Previously I mentioned that explaining why I have chosen to switch to the PsyD program deserved a separate post as it has been quite the journey. Many people knew that I had a strong sense of calling to lead a Twelve step Recovery ministry in a church. I even came to Fuller in part because Fuller offers an M Div with a recovery ministry emphasis. Obviously switching to the PsyD program, to do clinical psychology work, represents a significant change of plans for me that has surprised some. I decided to explain how I cam to this decision fully but I should provide some backstory that begins in Canada.
I have felt called to ministry since 2002. I felt called to go to TWU (a Christian college in British Columbia) and gave up a full-ride to UCSD and a military career to obey God’s call. On my drive up I figured if God wanted me to be an English teacher or a marine biologist He could have done that at UCSD, so I looked for a “Christian major” and settled into Biblical Studies since though I had been in church forever I knew I was very biblically illiterate.
During my four years at TWU I began to notice that both on and off campus I was drawn to people and places of pain, with a desire to bring healing. Two places deserve mention: the Lower-East side of Vancouver and Ft. Babine.
Street-Evangelism is what took me to the Lower-East Side. Street-E is a ministry where TWU students participate in evangelism on Friday nights in the Lower-East Side, which is apparently the #1 place for open-drug use in North America. I experienced this first hand as people lit up crack-pipes as casually as cigarettes with police officers only half of a block away. I was staring my own demon, addiction, in the face and did not even know it.
I later volunteered to be part of two missions trips to Ft. Babine, a First Nations reservation in central British Columbia. While there, especially in the first year, I came to love the reserve and the First Nations people. Missions work on the reserve involved a lot of doing life together and a lot of the outdoors. To do fishing, hiking, canoeing, and camping (and if I am honest, poaching…my bad Canada…) as part of missions work was a blessing. Native culture is also way more relaxed and relational. On top of that my skin color also proved especially beneficial. Even though I was clear about my heritage, I look Native. This allowed me to side-step some of the difficulties Caucasians face with working with Native Americans. I began to prayerfully consider if God was calling me to work with First Nations/Native American people.
Reservations are also places of deep pain. Abuse of every kind, poverty, sickness and addiction thrive on the reservations, at times to the point where they choke out life. My second trip to Ft. Babine a lot of my own pain that I had not dealt with was triggered by the environment and I shut down, trying to withdraw as best I could while “leading” the missions trip. I was staring my own pain, the abuse in my past, in the face and I did not even know it.
In each of these situations I felt drawn to them but also ill-equipped. I showed up but then felt like I did not have anything to offer other than, “I’ll pray for you.” Given the nature of my struggle with faith, even this felt empty. After I got into recovery and experienced the Twelve Steps I began to feel equipped and felt like I finally had something to offer the people that I felt called to. From there it just made sense to become a recovery pastor, so in short order I was off to Fuller.
In all of this I was still considering working with Native Americans. Oddly enough it seemed God was continuing to groom me towards that goal as working with Tapestry and living in West Modesto was very practical training. Native American missions are rapidly urbanizing and many of the First Nations youth have adopted Hip-hop culture as their own.
However, I quickly came to suspect that an M Div is a horrible education to get if I wanted to actually help people.
To be fair, as part of the M Div program here at Fuller I have taken some classes that have equipped me to help people better, namely the Pastoral Care classes. Yet none of these classes are core requirements and I have eaten up most of my electives to take them. As I began to look ahead in the future and what classes were actually core requirements I quickly began to get disillusioned. Was Systematics 3 or Church History B really going to help me as I worked with addicts?
This issue was hammered home one day in a conversation with a colleague at work. A very intelligent academic we struck up a conversation about academia and I listened at length to his beliefs, career goals and thoughts. In processing what he was talking about I developed what I now call my “Roy filter.”
Roy was a man I met at Ft. Babine. One morning I met him outside his house. He was completely drunk at 9:00am and he had beer in one hand and a flask of rum in the other. Whenever I am assessing if something will equip me to help addicts I simply ask myself, “Would this help Roy or would this help me help Roy?” This is my “Roy Filter.” When used to assess M Div program as a whole (and most theological education in general) the answer is a huge “No.”
I am not going to look at Roy and say, “Roy what you need to really understand is what Kierkegaard has to say in Fear and Trembling…” or “What you need to do is recover the scandal of the cross as directed to by Dr. Joel Green…” or “You see in Deep Church Jim Belcher explained how the current generation of Christians is seeking to blend old stuff with new stuff and how he did it…” or “If only you would get the gospel of Jesus Christ like Anslem did! (or Luther did, or Calvin did, or I do…)”
In the real world, the world where addicts live, none of this matters.
I fear that much of our theological education is only really applicable in certain sectors of our insular Western Christian sub-culture. In my experience of the Christian church we are a world within a world; we are more a gated community than a city set on a hill. Most of our theology, if it is applicable at all, only applies to our community. While I do believe that one’s beliefs drives one’s practices and in this theology can be very important, I think a lot of what we argue about, write about, and devote a lot of time and effort to are either pointless endeavors (do we really need to know how atonement works?) or not applicable to the world beyond our walls which is in desperate need.
The world is in too much pain to sit and debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism.
At this same time that I was reconsidering the value of an M Div I had been in counseling for several months and was starting to see benefits and nature of counseling. I had also came to see seen how problematic it would be to try to establish and run a Twelve Step program on a reservation because of the nature of the community.
A watershed moment came when Dr. Anderson in my Pastoral Care and Addictions class (yes that was very useful to me) told the theology students in the class to refer out to a trained professional when they hit a certain level of addiction. Hold the phone. I thought. I do not feel called to refer out, I feel called to work with addicts. When I pressed her on this issue and made plain my desire to work with addicts in what would probably be a very remote environment she said flatly, “Well then get your PsyD.” While she said it jokingly at first she repeated it more seriously and explained herself a little bit more.
After much prayer (with no answer), examining the steps necessary to switch programs, talking to many PsyD students and friends about my decision, and a careful consideration of the risks I decided to switch program. It just made sense.
By switching to the PysD I will receive training that I do not have and cannot get on my own. I have some training in theology and if I want to go deeper in theology I can always read; I cannot simply cross over and start doing professional counseling work. While I will end up with a lot more debt but I will be in a much better position to pay back my loans and there are many debt forgiveness programs available, especially if you want to work with an under-served population…like Native Americans.
In several years cold be working for the government on a native reservation, earning debt forgiveness on top of my normal salary (which would be substantially greater than a starting minister’s salary). In short, I switched programs because by doing so I could better trained to work with addicts, be doing exactly what I wanted, paid well to do it, and be earning down my debt very rapidly.