I don’t know that I would necessarily say that I’m slow on the uptake, but I’m definitely slow on documenting or publicizing my ‘original’ thoughts, theories and ideas before someone else does.
Among other examples, the name of my personal blog, PunkMonk – the title of a book released several years after I used the expression in casual conversation, having no real notion how to capitalize on the semi-clever self-description at the time. I’ve also been toying with the idea of documenting some personal perspectives and experiences that I’ve developed and learned from throughout the past 10 years in ministry, and wanted to call it, Memoirs of a Bad Christian, only to discover that there’s a blog with a very similar title already… though I don’t think it’s copyrighted (Ha!).
I’m pretty sure that the majority of lessons I have to teach will come from poor choices, ‘bad’ decisions, and failures I’ve made or participated in over the course of my life. There will be no references to Chris McKenzie when developing models for success. Mine may be more of a retrospective in trial and error - in truth, grace and forgiveness. In other words, being perfected, not perfect.
It would be nigh impossible to draw from the majority of my learning experiences without directly referencing our first 4½ years in Glasgow with NieuCommunities (a leadership development program that actually failed before it began. It just took some of us a little longer than others to face that painful truth). I could attempt to write generally and elusively, alluding to vague concepts and veiled accusations, but that would be unproductive and unedifying, and would just frustrate you and me both. Probably the best way to engage this period of our lives (when relevant), and the way that is most consistent with who I am, would be to take the band-aid removal approach – just yank it off quick and get it over with and out in the open.
It’s been more than two years since we left NieuCommunities, and a lot of healing and growing has happened in that time. I mention this because I genuinely believe that I’ve arrived at a place where I can write on this subject from a healthy perspective that, while may not be all Sunday-morning-smiles and pleasantries, will be an open, authentic and fair account of what in hindsight was a colossal train-wreck; a tragic study in dysfunctional Christian community.
Because I have no desire or inclination to make this an accusation-laden rant to assign blame or responsibility to anyone involved, I will simply say that Jasheen and I left NieuCommunities under extremely painful and confusing circumstances where words like allegedly, dismissal, betrayal, communication ban, distrust, and ex-communication would largely sum up the experience for us. Despite all that, we are now healthy and even grateful for how everything unfolded (this may be unpacked in a later post if I ever discuss what a dear friend has pointed out as one of my biggest flaws – ‘terminal loyalty’ or ‘loyalty to a fault’).
I recently read a fantastic comparison between the simplicity of baseball, as presented in the film Bull Durham, and the passage in Mark 12 where Jesus answers the question, “Which is the most important commandment?”
The Greatest Commandment
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
In a frustrated shower-room rant in the film Bull Durham, the manager of the minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, explodes in a fury over their recent losing streak, cornering the team in the showers and throwing baseball bats all over the shower floor.
“This is a very simple game,” he shouts. “You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes… it rains.”
When Jesus was asked by a regional scholar what the most important commandment was, his answer was so wonderfully simple, yet summed up the entire essence of what it means to live the Christian life: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind and with all of your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
At its core, Christianity is a very simple faith that we have a tendency to make excruciatingly complex and difficult. I’m not saying that it’s easy. I’m saying that it’s simple. To paraphrase and intertwine the description of baseball from Bull Durham, and the response Jesus gave in Mark 12: Love God. Love others. Sometimes it’ll be easy. Sometimes it’ll be hard. Sometimes… life rains on you. Or my personal interpretation (and mantra, perhaps), “Love God – Love others – Do what you like.”
Why do we always make it so annoyingly complicated? Jesus said that there was nothing more important than these two things. Not church, not community, not baptism, not worship music, not programmes, not position, not curriculum, not strategies. Nothing is more important than loving God and loving others.
Why do we try and make it about anything else???
(I’ll come back to this)
I reflect on the last 6+ years of ministry here in Glasgow, and I can’t help but recognize the lopsided measure of failures and trials to successes and triumphs. Almost every aspect of ministry in this place has been laden with challenging pitfalls along the way, from team dynamics to cultural adaptation; from missional living to cult-level expectations/requirements; from weak leadership to no leadership; from apathy and indifference to exhaustion and frustration; from NieuCommunities to Mosaic.
And as I reflect, I wonder how the Church would look if we simply concentrated on these two things. I wonder how differently things with NieuCommunities would have turned out if these two things had been preeminent in the handling of a delicate and complicated situation. I wonder how many wounds and how much disillusionment could have been avoided. Would we really care that much about worship and teaching style? Would we concern ourselves so much with thoughts and discussions about other people, and what they’re doing or saying? Would we care so much what people think about us, or whether they agree with us? Would we worship at the alter of Community, or would we worship at the throne of Jesus?
If we simply concerned ourselves with these two things, we would have so much more joy and enthusiasm about living out our faith. We would give and receive so much more grace. We would be a part of something that as of yet we only stage countless meetings and read hundreds of thousands of words about.
These two things, folks, are what it’s all about.
More on this stuff later…