Mike Yaconelli-Messy Spirituality

Taped in 2002.
(Tragically, Mike lost his life in 2003, but we are grateful to have this memory.)
Read the transcript here.
Listen to the audio at www.thekindlings.com

Our next guest has been coloring outside the lines for a long time. He is the former editor of The Door, one of the founders of that magazine. It used to be called The Wittenburg Door. He’s the owner and co-founder of Youth Specialties, which has had a tremendous impact on how we do youth ministry in this culture. He’s also the author of several books. By his own confession in this book he is the pastor of “the slowest growing church in America,” which is a contrast to many guests who trot their stuff out into the public arena. And he’s also an advocate of what he calls “messy spirituality.” And he’s written a book by the same title. It is published by Zondervan. Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. And it is great to have you with us.

I thank you, man. Glad to be here.

Q. You start out by saying 45 years following Jesus and your life is a mess.
A. Yeah. You know, the subtitle of the book was going to be “Christianity for
the rest of us.”

Q. Yeah.
A. And the reason I put that there is because I was so tired of reading religious
books and hearing religious speakers tell me how perfect they were, and I would end up hearing a sermon or reading a book or going to some religious meeting, and at the end of the meeting I felt worse than when I got there because they had it all together. They had it all figured out. You know what? I’m almost 60. I’ve had five children. And let me tell you, I don’t have life figured out yet. In fact, the older when I was 18 I knew everything.

Q. You and I are in the same place in that sense. I-I used to really have the
answers for a lot of stuff and now, you know, I’m 54, I’ve got, you know, kids in process and some finishing school, and one of the wonderful things about life is being able to get to the place where you realize not only don’t you have the answers you don’t even have to, which is kind of a-kind of a bit of a relief for anybody raised in the ¢â‚¬Ëœ60s. We were going to change the world. Now we’re just trying to change our socks regularly is what’s happening. How did your journey get started? You’ve done a lot of really interesting some people would say quirky, some people would say radical, some people would even say, you know, terrible things I mean, not everybody loves The Door. Where did your spiritual journey get started?
A. Well, I think I’ve always been out of place. I think I’ve always been odd. I
think I’ve always been different. In fact, I’m convinced that’s a spiritual gift, you know. Hemingway was asked what makes a great writer and he said, it’s somebody with a built-in crap detector. And I think I suddenly discovered my spiritual gift, which is exactly that. So I’ve always been kind of on the outside.

Q. Were you born in a Christian home?
A. No. My folks were converted when I was like 11 years old.

Q. Where was that?
A. In Orange County.

Q. Oh, man. Where abouts?
A. Right there in Anaheim.

Q. Oh, man. I was in Fullerton. I can’t believe that.
A. So yeah. I went to Anaheim High School.

Q. Fullerton High School here.
A. And my folks had this incredible conversion, just turned around. And I did, too. At 11 years old. I can remember the night I became a Christian. And man, this weight came off of me and all that kind of stuff. What I didn’t realize was, that was just the beginning–

Q. Yeah.
A. –of a huge journey. And the older I’ve got the less I know about God and yet the more well, that’s why I put annoying love

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œin the subtitle of this book, because if someone were to say to me, Mike, why are you a Christian? Well, it’s not because of the Bible. I’m sorry. I mean, I like the Bible, I believe in the Bible. And what I like about the Bible is it tells the truth. You know, what happened when I went to church was they edited out all the stuff in the Bible so that when Noah, when I heard the story of Noah I was always just thrilled to hear about this

Q. The boat and the rainbow.
A. ¢€œman who believed in God and, yeah, the only guy who believed in God. They didn’t mention that when he got off the boat he got drunk and got naked.

Q. Yeah.
A. Now, they never told that. Thank God they didn’t put that on a flannelgraph, but I’m here to tell you that I never heard that story.

Q. So the theology that you were raised in and the faith into which you were introduced was not messy. It was the idea until you met Jesus things are messy and now you’ve met Jesus and things are going to be straight.
A. They’re going to be great, you’re going to get fixed, you’re going to be perfect.

Q. What was the point at which you realized that this was not going to work for Mike Yaconelli, that something-there was some dissonance between what you understood the truth to be and what you were being raised in?
A. Well, the beginnings of it happened when my daughter got cancer. She was 18 months old.

