Have you ever met someone who was too smart for his own good? You know the type, the person that uses his abilities to make him look good or profit. You might think that this is a strange way to introduce Michael Defazio, like I am about to throw him under the bus. The truth is that I only paint the picture of a self-serving smartass to demonstrate everything Michael is not.
On the other hand, few people I know have so many talents and then use them as selflessly as Michael does. He is humility mixed with ability. When you read his reflections on teaching and leading others into a better understanding of the person Jesus was/is, you should know that he does all things for the pure joy of doing them. The only thing he expects in return is honest questions and devout following. Which, ironically enough, are two things he does pretty darn well himself.
10. Never say never.
Hardly a more boring way to start, right?! And don’t get your hopes up -- this never-say-never story isn’t any more interesting than all the others you’ve heard. But I’d be lying if I didn’t include this on the list for 2010. My “never say never” story this year has to do with my job. Here’s the short version: In college I did a two-year internship in small groups. My conclusion at the end of this period was clear and simple: “I love community, but I never want to do small group ministry again.” In December 2010 I became the Life Groups Pastor at my church. Enough said, I suppose. Never say never. (Also in the “never say never” category is the fact that one of my new favorite theologians is a charismatic Calvinist, as well as the fact that I decided to join a 7-year plan reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.)
9. Cooking really is a joy.
I’m about as competent in a kitchen as Lebron James when it comes to public relations. Seriously. But I needed to start contributing to family meal-times beyond mac-n-cheese and, “I can go grab Chick-fil-a if you want.” I had to start somewhere, so in 2010 I learned how to make a legit homemade pizza. Simple enough, to be sure. But what took me by surprise is how much I cared to make it awesome -- and even more than that, how enjoyable it was. I don’t want to get over-technical, but for me cooking is also somewhat of a frontal assault on the ideology of spirituality. Sorry for the silly phrase, but that’s really how I regard the way of thinking that separates life with God from earthy stuff like pets and vacuuming and yardwork; or in this case, dough, sauce, cheese, pepperoni, sausage, olives, green and red peppers, and artichokes. Really, you’d love my pizza almost as much as I do.
8. We are desiring beings.
I didn’t read a lot in 2010, but I did find some gems. And near the top of the list was James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom. It’s a book about worldviews, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. In a nutshell, Smith exposes most Christian worldview thinking (and most Christian theology and ministry practice in general) as being wrongly rooted in a conception of human beings that sees “thinking” (or as we put it, “believing”) as the very core of who we are. So we aim to change what people say they believe, and wonder why people stay the same (except for getting a bit meaner, perhaps). Instead Smith demonstrates how we are fundamentally desiring or loving beings, and our first task should be the re-direction of our loves/desires toward God and a vision of the good life centered in the kingdom of God. His second move is to flesh out how our desires are properly directed primarily through liturgical practice. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but he has an incredibly insightful and fun section on going to the mall as a liturgical practice that shapes our desires in all the wrong directions.
7. I am a “neo-Anabaptist.”
If you know that that means, then you know what that means. If you don’t, then you probably don’t care. Basically, I continued to find continuities between what God has been doing in my own life and community, and what he seems to be doing in the church at large. Many of us are being drawn to a vision of Christianity that can rightly be described as “neo-Anabaptism.” The word “Anabaptist” refers to a wing of the Protestant Reformation who saw the main Reformer’s (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli) reforms as needed but not thorough enough. For instance, they believed these Reformers did not see how compromised the church had become with the worldly institutions and ways of life around them. The Anabaptists emphasized radical discipleship with God alone as our protector and defense, rooted in Scripture alone as our ultimate authority in faith and practice. Some of them were wacky, to be sure, but all in all they provide us some continuity with the past and a communal kindred spirit with what we believe God is doing today. I have to give credit to Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist and James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World for helping me discover this. (Btw, when I grow up, I want to be a new monastic. Maybe.)
6. My life hasn’t yet caught up to my convictions.
These are getting long so I need to keep the next few short. In 2010 I was interviewed by a friend doing a project on graduates of my college and how we’ve grown and/or changed since our days there. I was talking on and on about how I’ve been excited to have a growing vision of the gospel and the life it opens up for us. Then at some point he asked, “So what everyday changes has this new vision made in how you and Beth live your lives?” I have no idea how I answered, but the words didn’t come as quickly as when asked about the ideas themselves. It’s mostly silly to call myself a “neo-anabaptist” for instance, not just because it’s a goofy and kind of pretentious word, but because my life hardly lives up to the vision this word is supposed to call to mind.
5. Followers of Jesus want to be more like Jesus.
I led a Men’s Retreat in 2010 called Renovate, the goal of which is to uncover and overcome the sin in our lives. (We even tell them that ahead of time, yet they still come.) Basically we took a few dozen men away for a weekend and led them through a process of confessing their sins to God and to one another. And we spent the next month both understanding our sin and implementing a plan to partner with the Spirit to be free of it. Now everyone who went is perfect. Not exactly, but it was refreshing to see these men’s deep desire to grow, change, be transformed. People who have the Spirit of God want to please God; they want to be good, if only we will walk with them and together learn how.
