Saturday, March 24, 2007

Let the Pigeons Loose!

The past two weeks have been a crazy rush of finishing renovations at the YWAM base, finalizing all aspects of the Crossroads Discipleship Training School (which Wendy & I will be staffing & teaching at), and just the usual and expected general mayhem that accompanies the beginning of two -- count 'em, TWO -- DTS's at the same time (the other is Korean-language KDTS), while also running an ESL school as well.

Tomorrow we kick off the DTS's with a traditional Fijian "pig in the ground" lu'au, complete with letting the various South Seas Islanders loose with some of their awe-inspiring dances (we have a lot of Fijians and some Tongans on staff here). It will be a total blast!

Then, as the DTS's begin the next morning, I may find some semblance of normalcy returning, and with it more regular blogging.

An Aside

On a recent trip into the freezing Canadian Prairies, as we wound our way through a forest gravel road, 50 miles south of Medicine Hat, late at night, we suddenly heard our 17-year-old daughter Jo pipe up from the backseat:

"God says there's a deer on the road right around the next curve."

I slowed down as we navigated the curve (the trees were very thick and it was pitch-black out), and voilà!, there was the deer. Because I had slowed down, we didn't have a head-on collision with the deer in the headlights.

Glad my daughter speaks up when God tells her stuff!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A New Kind of Vision

Okay, so it's a well-documented and established fact that I'm 45 years old, making me pretty much the poster child for middle-age. And everyone knows that middle-aged people need new glasses, especially those prone to driving way too slow on the highway.

I had discovered in the last six or seven months that I needed to take OFF my glasses to read the excruciatingly small fonts found on things like Advil bottles. I was expecting to join the club of over-40 wearers of "progressive lenses". They tell me that it's "amazing" that I made it to 45 before needing them, which makes about as much sense as British Columbians taking credit for the Rocky Mountains -- it just is, no credit to anybody.

So, now I'm sitting at my computer screen, angling my head in different directions, fighting vertigo worthy of a series of tidal waves in the open ocean.

The only real surprise -- which shouldn't have been, really -- is how danged expensive getting old is. You'd think us older folk would get a little respect, instead of people seeing us as just another cash cow. If we can still find our wallets with our new-fangled progressive lenses on, that is.

Y'all excuse me while I go fall up the stairs.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Detox: Resurfacing

In January of 1999, about eighteen months into the detox journey, I remember having nachos and Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale (Canada’s finest brew) with a good friend, and suddenly having an epiphany that – when all detoxing and debating and deconstruction is said and done – I and only I am the one who can choose what kind of person I am going to be.

And I decided that I was tired of feeling dead. Another friend referred to his struggle with being “twisted and bitter”, which became as common as phrase as Brother Maynard’s CLB (church-left-behind) would later become.

It was a simple but profound moment, one that I was probably incapable of in the early stages of the disillusionment of the detox, but now – suddenly – it became possible.

In the next few weeks, almost as confirmation from Someone Else, I was asked to lead worship at a youth home group, which eventually translated into leading the group. Andrew Smith invited me to play bass on a cross-Canada worship tour (meaning a five week vacation from The Meaning of Fish), which was an incredible time of soaking in a worship band environment, complete with digital loops, acoustic vibes, and good old-fashioned Delirious?-style abandonment.

It was a season of “coming back to life”.

Some things I noticed during this part of the detox:
  • It’s not a return to “business as usual”. You don’t happily re-integrate with the existing structures as if nothing had happened. You’re different and like Neo in The Matrix, you realize “I can’t go back, can I?”

    “No,” responds Morpheus (the prophetic voice), “but even if you could, would you really want to?”

  • At the same time, you begin to see (the worship tour was very helpful for me in this regard) that there are “people of the Spark” in almost every configuration of gathering, across many denominational lines. Your focus shifts and you start seeing healthy trees (people of the Spark) instead of only the forest (the “system” of church).

  • You begin to recognize that some of those around you appear to be aggressively committed to Crabby Detox, and while you don’t avoid them altogether, you realize that you need to pull back somewhat in order to pursue life. (They may or may not understand or like you as much if you break the unwritten but monolithic Rule Of Perpetual Crabdom.)

  • You find a greater freedom to affirm what God is doing through the imperfect vessels called “church”, blessing people at whatever point of the journey they find themselves at, while still being an advocate for change.

    After all, at some point, all of us were part of “the system” – perhaps even defending and enforcing it – and we have to show the same grace to people still in it as we would like them to show us. (And recognize that, as imperfect people ourselves, we haven’t arrived yet, either!)
And very significantly, you begin exploring and advocating – from a REconstruction motive – for a Christo-centric, Spirit-empowered missional community, for the sake of the King, and to partner with Him in the advancing of the Kingdom.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Detox Discoveries

The early months of our season of detox were an interesting mix of trying to find work, figuring out how to buy and pay for a house with no fixed income, getting the kids into a school, caring for a newborn baby, and – in our spare time – starting to process our pastoral and “laity” experiences up to that point (we’d been volunteers for six years with George Mercado, and later, pastors for seven years).

We ended up buying an upper/lower duplex in Winnipeg’s North End, renting out the top floor to three friends (all musicians), I joined a “secular” band as a missional presence in Winnipeg’s vibrant musical scene, and Wendy began to adapt her hobby of photography (started as a way of dealing with our first son’s death) into a business.