Q. And you were how old by this point?
A. I was 30-30¢â‚¬¦

Q. So until your 30s you were pretty much in the-in the game?
A. Oh, totally. I was trying I mean, I was a little bit outside it but I always felt guilty about it

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œfelt like I was-it was something wrong with me.

Q. Yeah.
A. And at that point when my daughter got cancer and she was 18 months old, and I had all these Christian people who were wonderful people and they meant well, came to me and told me, you know, why God was doing it and even if she died she’d be with God and isn’t that better. And I’m thinking, no, not really.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I’m struggling with this whole thing. That was the beginning of the sort of crack in my faith where I realized there’s more to God than just fixing people. There’s more to God I’m praying my brains out and nothing’s happening.

Q. So what did you do with that? You’ve got this new revelation and-and you’re in the sub-culture. You’re-you’re surrounded by well-meaning people who are marching to a beat of-of the same drummer and you’re suddenly realizing not only are they marching to a beat of a different drummer, but I suspect that the drummer that they’re listening to isn’t actually a true tone. I mean, there’ something more here. What do you do with that?
A. Well, first of all, I-I was attracted to writers. I began to read. I wasn’t a reader.

Q. Really.
A. I just didn’t read.

Q. You’ve got a bunch of great quotes in this book.
A. I-I-I started reading and I became a voracious reader. And I realized, hey, well you know what? I’m not alone.

Q. Yeah.
A. I mean, the other thing was that I became incredibly lonely. I mean, I-I think that when you follow Christ, one of the things that happens when you start listening to his voice is that you really are alone.

Q. Yeah.
A. I mean, I know there’s the church and I know there’s the community of God and that’s all great. But really, when you go to bed at night, you go, am I crazy? I mean, am I-am I is this really true?

Q. Yeah.
A. You know. And-so that began that kind of a journey. The next thing that happened was when I was 50, and I read a book by Henry Nouwen called In the Name of Jesus. And I’m one of these guys that when I read a book by somebody that really impresses me I call them up and ask them if I can come see them. Most of them tell me no. Nouwen said sure, come on. He pastored a group of 140 mentally challenged people.

Q. Yeah.
A. So I went and spent a week with him. At the end of the week I discovered a word I had never know in all of my years as being a Christian, and that was the word “intimacy.” I had no clue that you could be intimate with God. And the person that taught me the real meaning of intimacy was not Henry Nouwen, this great teacher at Harvard and Yale and Notre Dame and all that. It was a little guy by the name of John Bloss, who was 40 years old, who had a hundred word vocabulary. And after a small group meeting where I had said I was too busy because, you know, busy-ness is the biggest sin in America. It’s not pornography, it’s not abortion. It’s busy-ness. And I was wiped out and burned out and I told everybody that. And after it was over John comes up to me–and when you’re mentally challenged you have know sense of space. He’s right in my face and he goes, busy. And I go, well, yeah, John. Yeah, I am. I’m being very patronizing. I don’t expect anything from John, you know. He’s got a hundred word vocabulary. What can he teach me? And-and he goes, too busy. And I said well, John, you’re absolutely right. I am too busy. Again, I’m being very patronizing. And he got right up next to my face and he went, why? And I started crying.

Q. Hm.
A. Because for the first time in my life I realized why. John was the only guy who could ask me that question. He wasn’t afraid to ask me the one question I couldn’t ask. And the reason I was busy is because I believed if I kept busy then God would love me. And it was at that point that the grace of God became so real to me and I began to realize that this isn’t about me following Jesus. You know, I mention in my book that I always have this dream that I’m going to be with a bunch of people following Jesus and he’s going to turn around and he’s-he’s going to look straight at me and he’s going to wave his hand to come up to him. And I’m going to start walking toward him and he goes, no, no, no, not you. The guy behind you. I’ve always had this sense that, you know, I just don’t make it. I don’t

Q. Yeah.
A. –measure up. And-and John Bloss taught me that the grace of God is what
this is all about. And it’s extravagant. It’s wild, it’s dangerous, it’s unpredictable, it’s you can’t put it in a category and that began this kind of wild ride with God.