4. Neighborhood-based, intergenerational community is best.
Five years into doing “small group ministry” according to a model like the one Frazee graced us with in The Connecting Church -- that is, basing groups not on affinity or demographic but rather proximity, I wouldn’t do it any other way (unless I was in a radically different cultural context, of course). For the first time I’m in a Life Group with people who live on my street, and I love it.
3. We can’t live without the church.
This is the big one for me, so I’m going to work to keep it short. Dang, I already wasted a sentence! This crystallized for me when a friend asked me how I’d explain the purpose of discipleship / mentoring in the church. I said “I think the thing I’d stress (a la Hauerwas) is that because of what being a disciple is, it is only learned through imitation. It isn’t something we can understand on paper and then see ‘examples of’ in the people around us. We actually come to an understanding of what a disciple is as we see the life of Jesus embodied in other disciples, and in turn we are drawn in and become disciples ourselves. Discipleship as I think you’re thinking of it – mentoring, etc – is simply being intentional about this natural process. It is the church intentionally being the church. I also think part of that intentional process is being called away from our myopic imaginations and being invited to see ourselves and our lives through the lens of people who know the gospel and know us. Others help us see ourselves and our world rightly so that we can live into the vision we share with other disciples.”
Kind of wordy and probably a little too knowledge-centric (see #8 above), but along the right lines I think. Basically I’ve once again “learned” what another good friend taught me years ago: “The Christian life is not an individual pursuit of perfection.” A couple times this year I’ve teased this out in terms of reality TV shows (of all things!). Think of a spectrum with Survivor on one side, Cash Cab in the middle, and The Amazing Race on the other. In Survivor there is no true community; people are no more than a means to my own advancement. In Cash Cab there are shout-outs, where I ask others for assistance to help me along what remains my own game; there is community, but only in the context of an individual journey. But in Amazing Race you literally cannot win the game alone. Success in this game is by definition communal. The last of the three most closely aligns with being the church. Witnessing to the lordship of Jesus is something I cannot do alone.
I’ve also thought a lot about saints and martyrs this year. (Weird, I know.) Continuing the thought of the paragraph-before-last, the reason we can’t live without one another in general, and saints and martyrs in particular, is that we don’t always know “what Jesus would do” in our shoes because he’s never actually been in our shoes. I’m not denying what Hebrews says about Jesus (or dissing Dallas Willard), of course, but sometimes it’s hard to know what he’d do if he really were me. That’s where the saints come in. I don’t know what kind of car Jesus would drive or how full his closet would be or what he’d say to a homeless person at the intersection; but I do know what St. Basil would do, or Dorothy Day, or Shane Claiborne, or my friend Andy.
Of course the problem with this is that many of the saints don’t seem more like us, but rather more different. They’re weird. This too, however, we need; we need to be reminded that our lives aren’t necessarily normal, that we shouldn’t count as good or even acceptable the big picture we take as “given” and live within. Think especially of the martyrs in this regard. In addition to the obvious power of being reminded that dying for our faith in Jesus isn’t the oddest thing that could happen to us, they expose the ways in which we haven’t even begun to think about how our “times” (and the lives we live within them) fail to find their central point of reference in the kingdom of God. Once again, we need the church (dead or alive).
Okay, one last thing here. In 2010 I led a “d-group” (discipleship group) with a handful of guys in their early twenties. Next semester six of them will be at Ozark Christian College (my alma mater) to learn the Bible and see where God takes them. I’ll miss them like crazy, but I am excited for them to go. And they have been a key part of my learning (or remembering) that we were never meant to do this thing on our own.
2. I love reading other people’s stories.
In 2010 I set out to read more fiction. I kind of failed, but I did read more stories, including a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Stanley Hauerwas’ memoirs, and Dorothy Day’s autobiography. And I absolutely loved all of them. In addition to fleshing out what I said above about needing other people’s lives in order to live my own life well, I just don’t know of another genre that is simultaneously as informative and enjoyable as biography/autobiography/memoir. I don’t know if I’ve ever had as much fun reading a book as I did with Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child.
1. There is nothing in the world like being a dad.
In 2010 my wife Beth and I welcomed our first child into the world. Her name is Claire and she is stunningly beautiful, and this is of course the reason Eric thought of me to share about this year. Well, I’m not trying to be either cheesy or dramatic, but I really don’t know how to put into words the way she has changed my life. I can tell you that my heart has grown a few sizes, to be sure, or that I spend a lot more time sprawled out on the floor playing with butterflies and covering Claire’s cheeks with kisses. Or that I care a lot more about the educational system and clean shopping carts at Costco. Or that I have a new appreciation for the word “delight.” Or that I love her so much it sometimes literally hurts. I don’t know what else to tell you, except that there is nothing in the world like being a dad.