The house was packed. Reverberating off the vaulted ceiling were the echoes of a thousand conversations for why they came and what they expected. I could hear some say “because of my friend” a few others, “because of my child” and even a couple that came, “because of me”. There were others too. They wouldn’t describe themselves as culture warriors, per se, but they knew which side they stood on. Perhaps it wasn’t out of doubt in their captain that they came; maybe it was more of a wonder as to why we have teams at all.
Weaving his way through the huddles of chit-chat that lead to the altar, the Pastor met me at the back of the sanctuary. Shaking my hand and pulling me close, he whispered his wish to mention my involvement in it all. No name would be spoken, just a nod to the anonymous soul in the pews. How fitting for me.
“This is all happening because of you.” He whispered. “You did this.”
Had I been a more a holy man, I would have locked eyes with his and then rolled them upwards, smiling and sighing,
No, no, no… He did.
But I forgot. Instead I stepped away and did a “who-me?” laugh and said something sorta like,
Oh, you, you… you get outta town!
But seriously, it wasn’t me. I couldn’t have contrived a more backwards organic beautiful ridiculous plan then the one that panned out.
I couldn’t, even if I tried.
Something greater did this.
~Now, would you please join me in a series of events that just so happened over this past year? Perfect.~
Probably whistling a tune while writing music at his workspace, my brother is approached by a coworker. Said coworker hands him a book, he’s startled, since said coworker knows nothing about me.
Brother takes home the book, reads it in a day, hugs it for an hour, and then texts me all about it, including the hugs.
Through his persistence and patience, I reluctantly pick it up and give it a go. In the last chapter I could be found lying in a blanket of Kleenex with a cup of hot chocolate, clutching the book like a late friend that I needed now more than ever. It understood me and it made me feel safe.
My folks flip through it fast and gates of empathy open wider. Whole family feels it now. Best friend reads it, and then reads it again, and then five more times, and then calls me to say “this book has changed my entire life”. She is not gay. And, by the way, it didn’t matter that I was either, it was just that edifying.
Mom and I head down to Chicago for some more of this stuff. Our stomachs aching for just a crumb of community, empathy, maybe an emotional release. That night, we are met by so much more. I see others and they’re real and I can touch them. I hear their stories and they receive mine, mom hugs another mom, I hug a few new friends. They say they love me and I say I love them and soon I start warming to the idea that it’s okay to love me.
Walking away, mom says, “that’s the closest I’ve been to Heaven.” We leave and go home and then I fly back alone for another round. I meet with Andrew Marin and tell him that I need these gatherings. I need them in my city. It was like a drug and I was in detox. And the withdrawal was growing stronger.
At home again, I am fitted with frustration by what I hear, which is nothing. I hear nothing when I wanted to hear a chorus of Christian leaders stand up to sadistic southern pastors in the news wanting me dead. So I go find a pastor to lay the smack on.
Coffee date was set along with my catalogue of Church crimes. And then he disarms me. He asks for my story and I tell him. And then later on I get to the withdrawals. The withdrawals of understanding and feeling normal and okay and loved. He listens. He tells me he wants something to happen but he’s not sure how. Its so emotionally charged, he says, and inevitably explosive. How?-He asks, How? I hand him Marin’s book.
He reads it. He wants to hear sermons by Andrew so I send him those too. He listens, he prays and he thinks. He too starts getting withdrawals, but for something he had never tasted. He consults my brother and he consults me and comes to the conclusion that his Church has a responsibility to do something. He wants more community and he wants it bad.
So while I am away doing my thing overseas, they work their tails off to get this Andrew guy up to Edina and make plans for a new season at their church. One that doesn’t leave conversations unsaid. One that brings people together. One that craves honesty and stories and doubt and conviction and all of who we are and all of who He is.
Andrew Marin arrives along with his Associate Director Michael Kimpan. and… I’ll leave that for another post.
But did you see what God did there?
A coworker gave my brother a book and several months later a Church and a town came ten steps closer heaven. God did that.
I spoke with Andrew Marin about coming to Minneapolis, at the time it was a pipe dream. God did that.
I met with a pastor ready to complain, only to leave all the more humbled and honored in my journey. God did that.
Andrew took to the podium in front of a larger audience than this church had seen in some time. God did that.
For all our planning and attention to detail, any number of things could have gone wrong. Scheduling conflicts, Church politics, fundraising issues, messaging mishaps, missed flights, skipping the Chicago trip, cold feet in meeting with my pastor, finding out that the pastor could care less about the gay community, Andrew being too weak to defeat his fatigue from his sickness or the coworker that forgot to give my brother the book that started this whole thing in the first place.
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 (NIV)
If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that I shouldn’t worry about what lies ahead.
Because God is already there.
When I first touched the cover of Love is an Orientation, he was setting up seats for Sunday Night.
When I went to the pastor to make my case, he was preparing the hearts of the Church elders.
When I left for Europe, he made his presence known in Edina and stirred a community to curiosity.
He spread the Kingdom concrete, letting it sit and set… until such a time as Sunday.
It’s the same God that made a sea stand on hind legs so slaves could find freedom. The God that sent a sea monster to swallow Jonah, only to upchuck him into the mission field. The I AM that called Jesus into Samaria instead of the more scenic route.
The God we worship is a bridge builder. He is a path maker. He is the old man working on the railroad. The one that makes a way into those stupidly impossible places we never seriously considered. He tills trails to ideas that we once were afraid to admit we had. He lets us think that we know where we are going. He surprises with where we find ourselves. Places we never knew we wanted so badly.
Our God is mysterious and meticulous.
And he is waaayyyy ahead of us.