I recently found out that the person who has cut my hair for the last three years is no longer cutting hair; instead, she is now teaching. What she's teaching, I don't know—I was only told that she is now teaching when I called to make an appointment. However, I do know that she was studying Elementary Education, so my hope is that she's found a job in that field that she enjoys. Her change corresponds with my upcoming change. I am preparing to move to Germany next week, and—forgive me if I come across as a bit wistful—the monumentalness of the change is starting to hit me. Yesterday, I almost broke down into tears, thinking about all the "what ifs" that could occur over the next three years. I'm going "to miss a lot of stuff," as a friend often reminds me.
Nevertheless, the timing of these two changes—my former hair stylist's and my own—strikes me as profound somehow.
Two years ago, I was in a rut, having finished grad school but not being able to find a job. I had applied for PhD study, but only got accepted into one school. That school didn't have enough money to fund their students, so after taking some sage advice and thinking about it ad nauseum, I decided not to go. I was then faced with the possibility of never going on to PhD work. I made peace with that possibility.
During my year of wondering about my future, my hair stylist would talk to me about my job search and about life in general. I eventually realized that she, in a very real way, was ministering to me. For half-an-hour every month or so, she would listen to me, give me advice, and allow me to voice my concerns—and this is a very important ministry.*
That cutting hair is a ministry should not surprise us. The most literal translation of minister involves the idea of serving. And cutting a person's hair is indeed a service. Still, she took time to learn my family members' names; she always asked about the health of friends and family; and she remembered what was going on in my life the last time I was in for a haircut. She was serving in a deep capacity.
All this is to say that our vocations in life need to fulfill our deepest desires to serve. It seems that at our core is the knowledge that we are created for each other. Sometimes we stifle the desire to serve. We trick ourselves into thinking that "the person with the most toys wins." So we need a community to remind us that that's not the point. We're created for each other. Whether cutting hair or teaching children, both present the chance to serve profoundly. All that's left to do is grasp the chance to serve.
Which brings me around to my upcoming change. Honestly, I'm quite nervous about it. I'll be in a new land with a new language and new people. Lot's of unknowns. Moreover, I've been given the opportunity to study theology for three years in the academy, which rightfully tends to make folks nervous. The academy is the place people go to celebrate themselves; it encourages lots of stuff but rarely does it encourage humility. And so, I must beware getting too-big-for-my-breeches. Still, for all the perils of PhD study, the opportunity also exists to serve and to view study as service itself.
I've started to think that study needn't be about getting ready to serve someday. No. Study allows us to serve our classmates, our professors, and nearby communities now. The "vocation of study" allows us space both to learn and to minister. When learning becomes about service to the other, then we have taken a healthy first step in avoiding the pitfalls of higher education.
So I leave for Germany with the hope that I can serve the church in humility. I've been given a great example by my former hair stylist, and I am very grateful for her example.
* So impressed was I by her counselor-like hair cutting sessions, I explored the possibility of going to barber school myself so that I could offer a like service to people. But barber school, alas, is also quite expensive.
Craig D. Katzenmiller is Tokens’ Social Media Editor. In October, he will begin Ph.D. studies in Liturgical Theology and Ethics at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg.