
And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you someday soon myself

What good is it to sing helplessness blues? Why should I wait for anyone else? I've been waiting for it to be crystal clear; for a burning bush or a yapping donkey. I have felt this tug and even though I don't know what it looks like and the weight of it is great, I am going to take that leap of faith. And my hope is that I somehow come back more fully as myself. 

We Don't Let Them Stay That Way

Don't Look Back (Live)