We’re going to be back with more of Mike Yaconelli. The book is Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. The original subtitle, A Spirituality for the Rest of Us, actually does appear elsewhere in the book. We’ll talk about that in just a minute. This is going to be well, those of you that like this show and the approach that I take, you’re going to love this book. We’ll be back with more after this. Don’t go away.

We’re playing a little bit of ¢â‚¬Ëœ60s here. I think that was late ¢â‚¬Ëœ60s, maybe early ¢â‚¬Ëœ70s. I love this song because it says we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. And whatever else you say about boomers and how-how absolutely messed up we are, it’s all true. Anything you could say about our generation is true. I’m one of those who actually believes that there was a general spiritual hunger in that generation and still is, because I believe that that is kind of at the heart of what all humans are about. But I also believe that most people in my generation have never encountered Jesus in a way that they connected with religion. We have this familiarity breeds contempt thing that happens and we think we know what Christianity is about and so we’re going to go look for something else because we-we didn’t connect with Christianity. I think the reason we didn’t connect is that often times we didn’t understand what Mike Yaconelli is talking about in his book, Messy Spirituality, that in fact the absolute people that Jesus connects to is the people that are messed up. And that’s one of the wonderful messages of this book.

Q. Now here you are at this ripe old age telling us that there is a spirituality for the rest of us. And it is a messy spirituality. Talk about that, that whole idea.
A. Well, basically, what that means is that it’s incomplete, you and I are incomplete, I’m unfinished. I’m unfixed. And the reality is that that’s where God meets me is in the mess of my life, in the unfixedness, in the brokenness, in the-in the place where I thought, you know, he didn’t do that. I thought he did the opposite, he got rid of all that stuff. But if you read the Bible, if you look at it at all, constantly he was showing up in people’s lives at the worst possible time of their life. And that’s where he kind of broke through, where he connected to people, where he-where they learned so much about it, where they met him, where they understood what he was talking about. And-and we have this illusion sometimes I think that the church is in the business of editing all of the mistakes and the flaws and the messiness out of our life. I don’t know if you’ve been to church recently, but most churches edit out any possibility of a surprise, of anything going wrong, of anything so the singers all sing on tune.

Q. But they’re holding the mike and it-it’s just that the chord just droops just right.
A. It’s perfect.

Q. It’s just elegant.
A. And, you know, the testimonies are all made sure that they’re right on time
and that they only have 3.6 minutes to give the perfect testimony. Where in my church, the reason my church is the slowest growing church in America, and that’s not a joke, and the reason that it is, is because we don’t edit out that kind of stuff. So you never know when somebody is going to stand up and interrupt, say something totally out of line, and two visitors are there going I’m out of here, you know, I’m gone.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. That’s what happens.

Q. Well, you say God likes odd people.
A. Yeah, well that’s what the church is. See, here’s what I don’t understand. Why is it that when we go to church we often are met with the fragrance of arrogance. Everybody there is kind of like who the gay? And when you don’t look very good or you’ve got an earring or tattoo or you look like you just were drunk the night before, they kind of look at you sort of funny. I don’t understand that. The church is made up of people who are filled with gratitude. None of us belong there. None of us should be there in the first place. I mean, I’m the pastor for crying out loud. I shouldn’t be here.

Q. You know, I was saying that I don’t think that-that people in our culture really understand that about the gospel. And you tell the story of Annie Lamott’s conversion. And one of the-my favorite parts of-of that story in-in her book, Traveling Mercies, is when she’s absolutely messed up. She’s-she’s just had an abortion, she’s got a plate of cocaine in her houseboat, and Jesus meets here there. And she’s talking later to a pastor about this whole situation. And she’s saying, I just can’t measure up, I just can’t do this Christian thing. And he says, but you don’t understand it. That’s the business that God’s in. He’s in the business of loving people that are screwed up. And the next line she says is, well, does it say that somewhere? And he says, yeah. It says that in the Bible. You know what she says? It does? You know, there’s a whole generation of people who think they understand Christianity who don’t understand that that’s the essential point of the story.
A. Well, yeah, I mean-I mean John, the beloved disciple, the one who was just so
loving and wrote the book of John and was this wonderful guy, you know, there’s a great little story about him and one of the other disciples. They’re in this little Samaritan town and they want to stay there for the night. And the Samaritans don’t like the Jews and they say, no, you’re not staying here tonight. Get out of here. And he walks up to Jesus just sort of casually and he says, look, Jesus, I was just sort of wondering, do you think we could just like send fire down from heaven and kill them all? It’s like, I mean, wait a minute. I like this guy. You know, I like John. If that’s a disciple, I’m one of them.

