Not that there weren’t problems—there were a couple of women who were interested in me. I was living a
life of celibacy, but I wasn’t exactly discouraging either of them. I also felt that I wasn’t contributing
much to the needs of the larger world. But the real problem was that it wasn’t home.
I had been raised by a Christian father and a mother who, though not un-Christian, was more of a nature mystic (an
Eco-feminist, really, only the term hadn’t been coined yet). I was never baptized, and stopped going to church at
about the age of 12. Shortly after that I began taking a genuine interest in Eastern religion as well as Native
American shamanism and other veins of religious experience and culture. I think I came out of my childhood with a deep
affective connection with Jesus and the Christian tradition, particularly as expressed in music and art, and as
solidarity with the oppressed and victims of violence. But I was not able to make sense of it intellectually, and I
found church observance corny and stiff. In Buddha dharma, Zen meditation, and intentional community life I was able to
reclaim my devotion to religious ideals while leaving behind the baggage of American Christian culture.
Or so it seemed at first, but the more years I spent at the Zen Center, the clearer it became to me that we had
brought most of that baggage with us, and for me that was a blessing. It enabled me to accept the responsibility of my
own social and cultural inheritance in a different way. I didn’t repent of my critique of Western civilization,
but maybe I grasped more fully the significance of the biblical image of the “birth pangs” of the kingdom
of heaven. I began to see how this incredible storm of passion that has been loosed on the world by Christianity, which
has been so idealistic and creative and at the same time so diabolically misguided and destructive, might ultimately be
redemptive. I also recognized the possibility that of all the dynamics that power this magnificent and grotesque
enterprise, only one is capable of carrying us through to the other side of hell. This possibility didn’t come to
me as an intellectual insight, however—I pieced that together later. It came to me as a dream, a dream of
Now it’s one thing to acknowledge Jesus as Savior—it’s another to walk the way of the cross.
It’s one thing to accept a profound truth about yourself, to finally reach that point where you admit
“I’m an alcoholic” or “I’m gay,” or “This job or this career or this marriage
isn’t right for me”—it’s another thing to find your way home from there.
It took me ten years to get from acknowledging “I’m a Christian” to starting at seminary. I had to
do a lot of things first. I had to figure out what to do about those two women, for example, and manage a farm through
a time of transition. I had to go back to school and complete my bachelor’s degree, and go into business for
myself, and find a church and get baptized and confirmed. And all the while I was studying and reflecting on the gospel
of Jesus Christ and trying to understand what my responsibility toward it is.
I left the monastery at Tassajara in October 1992 and then spent another 18 months at Green Gulch, the
monastery’s farm, managing the organic farming operation, before finally leaving in May 1994.
In time I came to accept that my gifts and inclination are such that I had to consider a life of ordained ministry
in the Christian Church. That led to a whole new set of tasks and challenges—meetings with rectors and
congregational vocations committees and a bishop; batteries of psychological tests and countless essays; and
heart-to-heart conversations with friends, family, and with Meg, the woman I married last summer. Meg, obviously, has
her own questions and concerns about this life.
All of this constitutes the outward, formal aspects of what we call “vocational discernment,” and it has
been a success in the sense that I have been accepted as a postulant for holy orders, and made a good start on my
seminary education. I have the sense that I’m on the right path. But the deeper work of discernment has to be a
testing of the spirits, my own and that of the church, and that work is never really done.
The Wisdom of God sustains and patterns all things. Why then do we need a Bible, Jesus, gathering on Sunday? Why do
I need to be there? To me the answer to these questions can never be final or self-evident. But after a lifetime of
struggling with them, I still think they matter enough to keep asking them, and not only of myself.
I’ve come to know that vocational discernment isn’t primarily a recognition of one’s suitability
to an institutional function. There are a variety of ministries in the church: teaching, preaching, working with youth,
serving as chaplain to elders or the sick and the dying. There are many different kinds of parish communities, from
large, wealthy suburban churches with multiple clergy to small rural and inner-city churches struggling to survive, and
each of them is living out its mission in its own unique way. Some people may come into seminary with a clearly defined
vision of where and how they want to minister. I, on the other hand, reckon I’ll know it when I see it.
I also know that, for me, vocational discernment isn’t primarily about solving a problem. Many people see an
uncertain future for our church. The average age of clergy and laity continues to inch upward, and younger singles and
families are staying away in great numbers. Many members of society at large reject all religion or embrace it in
unfamiliar forms—exotic faiths from other cultures or a non-denominational Christianity that offers spectacle and
self-help in place of community and self-transcendence. As a church leader-in-training, I suppose I ought to have a
clear vision and sense of purpose about how to reverse these symptoms of decline and be a catalyst for growth and
institutional renewal. But I don’t.
More and more I see discernment as a matter of acknowledging a need and a gift. It’s not a personal need, or
not that only, though it is at the heart of what it means to be a person. Neither is it a personal gift. I mean the
need for wholeness, which is itself a gift. The Bible still matters, Jesus still matters, the Episcopal Church still
matters, because they are fundamentally about wholeness, and I need that more than anything else. If you don’t
mind my saying it, so do you. And what is that? It is the presence of the holy in all the painful parts of the Bible,
in all the partiality and failed promise of Christian history, in the institutional squareness and triviality of
church, the awkwardness and absurdity of being Daniel Green. Wholeness doesn’t put the sacred at some far remove,
in some special place holier than this, some special private moment, some ecstatic pinnacle. Neither does it rest in
careless immanence, as if there were no such thing as transcendence, no higher love, no demonic tyrant, no communion of
The need for wholeness is a need for communion, and a need for common prayer. It means “I don’t know
exactly what this faith means for you, what shape it is making in your life, but I am willing to share a table with
you, and pray for your joys and wants, and ask the same in return.” It means we do so conscious of our own
limitations, our ignorance, our capacity for bigotry and violence, and at the same time conscious of our
power—not of greatness, nor even of goodness, but of wholeness, which is the power of the simple truth. I’m
learning this truth in seminary—perhaps even in my courses, since a classroom is a kind of community, and so is a
book. But mainly I’m learning it as I learned it at St. Gregory’s and at Zen Center before that; in
marriage, friendship, and social life; in work and politics; in worship and prayer; and in the struggle to open myself
fully to trusting God.
It was Robert Frost who said, “Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in.” I
think this captures the essence of discernment; indeed, it is the Christian mystery in a nutshell. God came to the
world in Jesus saying, “This is my home. Let me in.” We ignored him or tried to manipulate him and
eventually killed him to try to make him go away—but even that didn’t work. When we confess Jesus as our
savior, it’s a way of saying, “OK, God—you win. You live here.” When we join the church it
means we decide we might as well set up housekeeping together, and serve cookies, in case God wants in. And some of us
play bishop, some play priest, and some play deacon. Some sing in the choir. Some wash the dishes and some mind the
children, some count the money and some feed the hungry.
Belonging somewhere doesn’t only mean that you agree to play along, it also means, “Make room for
me—I’m here too.” This sometimes creates real problems. It’s not perfect; it never will be.
After all, it’s home.