Monday, August 6, 2007


Friday evening Nancy and I went to a concert, a fund-raiser to send a friend's friend Joseph off to theological seminary to become an Episcopal priest. Ah, you smile: a young idealist with going forth to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Well, not exactly.

Joseph , though surely an idealist, is not young, and he has already had battles with the world and the devil that only a fast-on-his-feet lawyer can boast. (We'll leave the flesh alone for the nonce. ) Moreover, Joseph, a handsome bearded fellow in the high prime of life, is married and a father, and enthusiastic about both callings.

Yet now in midstream, he's turning against the career current he has long known and is breast-stroking his way toward the priesthood. That far shore must seem far indeed, and I admire his courage and dedication. But my immediate question is:

What's with lawyers?

In recent years, almost a dozen lawyers of my acquaintance have given up thriving careers and begun anew as men and women of the cloth. They've started from the ground up to pursue lives as priests, pastors, chaplains, directors of religious education and theologians. It's as if , well, not sharks, but, say, swordfish suddenly opted to swins with the dolphins.

By contrast, I've never known a single academic to leap from the walls of ivy into the churchyard. (Maybe that's because academics know that addressing a captive audience is hard enough; they may cower at the thought of preaching to a volunteer flock not under the motivation of final exams. Well, of immediate final exams. ) Nor can I think of one real estate agent who spurned a lockbox in exchange for the keys of the kingdom.

And so far as I know, restless religious don't become laywers. They do join the military (if they have been nuns), or become teachers, social workers, often therapists. But not lawyers.

My favorite trivia question is: which creature on earth is the most adaptable to the extremes of climate? The answer: the human. With the same dexterity, many people change careers and jobs a dozen times in a life span. There's something I admire about that kind of courage and imagination, even when it oversteps the bounds of reality. (I confess to relishing the true story of "The Great Imposter," a charming con-man who posed rather successfully as everything from a Navy surgeon to a prison warden without a lick of credential to his name.)

My grandfather, on the other hand, began as an engineer on the Erie Railroad when he was 19 and only stopped (grumpily) when, in his sixties, he became color blind. I grasped the podium at 22, and never let go for 35 years. Haven't decided whether that showed a lack of imagination or the presence of foolhardiness. In any case, it warmly suited me. So may the priesthood suit Joseph, formerly Esquire.

1 comment:

Emily said...

A lawyer-turned-minister friend recently pointed out that lawyers need to have some innate / compulsive sense of urgency which she didn't really have, and which I don't especially have either (I think that's why she pointed it out). If only the Berkeley GTU (Graduate Theological Union) had offered student loan repayment assistance the way that my law school did. Maybe lawyering is the big fish that swallows some of us whole for awhile. We'll see.