Early detox discoveries:
  • You don’t realize how common it is for the “official” people to receive many prophetic words of affirmation – and how rare it is for the “laity” – until you’ve moved from one group to another.

  • The people most needing encouragement rarely received it, because encouragement (prophetic or otherwise) seemed to be directly connected to your perceived value to the machinery organization.

  • Many times, I found myself looking in the mirror and really wondering, “Maybe the problem really is me...”

  • When you’re in pain, you’re not the nicest or most consistent person to be around. Although we had legitimate wounds that needed healing, we were kinda prickly, moody, and at times fairly toxic ourselves as we detoxed.

  • Which, being interpreted, means (A) we shouldn’t act so self-righteous or adopt a detoxing-martyr complex if other Christians aren’t rushing to hear us vent (yet again) about church, and (B) we need to find others who understand where we can safely vent, puke, cry, and hash through the issues (for me, that meant starting up the Dead Pastors’ Society at the King’s Head Pub every Monday night)

    1. Dead Pastors Society Rule #1: It’s safe place to vent, and to recount the gory details of what led to the disillusionment and detox.

    2. Dead Pastors Society Rule #2: But it isn’t okay to stay bitter or feed bitterness. A safe place to vent was for the purpose of healing.

    3. Dead Pastors Society Rule #3: It’s a process. Not a quick fix. Sometimes, we met and all we “accomplished” was the quaffing of Guinness and the watching of hockey. And that was (and is) okay.
  • Detoxing takes time. I really resented, at first, that it felt like the Enemy was taking me out of the game for – who knows, maybe a year? But I quickly realized that I had no option but to “embrace the crash” and let it run its course. It turned out to be over a year and a half before I felt myself “coming back to life”.

  • Sad but true: there are a lot of house/simple churches full of detoxing people that are just as sick, controlling, and abusive as their CLB’s – the only change is that now they are in charge. House/simple church is not a magic-wand abra-cadabra solution to the issues of power and control. This realization, in itself, was tragic: you start to wonder if anyone, anywhere is actually capable of living in Christian community.

  • I recognized very early on that despite what some extreme anti-leadership people assert, there is a Biblical role of leadership, as some are gifted by the Holy Spirit with leadership, and part of the wrestle as we RE-construct after critique and deconstruction, is about the heart and manner of how people (like me) will understand and function as missional – and charismissional – leaders of communitas.
The comic strip Dilbert is a very funny metaphor for those of us who see similarities between the insanity of corporate bureaucracy & policies, and many church leadership structures (see Don't Step In The Leadership, for example). If you want to understand the perception and reaction of many “laity” to church power structures, just read Dilbert. And for those in the midst of a season of detoxing from church, I also recommend Dilbert, as laughing is an important part of the healing and reconstructing journey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Ode to a Drummer

The phone rang. And rang. I sat there in my barely-furnished kitchen, with the phone cradled in one hand, while the piece of paper I'd torn off the "Bass player wanted" poster lay crumpled in the palm of the other. The phone suddenly picked up on the other end, and a voice said, "Yeah?"

Reading from the torn piece of poster in my hand, I began, "I'm looking for The Meaning of Fish."

There was a profound pause on the other end of the phone, and then I heard a voice about an octave deeper solemnly intone, "I am The Meaning of Fish."

Such was my introduction to Brad. A very intelligent philosophical kind of guy, who would sometimes show up to band rehearsal wearing a wrap-around skirt, just to see if anyone would comment. After my successful audition, we played together in The Meaning of Fish for three years.

After those frenetic three years of thrashing together, as the band was parting ways, Brad was airlifted to a successful "A-list" Celtic rock band in Winnipeg, where he had more fun than he'd ever had before as a drummer. I attended one of their CD release parties, and it was a great time.

When Brad phoned me a year later to invite me to join him in the Celtic band, at first I thought he was pulling my leg.

But he was serious, and a week after I joined the band, I was playing my first weekend of gigs with them. They don't use chord charts or lyric sheets; it was all by ear and by memory, and it was crazy at first (they had a 50 song play list), but like Brad, I found myself having more fun than ever before as a musician.

We were one of the bands invited to play on a Guess Who tribute album when they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame; we did a cover of Share The Land.

Brad was an enigma in many ways. We often shared a hotel room when the band was touring, and one time I came out of showering to find him reading the Gideon Bible from the hotel room. He read Genesis 1, closed the Bible, and sarcastically stated, "Well, I've done my devotions, how about you?" and left the room for a smoke.

Yet when Wendy was in the hospital, he was the first person to show up in the waiting room, and sat with me for over six hours while we waited to hear what the doctors thought was wrong. And there were other instances, while on the road, where we'd actually have serious talks about life, faith, and spirituality.

St. Patrick's Day is always a good day for Celtic bands; we get paid more for that one night than we make in most weekends. This coming St. Paddy's however, will be a different milestone. I just got word that Brad, now 50 years old, will be playing his final gig before retiring from drumming that night. Winnipeg's music scene will never be quite the same.

So, here's to you, Brad. You are a talented drummer and a good friend. I will miss dropping by to see you play whenever I visit Winnipeg. Truly, the end of an era.