going pro

I had the honor of preaching to a congregation this past weekend — the place where I was a pastor-intern, so it was a delightful homecoming made sweeter by being gathered, embodied. The last I was with them, you see, was in December 2020, before any of us had vaccines and thus well before we were collecting in rooms to breathe shared air… or exchange hugs.

I also now have the honor of cashing my first check for pulpit supply: I am now a professional preacher.

I’m a professional poet, too — I’ve received one check for publishing a poem, and one check for a poetry reading (!).

B commented (when I clipped this check to the fridge) that getting paid for what up to then had been donated… hobby?… labor would intimidate her. The stakes of failure, or misadventure, got higher when money got involved, she thought. Sort of a “do I deserve this? am I as skilled as other paid-people?” interior discussion.

I think I felt similarly when I was at a similar age.
Strike that: I know I felt similarly. At 25, I took a job in computer networking support based on my informally (though assiduously!) collected experience — a far remove from my BA in English Lit. I had the worst case of impostor syndrome as I started getting paid for what I had previously done on the edges of my ‘real job.’ Even with my therapist’s surgically skilled intervention (“Do you think your boss doesn’t know who he’s hired? Do you think you’re a good actor/faker?” …no and no) I struggled in the first couple of years.

And I paid attention, and noticed that while there were clearly things I didn’t know, there were things that coworkers with technical degrees would miss that I saw. All and all? A mix. I belonged as much as anyone.

As I kept working, and being an adult, and observing, I noticed something more about the world of paid-work:

Getting paid (getting a contract, getting hired) turns out to only be loosely coupled to… well… much of anything. Including skill,
or merit.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

— Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Labor — work — that matters might or might not be accompanied by pay.
As the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns reconfigured the US landscape of bodily care, we-in-public started conversing more loudly about how poorly-paid most such workers were (and are), even as the counter-arguments of “one does this for greater reasons than a mere wage!” crumbled in front of the threat (and reality) of death.

During our family’s privileged time, when we could afford for me to be not-paid (or not paid much) while absorbing a larger proportion of young-person care, I had about a decade to listen to both how noble I was for “sacrificing myself” by not working for hire, and how dumb I was for forgoing a wage in our efforts to care well for the whole of our family.
Even now, as I’m looking ahead to developing my skills as a scholar (spending time, not gaining money), I already get questions of “what will you do with [this skill]?” where do equates to money changing hands…

…not, say, a widening ripple of influence where — perhaps, someday — others, many others?, use poems in adult Sunday School as routinely as they once read The Purpose-Driven Church.

**

I’m glad to be a pro.
I think it’s important, in our society that tracks value using money, to deploy that money by paying for poems, for poets, for preachers and teachers. To do otherwise is to wave generically about “this matters!” without following through: when we put our money where our mouth is, others believe us and often behave in alignment with us.

I’m doing my best to remind myself that being a pro means I have skill, and social capital and a constellation of other little things that we might summarize as ‘luck.’

And if there’s anything intimidating about going pro, it’s that I am now responsible (as if I was ever not?) for living my vocation as fully as I can with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required, and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

— Luke 12:48b, NRSVUE

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