I have heard more than once that we should look for God in the interruptions. Today brought that truth home.
The interruption in my neatly planned out day came by way of a phone call this morning. I had decided to spend a few hours working from an office at our partner church. I was sitting at my computer preparing my talk for this Sunday’s dinner church when the volunteer receptionist came to the door. “There’s someone on the phone who wants to talk to a minister,” she informed me. “They sound pretty upset, can you take the call?”
Well, duh. Of course, I can. Seconds later, I found myself listening to a man’s life story.
His speech was labored and hard to understand right away. I could make out that he was 50 years old and had arrived Monday night in Palm Coast after a long train trip from Los Angeles. He made the trek there to re-unite with his parents and three sisters. He had not seen them since he was 20 years old, but had been hoping - no, longing for reconciliation.
He explained how they had kicked him out when he told them he was gay some 30 years ago. He found his way to Los Angeles, where he has been living and working ever since. He had made other attempts, but this was the craziest thing he had done. He hoped that knowing his AIDS was advancing and seeing his physical condition, they might have pity on him.
He was wrong.
“I feel so dumb for thinking that,” he kept saying to me. He told me he was there less than an hour before they became violent and sent him on his way.
Of all the phone calls I would take, this one had my name written all over it.
As a follower of Jesus and a minister of the gospel, I have a strong sense of calling to embody the love and welcome I believe God has for ALL human beings, and especially those who have been rejected by so called ‘God fearing’ people - which this man’s parents claim as the basis for rejecting their son.
A few hours after our phone conversation, I found myself at the Super 8 on Phillips Highway delivering some Ensure and other snacks to him.
When I saw him, my heart sank. He stood there frail, eyes bulging and with little emotion. All I could think was,
how is it possible that so-called-God-fearing parents looked into the face of their dying son and did not immediately welcome him home?
I could go into all of the theological reasons why I believe wholeheartedly in the full embrace and inclusion of my gay brothers and sisters (into our lives, families and churches), but that’s not for this post. There are many people who have written and spoken in depth about this with clarity and wisdom. All I can tell you is that this is not the way of the God I have come to know. God’s story, which culminates in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, leads toward love, reconciliation and wholeness.
It is life-giving instead of life-stealing.
It heals wounds instead of inflicting them.
It sees all people as made in the image of God instead of just some.
We talked, prayed and I gave him the food. The exchange left me feeling sick to my stomach.
I just don’t get it.
Parents, you gotta do better.
Church, we gotta do better.
Since the only place I can start is with myself, I want to use today’s interruption to say something to my friends (and those I don't know) who know this rejection all too well:
I am sorry.
I am so sorry you have mistreated you in the name of God.
I am so sorry religion has been used as a disguise for fear and intolerance.
I am so sorry you have been made to feel stupid for hoping in reconciliation.
I am sorry that you have been made to feel less than, like a mistake or a misfit, like something to be easily discarded or cast aside.
You are not those things.
You are loved.
You are created in the image of God.
You are worthy of belonging.
You are right to keep hoping for reconciliation
and thank God, one day you will receive it in full.
Till then, I promise to do my part to open more doors of love and welcome.