The strangest thing happened yesterday. I was with my wife on Catalina, where we had gone for her birthday. We were staring into the blue horizon just beyond the boats into the marina, chatting, and eating ice cream. It was early evening and the sun was gradually gaining ground on the hills behind us as shadows started to soar over Avolon. As we inhaled our waffle-coned-goodness we noticed an odd sight to our left. A couple, dressed in cloud-white, casually and softly walked down to the beach barefoot followed by a woman dressed in black. “They couldn’t be getting married!?” I thought to myself, “No one is here!”. It was so incredibly nonchalant. I shared my thoughts with Alie as we assessed the situation. After a few minutes we realized that our best guesses were wrong. They were in fact getting married. Once we realized this, and before their “service” was about to start we gave them a loud congratulatory cheer and caught their attention. The groom came over to me and he and I struck up a quick conversation. Then he looked down into is hand and back up to me as he handed me a disposable camera. He asked if I wouldn’t mind taking some pictures of the ceremony. Honestly, I had to swallow my emotions of surprise. I mean, the setting couldn’t be more beautiful – island beach at sunset and all, but a disposable camera, on your wedding? You couldn’t have planned better? I quickly repented from my internal arrogance and gladly obliged to be his wedding photographer.
As I fumbled around the sand and tried to capture the important moments I thought about the words of the officiant, reflected on my own wedding and vows, and began to wonder if this whole moment wasn’t a coincidence after all. You see, I just finished becoming a liscenced Pastor, just got married myself – completing premarital courses including plenty of reading, and I’m currently preparing to perform ceremonies just like this! Somewhere inside my mind I wondered why he wasn’t asking for my advice! And then I realized, he doesn’t know me.
Just a few weeks ago I lived in a place where it felt like everyone knew me. I had history with the community like a volume of scrapbooks. I wasn’t just known in that place, I was esteemed, and I held the office of mentor/teacher/counselor/crisis-manager/trip planner/fun maker/big brother/leader/pastor/father. Students, parents, peers, and adults grew to appreciate me as I did my best to care for them. Now I’m away. I’m in a self imposed exile of sorts, pursuing the vocation of all of those offices by hopefully making myself better at them through Seminary. It’s been a little over a month. It feels longer. In that wedding moment on Catalina, I was none of those things, I was just a guy who happened to be nearby. As I sit here and simmer on the memory of home, and the event on Catalina, I’m realizing how yesterdays wedding is a good illustration of the place I’m at and the lessons I’m learning.
Losing the title is good. Whatever ego boost my identity has consumed in the past few years by being a “pastor”, it’s pretty much gone here. Being in a new place means that nobody and nothing know me, not even the couple on the beach. The people and the places are unfamiliar. I’m no longer a leader who everyone is watching, I’m just me. Just another face in the crowd, and certainly not the one up on stage. This means who I am and what I do are no longer influenced by the pressure of maintaing my reputation and my morals – because no one is watching. As you can imagine, this feels a little lonely, because deep down, like most of us, I like the attention. Essentially in this new place, my true character has the freedom to shine, both the positive and the negative, both of which only add to my awareness of who I really am. So… it’s an adjustment as I learn to be something new in a new place. It’s definitely a challenge and it’s definitely worth it.
Knowing yourself is hard. The most dangerous part of being a leader in a church, or really anything where people watch you for that matter, is that you start to become the title. Whether its pastor, musician, actor, doctor, teacher, parent, or business man, we homo-sapiens have a strong tendency to fall in love with our profile pages instead of our true selves. We love when people see us in a certain light. We put on make up, dress super hip, and update our facebook info, all in the hopes that we can convince others of our success, our fame, our happiness, and our stories. Underneath it, we’re also trying to convince ourselves. But why? Why are we so focused on that stuff? Because knowing ourselves is hard. It means that we have to look under untouched rocks and behind locked doors to reveal uncomfortable truths about who we are. It also means that we risk our identity not coming from those titles we choose for ourselves, but rather who we are without them. This loss comes with some necessary grief as we let go of the titles and personas, but ends up being surprisingly freeing as we come out from their limitations and burdens. When we’re stripped of all our vanity, who are we really? What makes us who we truly are? Where does our identity originate? On that beach, it didn’t matter if I was a professional baseball player, pastor, or photographer. All that mattered was that I was there.
So back to the beach yesterday. It was beautiful. As the officiant pronounced the couple husband and wife, bells rang from the island hillside and I did my best to put into practice what I learned in High School photo. Our new friends beamed with energy as they embarked on the life long exploration of marriage, and I stood by not as a Pastor, but as a nameless photographer with a disposable camera.
After I ran out of pictures on the disposable, I snapped a bunch with my phone and emailed them to the groom. Here’s a few. Cheers to Dov and Mishell!