Q. Yeah.
A. And all throughout Matthew 28, the final chapter in Matthew, you know, I hate the guy who wrote the little titles to the paragraphs in the Bible. And this-this particular passage is called “The Great Commission.”

Q. Yes.
A. So that-I don’t even know what that means, but what it’s supposed to mean is that Jesus said, go into all the world and preach God. That’s great. That was the last time that the disciples see Jesus now. They’ve seen him a couple times after he’s been resurrected. You’d think by now they’d get it. And it says, they were standing there with Jesus just before he talked and some doubted. And then it goes on. I’m going, what? What do you mean some doubted? And I’m waiting for Jesus to go, all right guys, sit down. We’re going to go over this one more time. You blockheads still don’t get it. Instead he just ignores it. And I’m thinking, once again, I am-I wake up in the morning sometimes and I have I’m a minister. And I have these incredible doubts about whether or not this is true or not. And I’m glad to know I’m in great company.

Q. Now you say messy spirituality, there’s a lot of characteristics of it. It’sunpretending.
A. Yeah. Look, pretending is the grease of non-relationships. Pretending is how you and I get through the day without ever having to know each other. Because when I walk in the room and you say to me, how am I?

Q. Yeah.
A. Well, you don’t want to know. And, frankly, I don’t want to tell you.

Q. Yeah.
A. If I have to explain I mean, right now, in my life at this moment I’ve got five
children. Well, do you want to know the story of all my kids? No, you don’t really want to know. Not all of them are-are involved in the Christian faith the way I would like them. Some of them are still angry with me because I traveled so much when I was older. You know, I’ll go into all the detail if you want, but you don’t. So, and neither do I. So we just go fine, and you go fine.

Q. Exactly.
A. And off we go. Well, the church ought to be the one place where I’m so anxious to get there because I can stop the pretending. I can stop when I walk in the room and you go, Mike, how are you? I don’t go praise the Lord, I go, I’m-I’m in bad shape. And you go, okay, great. Tell me about it.

Q. Now there are certainly within the Christian community and subculture, youtalk about resistors. There are people that-that are resisting this view of-of-of spirituality. They’re silencers, they’re comfortable with the way things are, they’re name-callers. They’re the monitors and condemners. There’s a whole bunch of people that want to make sure that what you’re saying about the spiritual life doesn’t actually get embraced, and are more than ready to discredit you in whatever way they can.
A. Oh, absolutely, because see, here’s the deal I’ve discovered. Grace is a wonderful term, but religious people are scared to death of grace. In fact, I call them grace police, grace monitors. And here’s what they do. They get in, see, they-God forgives them and they’re in and then they go okay, look, Jesus is a busy guy. God’s a busy god, so we’ll help him. And we’ll make sure that anybody else that gets in, we’ll just kind of clean out all the riffraff before they get to him. And frankly, if you look at the New Testament, they did exactly what the disciples did. Little kids would come up to me, they go, get out of here. Get the kids out. And he goes, look, if you don’t become like a little kid you’re out of the kingdom of God. The reality is the riffraff, the losers, the people that don’t have it together, those were the ones he was attracted to. And the religious ones he couldn’t stand.

Q. Yeah. Can the church be the kind of place you’re talking about? We’ll talk about that when we come back because there-there’s this discontinuity between what you see with Jesus and the gospels and then almost immediately you start seeing, even in the New Testament, some indications that there was this kind of in/out and so forth and figuring out that disconnect is-is kind of essential to saying I’m not only a follower of Jesus, but I’m-I’m part of this group called the church. We’re going to pick up there when we come back. The book is Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People, published by Zondervan by Mike Yaconelli. We’ll be right back.

Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We are visiting with Mike Yaconelli this afternoon and his book is Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. But thank God it includes me. But the rest of you probably can’t take advantage of this because you gotta get perfect like me before you come into the kingdom. There’s something wrong in the land and Mike Yaconelli, I think, has put his finger on it.

