Friday, December 23, 2011

Autobiographical statement. What?

As a part of my application for seminary I had to write a 4 page autobiographical statement.  So here it is, for anyone who has ever wondered about where I stand in my faith and why I am...the way I am.  It's not completely done, and there's a lot left out--you can't really add much detail in only 4 double spaced pages when you are trying to summarize 22 years of life.  Anywho, enjoy.

My life began (9-months before) November the eleventh in the year of 1989 in Vidalia, Georgia.  No matter the fact that it would only be another fifty days or so before the year 1990 would roll around, I still consider myself to be an 80’s baby.  Of course, when people talk about the year 1989, it is not known as the year that Joshua Otto Gale was born—instead everyone talks about the Berlin wall falling, which apparently was a bigger deal—and though I am sure Heaven rejoiced, here on Earth the resounding noise was that of, well, the doctor scribbling his signature on a piece of paper that is complimentary with any successful delivery.  Maybe there was the sound of the pounding of the second hand of a clock ticking away, a baby book opening, or my family quietly rejoicing that the sixth, and final, member of our family had been born.
I say this because on that Veteran’s day I was just another child to be added to the statistic of an ever-increasing human population on our planet—in the eyes of humanity, the wheel continued spinning away.  My father was a pastor of a Methodist church in Lyons and my mother hard at work at home trying to raise my three older siblings and me.  My parents were from Savannah, and when my father answered the call to go into the ministry, I would be willing to place bets they were quite shocked to find themselves in the small farming town of Lyons where its neighboring city of Vidalia would be best known, of all things, for its immense amount of onion crops.  I spent the first seven months of my life there learning the ways of the farming life as much as a toddler could.
My father was then appointed to a three-charge church in Irwinton, Georgia, where he would serve for the next thirteen years of my life before leaving the pulpit ministry to start his own nonprofit ministry, Unto the Least of His, to do mission work all over the world.  With a population of 583, Irwinton is also the place where I call home and where I was raised.  There is one public school in the entire county, of which I attended as a part of the white minority.  The church, located across the driveway, was where I received my informal education in nearly all matters, such as how to use the PA system for karaoke.  Of course, one of the best, and arguably the worst, of places I gained my informal education from, besides my parents, was from my older siblings.  I had two older brothers and one older sister.  It is mostly from them I learned how to play the guitar and piano, how to juggle, how to throw a Frisbee and how to hit a baseball, how to make paper airplanes and a plethora of other useful things that any human being would probably be okay without ever learning.  It is from all those unique people, places, and things that I ever interacted with that I developed my Christian faith.
Never did I have the pleasure of having a single moment that I could pinpoint as the moment that I gave my life to Christ and was saved.  In fact, because this somewhat worried me during my second year of college, I made sure publicly reaffirmed my faith in front of a whole church congregation…if for no other reason than to make myself feel better.  I consider my mother and father to both be champions of faith in my life, because it is from each of them that I can look back for as far as I can remember and see them exemplifying genuine Christianity as I know it.  It is important to note that it is not only the words I heard them say that impacted my life, but it is from their actions of integrity that they always drove the points home and made the best impressions.
High school came around and along with it came probably the first major struggle in my life.  All three of my older siblings got married within one year and moved out of the house, my dad started the aforementioned non-profit ministry meaning we had to move, and there were the natural transitions that occur between middle and high school.  Unto the Least of His offered a major opportunity to spread Christ’s love nationally and internationally, while the atmosphere of high school offered the opportunities to become very self-serving, and my newfound loneliness begged of me to grasp hold of something.  Fortunately, I found a solid group of friends to become a part of, and with them I was able to find my identity as someone who did not have to reject my morals to become accepted.  It is there that I set that pace for the rest of my high school and college careers.
My faith, at that point, had yet to fully become my own, but it was evolving with each new day.  I declared studio art as my major, not knowing the ideological confrontations I would find myself facing.  The reason, I found, that it began to mature with each day, is that each day comes with its own challenge, and in college those challenges became much more frequent. With every year my choices as a Christian were put under more pressure and I really began searching.  I needed God as an anchor in my life, but I felt as though the ground I had given Christ was beginning to shift—I, and my faith, was becoming my own.  I never abandoned my faith in God, but that is not to say it was never tested.  I began to realize God would never back down from my questions.
In early 2010, a variety of sour circumstances caused me to feel like the floor had fallen from underneath my feet.  I had been diving into artistic theory and learning of human psychology at the time and I landed myself at a low place where I felt as though I was stripped of nearly everything I had ever known.  It is from there that I read the Psalms of David where God is put into question many times, or read in places like Hebrews 11:6 where it says, “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  I went to the Dominican Republic that summer to do photography and mission work in the Haitian bateys.  It is from there that I began to see God as an artist, painting the most elaborate painting ever; the work of God like the pigment for what secular Joseph Beuys wrote as the “social sculpture,” everything collaborating in unison to create one large social work of living art.
The rest of life is now at my fingertips—the paradigm is mine to shift.  I am not completely sure what God has in store for me to do with the talents and skills I have been given, but what I am sure of is that I want to use them to glorify God and to further Christ’s ministry throughout the world by working in the ministry and fighting for what is right.  Ignorance is rampant, and I realize now that I have spent much of my life fighting against it.  Unfortunately, the religious have become infamous for being naïve to reality.  Many have become incapable of listening and discerning what they hear and therefore have become their own worst enemy; their inability to see and interpret the context of their actions is their own downfall.
Against the odds, I have come from a small town and have not become trapped by small-town thinking.  Against the odds, I left my tiny high school and have become the first of my graduating class to receive a 4-year diploma.  Against odds, I have maintained my faith through a variety of circumstances and feel stronger and more confident than ever.  After spending a month living amongst the indigenous people of Kenya doing work with water wells this past August, I made my decision to apply to Candler’s MDiv program because I became aware that there is still so much to the mystery of God to unravel, and with the unfolding of each layer there is always another beautiful discovery.  Candler’s reputation for being a place for open-minded people lines up with my own educational experience thus far and is not only a place that I feel that I would like to be, but is also the type of place that I feel I belong and need to be.