On Trailblazers & Bushwhackers
On Trailblazers & Bushwhackers
It was one of the most provocative compliments I’ve received, before or since. It was directly after the first teaching I gave at Applegate Christian Fellowship more than 20 years ago. Steve, a fellow pastor, found me after service and with a big smile on his face and his big paw on my shoulder said, “Scott, that was fantastic. But next time, I want to hear YOU -- the real YOU!” And, he was off.
What he was saying was that I sounded a whole lot like our Sr. Pastor Jon. And I did. I watched the VHS tape a few years ago, and boy, was it a revelation. #groan! My original content was good, my delivery was cloned.
It highlights something that’s plagued me for years: the battle against imitation, not just in “ministry,” but in any life endeavor. As a “recipe” guy, it’s been how I try to avoid the dreaded F word: failure. My bent is to try and avoid ANY kind of failure, no matter how small.
For example, a couple weeks ago I ventured forth to the kitchen to make baked sweet potato fries, killer RECIPE in hand (on my phone). No big deal right? Following a recipe for something so potentially delicious (and healthy) is probably recommended, right?
The problem for me came when two things happened. 1) We didn’t have one little ingredient, and 2) I made a measuring mistake while prepping the fries (TBS vs TSP - dang it!). Here’s what I battled through: It filled me with dread that the frires wouldn’t turn out right, that my family wouldn’t like them, and that my efforts would be for naught. In reality, what’s really at stake? Not much, other than some orange spuds. But the internal churning that sprang up was ridiculous! This, people, is why I like recipes!
The more we fear failure, or rejection, the more prone some of us can be to imitation. It’s just plain safer. Some of you who’ve known me for a while may be thinking, “Ohhhh….So….that’s what’s wrong with him!” Not so fast, cupcake! There’s a whole lot more to little screwed up me that just THAT! Please!
Clearly, following a recipe in the kitchen is OK. Following one for your life isn’t.
It’s easy to look at Trailblazers who’ve made incredible impact in their field of endeavor and want to emulate them. Whether it’s music (don’t get me started with CCM!), art, business, sport, ministry, or whatever else might light your fire, the imitation bug is a strong, but deadly one.
This is clearly not my thought original. Perhaps a universal one. Here’s Jon Foreman’s take on it:
“...everybody knows that the hardest war to fight
Is the fight to be yourself
When the voices try to turn you into someone else…” (Switchfoot: Against The Voices / Album: The Edge of the Earth)
Have you found this to be true? That the most difficult battle really is in discovering and maintaining who YOU were created to be - not who someone else was created to be?
Literature is filled with this journey of discovery. In some cases it’s a very blatant theme, like young Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea (loved that book as a kid!), who must discover his “true name” in order to defeat the forces of evil. The real fight was not so much an external one against the “forces of evil” - it was internal battle to discover his true identity. Once that internal battle was won, the external victory was an inevitability.
For people of faith, the struggle is a double down, right? Biblically, there’s all kinds of “imitation” jargon perpetuated. (Still have your WWJD bracelet?) Unfortunately, most if it is focused on imitative behavior rather than on a pursuit of character. The result has been catastrophic in our culture. We have hordes of “Christians” aping so-called Christ-like behavior, screaming at “the world” to follow suit, all the while actual Christian character is in the crapper. So we’re seen as hypocrites and sheisters.
Can we agree to say “screw that” to the cult of imitationalism? (I don’t always make up words, but when I do, they’re awesome). If you’re focused on imitating the Trailblazers, you won’t end up as a Trailblazer yourself. You’ll simply be a Bushwhacker chasing fads, trends, techniques and other cool stuff - yet making very little impact.
So, what do you do with our imitative tendencies? For heaven’s sake DON’T imitate style, behavior, techniques or trends.* DO imitate the struggle those Trailblazers went through to be who they are. Not a scientific study here, but I’m guessing most real influencers didn’t get there by trying to be someone else. They got there by doing the hard work of figuring out who they were designed to be.
So, this is one of the things I’m currently working on: being less afraid of failure of any kind or any size and taking appropriate risks in revealing who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. I’m working out my own dealio with fear and trembling.
Discovering who you’re designed to be can be hard, scary - yet rewarding - work. But it’s a lot less scary than imitating others only to realize you’ve become some version of you that you were never meant to be.
* To be clear, I’m not advocating re-inventing the wheel when it comes to using “tools.” Beg, borrow, steal the heck out of those, especially if it’s in the context of a mentor relationship where guidance can separate cloning identity from using tools to accomplish specified goals.