Q. You tell the story in this book about, and-and it’s-it’s in the section where you’re talking about unpretending and-and-and you-you or actually the comfortable Christian. And you talk about this woman who got moved to have a ministry to some gang memebers. And she started bringing them into the church. And-and the church couldn’t handle it. And it is kind of a prototype of what happens when somebody actually takes Jesus seriously saying, you know, let’s love you into the kingdom. And they show up at church and the church can’t handle it. Tell the story and then tell me where you are on this issue of how you be a follower of Jesus and be part of the church when church so often is the antithesis of the unpretending that you’re talking about.
A. Well, this girl was hired by a church that was losing members because they
were in-in-in the city and everybody was moving into the suburbs. And they had a lot of endowment, they had a lot of money. So they said, we’ll hire a youth worker and they can work with the urban kids. So she did. She started having a Bible study with gang members on Wednesday night and-which is amazing. They had it in one of the outbuildings of the church. And the guys all showed up. And one night she was just talking away and just preaching out of Matthew chapter 6 about, you know, if you want to follow God you gotta give up everything. And this one gang member swears and slams his elbow through the window. And and which I think is unbelievable. I’m thinking, how do I hire this girl? Because she can teach the Bible. And, well, the church got furious. Made her pay back you know, told them they couldn’t meet in the building anymore

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œuntil they learned how to behave better. And it was $26 to fix the window.

Q. Right.
A. I’m thinking, give me the 26 bucks, this gal can teach.

Q. Right.
A. So a few weeks later they finally had gotten back in the room and a minister happened to come by one night and went in and introduced himself to the kids and he started talking to them and they like him. So after he left they go, you know what? We like that guy. We didn’t think we’d like him. We want to go to church on Sunday. So the youth leader is going, oh jeez, they’re all full of blue hairs. So you know, they show up. She says, okay, we’ll go, but we’ll sit in the balcony. So they sat in the balcony. And the minister comes out and he’s kind of giving the opening deal, welcoming everybody there and the-the-the gang members recognize him and one of the guys stands up in the back and he goes, dude, we like you.
Q. That’s just another way of saying amen, by the way, for those of you that
don’t understand.

A. And these people are freaked out. And anyway, they ended up firing her because these kids were not acting appropriately. And I’m thinking to myself, my gosh, those people should have stood up in the pews and looked back at that-that-that guy and gone, dude, come on down here, you know, we can’t hear. You can help us. And the reality is that many institutionalized, many churches are so rigid and so afraid of unpredictable things happening. So you’re asking me, is there hope? Can the church do this? I guess my answer is, some. Maybe a few. But if you want to know the truth, no. Most people can’t handle they want to have structure, they want to have it fit together.

Q. Somebody’s listening right now and they’re saying, you know, there’s this
story of the Apostle Paul, and he’s talking about this guy that’s having sex with his mother-in-law and he says, you know, you can’t associate with such people. And he says, I’m not talking about people in the world, I’m talking about people in the church, that there is a difference between those that are called into the kingdom and those who are living in the world. If you were going to not be around people like that in the world you’d have to be out of the world. What is the-what is the-the-the dynamic of holiness, which it sounds like is the kind of environment which you were raised, which was we come to Jesus, Jesus saves us, we struggle but we go through this thing called sanctification and we end up getting all cleaned up and we’re okay. And then we’re like part of church. And it reminds me of a-an old guy from Maine. When I was just out of seminary and I was working at this church and I was the crazy guy that was bringing these people in. And-and not everybody in the church was excited that there were these-these ragged people coming in. And he looked at me and he says, Dick, some day people will learn it’s more fun to catch the fish than to clean them. That-that the messiness of our lives is what church is about. It’s-it is about the messiness. It’s about we’re not clean and what are you learning about that?
A. Well, I mean, holiness the first place is we’ve-we’ve defined holiness in a way that has nothing to do with holiness. The reality is, do you want to know what holy means? It means we’re real. That’s what it means. It means we tell the truth. When I walk into a room, that place is holy. I can sense the fragrance of God there. Why? Because everybody there doesn’t smoke and drink and chew and they all have the right political party and they all look nice and drive their BMW? No. The reason I can sense the holiness of God is because these people are real. That means they’re honest. That means they’re open enough to say who they are. I’ll give an example. A minister friend of mine who’s in a Presbyterian church, he got up in his church and they had very edited services. Everything was very proper. And one Sunday morning he got up and it was a sermon and he was preaching on missed moments and he looked out and he said, when my daughter was nine years old she invited me to a school dance. He said, I told her I’d be happy to go. He said, but I was a minister and I was a man of the cloth, and I got busy. And I forgot. And then he stopped. And all of a sudden dance music starts playing in the sanctuary. He looks down at his daughter who is now 17 and he said, I wouldn’t dance with you then, but would you dance with me now?

