By Lisa Boken After the retreat at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, with Thich Nhat Hanh in September 1993,1 had a startling experience. The next day I returned to Harvard Divinity School to complete two more years of study. My experience at Harvard had been highly intellectual and for the most part, devoid of spirituality. I struggled daily with who I was and how to be a spiritual leader. During the retreat, I had felt much closer to who I really was, and the contrast was shocking. Despite the fact that I had spent six years working to become a credentialed Unitarian Universalis! minister, I decided to leave school. It was quite frightening but inside me was a sense of peace that I had not felt for a long time.
Two weeks later, I received a phone call from a church that was accepting applications for the position of minister and they requested that I apply. I told them I was not credentialed and I might not go back to school to get my degree, and they said they didn't care. They had heard about my work and wanted to talk. (This is unheard of in the denomination and against operating practices, although not against written policy.) Soon after, I was hired and began the work of helping this small and growing congregation.
What this experience shows me is that life is too short to spend lots of time and money ($21,000 in school loans) on unnecessary activities just because someone says you have to. I knew in my heart that I could do something as a minister in the world, drawing from the resources that were in my heart and mind. I also knew that I wasn't resistant to hard work, study, and learning if the learning was not in an ivory tower and dealt with the business of real life.
As expressed in her book Learning True Love, Sister Chan Khong's life and spirit has been solace for me in my struggle with this step outside the system. When Sister Chan Khong told Thay Thanh Tu that she wanted to be a nun, he said, "I do not think that becoming a nun would suit you. Nuns have to follow the traditional discipline. You might rebel against it."
I find the same problem with my friends at Harvard who will soon graduate and become ministers. They had so many ideals when they entered school. They wanted to be of real service to people, to confront poverty, classism, racism, and so on. Now they are more interested in not rocking the boat and getting a good job in a church so that they can pay back their school loans and relax. It saddens me. I am thankful I have learned to live on very little money and that I am free to act out of my conviction and with integrity.
Lisa Boken is a Unitarian Minister in Orleans, Massachusetts.