There is something safe, predictable and easy about following the rules, and Life fits into nice, tidy categories when lived in black and white. Sometimes I think there's even more freedom within a set of well-defined boundaries: you know exactly where you can & cannot go, and you don't have to be stuck, constantly worrying "Have I gone too far?"
In my younger years, my faith was lived out in a rigid set of constructs that went somewhere along the lines of the old saying "Don't drink, smoke or chew or go with girls [guys] that do". Sex, drugs and rock & roll were BAD (unless, of course, it was Christian rock & roll-- then it was okay), and doing anything on the List of vices (the one I sort of made up without realizing it) made you a BAD Christian.
Somewhere along the line, my vision started to move away from the Black & White mentality. Rather than saying that I started to consider the various shades of gray in between, I think my shift was more like starting to see things in color-- like when Dorothy steps into Oz, only slower and more gradually.
Some would call it "Deconstructing my faith", others would probably call it blasphemy, and still others would simply view it as a time of seasoning & maturing. Either way, I love my colorful world in San Francisco, and the prism that is found in our ministry.
As the numbers in our modest college ministry grew proportionally with my levels of stress & anxiety, I came to the brilliant conclusion that it was time to put some of our capable, colorful students into leadership. The only problem was that our vibrant students don't quite fit into the Black & White constructs of what most would define as Model Christian Leaders.
Don't get me wrong-- our students are a breath of fresh air. They are eager & honest, full of life, authenticity & growth. They just resemble Jesus' rag-tag group of followers a little more than the board of elders at the local Presbyterian Church.
I was carefully considering how to proceed, and who to invite into our exclusive little inner circle of leadership when Chris let off a bomb in my brain. He had spent the evening with a friend of ours who happens to rub shoulders with some of the Christian Super Stars of our day-- the ones whose books we read, whose sermons we download, and whose brilliant thoughts we quote. It turns out that the vast majority of them aren't as shiny and polished as they appear on stage.
Now, of course I know that nobody is perfect, but I think that most of us don't really believe that about the people we look up to-- especially our spiritual heroes. If we envision their imperfection it's probably along the lines of swearing when stubbing a toe, or overindulging in a bowl of ice cream. When our icons truly reveal their flaws-- addictions, affairs, divorce, anger, greed-- its like discovering that Santa Claus isn't real. Devastating.
So, when I heard that some of my heroes of the faith were not so heroic, a part of me shrunk back. My immediate response (after disappointment) was fear-- fear that I would end up behind a pulpit someday, speaking beautiful, relevant words that had been made hollow by my own emptiness. Let me be a barista at Starbucks for the rest of my life before that happens.
My next thought was for our students. What is the most important thing in a leader? I asked myself. I thought of Sunday School characters, like King David (murderer, adulterer), Peter (denied Jesus), Thomas (full of doubt) and how their hearts were pure, even though their actions didn't always live up to their lofty desires.
So, I decided to throw out the rule book-- to live out our lives & our ministry in color and not in black & white. It felt good, right, and free. We invited all our students to come hear about leading with us, and told them that what we were interested in was people who were willing to live their lives in the light-- open & honest, but not perfect. No rules; just willing hearts.
As fate would have it, one of our student made a fairly public "Christian faux pas" the very night of our big leadership unveiling. I had to smile as I thought of God chuckling softly to Himself-- not at the student (I truly have no judgment there), but at me. Oh, the irony of taking the road less traveled, of trading rules for color & adventure. "Do you really mean it?" asked God with a wink & a smile.
In the end, I would much prefer the messy splatter of colors on our canvass than newsprint-- not just because it keeps life interesting, but because it reminds me that I have no idea what I'm doing. And I know that to be a good thing, because it keeps me constantly before my Creator.
What's next? I really can't say. I can only go one step at a time... which helps me enjoy the scenery.