About a week ago, I was getting to know a new friend over coffee/tea when the infamous question surfaced. Now, this is a question that everybody has been asked countless times, so you would think that I would have had an airtight, roll-off-the-tongue, automatic response by now. But I didn’t.
Of course, there are those of you who are less eccentric, random and/or flighty than I tend to be, and for you this question would be a breeze. You would have your handy response loaded and ready for delivery to whomever may ask. But me, on the other hand, I seem to struggle every time someone asks me that dreaded question, “What do you do?”
Well, I think that I struggle with this question on two levels. On the one hand, I resist the question for esoteric reasons, because although on the surface it seems innocent, it is often accompanied by an underlying assumption that assigns value to a person based on what they do professionally, or even personally. So, part of me resists the question, because I don’t want anyone assigning worth to me based on what I do. My worth is derived from who I be.
On the other hand, I struggled because honestly, in this new chapter of life I am being really intentional about aligning what I do with who I be. Yes, I write, I speak, I coach, I consult, etc., but if I had to sum it all up in a word or phrase that tied it all together, what exactly do I do?
So, in response to my friend’s inquiry, I initially said “that’s a very good question,” because in all honesty, it really was a good question. And by stating the obvious I also bought myself a little time until an answer came to me. Then after a brief moment of silence, the perfect response arose, and I verbalized it for the first time with my new friend.
Now, as I think back on that interaction, my answer was such a fitting one. After all, I was speaking to a public historian, and as it turns out, what the both of us do is in the public realm. In that moment, it became clear that I do public theology, and I do it at the intersection of spirituality, justice, and creativity.
The struggle to name it, however, is rooted in my pursuit of pathways to express this “doing” of unconventional sacred purpose through very conventional means. Now two seminary degrees and three annual conferences later, it is refreshing to both embrace and name the unorthodox thing that I do.
I don’t have to try to squeeze into a one-size-fits-all box constructed to control, nor conform to dogma neglectful of present realities, nor acquiesce to religion oblivious to historical context. I do public theology to liberate. I do public theology that is practical and relevant for the present age. I do public theology in context, because in the words of the inimitable Rev. Dr. Freddy D. Haynes, “a text without a context is a pretext for a con!”
In a nutshell, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! You see, how I do what I do can be identified as writing, speaking, dancing, serving, consulting, etc. But the essence of what I do is public theology.
So, what’s your story . . . what do you do?