Well, it’s time for the shit to hit the fan.
After growing up in stereotypical Midwestern, conservative-evangelical Christianity and graduating from one of its Bible colleges, I found a job within that same tradition as a campus minister, I seemed to be locked-in to a lifelong career.1
Except it was no longer my tradition.
First subtly, then through research and discovery, I began to pull away from all I had known and began swimming the older stream of liturgical-contemplative spirituality – particularly its Anglican expression. And since I tend to process verbally, these changes did not go unnoticed by Mikala, Bonnie, or my students.
Or our senior pastor.
In my introductory post, I promised to refrain from lionizing myself; to hold back the desire to present my story as some heroic journey. This post was in mind when I made that promise. Because the fact is, the senior pastor was a prick.
But so was I.
He was consistently unsupportive and maladapted to the mentorship I was desperate for, and became a cypher for the old, white conservatism I with which I was disillusioned.2
I was bellicose and consistently challenging our tradition with my half-baked critiques, and represented the sort of young, overly-affirming progressivism he believed was cutting at the foundation of our faith and society
So yeah, we never saw eye to eye. He was threatened by me, but I did nothing to abate that feeling since Bonnie and I sided against him on almost every front. The fact is, I was not easy to work with, either. A prick.
However, I still believe an elder Christ-fllower and minister with twenty-plus years’ experience should have seen us as youthful idealists, requiring patience and formation (and maybe even credibility), not opposition.
Running parallel is of course the affair I carried on with a young lady in the ministry. Almost exactly one year before, we were confronted privately by Mikala and Bonnie – and ended it. The following months were full of angst and frustration on my part; predictable anger and (less-predictable) grace-filled forgiveness on my wife’s. We were attending counseling. Trying to move on. But I was so consumed with my own troubles to notice the transformation happening in her; too swathed in self-pity to see that this “sacramental Grace” I pontificated on was softening and opening her heart. I tried to honor her choice to stay by cutting off the affair, but the energy expended in that effort left me unable to invest in her. So for months we existed in a holding pattern, waiting for something to change.
Well that change came, all right.
One Sunday evening in early November, I received a call from our senior pastor, asking me to meet him at the office in an hour. I stepped in the darkened room and without preamble he asked if I had been in a relationship with this student. Hands turning to ice, explained it had ended a year before, that Mikala and I had sought counseling, and that more than one advisor who knew both us and the ministry had affirmed our decision not to tell him.3 My pleas, however, were unavailing. I was put on one-week’s paid suspension while he and the Board of Directors determined my fate.
Thursday, a Board member called, asking my side of the story. I never saw the gathered Directors nor had an opportunity to expand my comments, though our advisors lobbied for that opportunity. That Saturday afternoon, knowing the hammer was to drop, several friends and students had gathered. Bonnie received a call. She was fired. Bonnie!? She did nothing; was innocent! How in the hell did they find cause to terminate her vibrant ministry? I fully expected and understood losing my job – but her? (We learned she was seen as an accessory to my failings and had therefore provided the perfect excuse for her ousting.)
A few minutes later, I received a phone call from the chairman. As I stepped outside he read a single-paragraph letter stating I was immediately terminated, with severance for November-December, and would need come collect my things when I could be observed to assure I didn’t take anything belonging to the ministry (you know, due to my well-known kleptomania).
We later found out that this Saturday Board meeting had already been secretly scheduled before any of this came to light, and that our futures were the items on the docket. The fact is, our ministries were both likely drawing to a close; this just assured it (not that that takes away the deep guilt for getting my friend fired).
So I walked along the leaf-strewn streets of my neighborhood. And, breathing in the deep, damp of fall, utterly bereft of purpose and will, unable to either scream obscenities or weep, I asked the slate-colored sky the unanswerable question:
1. The Restoration Movement’s leaders will swear up and down that they are unique and not part of American evangelicalism. I’ve heard the arguments: they are unconvincing.↩
2. It’s a recurring story for my generation, across professions, that we entertained romantic ideas of mentorship upon entering our careers, hoping to be brought into full maturity by those we respected. However, we almost unfailingly found our older colleagues unwilling or unable to do this. The more mature of us decided to make lateral relationships and grow together. I was not the more mature of us.↩
3. His negative (toxic) staff relationships were well-known, and his generally fearful attitude did not lend itself to openness. ↩