Though my story is replete with people who left lasting hurt, it’s astounding how many have left ripples of love emanating from even the most painful of seasons. One such person comes from my period when I was awakening to the troubling spiritual tradition of my youth.
Back when I was actively sawing the branch on which I sat, I met Jim. The senior pastor for a local Christian Church and a member of the pastoral advisory group serving our campus ministry, Jim (that’s Dr. Jim to you) became a mentor and advocate for my short but turbulent Muncie tenure. For almost two years, I met the soft-spoken, grey-haired man once a month for breakfast at a greasy spoon to discuss life, family, and ministry – and the movement of which we were both part.
Whether we agreed or no, he always approached with the same gentle, empathetic, judgment-free spirit and I always left my biscuits and gravy feeling
bloated validated – and recommitted to clarifying my thoughts and critiques.
Two conversations come to mind: not necessarily our most interesting, but formative.
I was (as usual) lambasting our tradition’s foundational failures, at one point calling it “too naive” and Jim’s immediate riposte was, “You mean like the Gospel?”
There was no annoyance or dismissiveness but a simple challenge to my poorly-termed critique. He refused my attempts at verbal brutality when nuance was called for, and, as he explained, the only way I could stay employed. Later, I would be able to more pointedly parse the difference between the Gospel’s naiveté and the RM’s, but that day, I was frustrated at what I felt was a purposeful misconstrual of my point, yet also firmly convinced of this man’s care for me.
The second was one of our final breakfasts.
I had already been fired and witnessed Jim fruitlessly advocate for me. I was reeling and terrified, and while I shoveled my plate of carbs covered in liquid lard, I bemoaned my position: how I couldn’t possibly work again in this tradition yet knew nothing else. I felt the chasm between my beliefs and those of the movement’s leaders was too wide to cross; I was just too tragically heroic sitting on the outside of the camp, desperately wishing to be inside while scoffing at the sheep within.
Yet Jim continued to believe in my potential and tried to assuage my sense of dramatic exile so he could help me find a ministry.1
“What exactly do you believe that is so different from me?” he pressed.
After much hemming and hawing, I vaguely waved my hand and listed a few things, to which Jim laughingly said he agreed with nearly all in substance.2 He challenged my conception of dreadful victimization and coached me in maximizing my consistencies while downplaying what seemed mere semantics.
As with the previous story, I would later come to see that I did indeed diverge from my Restoration Movement friends and pastors on a number of issues, and the attempted obviation of this was a contributing factor to my next flame out. However, my friend was counseling in good faith based on what he understood at the time. Though pain eventually came of it, my life would be less full were it not for men like Jim and
the fattening foods we ate our challenging and validating conversations.
Jim’s effect is indicative of the larger movement’s footprints on my heart: while I would not for any amount of money work for them, they are my spiritual family. I will never untangle myself from their roots, nor should I.
Leaving them behind as though I had “evolved beyond” is not the answer.
Neither is remaining.
As one pastor recently said, “You can cut the cord, but the belly button remains.”
People like Jim represent the best, most nourishing aspects of my faith’s womb. I would quite literally not be here were it not for them. And I am grateful. Yet I have awakened to something new moving within, and it’s time to “cut the cord” and move on.
Not beyond, just on.
1. He eventually set me up with a pastor friend of his and, though the job itself wasn’t a good fit, the confidence he displayed in the recommendation has never left.↩
2. I should say this was before I had solidified stances on the roles of women and homosexuality, not to mention salvation.↩