Q. Woah.
A. And she comes up and she dances, and that was the sermon folks. I mean, he expressed holiness. He was honest. He was real. He asked for forgiveness. He apologized in front of the whole community of God. They all sat there and enjoyed and watched as they came together.

Q. Right.
A. And I’m thinking the problem with it is that we’ve made holiness so picking religious

Q. Right.
A. ¢€œand robbed the life out of it.
Q. When we look at-at Paul talks about the fruit of the the works of the fleshare such and such, the fruit of the spirit is such and such, and he draws this distinction between the two. How does that crank into messy spirituality? The messy how does the messy relate to the-to the are the fruit of the spirit kind of a goal? A hoped for? An ideal? Are they in process? How does it fit messy spirituality?
A. Hey, absolutely. I mean, a couple things. Number one, I’m less messy.
That’s my goal. I’m less messy than I was yesterday. That’s kind of my hope and my prayer.

Q. Yeah.
A. I talk about principles of unspirituality. And one of them in the book is the 60 percent principle. I had a gal who used to teach in Harlem. And she had this one guy, this student who she taught Shakespeare. And he was flunking the class. And he was brilliant. And she tried everything with this kid. She threatened him. She stayed with him. She made him stay after school. She begged him. She pleaded with him. Nothing happened. He graduated finally from high school, but he flunked her course. Sixty percent. So about ten years later she’s walking down the street in New York and this really nicely dressed guy comes walking up and he looks at her and he says, Dr. Monroe, do you remember me? And she says, oh yeah, I remember you. You’re the guy that gave me 60 percent in the Shakespeare class. And he says, yeah, I’ve always meant to talk to you about that. I’m working for Time magazine now. And he said, when I was in high school in your class, he said, my dad was in jail. My mom was a prostitute. My brother was in a gang. My other brother was in a gang. And he said, 60 percent was 100 percent of all I could give you. Now, we’ve got churches full of people. And this is the thing that really irritates me. We’ve made heroes out of authors and ministers who have big churches. Let me tell you who the heroes are. They’re the little lady in my church who has Downs Syndrome, who has two kids that are kind of messing up their lives right now, whose husband was unfaithful to her once and now they’re trying to make their marriage work. And for her to get up in the morning and get out of bed and go through the day is all she can do. And I want to tell you, she’s the hero. She’s the one that gets the mansion. She’s the one whom God is showing and working through.

Q. Yeah. Well, and there’s more of her than there are of the people that have got it all together apparently. And there was a picture last week of the woman who went into a nursing home and killed her two sons.
A. Yeah.

And they showed the woman’s picture in the paper. I’ve never seen a face more ripped apart by heaviness and tragedy. She needed to know that there was somebody who loved her. She needed support. She needed help. She needed something that-that we ought to be able to offer. We’re not going to do that if we’re all dressed up nice and pretending like we don’t have problems. We’re going to be back with more with Mike Yaconelli. The book is Messy Spirituality published by Zondervan. We’ll be back. Don’t go away.

Q. Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. I’m pulling out all my old ¢â‚¬Ëœ60s and ¢â‚¬Ëœ70s music for Mike Yaconelli. I went to Fullerton High School, graduated in ’66. You went to Anaheim and graduated in ’60.
A. ’59.

