An interlude is a piece of music performed during the intermission at a theater. I have a few experiences that don’t fit perfectly into the whole “Name of God” thing but they are very intimate parts of my spirituality. I’ve only invited a handful of people into these stories. Please tread lightly as you walk with me into these places of my soul.
THE SERPENT, REVISITED
I sat in a recliner, my pen moving as God whispered to me. I didn’t question or review what I was writing… that was something that could happen later. This was the time to lock my inner critic away and set my heart free. I started crying as I wrote what God was speaking to me.
I was reading a book by Richard Rohr on Male Initation. My boss, J.P., had loaned it to me. (For those of you into Male Spirituality, I’d say John Eldredge is Addition and Richard Rohr is Trigonometry. There is a depth of research and wisdom within his writing that can’t be ignored, even if you think he’s a heretic.) As I read through the book’s five premises, I also read about affirmations of manhood. I had none and lacked an internal place from which my manhood flowed. I knew it and God knew it.
I felt prompted by God to revisit my time in the Big Thicket from a few years prior, when I had asked God to initiate me… the time the snake had showed up in the middle of everything and ruined my initiation. The words came to me in short concepts or phrases. I took my time as I wrote, listened, and wrote some more.
“I think you did so well, Dallas! You used your strength to stand your ground but you didn’t needlessly take a life… that’s what maturity looks like in a warrior!
“I stopped you from writing on that tree because your identity flows from me, Dallas.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I contemplated what I had written in my journal and on that tree years before. The most sacred name of God in the Ancient Hebrew texts is יהוה, translated as I Am. It’s so holy of a name that it isn’t even spoken aloud. And what God was telling me is that my identity flowed out of this sacred place.
I sat in awe in that moment. I knew that something big had happened in those woods and God was unfolding it like some complicated piece of origami for me.
This was merely the first unfolding.
Drew and I often butted heads during the Leadership Meetings of Vox. When you have a philosophy of leadership that comes from a group of artists crashing against a philosophy of leadership based in MBA programs, sparks can fly. These were always the times that Drew and I got to the good stuff. We’d start with our armor on, testing each other with tentative blows, remember that we were on the same side, lay down our weapons and armor, and move towards each other as friends.
Drew was the organizer. I wasn’t. We both knew and agreed on this. In that meeting Drew was talking about how everyone fit within Vox and, in a moment of candor and honesty, he told me, “Dallas, I don’t know where you sit at the table.”
The statement rocked me to my core.
Drew was merely talking about Vox Church, the 501C-3 Non-Profit Corporation, and here’s what he saw:
Dallas is a musician but not good enough to be a Worship Leader.
Dallas is a teacher but not good enough to be a Teaching Pastor.
Dallas is a leader but not good enough to be a Lead Pastor.
I was a Renaissance Person, with gifts in multiple areas but not solid in any one by itself.
I heard Drew’s statement at a personal level because of how different I always felt. From Day One in the church, I felt like an outsider. I felt like I was an Extra Special Sinner that would be cast out if the truth about me ever came into the public light. Without realizing it or meaning to do it, Drew had articulated that deep fear of mine with a simple statement about our organization.
I didn’t have a seat at the table.
When J.P. told me about the retreat with Richard Rohr being put on by an organization he was a part of, I jumped at the opportunity to attend it. I can’t remember clearly but I think he might have even paid for me to go. The retreat was at the Feliciana Retreat Center, in rural Louisiana near the Mississippi border. The retreat center is over 100 acres of wooded land. Pine trees stretch into the heavens with various other species of trees taking up residence beneath and alongside them.
Each session started with a Drum Circle. For those of you rolling your eyes, let me tell you that you HAVE TO try it. 120 men pounded out a strong 4/4 beat in unison. Each beat rolled through your entire body. You could hear other types of secondary rhythms peppered throughout the group and I took up one of those on my son’s darbuka. I almost started weeping when a Native American Man behind me started playing his flute. The beauty and unity were overwhelming.
During one of the sessions we were given an exercise. Our facilitator spoke our instructions to us:
“Somewhere out there is a tree. There is only one. It knows you are coming and is waiting for you. You need to go find it. When you do, you are going to have a conversation with your tree. You will tell it your story and it will tell you its story. When you are done, open the bag we give you and follow the instructions. You have an hour.”
All the anxious perfectionists like myself started asking questions. It became clear to all of us after the first couple of vague answers that we weren’t going to get any rules to follow… we were going to have to go with the flow.
I grabbed my bag and left to find my tree. As I walked, I looked at the trees, noticing each one individually. I added my own prayer to the instructions, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me. I noticed one smaller pine tree and immediately felt something in me shift as I looked at it. ‘No,’ I said within my head. I wanted a bigger tree. Something majestic and less piney. It also needed to be further away from the trail. My tree needed an angelic glow, magical sunrays shining upon it, and lightning strikes that shook the earth but all of that needed to happen away from prying eyes. I kept walking and looking at other trees but that inner shift kept scratching at me. I eventually doubled back and got the confirmation I needed- this was my tree.
I walked up the tree, sat down next to it, and just let go. I started talking and, before I knew it, I was crying as I told the tree my story. I talked about my childhood. I told my tree about being rejected by two of my friends for not being cool enough. I told the tree about how much of a failure I felt like because of Vox. I told the tree how insignificant I felt next to guys like Shannon and Kyle, two guys I was in a Bible Study with. My story poured out of me for a long time.
When I finished, I took a deep breath and asked the tree to tell me its story. I laid down on the ground and looked up, resting my feet against the trunk of the tree. The tree had a couple of scars on its bark higher up. It told me that it knew pain, too. It only had a couple of pine cones on it but a tree right next to it was taller and had a lot more pine cones. It told me that it knew what it was like to not measure up to guys like Shannon and Kyle. It also told me that it thought I needed to relax more. It swayed in the breeze. It made music with its needles. I felt myself settle deeper onto the earth beneath me as I took in the tree’s story.
After it finished telling me its story, we sat together for a few minutes of contented silence. I eventually opened the bag I had been given. Inside was a dinner roll and a small bottle of wine. The instructions told me to share Communion with the tree. I ripped the loaf in half, eating my portion and laying the other half at the base of the tree. I opened the bottle of wine, poured half of it onto the earth next to the tree, and sipped on my half.
As I finished my portion of the wine, I was struck by the realization that the wine was being sucked up by the tree’s roots. The wine was coursing through me and the tree. We really had shared Communion.
When the drumming signaling that it was time for gathering started, I thanked the tree for sharing its story with me.
I’ve been back to visit that tree three times.
I hugged my friend every time I saw it.
Read the next chapter: A god named Slow Poke.