Just to the left of this picture is the stage of the Embassy Theatre in Fort Wayne, a classic old theatre with a huge pipe organ, a wood stage, great acoustics, and a sense of history.
Out on that stage, every action is visible to 2,000 people. Every word, every mistake, every gesture is evident. You are literally in the spotlight.
This picture is what it looks like backstage. Dim lights, whispered conversations, people dressed in black to be obscure while making things happen. It is the place where you stiffen your spine before walking out to create a persona. It is the place to be real before putting on your best behavior and stepping out into the performance.
One of the things that we are trying to do as we live out Web 2.0, Life 2.0, Community 2.0, Church 2.0 is to make the disjunction between onstage and backstage less glaring, to reduce the gap between being real and performing. We’re trying to live in dialog rather than monologue, to have a measure of authenticity. Sometimes it means that blogs get pretty self-indulgent and tweets are, well, gross (or at least pointless). However, much of life is self-indulgent and seemingly pointless, so perhaps that is the point.
My own version of this living out is to give a picture of what it means when you are confident that a real God really interacts with real people…and you want to resist the temptation to ritualize those interactions in a way that traps us into thinking more about the routine than the Person. I mean, I really have real interactions with Nancy. You can believe she exists or not believe, but I do really walk with her almost every night and hold her hand occasionally and
argue speak with intensity and love her. I don’t want you to start reenacting those walks; I just want you to meet her sometime. And I want you to understand that while I am not perfect, I am in love with her. And with God.
So that’s why I think out loud here. So I can wrestle through relationship and invite you to watch. And that’s why, sometime in the middle of August, I learned how complicated that kind of living out online can get.
I got a call inviting me to talk about a new job at a new church.
(Just so you know, I don’t look at what I do as a job. It’s more like a life, like a calling, like a relationship, like an addiction when I don’t watch it. It’s just easier to call it a job here.)
At the first conversation, I discovered that it wasn’t the job that I had thought it was (mostly administration). Instead, it was mostly what we are calling spiritual formation, a process of helping shape people so they more and more resemble Jesus. That’s what I’ve become more about, and so I stayed in a series of conversations which resulted in a job offer and acceptance on November 2.
Here was the challenge: I couldn’t write about any of it here.
That’s the kind of process I’d love to talk about. How do you know that God is saying something? How do you know whether to leave where you are? How do you decide that it isn’t a career move but a calling? How do you decide to leave the people you have loved for 11 years (more than 7 on staff)? How do you know?
I mean, those are the questions that everyone faces, whether a Christ follower or not. And the question I face is, do I wrestle with those any differently than anyone else?
However, my face-to-face community and my online community are pretty well blurred together. Some of you I have never met. Some of you I see every week (at least). So I can’t say, “Because I see you regularly, Anna and Dennis and Laurie and Randy and Amy, please ignore this little conversation about what interviewing is like.” You understand?
So now that this change has been announced (this morning) at the church where we have been, I can talk about some of the things I learned over the past months.
1. My wife is my best friend and the one who I most need to talk with. Nancy and I have walked more and talked more in the past year than in the previous 23 years. Combined. If I talk through this stuff with others and not with her, it’s silly. At best.
2. When I ask other people to pray for me, I am often doing that instead of talking with God myself. So because I couldn’t write here, because I couldn’t ask my usual circle of pray-ers, I had to actually just talk with God. And that was and is a healthy thing. After all, don’t you hate it when people talk about you as if you weren’t sitting in the room? I realized that I regularly treat God that way.
3. My online friends really are. Friends I mean. I have written a couple of “off-line” posts, emails to a small circle of online friends. I had to stay in touch and let them know why my writing just felt flat sometimes. And their encouragement and spiritual direction has been invaluable.
4. Sometimes I actually have to make decisions. I am an option-generator. That’s what I do best. I’ll give you six ways, sixteen alternatives, sixty ideas. But one night, sitting in this very chair, with just Nancy and I and God, I had to say, “This is the direction that I’m thinking. If it isn’t right, You need to kill me.” And I knew He wouldn’t, but I wanted to be clear to myself and to Nancy and to God.
5. The right decision is both delightful and painful. And that’s how it is. We love the people we have known. After 13 years in our current church (off and on), with the last 7 of them as a pastor, we have been folded into several lives. The part of that folding that is “pastor” will change somewhat. And that will hurt.
However, we are excited about the new people and the tremendous opportunities and responsibilities that will be ours.
6. Although some things have to happen backstage, I want to make the distinction disappear as much as possible. For this time I needed to be quiet. There was the very real possibility of not changing jobs. I didn’t want to have people unnecessarily disturbed. My explorations of possibilities can have real implications in the lives of other people. However, I need face-to-face AND online, I need inside and outside of my head. I need to be able to live with all these parts of my life integrated.
Thanks for reading this far. And thanks to Robert Hruzek for challenging us to think about what we have learned. I knew that I was learning something significant; his group writing project pushed me to figure out what. So this is part of the What I Learned From series.
Oh. You want to know where I’m going? I could be difficult, even more than I have been by waiting until this point in this long post. In January I will become the executive pastor of Grabill Missionary Church. Grabill is near Fort Wayne, about the same travel time from our house as First Missionary Church (Fort Wayne) has been. As a result, we won’t move and Hope will be able to graduate in 2009 with her friends and Andrew will still have a house to live in while going to college.