The Narrow (But Not So Straight) Way
Last week I took part in the Christianity 21 conference in Phoenix, AZ. One of the values of the conference was to allow attendees (like myself) the opportunity to share an idea or story with the group. So, in addition to the 21 main presenters they brought in, they also set aside two chunks of time for what they call 7-21 Talks. I submitted a proposal for a 7-21 talk several months ago and was excited to learn that I'd been selected to present. Then reality sunk in: these suckers are hard!
Here's the deal... you curate 21 images that are set to automatically advance every 20 seconds. You start when the first image goes live, and you're done when the slideshow goes blank. And that's seven minutes total. #pressure
A number of different ideas came to mind for my talk, but I landed on sharing my experience of getting fired from two churches in two years, and how that was the catalyst for Kate and me to start Sojourn Grace Collective.
I apologize in advance, the audio quality is not great. So I'll include my script for the talk below, in case it helps.
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(not exactly the transcript, but here are my notes/script from the talk)
The Narrow (but not so Straight) Way
My five year old son, Jae, is obsessed with Legos. His two older brothers are diligent in building according to the instructions, but Jae is a Master Builder who creates these elaborate ships, things that only he can see in his mind. He constantly teaches me the value of rebuilding. The initial horror that comes when his younger brother, Huck, destroys what he has built is quickly replaced with a fierce excitement at how he might rebuild it. And of course, the reality is, the ships he builds are always better the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th times around
Being born and raised in Oregon, my wife and I were oblivious to what life in a conservative state was really like. So In 2007, with only two of our boys at the time, when moved here to Arizona, where I joined the staff of a small but growing church as the Worship and Arts Pastor, we were in for a serious awakening. It didn’t take long before we were confronted with the reality that our own personal theological trajectory was going to take us further and further away from the place where the church I worked at was conservatively rooted. Although I managed to dance fairly well for five years, and leaned in heavily to the areas where there was theological agreement, the distance between us grew with every Brian Mclaren Book and Richard Beck Blog I read.
In september of 2011 President Obama signed the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and that evening I shared an article on my Facebook page with these five words: “Glad this day finally came.” Completely naive to the storm this would unleash upon me from the conservative crowd in our church Three days later I was brought in to an emergency board meeting to “deal with my situation.” I was forced to give an account for my theological beliefs regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. TO tell 8 men in a room things that I hadn’t yet disclosed to even my own family. Speaking from my convictions, and from the place I believed Christ had brought me to on my journey, i gave an honest and open answer. Stating that I no longer believed the Bible condemned those born with same-sex attraction. I came out of the theological closet. As a result, three days later I was fired.
6 months later, Providence connected me with a church in San Diego where I found new life, and a resonance with this peculiar expression of Christianity that I longed for, that I knew was what I was called to, but that I didn’t know existed. A church that was progressively bent in some significant ways, and yet the bend was still towards Jesus. And so for 18 months myself, Kate, and our now four boys found new life in America’s Finest City, meeting some of America’s Finest people. My Lego ship was being rebuilt, with far more colors and nuance and beauty. But alas, the dream shattered quickly as I soon discovered some fairly significant differences between the church’s attitude and beliefs and mine own. In particular, differences about what it means to be a pastor, what it looks like to be a leader, and the unique call to shepherd the least and the lost. And this paradigm incompatibility put me once again on the outside, so much so that for the second time in as many years I was brought in to a room full of elders and told, “you are no longer wanted here as a pastor.”
With the pieces of what had just been a newly built Lego ship now filling my uncertain hands I wondered if this was a sign that perhaps I had missed my calling altogether. Or, maybe, the sign itself WAS the calling. Out of the wreckage of these two devastating experiences my wife and I turned to each other and discovered that perhaps NOW was the time to launch a church, a dream which we’d been ruminating on for years. And so In March of last year a group of about 15 of us started what we would eventually call Sojourn Grace Collective, a church that we call Uniquely Christian but not exclusively. A church mixed with races, creeds, orientations, and ages. A church led equally by men and women, gay and straight. Where we value things like shared leadership, expressing our fears and doubts, and walking with people through mess that can be life. At Sojourn we do our best to chase after the way of Jesus, orienting ourselves around God’s Kingdom, and learn to love and respect ourselves as fellow sons and daughters of the Creator. We met in our house for 3 months before outgrowing our living room, and now we meet in an a grade school with about 70 adults and 20 kids on sunday mornings, and almost all of us have wounds from the church that we help heal together.
There’s a story of a man named Bartimeaus who’s blindness kept him a perpetual beggar. One day fortune brought Jesus, the Son of David, past his usual corner. “Have Mercy on me,” cried old Blind Bart. But the followers of Jesus believed Bartimeaus was not fit for an audience with the King. They restricted access to the Savior. Yet Jesus could hear the old man’s cries, in spite of the wall his followers had built. Do you know what Jesus did next? Do you remember? He didn’t GO to Bartimeaus, which would have been easy enough. He didn’t heal Bartimeaus from afar, which also he likely could have managed. No, he turned to the very people who had just restricted access for the blind man, and he commanded them to bring Bartimaeus to him. Here’s the thing, I believe God is right now inviting those of us who have either built the walls ourselves, or have stood by and allowed the walls to be built, walls that have restricted people access to Jesus, I wonder if God, like Jesus, is commanding we be the ones to tear those walls down. I guess that’s part of why we started Sojourn Grace. And though it hasn’t yet been a full year, I can already assure you that the Lego Ship that is my life is the most beautiful and wonderful version yet. Maybe there’s something TO this whole rebuilding thing…. otherwise known as Resurrection… after all.