I offer today the second installment in the Chuck It/Love It series—in recognition of my alternating desire to chuck the Church over Niagara Falls and announce my undying love for the wobbly thing on the JumboTron at Turner Field. (Entries are from my journal spanning twenty-plus years and three churches in three states. Names and identifying details have been changed.)
“Nobody here has forgot the church. We just wish we could.”
~ Romulus Linney, Heathen Valley
Today I visited with Tad. He and his partner, Rob, have been part of our church for about a year now. Tad and Rob sometimes hold hands in worship, which sends some people into complete apoplexy, I know. But today I didn’t want to talk about any of that. Today I wanted to know Tad better; to hear more of his story. His life story. His God story.
We sat with the sun on our shoulders as he told me of the day when his mother, father and four of his five siblings severed all ties with him because he is gay. Nine years went by. Then Tad’s father became gravely ill. The children flew from all parts of the country to be with him in his final hours. At the hospital, as everyone gathered around the father’s bed, Tad remained in the hallway, just outside the door. His sister, the only one who’d remained close to Tad, bent down and whispered in their father’s ear: Daddy, Tad is here, too.
The father opened his eyes and declared to the family and to the universe: I have no son named Tad. Then he died.
Tad also told me, with tears dripping off his chin, of how in high school he’d had an under-the-radar boyfriend; a secret he eventually revealed to his youth pastor in their extremely conservative church. Two years later the boy died in a motorcycle accident. After the funeral the pastor told Tad that his boyfriend’s death was God’s punishment for their wicked relationship.
“Your friend died in his sin,” he’d said, “but there’s still hope for you, Tad.
If you’ll simply turn straight and stay straight, God will find it in his heart to love you again.”
Recently Marlo called me about getting together. “I think maybe God is trying to get my attention,” she said. “This is new for me and I don’t know what to think about it.”
“Come on over,” I said.
I first met Marlo several months ago on a Sunday when her 23-year-old daughter, Kelsi, introduced us after worship. Kelsi’s speech and cognitive abilities are impaired because of brain trauma she suffered as a child after falling from a tree. But Kelsi is brave, hopeful, resilient and, what’s more, last summer she collided with Jesus in a beautiful way while hanging out with other twenty-somethings from our church.
Everyone else in her family is adamently non-religious. So when Kelsi started bringing up her new-found faith at the dinner table, Marlo decided to come and see for herself what snake-oil fakeries these Baptists might be peddling to her daughter.
After worship Kelsi dragged Marlo to the foyer to meet me. Because of her brain injury Kelsi has absolutely no filter. Whatever she’s thinking is exactly what comes out of her mouth: “Pastor Julie, this is my mom. She’s an agnostic. So you have your work cut out for you. And my father isn’t here today because he thinks church is a big crock.”
After such a poetic introduction I was happily surprised a few months later when I got the call from Marlo asking if she could come see me.
I’d barely closed my office door when she threw herself on my red floral couch and said with obvious agitation, “I can’t explain it, but every time I’m at your church I get the feeling that God is tapping me on the shoulder. In a Baptist Church, for God’s sake! My friends think I’m nuts. I don’t know whether to feel relieved or mortified.”
She described how, during her first time in worship, when we came to the Passing of the Peace she panicked and didn’t know what to do. Turning to the elderly man next to her, she stuck out her hand and blurted: “May the force be with you.”
I love Church.