To be famous for God is a common, almost universal, pastoral pursuit. I’m talking about the top dogs, the senior pastors on the hunt for their mega-church, the visionaries. That was me. I know my own type well enough.
I started out with the noblest intentions, but somewhere along the way something happened. The landscape changed. Not around me, but in my thinking. In my understanding of who God was, who I was, and what the whole point of the church community was. When I look back now, I feel as if I was living in a warped pastoral franchise of Disneyland. A place where my wildest religious dreams could come true. Where magical events were an everyday occurrence. A world where I was doing something great. Making God Famous – and myself a little famous too.
There I was, week in and week out, on stage in the center of my religious Disneyland. The one and only: Pastor Mickey Mouse.
When I reflect on those early day, I picture myself as a theme-park employee clocking on for his shift, feeling lousy and wanting to throw the whole gig in. However, like a true professional, quickly getting into character, suiting up in my costume and bouncing onto the stage to the roar of the crowd. After the show I would walk around in character and shake a few hands, wave a little. Big smiles, big smiles.
In the beginning I knew it wasn’t real. I knew that wasn’t who I was, but at some point I stopped believing I was putting on a show and started believing the whole thing was real. I was no longer faking anything. It was no longer a costume. The fantasy had become my reality… I was Pastor Mickey Mouse.
The saddest part about this was that my family at home knew I wasn’t the great religious icon I was creating myself to be. They had a good reason not to believe it too. They lived with me. Yet, after everything I put them through, they still love me. That alone is enough for me to be forever thankful for God’s grace. I’m still here. My wife still loves me. My kids still talk to me. I woke up from my religious fantasy losing my income and my pride, but by the grace of God I kept hold of the one thing that matters most. My family.
I want to be honest and real. I’ve discovered that means accepting I’m not living in Peter Pan’s Nevernever land. My life, from a miraculous perspective, is quite boring now that my faith is no longer played out in a religious theme park. The miraculous is not happening all around me. The dead are not being raised in my living room. The crippled are not being healed by my shadow. I would love to see these things happen, but I’m not going to create a fantasy in my mind to convince myself they’re happening when they’re not. I want to be honest. I want to know the truth. I want to see where this journey takes me.
So here I am. No more costumes. No more audience. No more standing ovations. That’s O.K. Maybe now, in the quietness, in this place where I no longer have a religious image to live up to and no religious benefits to lose, I might have a real shot of learning what this whole walk of faith is really about.