There's a bit of an inside joke here you may not get. That said, this has to be a two-part response.
Back in 1996 when Al Gore was
inventing surfing the internet a group of like-minded people got together in a thing called the "YS Listerve." This was essentially an email list that a bunch of youth pastors took part in, sponsored by the leading-edge minded folks at YouthSpecialties. The idea was that perhaps if we networked together using this new technology we could encourage each other's ministries, theology, hearts, and so on.
I was especially thankful for this new email list I could take part in with other guys in the trenches. In fact, one of my favorite things to do became on Tuesdays I would post a list of "freebies" - ideas I had been coming up with or had come across in ministry that people could use. Since so many of us seemed to be hanging onto our stuff to gain some sort of copyright symbol next to it, it seemed to make more sense.
Because the day when you crave a copyright symbol next to one of your ideas is the day you forget Who gave you idea in the first place.This led to other guys doing regular stuff, too, like my buddy G-man and his Friday questions. As you can expect with such an untamed list at such an untamed time, though, things started off well but soon evolved into debates about speaking in tongues, predestination versus freewill, whether or not certain ministries were heretical or legitimate, how you could tell if someone was a "real Christian," and so on.
You know, stuff no one talks about anymore. But back then we did. Sometimes 50-75 emails about everything I cared about and everything I didn't would be waiting for me in my inbox. I tried breaking into the heated conversation at times, but sometimes when people make up their mind about a topic they tend to make up their mind about you... and then anything else I would post would always be filtered through a lens.
Have you ever had someone put a label on you just so they could feel more secure?
So in the midst of contributing as "Tony Myles," I started posting things under a second alias - "firstname.lastname@example.org," and my listed name was "Nobody Special."
I'd write about things the way I sometimes do on this blog... asking questions we shouldn't be afraid to ask (but often are), sharing thoughts that are often controversial - but not for the sake of being edgy just to be edgy but rather to simply provide a voice for the overlooked people and thoughts, and so on.
The beauty was that in using such a generic name and title as "namelesspastor" no one was able to discount my ideas and thoughts as they often would when I was Tony Myles. Instead of hearing, "Well, you're just young in ministry" or "That's because you're in the midwest and that doesn't fly around here" or "You're probably one of those _______ types" or "This is just like that one time you were closed-minded about..." or "I'm going to hit you now" - instead of all of that I'd offer a thought and put it out there, signing off with the tag "Nobody Special.
My favorite part of it all was when people started thinking I was a big name in the world of youth ministry... a minor Christian celebrity, if you will. The biggest assumption was that I was a guy named Mike Yaconelli who was (then) the big dog behind YouthSpecialties and a very amazing personality we all sort of looked up to. I even read an email on the listserve once about how a guy went up to Mike at a seminar he was at and kind of did a nod at him, saying, "I know who you are... thanks for being that anonymous Nobody Special on the listserve." Apparently Mike just winked at him, and the guy took that as "validation."
Then there was this time a bunch of the listserve people got together for a lunch at a convention. We hung out, took a picture, and even decided to "represent" Namelesspastor through an Oliver Hardy cardboard cut-out. Yeah... that's me on the right, in a picture with "me."
This went on for a while. I wrote about everything from "Whoopie Cushions, the Thing, and Hostess Cupcakes" to "Catholics and Mormons." In each post, I tried to stir up the pot... because, I reasoned, that was my right to do so" and somebody better do it, doggone it."Hmm.
Over time my posts as "namelesspastor" began to move beyond just me. I'd allow friends of mine to vent their frustrations in ministry using that email address, which probably confused the informal guessing and investigation of who was behind all of this that much more. Nonetheless, that's how things went for quite some time.
Then one day we learned that the YS Listserve was shutting down... they were going to use this amazing new technology called "Message Boards" or something. Sounded too confusing. "These crazy people with their long hair and rock and roll music," I said, shaking my first.
