On Wednesday mornings at 7:00 a.m. we gather. We began meeting at the hospital cafeteria, then a succession of restaurants before settling in at a church library — one with comfortable furniture and a gas fireplace.
For more than 15 years we’ve gathered. I think four of the current eight members go back that far. The others have joined along the way. Two have left the group, making ten the total number who have been involved. In both cases they moved away. When we started, we were young guys, hitting our stride as local ministry leaders. Nobody was forty yet. Now we’re into mid-life — well into mid-life if statistical averages keep pushing our life expectancies out there.
We’ve all been through a job shift or two. No contract or bylaws have ever been solidified. If you’re in town you make the effort to show up. Then there’s the “Paul” rule. The “Paul” rule states you only get ninety seconds to talk about health concerns. Not because we don’t care for each other, he just wants us to avoid becoming like our parents too soon. Paul not only created the rule, he graciously enforces it.
Over the years we’ve talked about ministry andwork, community ministry updates, family, marriage, parenting, movies, books and baseball. Baseball trumps all other sports for us. I could go on about how we’ve taken it beyond games, innings and standings. There is something so much more in the rhythms and history of the game. We make an annual trip to Safeco Field to, hopefully, watch the Mariner’s win one.
There have been times of deep, honest, supportive listening and heartfelt prayers. The group has been a place of safety and strength for most if not all of us in those near-overwhelming life moments. At other times we can be random and hilarious. Sometimes humor breaks into the circle and all focus is lost, or maybe actually found.
There was one Wednesday morning. The conversation had most likely ebbed and flowed. I do not remember the exact focus of the day. And then Randy asked the following question. “What is the greatest heresy you believe in and that you’re willing to share with your staff team?” It may have been something he heard in another group setting.
Now remember: at this time all but one of us is employed in professional ministry. We work for a church or para-church. They write our checks.
We all share something of an “I’ve moved beyond fundamentalism” story. We talk about our organizations, families and friends being supportive, that we are in learning communities that allow and encourage growth. But from what I can remember, we never got to an actual conversation. Were we not ready to dissect the difference between what we are supposed to believe and where our hearts and minds settle?
Were we afraid to speak our truth? To have it out there. Or did we not have clarity as to how we would answer. Did we think that by not answering it would go away? Were our minds overloaded by the possibilities or were we embarrassed or worried that in outing ourselves we’d no longer be accepted? Did the conversation die because no one took the risk of going first?
In the years since Randy first voiced the question, I’ve asked some version of it in a number of group settings. Rarely if ever has it ever resulted in an actual discussion. No one seems to want to talk about such sacred, hidden, fear-held ideas and beliefs from within in a group setting.
I’ve been able to push it further with individuals to help them explore a place of honest belief and to encourage refinement of ideas and formulate words that reveal some deep essence. But I’m guessing they hope or trust their confession ends with me.
In my own life I continue to process the question and try and understand the implications. Maybe the next question for me is: with whom can I share my honest answers?
I think Randy’s question is one of the most profound I have ever encountered. To claim a baseline of faith and not answer seems ignorance, cowardice or foolishness or all three. It forces examination and begs for honesty. I remember words about truth setting us free and something about things in darkness being brought to light.