It’s Labor Day. And you’ll never guess where I am…
…Blogging from a coffee shop in Tulsa.
It’s been five years, almost to the day, that my family and I left this place, shaking the dust off our feet. That day ended a 10-year struggle that I’d never want to re-live. We’d been faithful, done everything we felt God wanted us to do, but we had seen very little visible fruit, and in the face of it we’d encountered everything from subtle resistance to outright hostility from the religious community. In short–Tulsa kicked our arses. We left free, but bruised and broken.
This isn’t my first time back here since leaving. The family and I came back last spring because The Director’s short film got into a film festival in nearby Muskogee, but that trip was a whirlwind couple of days of chaos, and there wasn’t much time to think or reflect. This time, it’s just me, and I have had more time to ponder, to look at old landmarks, visit my old stomping grounds (i.e., the coffee shop where I did most of my blogging on this here blog). Ten years of memories, not all bad ones. Lots of great moments, mental snapshots of the life lived with the house church, the dear friends made along the way. But also lots of painful moments, moments of disappointment, moments of outright rejection.
I’d be lying if I said the good outweighed the bad. If it had, I’d still be here.
What is surprising to me, though, is how much I’ve forgotten. I have a very good memory (sometimes to the point of annoying The Wild One with how much I remember), but I’m realizing how many details are missing from those years–names of once-good-friends, places, etc. Wisps of memory, but vague. It’s like I’ve blocked out a lot from these years in Tulsa. I suppose I wanted to forget.
This was the scene of the crimes, so to speak. I put it that way because I feel crimes were definitely committed against my family in this place, at least from a spiritual standpoint. I have a lot of mixed emotions because what I do remember is how much should have happened, that didn’t happen, mostly because people said “no” when they should have said “yes.” How many missed opportunities. How many betrayals. How much hypocrisy, how much passivity. It’s more than I can explain here, but you get the general idea. It’s as if the city itself victimized us. I know that sounds weird. But it’s the feeling I’m left with.
But this visit has still been good, in a lot of ways. It’s been good to spend quality time with my Mom, for a variety of reasons. And for me, I think having these few days to reflect once again on all that happened here has given me a rare opportunity for personal closure. Even when we left five years ago, we left in the midst of chaos, turmoil and pain, barely able to think. This trip for me has been more quiet, almost as if I’m protected from something. I have been able to look back, process the pain, regret the mistakes, remember what good times there were along with the bad…and put it to rest.
Perhaps the best thing about coming back here briefly is that it creates some perspective, and lets me see more clearly just how far we’ve come in the past five years since leaving this place. A friend of mine tells me every time I see him that Denver is our “promised land.” Looking at the fruit, it certainly seems to be. Our gifts have flourished in ways we never thought imaginable. We’ve found more personal fulfillment than ever before. We’ve found inroads into the creative community, and touched more people “outside the walls” than we ever did in a decade of trying to minister in a more conventional setting. We’ve seen more financial blessing. We’ve been established in our own home, something we tried to do several times in Tulsa, but which was hijacked or sabotaged each time. I think living in Denver has added 15 years or more to our lives.
I realize I’m rambling here, and that not everyone will relate. If you’re a Tulsan and you feel like I’m bashing your city, my apologies. All I can say is that when you’re talking about the spiritual/religious aspect of this town, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this is a city where the church in general is riddled with politics and is resistant to change–and for someone whose ministry is all about evoking change, that’s not a good combination. I think my family and I essentially brought out the worst in the church here (especially the leadership) because we threatened the status quo. By the very nature of what we were trying to do, in a sense, we got a front-row view of how the church behaves in some of its less-glorious moments. (Or to put it more crassly, we got a good look at the left foot of fellowship just before it kicked us in the face.) This isn’t everyone’s experience here, but then again, this isn’t everyone’s story. It’s mine. Nevertheless, it’s the truth of what happened, and it ought to be told. Just saying.
Tomorrow, I leave what has been a place of desolation for me, and I return to my promised land. I’d love to say I have no regrets, but that would mean I made no mistakes–and I made a ton of them. What I can say is that for all we went through, I don’t regret moving to Tulsa, because for what it’s worth, I know we were obedient in coming, and in staying until we felt God had released us.
But I don’t regret leaving, either. Not for a moment.