Q. ’59.
A. Then I was kicked out of Bob Jones.

Q. You went to Bob Jones?
A. Yeah, one year.

Q. Don’t they all. Don’t they all. The owner of this network went to Bob Jones.
A. That’s a little scary.

Q. Well, I just learned that tells me an immense amount about Mike
Yaconelli’s journey right there. We are talking about the book Messy Spirituality. It’s published by Zondervan. And you have some dramatic statements in this book. Among them the phrase, “I don’t believe in spiritual growth.”
A. Well, that’s because we’ve made spiritual growth measurable. We’ve
actually communicated to people that there are steps to spiritual growth and there are principles and that you can know how you’re growing and what you’re doing. And all we have to do is just look at the way we grow physically and know that we never really realize we’re doing that it just kind of happens. And it’s slow and it takes a long time. And so I try to write a chapter about the whole fact that spiritual growth takes time. It’s tiny little steps. It’s lots of decisions, not just one decision. And-and I think that’s helpful to people. Because frankly I used to think, oh well, gosh, I’m not praying everyday. I’m not a monk. I’m not-I’m reading mine, I haven’t got the Bible all memorized, I guess I’m not growing.

Q. Yeah.
A. And the reality is that every tiny step I take towards God is a huge, huge thing. And the other part that bothers me is that when we talk about-the church talks about spirituality and spiritual growth it has all these rules.

Q. Yeah.
A. Look, the Holy Spirit–if we really believe in the Holy Spirit–broke all the rules. So one of the signs that I’m growing is that I break the rules. And I-I break them because of my faith, not because I’m trying to destroy my faith.

Q. This is really important because I-I told you that I wrote this book Too Christian, Too Pagan and I-I had some friends, some-some Christian and some pagan basically say I-I really liked the part about the pagan thing. I liked that part. And I have a chapter in the book called, “Go to the Party.” And it’s basically about how we ought to go to the parties. And so what I found out that there were a lot of people who-who just wanted to be liberated to go to the parties but they didn’t understand that-that there is the-the thrust of the book was about following Jesus and-and Jesus went to the party. You know, and so the same thing can happen with your book. People can say Messy Spirituality, I like that. I’m messy. I’m going to stay messy. I want to be messy. Your point is, this is about passion with following Jesus and in the process learning that it’s messy. But it’s still about a passionate heart for Jesus.
A. Oh, exactly. I mean, people always say to me, you know, isn’t there a risk
that people will read your book and feel like they’re getting permission to do things? Read the doggone thing. The reality is

Q. It’s Mike Yaconelli’s fault that people are out there doing bad things.
A. You know, my son is in a band. And, of course, he’s not supposed to be in a band because he’s supposed to be having a job and working and making money, and it just happens to be what makes him happy. And he’s with a guy there who is a Christian. And his parents were really super-conservative Christians from the mid-west. And he was living with his girlfriend for like three years. And they were very disappointed in him. He called up one day and said, mom and dad, we’ve decided to get married, which they were happy about. Not excited, but okay, we’d rather have them married than unmarried. The next day he finds out his girlfriend’s pregnant. So he calls up and says we’re not coming. She’ll be pregnant, she’ll be big, and it’ll be embarrassing to you and we don’t want to embarrass you and all the church friends, so we’re not going. We’re going to go to a justice of the peace. So they went and got married in San Francisco to a justice of the peace. My son went with his girlfriend. As my son and girlfriend are leaving they looked at each other and said, that was the worst wedding I have ever seen in my life. You know what we need to do? We need to give them the wedding they never had. So for the next three months they prepared. They invited all their friends, they actually called the parents and said, we know you’re unhappy with the choices they made but we want to give them a wedding. Would you come? They said, yeah, we’ll come. We’ll bring all the family. They brought 30 people. There were 90 people hiding in this house when this couple showed up thinking they were going to a lunch. They-they-when they got there, the two vans showed up and stole off the girl and the guy and they had the bachelor and the bachelorette party they never had, gave them a picture and said write down all the reasons you love each other. They came back. They thought that was the end. They walked in the backyard. 100 people stood up and said, happy wedding. They cried for an hour. It took them an hour to get their composure. Then they had the wedding ceremony. And, you know–and I know this couple, I’ve met them now–it’s been two years since this. They say, every week we call up your son and tell him thank you for this unbelievable gift that you gave us. Now, people say to me, well, what are you doing? Condoning couples living together? No. That’s not what this is about. It’s about redeeming what these couples-they realized, wow, this is what we missed. This is what this is all about. We now have a wedding we can look back at and remember.The church is not about pointing the finger at people and tell them what they’re doing wrong. Our goal is to show them this incredible lavish love of God and the result will be, yeah, I’ll be a mess, but I’m so attracted to this God. And I’ll be honest with you, there have been times when I haven’t been attracted to Jesus. And it’s kind of like when my grandson sees me. He grabs onto my shirt and he won’t let go. I go around and he’s just hanging on and I go, you know, Noah, let go. And he goes, okay. And he doesn’t let go. To be honest with you, that’s the way Jesus has been in my life. There have been times where I’ve said, Jesus, I don’t believe in you anymore, get out of here. I don’t know. I don’t even trust you. And it’s like, okay. And he’s still hanging on.

