Years ago, just after Heather and I were married, we went on what I considered a dream trip. We traveled out west and spent the better part of a week at Rocky Mountain National Park near the little town of Estes Park, Colorado. We hiked, camped, and wandered all over the general area from the campground around the lake to the town proper. We hiked up to the boulder field in the shadows of Long’s Peak, though we only it made it part way before we turned back because of snow and ice. For a week we lived in a picturesque wilderness and enjoyed it as home. I even tracked down a newspaper at one point and looked for jobs in the hopes of staying. A seed was planted, and from that point on, I returned to the idea of moving west on a regular basis, though I had no idea how it might happen.
Fast forward a decade or so. I was sitting in a library conference room at Asbury, talking to a district superintendent from the Rocky Mountain Conference. During my seminary experience, I had a series of aha moments and had begun to explore faith and theology beyond the bounds of my upbringing and early adulthood. Moving west appeared to provide an opportunity to not only get back to the mountains but to also be part of a conference where I could do some theological and ministerial exploring. I happily joined the ranks of the commissioning class of 2015 with the hopes that I could wander not only the Rocky Mountains but new faith mountains and pastures as well.
When we moved to Colorado, our family found a house in a neighborhood near the church I was appointed to serve. At the time I was excited to be living so near the mountains less than an hour from Mount Herman. I was hopeful that I might get to spend ample free time wandering the mountainous forests and boulder fields. The mountains were calling, and I thought I should go. From our home the view was nearly all the same: a house on either side, a house in front, a house in back. There was one window on the top floor that faced Mount Herman and if you sat on the bed and looked up rather than out, you got a beautiful panoramic view of the Rampart Range. Otherwise, you saw a generic looking subdivision, not unlike the other dozen or so in Monument.
My theological view wasn’t much different. The conference thought I would be well matched with a successful pastor who had graduated from the same seminary as me. The truth was, he was only willing to accept another minister under appointment if they came from our shared school. I was the only one with youth ministry experience, woeful as mine was. Our theological and personal differences were so extreme, I only stayed a year before being moved to a nice quiet hamlet on the edge of the Black Hills, which interestingly enough, was closer to what I had hoped for in Colorado. My dreams of exploring mountains and theology were somewhat dashed or the very least seen through a glass darkly. The Colorado I had hoped for and the conference I had hoped to be a part of didn’t really materialize. As I was wrapping up ordination, Heather was applying to graduate school back east and we felt the need to be back closer to family. I found an opening in the South Carolina Conference and well, here I am.
The journey of my dreams out west taught me some things. Mostly, you don’t necessarily see the whole picture, even if you are looking for it (which I wasn’t). My idea of life in Colorado was based on a single trip—one vacation taken decade earlier—to a very particular part of Colorado at a certain time of year under specific circumstances. My idea of ministry in Colorado was based on a freedom I thought I would find among like minded people and the truth ended up being most people were entrenched on one side or the other of the great battle for the denomination called United Methodist. As much as I wanted to be there and be a part of things, my desires for what ministry is and should be (evolving as they were and continue to be) were not the same and I found I didn’t fit in either camp (a still don’t).
Looking back, I’m glad I went out west, glad I was ordained there, glad I got to see the other side of the camp so to speak. Mostly I’m glad I had the chance to reorient my perspective and step away from some misconceptions. Perhaps that is the greater lesson. It is only when we stop running toward the things we think we see, and step away from the situations we are in, then we see where we are that we can truly have perspective. The Way of Jesus offers us this if we are willing to embrace it above and before all other ideas and ways of life.