Though he quickly reached out to me (likely at the suggestion of others in the church,) and assured me that in no way did he believe he was replacing Kyle, I attempted as diligently as I could from the beginning to not like John Mark. I’m not proud of this, as it was indicative of the anger I was holding on to at the way he was hired. I found out soon enough, though, that he was going to be a hard person not to like.
John Mark hadn’t been a part of UBC for several years, and wasn’t around when Kyle died, and I believe this may have been his biggest gift to us. He brought a breath of fresh air that we all needed. What I most liked about him and Laura, his wife, was how unimpressed they were with the public image that the church had cultivated for itself over the years. In fact, he had seemed to embrace the “emerging ethos” that UBC had claimed, but struggled to actually lean into since the early years of the decade. Some of the elements that he embraced were things I didn’t resonate with, such as the tendency to reject more formal attitudes toward liturgy and worship on the basis that these were not present in the structures of the early church. But we both shared a common disdain for the ways churches, including our own, often felt a need to create, protect and sustain a particular image in order to attract a certain type of person.
He and I never became close, but I think in some ways we represented opposite sides of the same coin. We saw what evangelicalism had become, and whereas I wanted to redeem those elements that had nurtured the church, such as corporate worship and liturgical sensibilities, he wanted to return to a time before those practices arose, and to create a vital, truly organic community of people that constantly “shared life together”, (another phrase that has grown tired with time, but carried resonance during those years,) regardless of what their formal gathering times looked like. He helped create that type of community at UBC for a small group people that latched on to his charisma and care.
Though I remained frustrated about the way decisions were made in the aftermath of Kyle’s death, the discontent faded into the background for a season. In spite of what had happened, there was a good amount of energy flowing through the church. Jen was still around, and I was spending as much time as I could helping her with the kids. Avery, Sutton and Jude became my lifeblood, and being with them helped tether me to Kyle. I began picking the boys up from school one day a week so Jen could spend some one-on-one time with Avery. We would go to the park, eat sno-cones, and occasionally go see a movie together. Later, they would move to California when Jen would begin dating, then eventually marry, Harris. But for the moment, the kids gave me reason to wake up, to breathe deeply and to look forward.
I also began to form a small, close-knit community with a group of guys from the church, including their wives (and eventual wives.) There was Britt and Holly, the two with whom I had the awkward conversation about their “being together” at the Thanksgiving Love Feast in ’06; Josh, a seminary student who Kyle had introduced me to in the fall of 2004, and Josh’s wife Lindsey, a school teacher, both from Wisconsin; and Jonathan, a recent Baylor grad and local accountant. I don’t remember how we connected and this all began, but Josh, Britt, Jonathan and I would meet on Fridays at Happy Hour for drinks at various bars and restaurants around town. We spent a season at the Elite Cafe, a historical restaurant that prides itself on the fact that Elvis would eat there when he was stationed at Ft. Hood in the 50’s, and that served cheap margarita’s and half priced appetizers and beer. Then we migrated to Doc’s Riverfront Bar and Grill, where we toasted to Josh finding out he was giving birth to a son. And La Fiesta, where Mikey the bartender knew us and started the Dox Equis flowing the second we walked through the door.
Others joined us over the years—Katie and Nathan, Grant and Desiree—and we welcomed them all with open arms. But there was something special about that original group of guys. We were different from each other in many ways , but had an authentic sense of camaraderie that I hadn’t felt since college, and once it faded, haven’t felt again.