Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Your Own Thing

One of the troubles we get into in our society, and perhaps the reason it seems so much easier to hate than to love, is that somewhere along the way we got this idea that the highest form of humanism is to do your own thing. It's to strike out on your own, to go after your heart, to pull something together...and get people to join you.

And I'm all for leadership, but the problem with this ideology is that if everyone is trying to do his own thing, there's no one to join you. They can't. Otherwise, they'd be doing your thing and if we buy into the culture, isn't that a step backward for a man trying to be all that he desires to be? So we have created an entire culture of lone wolves, a society of singularities, and there's bound to be some friction between those things now and then.

Things...I mean "people." There are seven billion of us, you know. Things can get quite..messy.

One of the things I love about ministry, and one of the things I look for in my life in general, is the opportunity to break out of this mindset. It's the chance to buck the culture and step out of my own thing. This opportunity is very pronounced in ministry, especially. Again, as always when I'm speaking about ministry, this can be formal or informal. It can be standing in the pulpit or serving in the soup kitchen. Any act of service, any act of ministry, is about bringing what someone else is doing together with what God is doing. There's not room for your thing, too. Not if you're doing it well.

And you know what? That's just fine. The older I get and the more I understand about how community works, the more content I am to get out of the way. I'm more aware of my own limitations. I'm more aware of my own errors. I'm more aware even of my own temporality; I'm not going to be here forever, nor would I want to be. The idea that I would bring people on board with an idea of my own mind is agonizing. I know I would fail them. 

Not only that, but I would be selling them short. I was always the smart kid in the class. I was always the creative kid. I was the one that would make things happen and make sure they happen in the best possible way. This, in general, meant that I just ended up doing it. Nobody seemed to care. I was happy because things were being done, and they were being done awesomely. Other people were happy because they didn't have to do it. As the years went by, I realized that most of the people around me didn't even try any more. They gave up on having ideas. They gave up on contributing. They gave up on trying. And eventually, they gave up on themselves. 

Because hey, I was doing my thing and I was really good at it and their thing apparently wasn't very good and they didn't think they could pull it off, so why bother? That's the trouble. Take a look around you, and you'll see it plain as day:

People have too long lived in a world where they're supposed to do their own thing, but their own thing isn't good enough and they end up doing nothing and resenting everyone for it. Then they try to stand alone and instead fall down because they too long ago forgot how to plant their feet, and suddenly, hate starts brewing. Hate for those who are doing something, anything. Hate for those who are trying to stand and stumbling. Hate for those who are standing and doing it well. Just....hate.

Which brings us back to community. I had the opportunity recently to do a thing again. I had the chance to take a project and run with it. But it wasn't my project. This particular adventure belonged to someone else and this person wasn't sure whether he could take that step or not. Whether he had it in him. He came to me. My first thought was, "This is not so hard." And it's true in the past that I would have just taken it over and gotten it done. But I just can't do that any more. There's something more at stake.

So I sat down with him for awhile and worked it out. I set him up to take the next steps, to pull things together, to make things happen. I gave him the strength he needed to set out on this adventure because it is his adventure, and he can rock it. You know what? I can't wait to see what happens. This is an investment in a so much bigger thing.

Again, about a month ago, there was a photographer setting up shop in Indianapolis for a weekend. His goal? To take 300 random portraits in 3 days at his exhibit inside one of our museums. I don't know what the idea meant to him. I don't know what it fed in his heart to think about this. But I did know that unless 300 people showed up, this would never happen for him. So I went. I put it on my calendar, made a special trip north, and stopped by his makeshift photo studio to have a portrait taken for his exhibit. I don't know if he made it to 300, but something beautiful happened anyway. Those photographs, however many there are, now hang as an exhibit in the history museum. Together. A moment in time, three little days. You know what they show?

Not the dream of one man. Not the concept of an artist. But the presence of community. For just a few minutes of my life, I am sealed into this community that came out in support of one man. That's a story, too, and not just about him. He was doing his own thing, and he got people to come along. Great. But we were doing our own thing, too, and that became community. It is something that pulls us together.

See, that's what I'm talking about. We have all of these great ideas about what it might be like to do our own thing. To be our own man. To succeed at being the one who brings others along. But the beautiful thing happens outside of the strong man. The beautiful thing happens in the weaker man who learns to stand. The beautiful thing happens in the community that comes together. The beautiful thing happens in the story that stands out. At the end of the day, it's never about the one man any more; it's about every man.

Some people will never understand why I have no nagging desire any more to do my own thing. Some people will never get how easy it is for me to give it all up for the sake of something bigger. Some people will never fathom how I believe so wholly in a ministry that doesn't seem to make room for my story. That doesn't make space for my thing.

It's simple - there's something so much more beautiful when my thing isn't in it. There's something breathtakingly wonderful when I step back. There's something quietly fulfilling about being a part of someone else's big thing, of showing up in simple community. 

You might even say, quite simply, it's my thing.

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