Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Walk Away and Follow

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 1:35-51) transports me to mid 80s Louisville, where I was working my way through seminary as a Pizza Hut cook. One of the dishwashers turned me on to his favorite band, an Irish group I’d not paid much attention to up to that time, U2.  After closing, as we were cleaning up the kitchen, he’d bring out his boom box, put in a cassette of their debut album, Boy, and sing I Will Follow, at the top of his lungs while he pushed the mop across the floor. Later, I’d befriend a couple from seminary who are probably U2’s biggest followers, Kevin and Holli Rainwater, and they talked me into camping out all night to snare tickets for the Joshua Tree concert. I got to sing I Will Follow at the top of my lungs there in Rupp arena, as Bono includes this song on every tour. Many years later my pastor, John Thomas, gave me a book on U2’s faith, and I learned some of Bono’s history. I learned that we shared some things in common: losing beloved mothers during our formative years, and coming to terms with that through our faith. In fact, I Will Follow is a tribute to Bono’s mother and the love that didn’t die when she died, and the faith that welled up inside him. The references to Amazing Grace are sure signs of the latter, I was blind, I could not see. . . I was lost, I am found. I, too, wrote a song as a tribute to my mother after she died of cancer in the early 80s, but, the fact that I’m now blogging and not packing out major arenas is a sure sign of where the comparison stops.

I wonder what kind of tune the first disciples were singing when they responded to Jesus’ call with I will follow. I also wonder what kind of grief was mixed in with their emerging faith, and how that faith helped them deal with their losses. When they answered the call to follow, they made decisions to leave family behind, to leave community behind, to leave their lifework behind. They left their fathers. They left their mothers. They left their nets. Walk away, walk away, walk away, walk away, I will follow. I imagine these singing Galileans were around the same age as Bono when he lost his mother, or my age when I lost mine. James and John, Andrew and Peter, Phillip and Nathaniel. All boys trying hard to be men. Hearing a call to faith, they were compelled to walk away and start following one who offered them no answers to their questions, save come and see.

My mother never told me this story, but after she died, my neighbor across the street, Mrs. Allen, called me over, and shared with me that when I was born, my mother brought me over to her house, and told her that I was going to be a minister of the gospel. My mom had gotten this message somehow in her prayer life. I don’t think she ever worried that this calling would lead me to walk away from our relationship. In fact, the more I find myself able to walk away from some of the siren calls of the world, the more I find that I’m walking closer to the path that she and my father walked. I know the grief of losing them physically, but I’ve never felt the loss of a shared pathway, a shared journey. It’s a come and see kind of journey, the same as those Galileans. And it’s an amazing grace kind of journey, just like for Bono. It’s enough to make a blogging ex-pizza chef sing at the top of his lungs, I will follow, I will follow.

How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.



  • February 6, 2012 at 8:20 am

    Stan, how difficult it must have been for you to lose your mother, a very important person in your life. My mom died at age 53 of ovarian cancer, a horrible disease. My dad lived until 74 years of age and he was the one who gave unconditional love like the father in the prodigal son story. As we grow in faith, however, we ultimately realize that it is our Heavenly Father we are called to follow and we know Him through His son Jesus, who by the way experienced all the problems of life and worked His way through them, even the ultimate futility of the cross.
    Being a follower of Jesus and placing one’s feet in His footprints leads us on an amazing journey.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Janet Davies

  • February 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Like Janet, I can relate to these losses and to the staying power of our parents’ faith and their love. I am grateful to be walking a path that they walked before me, and though I often find myself wishing for their companionship on the journey, I look for it in the unexpected place they so often turn up.

    P.S. I LOVE U2!!!

    Comment by Jennifer Sanborn

  • February 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Janet and Jennifer – thanks for your comments. It is such a blessing to share such a lively and open and wondrous faith journey that my parents had, and the longer I live the more I realize what a rare blessing that is. They both died of cancer, but they sure lived right up til they died, and live on in wonderful memories.