So "Tony Myles" had one last email to the listserve. And while I did close it using my usual salutation of "T." I added something extra just before it.
Well, I don't know if I'm the only '96er still around, but it's been a great number of years following this list. I've moved around several email addresses since then, and a few churches as well (that'd be an interesting poll - how many churches have you been in since being on the list?)
I remember when there were enough people you could actually keep track of, to the monster it has become with conversations happening in thirty unique languages ("Dude..." "Bro..." "Man..." etc.)
I've been a debater who had the world figured out and would tell anyone who thought different how wrong they were; I've been a contributor who tried doing a weekly free stuff posting until I couldn't maintain it any longer; I've been a critic and ranter, with subtle attempts at misplaced humor and thought; I've been a lurker who pops out for occasional advice - to give and receive; I've been confused, and I've been fulfilled.
So in that this will be my final post to the list, I guess I wanted to say "Thanks for the memories."
Thanks for the challenges and the challengers; thanks for helping me to grow when I was wrong and for growing when you were wrong, too.
Thanks for giving me your phone number when I needed it and for remaining "Nameless" when it didn't matter.
Thanks for sitting at your computer and answering emails for problems you weren't directly involved in. Thanks for getting on your knees and getting directly involved in anyway.
Thanks for helping me organize a road trip for my students with service projects in your neck of the woods (Brad... Christy... Matt... and the other guy I can't remember who didn't mind that we smelled bad). Thanks for letting me sleep on the floor while my pregnant wife slept comfortably. Thanks for feeding us, clothing us, and serving Jesus as you did.
Thanks for being a dork. Thanks for being a friend. Thanks for being a jerk. Thanks for being an example. Thanks for being my "Jerry, Elaine, George, Kramer," and on occasion, my "Newman."
Thanks for getting excited for movies I was excited about. Thanks for labeling your sports posts accordingly so I could delete them (since I couldn't tell you anything about any football team since the '85 Bears won the Superbowl and basketball wise since Michael Jordan left the Bulls). Thanks for those times you remembered to "snip" your posts, and for apologizing when you didn't.
Thanks for reminding me about how hard ministry is. Thanks for sharing stories of how rewarding it's been. Thanks for helping me hate and appreciate small churches, medium churches, larges churches, and parachurches. Thanks for being different than me so that I might see a different side of God's face.
Thanks for telling me when your baby was born and for letting me share about mine. Thanks for confessing the roller coaster of being single, married, divorced, and remarried. Thanks for sharing when you failed in ministry, and when sin got the better of you. Thanks for helping me pray you on to victory in Christ.
Thanks for exactly 7,308,992.5 posts about tongues.
Actually, nevermind that one.
Thanks for helping me realize what denominationalism was and wasn't about. Thanks for helping me realize what youth ministry was and wasn't. Thanks for showing me how right I was theologically and how much of an ignoramus I've been with the Bible.
Thanks for being the Church to me.
A guy named Michael Coredetti who had been very annoyed by my posts as "namelesspastor" sent back a reply, "I knew it." That was fun.
Here's the crazy part, though.
Apparently on this new YS Message Board that replaced the listserve a guy named "Namelesspastor" started posting. When I learned of it, I was mad... after all, it was my idea... my great scheme... my cool angle... my copyright symbol.
Anyway, this new fellow was trying to keep up the spirit of the old stuff I was putting out there. He was the Brandon Routh Superman to the Christopher Reeve Superman... and I had to admit, it actually was fun to watch. I had a successor, which meant my efforts would live on.
Full circle... see beginning of this post.
Then one day this newer new technology came out called "Blogs." Soon I learned about another piece of my legacy... Nameless Youth Pastors. Then these guys asked me to come on board and post with them... humbling.
Full circle again.
So why do some people remain "nameless?" Perhaps because when we can't see the face we're more inclined to listen to the voice.
Then again, I have been posting this blog in full disclosure, so... maybe there's more value in knowing the person and his/her developing story.
What do you think?