18 January 2012

Hero Friendship

Because I decided to walk the half mile between the hotel and the restaurant, and because both traffic and parking turned out to be more difficult than expected, I actually arrived first by about 20 minutes. The three of us were in Colorado for a retreat and since Colorado Springs seems to be verily awash with Christian authors, speakers, and celebrities we took the opportunity to ask for a meeting with a man who I deeply respected from his writing and speaking – and he had said yes.

I can’t say that I‘ve ever been the star-struck kind of person. It’s probably born more out of my own pride and stubbornness than anything else but I don’t generally look at anybody as a ‘special’ and instead presume fundamental equality. But here I was chit-chatting with a guy who had made a real impact on my life and I was more than a little spun up. Once Dwennon and Rande arrived I was able to find my center fairly quickly but for a bit there I was a little giddy and I have to assume it showed. But more interesting (to me anyway) is that a year later I know this man on a first-name basis. We trade email and text-messages and I count him as a friend. It’d be a stretch to say we’re buddies but we’re more than acquaintances and contrary to that old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, I respect him more now than I did then, and that has got me thinking.

Staring up at the ceiling in bed last night, thinking about this post, I asked Rebekah, “Do you think we can know our heroes personally or does the nature of a ‘hero’ require some distance?” Something that was slippery to me seemed crystal clear to her. “No. Of course not. Parents are their kids’ heroes all the time.” And of course she’s right and of course parents are only one example of that kind of relationship – so I kept thinking about this new friend from Colorado.

Somewhere around 2003-4 I read Wild at Heart and I got totally rocked. I’m not really very good at keeping authors and their books together in my mind but folks had been talking about W@H and so I knew John Eldredge’s name. I didn’t have any sense of celebrity there but if I’d bumped into him in the airport I’m sure I would have smiled and said something positive...though unlikely I’d ask for an autograph. In 2005 I attended my first Boot Camp Northwest event and there I got really rocked. It’s odd to look back on it now but by the end of that camp I thought of the speakers as ‘special’ and approaching them was an act of courage. Of course now I look at all of those guys...as just guys. That’s not to say I think less of them, I only mean that I know them to be human, with flaws and fears and quirky senses of humor – and I haven’t lost any of my deep respect for who they are or how they impacted my life.

It’s that feeling, that experience, that I’m trying to roll out in this post but I’m looking for the right words. It’s been a singular experience to come to know a man first through his work, to respect and admire him on that basis, then to meet him and build a friendship and still hold him in high esteem. As part of BCNW I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some really great men and women who are talented, powerful, anointed – and also silly, hurting, uncertain. The reflexive egalitarian in me asserts that we’re all just people, those folks are really no different than me but isn’t it true that we typically experience that reality when our heroes fall? When we find out that someone we once respected is flawed in a way that disappoints us? In those moments we don’t want them to be human really. Perhaps we want them to be different from ourselves because we’re far too familiar with our own weakness and we desperately need to know that at least somebody is NOT like us.

Over these last several years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting folks like John Eldredge, Gary Barkalow, Craig McConnell, Bart (Does Bart have a last name?), Morgan Snyder and other fellow sowers in this ‘men’s ministry’ thing, but also a broader circle like Kris Vallatton, Michael Hyatt, Bill Johnson, Aimee Semple McPherson, Rick Joyner, etc. etc. Some have been little more than a handshake, others have become genuine friends, most somewhere in the middle. My goal isn’t to drop names here though, what I’m pointing to is a set of experiences much different than the one where a hero disappoints us upon closer inspection – and instead remarking on a place where I can meet these people, learn that they are just as human and imperfect as myself, and come away not disappointed but holding their person and character in even higher regard than before – and I’m trying to understand how that’s happened.

I think the heart of it comes from something Dwennon says all the time, that ‘One man’s glory should not diminish another man’s glory.’ There is a way in which I see these people talk about one another that conveys a kind of honor and respect that isn’t competitive and I see them act in a way that seems to genuinely seek and speak about the things God has done in that person’s life and far less about the things God has yet to do in their lives. The result is a kind of atmosphere of mutual support even if only from a great distance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusion that some perfect unity of the spirit is going on but to even TRY to act that way is a fair bit more noble than most of the world. Going back to my star-struck dinner (and a stunningly good bison rib eye...with garlic butter and peppered squash...and crème brule...)


What I was saying was that I look back at my evolving relationship with this man from stuttering and trying to be clever to where I’m yucking it up on the phone with the guy this afternoon in front of a bunch of other guys I know of as mighty warriors for the kingdom...and it feels perfectly natural.

That speaks to another part of this process that I’m just beginning to be aware of – part of this process has been in my willingness to let down my own guard and expectations. I have to allow these people to be human, releasing my own sense of their heroic identity, and in so doing I’m able to take a step closer to them as friends. They take the risk of making themselves available and vulnerable and I have to take the step to allow them to be flawed. You might say that when I accept their step ‘down’ I wind up taking a step ‘up’ - only to discover that the elevation difference was in my head all along.

I suppose I also ought to learn an important lesson here. Speaking at BCNW I’ve come to see how easy it is for people to conclude that somehow you must be a ‘spiritual elite’ in some way. After all, the microphone is our modern equivalent to the scepter, it denotes authority. But just like the scepter, the folks holding that thing know its nothing more than a stick. I’ve seen people approach me after a speech with a kind of star in their eye and I’ve always been weirded out by that but I think I see something that I’ve missed in the past. My impulse in those moments is to say, “Dude, don’t look at me like that. I’m just like you.” and I seek to equalize the situation by removing any sense of the ‘special.’ I want to ‘come down’ so to speak...but perhaps I’d do better to instead invite them ‘up.’ Not to say, “I’m just like you.” but rather “You’re just like me.” To validate whatever it was I may have said that inspired them.

Bill Johnson has this great line. Ever seen somebody sing a song really well and you go to congratulate them. They say, “Oh it wasn’t me, it was the Lord.” to which he’d reply, “Well it wasn’t THAT good...” Joking aside I understand the desire to give credit where it’s ultimately due but to close my loop here. What I‘ve experienced as I’ve walked with these men and women is where they are aware of how Christ has worked in their lives but instead of feigning humility they might say “Thanks. I’m glad God spoke to you through that. That was Christ in me...and He’s in you too.”

BTW – Aimee Semple McPherson is long dead, or ‘on to glory’ as she might have said. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. ;)