This summer has honestly been crazy, surprising, and unexpected in a lot of not good ways, but I thought that after a series of negative posts, I would write about something a little more positive just to shake things up a bit.
Here’s a little context before I get into it: I’ve been spending the past two months in Grand Forks, North Dakota studying “linguistics” at this summer program that is closely tied with Wycliffe Bible Translators. I’m here because it’s technically a part of the requirements for my major at Bethel (which is seriously screwed up, and I’m pretty sure the only reason no one has complained before us is that there have been like 4 linguistics majors since Bethel introduced the program). Anyway, it basically sucks, and they’re not really teaching us linguistics. They’re teaching us all this watered down, proprietary stuff that’s used for Bible translation. Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but the fact of the matter is that we weren’t informed that’s what we were getting ourselves into, so it’s sort of frustrating that we spent a lot of time, money, etc. on a program that isn’t really benefitting us in any way. So that’s the backdrop of this summer.
Aside from a drastically less than satisfactory experience at summer school, this season has been trying in a lot of other ways, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It’s really just been a super brutal two months, and I also have been working through that no church experiment that I started at the beginning of the summer (which I’ve actually cheated on, which is the inspiration for this post).
SO, the positivity.
Last weekend, on the heels of two weeks of really difficult news, I was back home (I go home like every weekend, because Grand Forks just sucks that bad), and I was invited to go to church with some of my good friends from high school/college/PSEO/whatever. Anyhow, I was sort of hesitant to go, because I was on my church fasting experiment and also because the church was 40 minutes away from my house. But I wanted to see my friends, and I also figured that it was probably a little more acceptable to cheat on this experiment. So, I went.
And…honestly…it was really great.
The service itself was pretty standard, the vibes a good mix between the smaller church that it was and the megachurch vibes that I’d experienced before. But that wasn’t what really hit me. It was the people, which was something that I really wasn’t expected.
Now, granted, I was visiting with friends, which meant I already had my in, so to speak, since she was introducing us to everyone. But at the same time, I felt a genuine warmth and acceptance from everyone that we were introduced to that I hadn’t felt in a church in a while. That was pretty cool.
Their spirit of hospitality was so that we were all invited to go to lunch with people from this church that we had just met an hour ago after the service. Again, I was hesitant about this, because I just wasn’t at a point in life where I had disposable social energy for mingling with people that I didn’t know. But again, my friends were going, so I decided to go as well. And I think that was probably one of the best decisions that I made that day.
Over lunch, they started off with just regular small talk, lunch conversation stuff, but after everyone was mostly through eating, one of the guys there, who also happened to be the worship leader and youth pastor for the high school students got us into a more serious conversation. He told us a little about what he was going to be talking to the high schoolers about that night and just opened the floor/table for discussion.
So, for the next 45 minutes or so, we talked about a bunch of super “controversial Christian” topics. We talked about drugs. We talked about abortion. We talked about the Supreme Court ruling and same-sex marriage and relationships, and for the first time in a really long time, I didn’t feel an anger boiling up inside me as these other Christians that I barely knew gave their opinions and beliefs on these topics.
Honestly, I was floored.
The frequency at which I find myself a part of such authentic, caring, nuanced discussions on any three of those topics, let alone all three, is next to never, which is why I found myself drawn to these people. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend with them, since it was Sunday and I had to return to the dreaded Grand Forks that afternoon, but I had really wanted to be able to stay and talk with them more, because it was honestly incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that conversation in real life before. I’m being 100% serious.
The worship leader/youth pastor’s wife talked about the super real contradiction between pro-life activists wanting women to give birth, but also refusing to support programs that help mothers after they’ve given birth, oftentimes leading those children to grow up on destructive paths. She talked about how it’s so interesting that supposedly pro-life Christians also support the death penalty. And she was what most of us would call a “real adult.” People usually chalk up opinions like that to liberal, progressive college kids, but here was a real person giving a nuanced, informed, and consistent opinion on a topic that many Christians believe is black and white.
And then the worship leader/youth pastor himself told us about a talk that he had given the senior high students on same-sex relationships/marriage and the Supreme Court ruling. I was surprised to discover that he had read them both the Side A and Side B arguments off of the Gay Christian Network website, two essays that I’ve read several times myself. Again, here was a person in real life who actually cared enough to read stories and opinions about real gay Christians without beating them over the head with the Bible.
And the best thing is that his doing that really affected people in that church. He got people questioning what they believed, especially since he noted that many of the people in that church didn’t have LGBT friends or know any LGBT people personally. His reading of those two essays got people thinking, and it personalized something that had only been an issue before. And some people started wondering if what they had believed before was really the right thing. They started asking themselves if they were on the wrong side, for lack of a better term. That’s crazy to me.
Even though he eventually told us that he still personally holds to the traditional views of marriage and relationships, my mind was still blown (seriously) by that story, especially when he admitted that it’s really between people and God on matters like that. I don’t think I can fully express how blindsided I was by the sheer love, grace, and respect that was present throughout that entire conversation. It was honestly one of the coolest things that I’ve experienced in my life. I’m 100% confident in saying that was one of the few times that I genuinely experienced a group of relatively conservative Christians from the suburbs of Minnesota speaking so lovingly and relationally on a topic that they don’t wrestle with personally. The amount of Jesus that was shining through them at that moment was surreal, and they didn’t even know that I was gay when they were talking about it.
Crazy. Absolute madness.
I mean, I think that there are plenty of stories out there about people accidentally offending other people when they talk so bluntly and insensitively about a topic that they don’t know someone else has to deal with, but for the first time in my life, I was genuinely and completely surprised by the way that they talked about it, and I want to say that it was probably that situation in reverse. And that’s the coolest part.
In that situation, in that conversation, you could see and you could tell that they really loved the people that they were talking about, regardless of whether or not they actually knew an LGBT person personally. You could tell that they were wrestling with it and putting themselves in the shoes of the people they were talking about. You could hear them admitting and understanding how difficult and complex an issue it must be. And that’s just straight up insane.
I literally (correct usage, thank you) can’t get over how surreal and insane that situation was, and I’m so thankful that the legends are true and that there are still Christians who operate like that. It gives me hope that someday all Christians will be able to have loving, respectful conversations about things they don’t agree with, and it gives me hope that someday Christians will be known for their love, and that their love would just be understood by their actions and their words. It gives me hope that someday Christians won’t have to say that they’re “speaking the truth in love,” because people will already feel loved just by being in their presence. After all, the saying goes that if you have to tell someone you’re a hipster, you’re not a hipster. In the same vein, I would say that if you have to tell someone that you’re loving them, you’re not.
So, that’s my positive story for the week and my shout out to that church for reflecting Jesus in real life.
I only hope that this kind of love truly is contagious, because the kind of love those people were showing can change lives, and I’m sure they already have.