A Barbarian Identity
I’ve heard that the 30s are often a time of self-discovery, of learning to be comfortable in your own skin. That’s certainly been the case for me. I prefer to describe it as becoming my true self and imagine time has been shedding off layers of who I thought I was supposed to be. This process of the last few years has been extraordinarily painful, delightful, and thrilling. It feels a bit like what it looks like to have a new patch of skin growing – raw and tender, not very pretty, easily damaged, but healthy and full of potential.
After sitting with the questions of my identity and purpose for a while, with pretty sudden and perfect clarity I found answers: I am a barbarian.
The term comes from a book called The Barbarian Way which I’ve read twice in the last 2 months, underlining nearly every page because it so perfectly describes my motivations, personality, and calling. In it, the author writes about a time that he went to a leadership conference where the speaker urged the listeners not to be innovators but rather first adopters. In his opinion, the innovators are the ones that get themselves and others into trouble. They are the “mushroom eaters” who try what has never been tried before and gamble with safety and success. Better, he said, to be a first adopter who sees what has been done and wisely steps over the corpses of the ones that went first and failed, especially if bringing others along. It turns out that I am a mushroom eater. “The barbarian call is simple: we are called to be mushroom eaters. A world without God cannot wait for us to choose the safe path. If we wait for someone else to take the risk, we risk that no one else will ever act and that nothing will ever be accomplished.”
I love this metaphor because it makes sense of what I’ve dedicated my life to doing. I am in uncharted territory, and I know it. I could get myself hurt in so many ways, and I know it. I could easily fail, and I know it. But I have to go forward anyway. This isn’t recklessness and impulsivity, or a lack of wisdom, or an inability to understand the potential consequences. I am perfectly clear on what the costs could be; I simply cannot tolerate the idea that this tiny sliver of God’s kingdom advancing might not be initiated in my lifetime. If I fail, at least those coming behind will know what NOT to do. Someone has to go first, and going first is part of who I am and how God has designed me to be. “The original call of Jesus was so simple, so clean, so clear: “Follow Me.” He wants us to surrender our lives to Him and follow Him into the unknown. And if it means a life of suffering, hardship, and disappointment, it will be worth it because following Jesus Christ is more powerful and more fulfilling than everything else in the world minus Him.”
It has been hard to wrestle through what this looks like practically. There have been rebukes and words of concern from people who love me. There have been questions about my emotional health as those who have known me the longest have watched the shifts in my personality. The intensity of my emotions and passion has increased (I didn’t know that was even possible!), and some of the carefree ways I used to approach the world have dissolved a bit as I actually encountered that world in all its glory and devastation. Honestly, I am just not into playing games or trying not to call reality what it is for the sake of not making people uncomfortable. There is too much at stake here. I am trying to find the balance between listening to the people that I trust for feedback and counsel and walking fearlessly into the deep waters that I know I am supposed to enter. “Strangely enough, though, some who come to Jesus Christ seem to immediately embrace this barbarian way. They live their lives with every step moving forward and with every fiber of their being fighting for the heart of their King. Jesus Christ has become the all-consuming passion of their lives. They are not about religion or position. They have little patience for institutions or bureaucracies. Their lack of respect for tradition or ritual makes them seem uncivilized to those who love religion. When asked if they are Christians,, their answer might surprisingly be no, they are passionate followers of Jesus Christ. They see Christianity as a world religion, in many ways no different from any other religious system. Whether Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity, they’re not about religion; they’re about advancing the revolution Jesus started two thousand years ago.”
All I know is this ever-increasing hunger to know Jesus by experiencing life with him, and I am completely convinced that life with him is a unique experience for each follower. I am learning to put my blinders on and go full force where his spirit is drawing me, without fear or a need to explain myself. The point is not so much what I may or may not accomplish with my life. The point is being stripped naked before the King, with no pretenses or fears, just surrender that I am nothing without him and will go and do anything anywhere in pursuit of his heart.
“To be filled with the Spirit of God is to be filled with dreams and visions that are too compelling to ignore. Live or die, succeed or fail, barbarians must pursue and attempt such dreams and visions. The barbarian spirit dreams great dreams and finds the courage to live them… The barbarian way is about love, intimacy, passion, and sacrifice. Barbarians love to live and live to love. For them God is life, and their mission is to reconnect humanity to Him, Their passion is that each of us might live in intimate communion with Him who died for us. The barbarian way is a path of both spirit and truth. The soul of the barbarian is made alive by the presence of Christ.”