Dear Bloom –
Four years ago this weekend our family rolled into Denver in a U-Haul, excited and scared witless about the prospect of joining you in the very unlikely journey that God had you on. I was 28 when we moved here. I am 32 now. And though only a handful of years have elapsed, that weekend seems like forever ago. So much has happened. So much change. So much growth.
This past weekend, I had the good privilege of heading back to the church in Tulsa that we came from (Sanctuary) to see the people we left behind. Graciously, they let me me preach. Before I began, I thanked them for the years they gave me, and I reminded them of something I said to them right before we left in 2009. I had been journaling that summer about our time in Tulsa, reflecting on what had happened and how God had formed us, and I remember writing these words in my journal:
“When I moved here, I had the idea that it was good pastors that made good churches. After three years with these people, I now see that it is at least as true (if not more true) that good churches make good pastors.”
I shared those words with the congregation that was gathered there in 2009, and again last weekend. They formed me in ways they will never know.
And so have you, Bloom. I had so many ideas of what it meant to be a church when we moved here. And then we started doing life with you people… you let us into your story, let us peer into your lives to begin to understand what God was up to with you, how you understood the world, and what you sensed Him moving you towards. We’ve worshiped together, prayed together, cried together, rejoiced together… we’ve grieved the loss of life together, stood dumbfounded in the middle of seeming God-forsakenness together, celebrated new life together, made grandiose plans together, seen those plans fail together, and continued to walk forward together.
I count it among the highest joys of my life that you let me do what I get to do for you. I think that I have the most wonderful “job” (if it can be so called) on the planet. I get to live close to God, spend my time reflecting on the deep realities of life and love and God and what it means to be human, and then it get to, week after week, invite you into that life… the Life that is truly life. When your life is falling apart, I have the privilege of standing with you and discerning together where God is and how He’s moving IN the falling apart to birth new life into the world… and in so doing, my faith and hope and love are built, and I find myself rooting deeper into the Story, orienting my life more and more profoundly in What IS rather than what is NOT.
I love you for that.
And I love for what you’ve meant to my journey. I love this calling, love being what I get to be… but it’s not easy. It’s never been, at any time, in any generation. That’s why being part of a good church, having your pastoral vocation fleshed out amidst GOOD people is so crucial – because darkness would like nothing more than to see pastors with genuine callings exit the church when the weight of criticism and negativity gets to be too much. One pastor called it “death by a thousand papercuts”–the ceaseless nagging, criticism and whatnot that robs the ministry of joy. Thousands of pastors across the country are leaving the ministry because the sheep bite–and bite HARD–sometimes. And there’s a point at which it becomes… just… too… much…
I love you, Bloom, for you have never been that for me. You’ve loved me and my family (I can’t tell you how much I love you for that), been a friend and encouragement to me at least as often as I’ve been one to you, prayed for me, sent me little notes and messages telling me how much this or that sermon or this or that thing I said meant to you… and I’m telling you… every one of those put energy in my soul like you can’t ever possibly know. You have no idea how much each one of those has meant to me. In fact, when you’ve sent me emails doing so, you’ve probably gotten email responses from me where I said things like “Your words fill my soul in ways you can’t imagine.“
I’ve never – never – said that disingenuously. Every word of your encouragement fell like rain on my weary heart. I can’t thank you enough for that.
And I need to thank you also for this–you’ve opened my eyes to the dignity of my work, indeed, the dignity of ALL work done well, in degrees that I’m not sure I could have attained in another community. For you are, at your core, a community of artists. I never would have considered myself an artist before I came here, and, truth be told, I had an idea that artists were these really strange, uber-feely types who couldn’t really be counted upon for much but probably served some totally incomprehensible function in our society (you know, since God made them and everything).
And then I got to know you. I got to see how when you put brush to canvas, you do it out the very depths of who you are. Most of you are not “professional” artists in the sense that you get a steady paycheck from what you do, which means that you do your art IN ADDITION TO working sometimes 40+ hours a week. And still, you are not daunted. You don’t do it for money. You do it for love. You do it because you have something to SAY that you feel NEEDS BEING SAID… you do it because life and love and laughter and beauty are literally BURSTING from within you, BURNING like fire in your bones, and you just HAVE to let it out. So you put brush to canvas, lyrics to song, wood and metal together to say it… to say what you see… the saying and the seeing… oh how they dance together. And you feel that when you’re doing it, seeing and saying, you’re entering into something unimaginably, inexpressively sacred.
It took me awhile, and then I started to see it. I started to see how you artists truly embody the best of the human spirit, and how, in a measure, we are ALL artists – each of us equipped by grace to “see” what is good and true and beautiful and then given yet another measure of grace to order reality towards the vision of what we see. I started to see that like you, I WAS AN ARTIST… given a vision of what human life could be like under the gracious reign of God in Christ, and given gifts to help nurture and order human life towards its true telos, its end, goal, and consummation in God.
And whether or not I ever got recognized or paid very well for what I did (oh my goodness… what I crime it would be to measure my value by something so base and foolish like “recognition” – you taught me that), what I did mattered and had dignity because I did it from my soul and with all my intelligence and care and character, and I did it with honesty and not for personal gain and because sometimes you just have to SAY what you SEE, and if no one’s listening, it doesn’t matter because it’s not the point… for the saying is the thing. You work from your faith, and you trust that God is the one who justifies us by faith. Only you artists could have helped me see that as clearly as I see it now.
You gave me that, Bloom, among many other things. And I love for it.
When we moved here, we said “30 years.” It was and is our desire to live out the meat of our lives with excellent people. The “long haul.” That will always be our desire. And of course no one knows the future… so we have no way of knowing or guaranteeing that what we desire will come to pass.
But if it does, and if these first four years are any indication of what could be…
Then that will have been a life beautiful and unlike anything I would have dreamed of.
We LOVE you, Bloom. Thanks for letting us in on your little secret.
Grace and peace and love be with you always.