So the last months in Muncie rolled on. Our small band of outcasts (my family, Bonnie, those who chose to leave in solidarity) whiled away the weeks, playing the remaining cards in our hand, desperately waiting for the next to be dealt. I applied for new ministries, mostly church plants in the Northeast, and during those interviews I began to notice something: though still bitter and broken, I was changing, softening.
He wasn’t utterly gone, but this self-identified “prick’s” abrasiveness was slowly displaced as the tears of my spiritual bankruptcy fomented a humility having nothing to do with me. A burgeoning sacramental awareness flowered, this intuition of the audacious holiness of life – of God as the pulsing energy in and among and through all things. This pervading sense of beauty in the banal seared my heart and became the first fruits of a new pastoral vocation wherein I learned to hear the whispers of Grace in all things.
Mikala, too, was changing. Her story is best told by her, but I can affirm the beginnings of her own faith deconstruction began in this season. Our shifting views on Scripture we’ll cover later because it was not views on the Bible or doctrine that began to transform, but the foundations of her lived-faith. Like me, she was softening and spreading roots. But better than and largely because of me she learned the hard lessons of grace: how to extend and receive it, and what a life caught up in it looks like. Her loving me through pain – when she had virtually no reason – utterly changed me.
Happy are the downtrodden. They have something to tell about themselves.1
Not only did these interview discussions help me witness to the changes within myself, but they also provided my first opportunity to frame our story. Though I never led with the affair or my struggles with our lead pastor, I was always upfront and honest about these events, to the amazement of the interviewers. I would tell the story and, after a brief silence, the pastor with whom I was speaking would almost always thank me for my honesty, yet I never thought to speak other than I did. Perhaps I’m guilty of living in the overshare age, but it seemed to both natural and prudent to share these things.2
Natural, in that these events played a crucial role in my development, and prudent because I had no intention of getting into later interview rounds only to be rejected because I held back such scandalous information. Due to my toxic relationship with previous leadership and the Board’s lack of interest in either facts or pastoral care, I was justifiably mistrustful of church authority. If they were going to reject me, I wanted to know sooner rather than later.
But that was not my experience. While none of these church plants worked out, the gentle responses from these leaders led me to believe that perhaps I wasn’t finished as a pastor just yet.
And then one day in late January I received an email.
Apparently still on the organizational list that keeps our movement’s campus ministries connected, I normally would’ve deleted such a message unread, but this time I read on – and the contents changed our lives.
It stated that Brad Smith, the lead pastor for the Campus House in Warrensburg, Missouri, was still on the hunt for another staff member…
…preferably one that could both lead worship…
And then déjà vu hit me like hammer.
Brad Smith. Campus ministry in Missouri. Worship pastor. Yes, I remembered! About five months before I was fired, we were at a ministers’ retreat where I had a conversation with a tall, goateed man who had mentioned earlier that his ministry was looking for a pastor The way he spoke about his team and ministry enthralled me, and that night we happened to be the only two watching the NBA playoffs in the common room. I asked him for more information but purely for conversation. At that point, we knew our time in Muncie was ending, but figured it would still be a year. But as I sat listening to Brad, he spoke about their core value of shalom, and I found myself longing desperately to be part of this community.
Conversation dwindled as more people showed and when the game was over I returned to our room. Mikala happened to be awake and together we sat in our hotel bed, looking at the ministry’s website, falling in love with something seemingly beyond reach. There were simply too many things in the way: time, students, Bonnie, a house. We pined for the unreachable.
Then, five months later, long after we’d forgotten the encounter, the fan was turned on and everything fell to pieces.
And then I received an email.
So, with hope and doubt surging within, I clicked the link and pulled up my résumé.
1. Pasternak, Boris. Doctor Zhivago.↩
2. I do have a blog after all…↩