It was sophomore, or maybe junior year of high school. (So, 2000 or 2001.) In a ritual familiar to high school students everywhere, we were invited to find some adult who would take us along on a day in their work environment. Ideally, it would be something that we saw ourselves doing. I was fairly uncertain about what I wanted to be doing with my life, aside from reading a lot and talking about ideas.
I was super-interested in the idea of skipping school for a day, though. So I asked my youth pastors from Lawrence First UMC, the inimitable Jan and Mitch Todd, if I could come along with them for a day at seminary. (This was when St. Paul School of Theology was still its whole own free-standing thing in Kansas City, before it became just another tentacle of the Church of the Resurrection Octopus.) They were both studying for the Master of Divinity degree and it seemed like they could give me some pointers about ministry as a career.
It was a fun, if unremarkable, day of poking around the library and sitting in on classes and eating lunch in the refectory. I filed it away in my memory box and moved on with life. I was accepted to Columbia a year or two later and proceeded to do a lot of reading and talking about ideas. (And a whole lot of other much less responsible stuff.)
In a few more years, I found myself in my own theology classrooms at Vanderbilt Divinity, studying for that very career that Mitch and Jan had led me into. I poked around the library and sat in many classes and ate lunch in the refectory. When I graduated, I moved into full-time ministry.
And there I have been for the last seven years. In churches that have loved and supported and infuriated and challenged me.
This morning, after I dropped off Todd at his preschool and I was driving over to church, I remembered that Career Day for some reason. I realized: I had always thought I was going on that day to learn about becoming a pastor. But what I really did was wander around an institution of higher education. I was doing the work of an academic on that day: reading, studying, germinating ideas, discussing, writing. And today, that realization is freighted with meaning.