By SHERMAN KUEK
Paths. These are directions we have to choose throughout our lives; directions that lead us to very different places from those of our acquaintances. Let me begin with what might be unique about my present vocation.
I am a Christian theologian. At present, I hold a doctoral degree in Theology, and serve a bishop by providing oversight on his behalf to all the pastoral ministries of his diocese. I also serve as his resident researcher for issues pertinent to his church.
My work involves extensive travelling in Malaysia, and occasionally, overseas. There are times when I spend more than two weeks per month away from home. I travel around to oversee the works of the various pastoral ministries of the diocese, to give talks and lectures in academic and church settings, and to attend meetings.
Most of the friends I grew up with are now young professionals living yuppie lifestyles, earning exorbitant salary figures compared to my minimal allowance, living in reasonably large houses, and driving cars far more ostentatious than mine. In terms of happiness, I would like to think we all enjoy an equal portion of our dues. We chose different paths in life; one not necessarily being better than the other, just different.
As a teenager, I had always been quite philosophical. My more hardworking friends would be deeply engaged in academic pursuits, while my less serious friends were busy socialising and partying. On the other hand, I was quite an acute introvert who did not find the school curriculum particularly stimulating.
Pondering on issues of life (and at times, death) was my favourite hobby. I loved contemplating questions that had no definite answers. Mathematics and Science, even History, were not appetising for the kind of inquiry I found engaging.
After my SPM examinations, in which I scored quite satisfactorily, I was rather obstinate about not taking the path my father had set for me – Form Six. This vehemence stemmed from objections I had about doing another two years of studies in Bahasa Malaysia, continuous rote learning, schoolteachers who fell asleep in classes, and having to continue wearing school uniforms.
So with my father’s consent, I pursued pre-university studies in a private college. After that, I decided to study for a degree in Management, but not because I had a special affinity for that career. Rather, I had to choose something that my parents found agreeable, as they were concerned for the future of their son who seemed to live in an alternate world of abstract thoughts.
They wanted me to be grounded in reality and hoped that I would perhaps ‘grow up’ as I embarked on this course of study. I eventually went to England and returned with an honours degree in Management.
Immediately upon my return, I announced to my parents that I was going to work for a church in a town almost 300 kilometres away that would pay me a salary of RM750 a month. This salary would cover my house rental, transportation and food. My parents were bewildered. What can I say; I was young then.
After almost a full year of working in the church, I decided that it was time to return home. At the same time, I also received a scholarship to pursue a Master of Divinity degree at a seminary in Singapore, which took me three years to complete.
But just as I was preparing to return to full-time work at the church, I was offered another scholarship in the same seminary to further advance my theological studies. I was given between three and six years to complete this course of study. In the midst of writing my doctoral dissertation, I also embarked on many other church-related efforts and work. It took me about five years to complete my dissertation, and I eventually passed and graduated.
So this is where my path has taken me. I serve the Church. I am not paid a salary; like priests (although I am not one) I am given a sufficient allowance for my sustenance. For some people, my path is perceived as unique and inspiring; for others, foolish and impractical. I live a somewhat simple life, but I am a happy man.
I now do more than merely think about life; I also share my thoughts about life with others through speech and writing. Ironically, one of the things I have to do in the course of my work is managing! Thus, the degree in Management did come in useful after all. People often ask me what I do, and I say, “I am a theologian”, to which they reply, “What’s that?”
Sherman Kuek is a theological researcher, a conversationalist on theology, spirituality, and culture, a pilgrim seeking to inspire the world to live in the way of Christ, and a friend journeying towards relational, formative, missional, authentic, transformative, meaningful, kingdomic and communal faith in the redemptive Spirit of Christ.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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