    Comment by admin

  • February 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Hey Stan,
    Thanks for the U2 shout out you gave Kevin and me above. I had a few things I wanted to say about your reflection, but didn’t have time when I read it initially. Now I do.

    At some point, when my boys were young, they complained to Kevin and me that they had no chance of ever being really awesome because all the awesome people are either orphans or they’ve lost at least one parent: Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Batman, Spiderman, Percy Jackson, Bono, Stan Dotson . . . you get the idea. We congratulated them on their insight, but declined making the sacrifice so that they could be awesome.

    A few days before I read your post I had been reading a book called How to Believe in God Whether You Believe in Religion or Not by Clark Strand. Mr. Strand grew up in the Bible belt, became a Zen Buddhist monk as a young man, left the monastery at some point, and is now the director of the Koans of the Bible Study Group. The 5th chapter of his book takes a look at the story of Abraham and Sara. He relates how God tells Abraham that he will bless him and make him a great nation, but that he must leave behind all he knows and travel to a land that God will show him. Strand says,

    “It is always like this—heaven, Canaan, the Promised Land [and I would add, Dagoba, Hogwarts, the Land of Oz, and Narnia, among others]. We always begin by leaving the world we know—the one we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch—in search of a world we cannot imagine. Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight; and St. John of the Cross teaches that we must pass through the “dark night of the soul” in order to reach God. Both are just ways of saying that it is impossible to complete the journey of belief without leaving what we know.”

    Another book I’m reading (I’m a librarian—I can read as many books at one time as I want!), Living Zen, Loving God by Ruben L.F. Habito, a practicing Catholic and former Jesuit priest, as well as a Zen master, deals similarly with the story of Jesus’s invitation to the rich young man in search of eternal life. “Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me.” Habito says that a prerequisite to the full reception of the eternal life is an act of total emptying.

    That’s what happened to you and Bono and Batman, isn’t it? Losing a parent emptied you and plunged you into a world that you could not have imagined. That’s what started you on your hero’s journey. Hardly ever does anyone choose to embark on that journey. Life’s circumstances have a way of forcing you down that road. Even those who get a burning bush would rather not take the road less traveled—the one that leads to Pharaoh or Darth Vader or Voldemort—thank you very much.

    I’m not sure why some people take the hero’s path, which is always a journey of the spirit, and some prefer to stay in the comfort zone of shopping malls and cable TV. Maybe it’s grace, or maybe it’s because when you’ve been emptied and stripped of comfort, you figure you’ve got nothing to lose, and besides that you have to find some meaning for your life. You have to believe that life is more than Wheel of Fortune and Survivor.

    As you know, in Joseph Campbell’s description of the hero’s journey, the hero faces many trials and tribulations and usually has to descend to the underworld at least once. At the end of this journey, the hero receives a boon of some sort, a gift that he or she can then bring back home and share with the rest of us. It seems to me that this boon is the result of the hero’s encounter with death. The hero has stared our biggest fear square in the face, and has found that death isn’t the final word after all. There is a force more powerful than death, isn’t there? Some just call it The Force, some call it Love. The Bible calls it the kingdom of heaven or eternal life. Both Habito and Strand agree with me that eternal life isn’t located in the sweet bye and bye. It’s here now, but you have to have eyes to see and ears to hear. That’s the boon that our heroes bring back to us. You and Bono have eyes to see and ears to hear. (Oh, can’t you see what love has done?) Bono’s songs tell us stories of the realms of heaven (where the streets have no name) and you show us how the stories that rock ‘n roll tells are the same stories that the angels tell (the wind whispers Mary).

    So, thanks Stan, for being so awesome—for following the shared path and for walking by faith. Thanks for being a blogging ex-pizza chef who sings U2 songs at the top of your lungs. (I got a little misty eyed when I read that.) And thanks for including the photo of baby Stan—that would have made your mother very happy.

    Comment by Holli Rainwater

  • February 17, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Holli, your response is one of the most gracious and generous boons I’ve ever received. I’m sure your boys are awesome despite their lack of orphanage, and it’s clear they have some awesome parents. My goal in life now is to get some books published and in your library!

    Comment by Stan Dotson

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