Q. Yeah.
A. And that’s why I’m a Christian today.

Q. Wow. That’s Annie Lamott’s story. She said, I wasn’t going to let Jesus in my life because he came like a stray cat. And if you feed a stray cat, you’ve got a cat for life.
A. Absolutely.

Q. That’s the whole story. You’re stuck. You’ve got a-a thing called “stuckness” and “unstuckness.”
A. Yeah.

Q. What’s that all about?
A. Well, I was always that, you know, when you’re stuck in life, that’s a bad place. And that’s wrong. It’s actually wrong to be stuck. And I’m thinking to myself, get outa here. Being stuck is a great place. There’s a lot of people who are listening to this right now and you’re going, I’m stuck, man. I don’t know where to go. I’m paralyzed. I can’t seem to move. And the reality is that’s a great place because you can’t get unstuck until you realize you are stuck. And what I’m saying is that’s one of the areas of spiritual growth. When I wake up one day and go, man, I am dead, I am dying, I am dull, I have had it. I’m in a dead end. This isn’t working. And I go, maybe I ought to check into something that works. That’s what stuckness is all about. It’s a great place.

Q. Why do you call it God’s “annoying” love?
A. Well, because as I just mentioned, there have been times when things happened in life. September 11th. There are many other times where I go, God where were you? I just was at World Vision today and I watched this film on AIDS where there are so many millions of kids dying of AIDS in Africa I couldn’t stand it. I fell apart. And these people are praying every day. And not only are they dying, but their children are dying and everyone around them is dying. And there are moments like that where I go, God, where are you?

Q. Yeah.
A. I get no answer except he just won’t let me go. He just annoyingly keeps on loving me anyway.

Q. In your imperfection.
A. Exactly.

Q. Yeah. It’s not about becoming perfect so God will love you.
A. No. I travel a lot and I came to San Francisco one night and missed my connection back to my home, and I was so angry and upset and I called my son on the phone. He lived in San Francisco. And I wanted him to encourage me. I said, man, I’m stuck in the airport, it’s been a horrible day. I’ve been traveling too much. And, you know, when you have a family, they’re family, even if you love Jesus, they’re still family. And my son looks at me and goes, or he said on the phone he says, you know, dad if you didn’t travel so much you wouldn’t have things like this happen. Well, I didn’t appreciate that. I was ticked off. I said, let me talk to your son, who is my little grandson I love to death, Noah. Well, he’s two years old and I forgot that when you’re two you can’t talk and when you’re 60 you can’t hear. This is not a good combination. He’s mumbling on the phone. I’m hoping that this is going to make me feel better. It’s making me feel worse. I keep saying, you’re playing with dada? You’re playing with mama? And then he says, “moo-foo gratis,” which I have no idea what it meant. I asked him about four times. Finally, I just went, all right, I’ve had it. Just let me talk to your dad. He takes the phone and I hear the phone drop onto the floor. Now, I hear the kids playing. I’m stuck in the airport. I have this miserable experience. I’m furious and angry when all of a sudden I hear crystal clear come over the phone, I love you Grampa.

Q. Wow.
A. And you know what? All my anxiety, everything went out the window. Do you know why I wrote this book? Because there’s a whole lot of people who are so freaking busy, they’re so cluttered, their life they’re at their wits’ end. And if they’d only just stop for a minute, they could hear the God of the universe whisper to them, I love you.

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