Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 28, 2009

Gotta Be Me, Wherever I Be

“The Bhagavad Gita — that ancient Indian Yogic text — says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”  -Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love, page 95

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” -Jesus, in Matthew 5:9-10 (NIV)

I leave for my first ever vacation in Europe in about two hours, and yet here I am writing, instead of tying up the half-dozen loose ends that need to be taken care of in the next 24 hours. But that’s okay. I don’t need to control every last nuance of my life, and I would be a fool to try. (Though my nervous wife wishes I would get off the computer and finish packing.)

And maybe I’m a fool either way, whether or not I work to control all that might impact my life. But if so, I’d rather be God’s fool than anyone else’s.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention that last weekend I popped in on my old church, Reba Place Church in Evanston, IL (Mennonite). It was for the wedding of a friend’s son (and the son has also become a friend). It was also the first time I darkened the door of that sanctuary (though they don’t call it that) since our family left the church last June.

We left on good terms, but I sensed all along that I needed to make a clean break, precisely because I was so bonded and committed to that specific group of people and their way of seeing things, of doing things, for over twenty years. I needed to live a slightly different life, however imperfectly. I am still a fully Mennonized believer, and will remain so forever. But I needed to “leave the nest” in order to grow, and in order to support the needs of my family (who admittedly were not getting as much, or giving as much, in the context of that congregation anymore).

Besides seeing the wonderful father of the groom bawl like an old woman (love ya, Doug!), the other wedding highlight for me personally was sitting at the reception table with Ronn and Julius, who together in 1991 had officiated for my wife and my wedding in that same space (and on a similarly sweltering day, though now there’s air-conditioning there). Julius in particular has been like a second father — a Grand Father (to use a Richard Rohr term) — to me, and to dozens if not hundreds of other men, women and children in his 40+ years at that church. He is the living definition of Christian community and charity, and wise mentoring, more than anyone else I have known (except perhaps for his wife Peggy).

He’s also a fairly odd bird, another reason we get along so well.

So we still have friends at the church — and at it’s sister church Living Water, planted in nearby Chicago — but now we are telling the rest of the world about the good news of peacemaking, and of simple living –those very un-hip, un-American values that Jesus both discussed much and lived out daily. These are values Reba Place has been pretty good at living out for so many years, values that the more recent Emergent Church movement and New Monasticism movements are beginning to rediscover, much to my satisfaction and joy.

Speaking of hip vs. un-hip, I got a little “bump” for this blog by being trendy and writing about Michael Jackson this week. Weird. Even among all the thousands of other blogs, Tweets, columns, and tv specials, I still managed to catch the ear of twice as many people as usual, just by writing about what’s “hot”.

As for my usual fare, I am well aware that 14th century Italian monks and the perils of trying to figure out my son’s stupid Transformer toy for him are definitely not hot topics. Nevertheless, I must live my own destiny imperfectly. I cannot be the next Kurt Vonnegut, Martin Scorcese, Mark Heard or Gordon Quinn (look up those last two, both big heroes of mine). As Old Blue Eyes once sang, “I gotta be me”.

If I’m extremely lucky or blessed, perhaps some significant portion of the population will come to me, instead of me deperately trying to reach them. Or, I will help further the cause of a few thousand war orphans and refugees in Pakistan or Angola, and die unrecognized for that effort, except by a handful of well-informed people.

So be it. Humanitarian work, hard truths, ethics, and pacifism are never going to be hot topics in a fallen world. Jesus himself said it would be so — or something to that effect.

That Jesus was and is a very unhip cat, wasn’t he?



  1. oh, don’t tell me either Seth or Nathaniel got married!

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