Okay, I know I will eventually ask myself . . . "Self . . . what were you thinking!?" However, as I set here typing at Starbucks in Bellingham, I'm on my way to a men's retreat. Actually, if I type long enough I will be late for it. But I just got off work and I must unwind from a very stressful day before I make an appearance and put on my smile.
Do you sense that I have a great trepidation about this?
On my drive over from my office I was thinking about it. How long has it been since I've been at a Christian men's retreat? I think the last one was one I organized. It was a series of men's retreats that I put together in Michigan's snowy upper peninsula. The first two years were a blast. About 16 of men skied for about 10 miles to a remote cabin for two nights. The first year was just for fun. The second year (after getting to know the men a bit better) I decided to take it to the next level. On the second night of that week end, around the fire, I took our conversation down from the 3-4th stories (of pretend) down to the ground floor . . . speaking very honestly. The next year, only four of the guys showed up. As soon as we skied in and three of them recognized that they would be imprisoned (by a impending blizzard) with me for the week end, they packed up their stuff and skied back out. After all, I was the one who got them to talk about porn and marital issues the last time we were there. The retreat died after that and I'm sure it died because I was so candid that second year. I think I was naive 15 years ago when this happened. All of those men were very spiritual and leaders in the church. I had assumed that they would all want to talk openly about problems in our marriages and such personal issues . . .but I was dead wrong.
The next time I was with a group of men was ten years ago. It was under a very different pretense. It was simply a bunch of crazy snowmobile guys, who happened to go to the same church, who invited me for trip to Yellowstone. They gave me a 4-hour notice for a 24 hour drive. I went. We didn't talk about so-called spiritual things at all. It was a blast! I would love to do something like that again.
But this is different. This is clearly billed as a "Christian Men's Retreat." It is sponsored by my new church. While my new church has such a cross section that you can find all types among the congregation (even those more "liberal" than myself), there are still plenty of evangelicals. Actually, at this point of time in history, in the US, the Evangelicals have somewhat written the playbook for how men suppose to relate in a "spiritual" context, especially at a men's retreat. I know the script well. I'm sure I've attended at least 40 men's retreats during my discipleship years.
Why am I going? I'm going because I really don't know how I could be more friend-less than I am right now. So, I'm doing it to try and create some friendships with men in my new church. Sure, I have the people that I work with as friends. I actually do see the majority of my 2,000 patients as friends. I feel close to my children and my wife. But that's it. Zipo . . . there's no one else.
I had a group of men friends, but when I left my evangelical church, I had to give them all up . . . not by my choice. Actually, one of them still speaks to me. But it is hard for us to do things together anymore because I know he seriously opposes my decision to leave his church and he has voiced how angry he was at me, until he was able to forgive me. But it is awkward. You know, me the bad guy, the fallen away, the one who sinned against his church . . . by having the audacity to leave.
So what do I fear? Thinking of the answer is not easy. Even once I have a mental handle on it, it is still hard to churn the fluid thoughts into chunky words. But here goes.
I fear a moral dilemma. I have my heart set on telling the truth. I feel strongly this way because I want to be truthful for my own psyche's sake and because I do believe that we serve a God of truth and that He wants us to live in true reality. For 25 years, I went to Men's retreats when I knew that it would all be a show. Each one of us would find humble verbiage to express our great accomplishments. "I am so grateful to the Lord for how he has used me, a simple earthen vessel, to bring the gospel to this area of town." It is a charade.
So, I think . . . how do I bare the spiritual talk? I am committed to not lying anymore. I will not claim miracles where I know in my heart there were none. I will not speak of how God has said such and such to me. So, in my usual form, I will sit silently . . . until inevitability some man will start to assume that I "don't know Jesus." I hate so much to be in those situations. Either lie, and fake it for Jesus, like the rest are doing, or be yourself and have the assumptions that you don't know Jesus.
Having talked to my wife, it appears that women's retreats aren't like this.
Well, I've looked at the clock and if I leave now, I will arrive just as it starts. But in the back of my mind I hope to corner some man who I can talk to quietly and find a shared interest. Kayaking, hiking, rock climbing . . . something that we could do together . . . just for fun. Sure, I would love to talk about spiritual things, but like I do here . . . very raw and in complete candor. Maybe by Sunday, I will be happy I went . . . maybe I will prove my anxieties as superfluous.