The Liberation of Starting Over

By Bill Mefford

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

I remember growing up and reading this passage and thinking, “man, that sounds nuts! There’s no way I would up and leave everything to follow someone I didn’t even know!” I thought of all that I would miss if I just walked away from everything I had known, everything I was comfortable with, everything I had built up and that formed not just what I did for a living, but who I was; my very identity. The story just sounded too challenging for me to identify with. 

The funny thing is that the older I have gotten though, this story doesn’t sound so nuts. It sounds and feels quite refreshing, even inviting. 

I remember back when I graduated from high school in Plano, TX how much I honestly hated living there. It was superficial and elitist and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. So, the primary attribute of the college I picked was to go to a place where I didn’t know a soul. I wanted to start completely over again. That was why McMurry University for me was a Godsend. I found myself there – indeed, I really began my walk with Jesus there. 

There are moments when, at least in my life, I have intentionally chosen an unknown path simply to find a new way to begin again; to redirect my life from what I had known and to find new meaning. In some ways, I willingly followed the example of Peter, Andrew, James and John. Laying down our nets – all we have known, all we are used to and comfortable with, can be extremely liberating. 

This year, however, the liberation of new beginnings has not been of my own choosing. As I shared earlier on my blog, in January I was fired from a job I had done with passion and excellence (I don’t mind saying so myself). It was something I totally did not see coming, but yet, also knew was inevitable. I worked in the upper echelons of the institutional church and I am extremely an anti-institutional kind of guy. I worked in a place where the centrality of institutional power and preservation of the institution is of highest importance and forms the vision of the work of the organization. I, on the other hand, have always – and I mean always – distrusted vertical power structures, challenged hierarchies, and am innately suspicious of institutional power. Yeah, this was not exactly the best fit. I believe in horizontal structures (isn’t that what the “priesthood of all believers” means?), a diffusion of power so that there are no opportunities for abuse, and that God’s preferred locus of change is through small bands of believers in local communities living and working incarnationally among the most vulnerable. 

So yeah, the surprise is not that I was fired. The surprise was that I lasted ten years. 

Still, being fired has been a time of hurt and loss in so many ways because I truly loved the United Methodists throughout the country that I worked with in building grassroots movements on such issues as immigration, mass incarceration, and ending gun violence. Liberation is not always sugar and spice and things that are nice. Breaking away can be hurtful and moving on implicitly involves loss. It has been a hard year in many ways and the pain and loss always seems to be present even as new creative expressions are being dreamed of and birthed. Liberation is not for the faint of heart.

But being in something of a liminal space has given me the ability to dream wildly again, something not always smiled upon by the stifling power of institutional preservation. I have been rediscovering what I am passionate about and what I want to pursue in life. I loved – and I do mean LOVED – the work of building movements, raising up new leaders engaged in the holy work of justice and discipleship, and connecting folks who share similar passions. I also hated – and I do mean HATED – all of the institutional maintenance nonsense that increasingly sucked up my time the last couple of years I worked there. So, I have decided to follow the advice I have repeatedly given to others in similar liminal spaces and I have decided to follow my passions. It is time for new dreams, new leaders, and new connections. 

In the coming weeks, from numerous conversations with some folks who share a similar passion and whose counsel I hold dear, I will move this blog over to a new site where I will join with a team of other folks who share the passions I listed above. The focus of the new site will be not only to blog – to articulate the need for a biblically-based progressive understanding of the Jesus movements towards justice and mission – but also to feature new leaders who are doing amazing and creative justice work wherever they might be and to take action on important justice issues. We will provide opportunities to take action for justice and we won’t be reigned in by institutional concerns because liberation is about freedom. It is time for new dreams, new leaders, and new connections.

One thing I have learned in recent years (and especially in recent months!) is that Peter and Andrew, and James and John did not lay everything down and follow Jesus by themselves. They did so in community. I want to live into the liberation that I have started sensing lately. But I don’t want to do it alone. The church and the world need new dreams, new leaders, and new connections. 

So, what do you say, want to experience a little liberation? Want to raise a little hell, kick a little ass, and have a little fun? Then stay tuned. The Fig Tree Revolution is coming.