“You had better get it together, here, John, because I am giving you two weeks to get out. This isn’t working. You have a lot to deal with and I’m not the one to help you.’ Well, isn’t that just great, I thought to myself. Some friend you turned out to be. Down and out on my luck and you turn me out. Self-pity was also part of repertoire at the time.
Bob, who had just gone through a painful divorce, had actually done me a tremendous favor. After all, I was the one, at four in the morning while delivering papers had seen his wife’s car parked in front of another man’s house after they had separated. I had been the one that told him that I didn’t think she was coming back. And she didn’t. It almost crushed Bob, but then if his best friend couldn’t tell him, who could? Bob did the best he knew how. He cried. He mopped and then he got on with his life. Soon it was my turn to suffer a break up in that little town in Northwest Iowa. But unlike Bob, I didn’t do as well. I cursed and felt sorry for myself when my first wife kicked me out and then, because my other best friend owned a bar in town, I drank. A lot. My business was failing and I was falling and Bob was yelling at me three inches from my face. It was the wake-up call I needed.
He was right. I was a drunk and a liar. The first being more a cause of the second. The drinking was a symptom of a great anger in my life, the greatest of my demons, and the lying which was mostly to myself, kept that demon alive. This is what Bob, a failing middle age radio station advertising salesman, managed to show me. Angels come in funny shapes. He was telling me that it was time to change. It took me another 20 years to face my anger and embrace a new me but I did.
This Halloween I want to talk about why embracing risk in our lives is the best way to overcome the demons which haunt us. I am, as some of you know, an entrepreneur by nature. I embrace risk naturally. Which is funny because in real life, I don’t like fast cars, scary movies or amusement rides. But I do enjoy making change happen. Sometimes, fatally for me at times, just for the sake of change. I can become quickly bored if my work is too status quo. I like big ideas but I depend on others to keep them going. In some ways, this was the demon that faced me when Bob threw me out of his house 30 years ago. I had started the first solar energy company in northwest Iowa. It was a moderate success. All the more so because I did this when I was 25 years old. But big ideas take time, money and patience. And I was short on all three. So within two years, the risk I had so enthusiastically embraced, started to head south. My first wife and I grew apart. Sales start to slump and before long it had all fallen apart.
The first rule in embracing risk is double your anticipated rate of change. It takes twice as long to make most dreams happen. Ministry has certainly taught me that.
How do we see first of all that change is necessary and second of all have the courage to change? Change is necessary when we see our world darkly. More people begin to contemplate changing their lives over the dark holiday season than any other time of year. That’s when I finally realized that I was a drunk and a liar. And I had lost everything, it all started to make sense. Oh, I am afraid of failure so I keep starting new projects so I can never fail. Oh, I am afraid of intimacy so I avoid my marriage until it falls apart. I had to learn to embrace a deeper and more personal risk. My 23 years as a minister has been learning to do just that.
The courage to embrace risk, comes slowly. But let me say up front that I believe the secret to courage is follow the path laid before you. This is the essence of Taoist teaching: by following what is before us and choosing to embrace the uncomfortable we change in the right way. I very rarely turn down a request to serve. This is my way of embracing risk and facing the demons of fear. When asked to serve, try to serve.