Not Just Treading Water

Did you ever hear a task or skill compared to a “greased pole”? Apparently, greased-pole-climbing is a thing in some countries. The metaphor is this: either you’re successfully climbing the pole, or you’re slipping down–but you’re not staying in the same place. By implication, you’re either progressing or falling behind–but you can never remain static.

This comparison never made much sense to me. It seems like it would be possible to make just enough effort in climbing the pole to stay in the same place: climbing while slipping. It would be like walking backwards on those moving walkways at the airport just fast enough so that you stay in one place (something my kids like to do when we have layovers).


Unhelpful metaphors aside, I’ve struggled emotionally, spiritually and intellectually in the eight months since we moved back from Lithuania. When we returned to help Corrie’s parents move into a situation where they could take care of themselves, I was still holding onto the hope that we’d be going back in January (now). In July, when it became clearer that we would not be going back in January or anytime soon, I was struggling with resentment and frustration with God for taking me away from a ministry and vocation that I loved. It was (and still is) a process of accepting that God can use me however he chooses. I’ve written about this process here and here.

Academics as a profession does feel like a realm in which one is either moving forward or falling behind–never staying in the same place. I’ve struggled with fears that working FT in pharma will kill all the momentum I had as a teacher and researcher coming out of the dissertation phase and taking a job as an assistant professor at LCC. I’ve been impatient to get back into writing, but each time I sit down to work on something I feel out of touch with what is going on in the discipline. Part of the problem is that there is always too much to read in any field or sub-field, even if you’re a tenured professor in a position with a research-friendly teaching load. Having two young kids, a FT job, and lots of personal stuff going on certainly doesn’t help. Academics is not generally friendly to a balanced life.

By October and November, as I was teaching at Eastern, it became clear that it would not be wise to apply for any academic jobs for the 2016-2017 year, and that I’d be in pharma for at least the next couple of years. That was difficult to swallow. But I eventually came to the point of mostly accepting that this hiatus in my FT teaching and research would somehow be OK, and that God would work it out. I think I believed that in my heart five days out of every seven.


But in just the last few weeks–maybe around Christmas–I’ve come to see that this period is not a complete hiatus. Yes, God is teaching me a lot about service, suffering, and worship. But He’s also allowed me to have some interesting pedagogical experiences.

Teaching the Eastern course was my first experience with a large, general OT class that was part of the core curriculum at a Christian college–a sort of course that would be the bread-and-butter course if I got a position at an American Christian university. It wasn’t my most enjoyable teaching experience, but I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t in that sort of setting.

This Spring term for LCC, I’ll get to teach in this online medium–not my first choice, but also a skill that will probably come in handy at some point. (I’ve done trainings and led meetings via web in my role at ICON, so hopefully it won’t be too much of a stretch.)


This is not a mere hiccup, a break in the road–it’s part of the road. I’m not just treading water, or slowly climbing-but-not-ascending the greased pole. God is giving me tasks that are meaningful and that will equip me for future teaching.

And there is fruit along the way. The fruit may come in small, airplane-sized cups. It may be fruit salad that’s mostly honeydew. But it’s still fruit. I’ve got an article coming out in SJOT this spring, and I submitted my book manuscript to T&T Clark right before Christmas, so I’ll see those in 2016, too. God doesn’t have to give me those victories, but they sure are encouraging.

I think I believe all this in my heart five days–even six–per week. Now: Back to the Psalter…

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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