Saturday, May 31, 2003
Me, Part 3 (Part 1 - Part 2):
Vicki and I got to be good friends, and then we started hanging out and "became an item" when we went to two movies two nights in a row one weekend, and everyone from BSU saw us together - you know how people talk. We grew to appreciate each other and to love each other. I think we also kept an open enough relationship to where we didn't leave others out. We were good about hanging with our still-single friends and not making them feel bad, and that's something that's played over into our "grown-up" lives today. Anyway, in the fall of our senior, Vicki went to Japan for four months as a semester missionary, teaching conversational English at the mission in Nagasaki. And I stayed here. And absence doesn't only make the heart fonder, it definitely makes the relationship more meaningful and more sure. We both graduated in '90, and we got engaged in May '90, putting the down payment on the ring with my first paycheck from my first "real world" job. I'm still working there, and I'm still happily married. That comes into play in a way that's different from some other stories I've read on change and growth as Christians...
From here in the story to now, my big change has been within the church, not outside of it. Where I noticed early on that there is not a duality between the sacred and the secular, I also found that while I've been fairly stable in my job and family life, my church life and Christian growth has been through the wringer over the past 10+ years. We just celebrated out 12th anniversary last week, and I've been driving the same half-hour commute every morning to CSC for the past thirteen years. But during that time, we've followed a call to ministry that turned our ideas of Life/Universe/Everything upside down, and revealed a little more of ourselves and who our real friends were.
Situations at church got out of hand - one power struggle after another, one youth leader after another, one faction leaving, etc. And in the midst of this, I was elected as a deacon - something that still boggles my mind to an extent. I'd been involved in leadership with the youth ministry in teaching Sunday School (started that when Vicki went to Japan to keep myself busy), but other than that, why should I be "voted" on over men that I felt were much more qualified. Anyway, I was in, and what I found in the monthly meetings was that the men I had looked up to for guidance and as examples were just men - with struggles, with hang-ups, with bad ideas and wrong opinions. In other words, they were just like me, not some lofty unattainable ideal, but real people living out real lives. They weren't "bad examples" - just not as "good" as I'd held them to be in the past. This is where I got my first taste of "church politics" (should be an oxymoron, huh?), and I saw where faith really met the road. I was turned off by the lack of faith I saw, especially in financial matters in the church. It still bothers me when I see so much $$$ going to upkeep and maintenance, and so little going to meet ministry needs and vision.
Three things happened at the same time. One, I began to think for myself. I learned in college, under the leadership of Woody Hammett, that the best "answers" to life's questions might involve more and better questions. I began to look down on anyone who seemed to think they had it all figured out, and I also began to shoot holes in everything that I thought could make more sense another way. I entered my cynical stage, and don't know that I've totally gotten out of it. Second, I was called into ministry. In one of those instances where God's voice is almost audible, my wife and I had been feeling a pull towards more in depth ministry to the seniors in the youth group (still trying to stem the tide of kids leaving the church, this time by helping them develop their own faith and surpassing the faith of their parents). And as we told Pastor Mike (then youth minister at Trinity and now our senior pastor at CWO) our plans, he told us that he was accepting a pastorate at a church downtown. There in the lunchtime parking lot of Lizard's Thicket, my wife spoke as the Oracle of God: "How do you know that God's not calling us to ministry at that church?" It was like the heavens opened up and there was such a resolute peace to that notion. For the next month or so, we went back and forth about really going or not, really leaving this church I'd grown up in and had a "ministry" in or not, but we both knew - our path had been chosen. We went to Rosewood Baptist, and started to re-develop a youth ministry there.
Third, I went on a spiritual journey in what seemed like two paths, but it has turned out to be two sides of the same path. First, I found books by Len Sweet and others that talked about having a real and thoughtful walk with God, about asking questions, not holding onto the traditions handed down as much as paying close attention to how God was revealing Himself right now. This was called "postmodernism" - an -ism that started in architectural deconstruction, but also something reching into just about every discipline in our culture today. It's a move away from the "prove it to me" and debate of the modern era, into a realm of mystery, experience and realness that's more alive and more fulfilling today. So that's the more mental/"truth" oriented side of things. At the same time, we discovered the Holy Spirit, or re-discovered Him - and learned that some of the things that had been left our of the Southern Baptist curriculum were in fact very real, very meaningful and very powerful. From Pastor Mike on down, we were baptized in the Spirit. Many of us were praying in tongues; we were watching people get saved, get delivered, get healed. It was like everything had a new fire, a new empowrment for ministry. This was the other side, the "spirit" side of the path for me. And with both of these "sides" growing, I've come to find what it means to me to worhip God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23-23).
After our experiences in the Spirit, the hard-core Baptists in the church were no longer fond of Pastor Mike. Folks who'd never really darkened the doorway showed up to vote us out in July of '97 - but that's his faithstory more than mine. We went with Pastor and a few others to start a new church, and today CWO is still going strong. We've only got a handful of people left from that original group (hang-ups show up anywhere along the journey, don't they?), but we've gotten an influx of new faces, new personalities and new leaders every time we've needed someone. God's moving through the people, and it's exciting to watch and be a part of. As our family has grown, and as we've grown as people and as christians together, I've come to see that there's so much to still learn, to still experience, to still seek God on.
The past few years have been very stretching for me, but it's been in these two modes - in spirit and in truth - and instead of fighting the path, I've embraced the questions and doubts and turned them into strengths where I can. I want to be real with all of this, and God keeps tweaking the system just enough to keep me guessing, to keep me on my toes, to keep me reliant on Him and not my own inadequate understanding. Where most people have tended to tell of having outside problems effecting their inner longings for Christ, it's been more of my inner struggles leading to outer change and effecting my style in relationships and such.
Whew. If you've read this far, you deserve a medal. Thanks for playing.