Five years ago this week, I told City Centre Church I was resigning from my full-time position as Associate Pastor. If you look at the picture below on the post I wrote days fresh from my resignation (here), you might notice the glint of constrained optimism. I look at the picture and I see an idiot. An idiot who thought it would be “easy” to transition from one job to another…and another…and another…and another. But maybe, my naïveté served as the cushioning that helped absorb the painful force of reality. A reality that left me discouraged and humbled from sending over 50 resumes with no responses. A reality that demanded bills to be paid. A reality wrought with fear of the unknown.
I have struggled with fear my entire life. To write this seems silly and a little trite. I mean, who hasn’t struggled with fear? As a child I would rush up the basement stairs to avoid some mysterious hand from grabbing my leg. Fear is always full of imagination.
In the book, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, there’s a moment where Pi reflects on the 450-pound tiger he’s sharing a boat with, named, Richard Parker. For Pi, this tiger is the embodiment of fear. How could it not? It’s a very hungry tiger in a very small space ready to devour him.
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease.”Life of Pi
What’s profound about his next statement is he realizes something about fear not often talked about. He says, “It was Richard Parker who calmed me down. It is the irony of this story that the one who scared me witless to start with was the very same who brought me peace, purpose, I dare say even wholeness.”
Five years later I can look at all the Richard Parkers of my life and see how much I’ve changed. Religion has a funny little way of utilizing fear as a way to maintain the status quo. It quiets questions; constrains curiosity; placates passion. But perhaps what I’ve seen as most destructive is how fear keeps loving people from considering how their beliefs cause harm on those they profess to love. I know this because I still feel the tentacles of fear trying to silence me.
When I departed from full-time paid ministry, I stated that my main goal was to start some form of collective faith expression. The truth is, I lied. I wanted to run as far away as I could from having to lead anything that resembled a church. But how could I say that when I knew people would not understand or worst, disappoint them. Instead, I spoke in Evangelical code.
For the first year my family visited some churches but we mainly just hung out and detoxed from the expectations I had carried for so many years of attending and leading church services. I also hustled with a variety of side jobs to make ends meet, so, the faint idea of starting “something” seemed even more impossible. Also, I was scared shitless of putting all of my angst, despair, and ideas into something tangible that could most very likely fail. But here we are, five years later and I’ve started “something”. I don’t know what to call it. For now, it’s encapsulated in this picture:
Together, with a collection of people from different backgrounds, we are gathering to figure out how to navigate through all the questions, hurts, disillusionment the Christian religion has caused us while also attempting to build something that resembles Jesus. We are full of pain but also full of love. It’s that love that compels me to affirm unequivocally the calling, acceptance, and celebration of the LGBTQ2S+ community as inherently needed (just as they are) at the table. Without them I am missing out on something beautiful God has gifted us. As the late and great Rachel Held Evans once said, “I thought God wanted to use me to show gay people how to be straight. Instead God used gay people to show me how to be Christian.” It is also that love that drives me to confront the implicit and explicit ways that fear still controls me. I’m still feeling insecure about what’s been started but with every meal we share, every laughter we hear from children, every land acknowledgment we proclaim, every confession we make, every new person we welcome; I feel more and more brave. Maybe, that’s what love does; it makes you a little bit braver with every little risk you take. I don’t know where the next five years will find us, but here we are today: smiling and squinting at the brightness of a *mostly* hopeful future.