July 8, 2022
“Do the rest of us have to wait until somebody somewhere figures things out and tells the rest of us what to do? I believe that all of us play a role in choosing and creating our futures—as individuals and as communities. We don’t need to wait passively for history to happen to us. We can become protagonists in our own story. We can make the road by walking.” [Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking]
When I first decided to follow Jesus, when unbelief was replaced by faith, when pessimism gave way to hope, when I decided that maybe, just maybe, I could help make a difference in this world, I was one month past my 21st birthday. I remember the day quite well; May 2, 1977, the day I was baptized into Christ. I wasn’t baptized into any particular denomination; rather I responded to the good news of Jesus having become convinced that his life and teachings were going to be the model by which I could live my life. That was one of the biggest decisions of my life, to date and since.
Over the next six months I made several other big, life impacting decisions, in an effort to be true to my commitment to follow Jesus. My mom and dad had raised me to make my own decisions and to live with and learn from the consequences whether positive or negative. They never sought to control or direct my life; even when my decisions were not to their liking, they tried their best to be supportive. Though they never did understand why I became a Christian or why I chose to move to Louisiana to go to a Bible School, neither did they stand in my way. Then came the biggest test of the trust they showed me.
In August of 1977, during my first week at the School of Biblical Studies, I met a young, spiritually minded, intelligent, and caring woman who was also in her first week at school. Within two weeks of our first meeting, we decided we wanted to get married. We went through 6 weeks of premarital counseling and with the support of our counselor we were wed on November 13, 1977, just 10 weeks after we met. Many were skeptical and concerned (and rightly so, from their perspective). But we were sure. For 45 years now we made the road by walking on it together. It’s had its ups and downs, its mountain peak highs and down in the valley lows, but we’ve walked through it all together.
For the first several years of our life together, we made our own road. Some choices we made have proven to be the best ones at the time and since, while others were perhaps not so. By 1988, we had moved seven times living for brief periods of time in West Monroe, LA (2 years), Jonesville, LA (14 months), Valley Center, CA (4 months), Monroe, WA (13 months), Pittsfield, IL (4 months), Kirksville, MO (1 & ½ years), and Kingston, Ontario (4 & ½ years). I worked as a minister for much of that time, but also in a car wash, as an orange picker, in a shoe factory, and as a nursing assistant. We were blessed with our two sons during the first 3 years of our marriage.
When we moved to Toronto in July 1988, I was a 2nd year nursing student at the U of T and Sara was working as a special education teacher. We moved to become part of a movement in which we thought we could best live out our faith and make a difference. What we didn’t realize until much later is that by joining this movement we would gradually give up making our own road. We (or perhaps I) more and more began to rely on somebody, somewhere figuring things out and telling us what to do, for we had become part of a hierarchical movement that became a hierarchical institution and ultimately we became part of that hierarchy. In those years we (or perhaps I) chose to let others make the road we walked and, in the process, I lost sight of why and how I had become a Jesus follower in the first place.
About 12 years ago – it’s hard to be precise – I began to gradually make the road I chose to walk, which ultimately led to leaving our hierarchical ministry positions. Since 2016 we’ve been making the road we are walking. I’m a retired pastor who has pursued my passion for learning and Sara has pursued her passion for helping troubled and hurting people through counseling. It is not an easy road and I’m sure that many of my friends and previous associates do not understand the decisions we’ve made and may even see us as having “forsaken the faith.” However, as in our early years together, we are not waiting passively “for history to happen to us”; we have once again become “protagonists in our own story and we are making our road by walking.”
The context of the McLaren quote above is that we are all “unfinished and in the making.” We all have “the capacity to move forward” on the road of our making as we see fit, and even “the freedom to stagnate and even regress.” Thus, while we value and seek advice from people we respect and trust as we walk our road, we are not “waiting on others to figure things out and tell us what to do.” That is how we made the most significant decisions in our early 20s and 30s, and now again in our 60s. We are making the road by walking and encouraging, and hopefully helping, others to do the same.