Mr. T just called to say he wanted to come back to our church. He attended several times last year while he was still a resident at Project Lazarus, the residential treatment program for people with AIDS and nowhere to live. I really liked his personality, sincerity, and intelligence from the beginning. But after coming a few times he found our inclusivity a bit hard to bear. (He couldn’t quite grasp how a pastor could teach sacred yoga, when he had been taught yoga was evil. And he wasn’t quite ready to embrace a church which welcomes gay people, even though he is bi-sexual).
Now he has graduated from the program, has his own place to live, and works part-time. He has a steady boyfriend. His life has become stable. And he believes he is ready to try our church again. There are a million churches of every type in New Orleans, so you have to wonder why he wants to come back to us.
“I’ve decided I really prefer men, and I’ve found someone to love. You all welcome gay people, and that was hard to accept at first, even though I am bi-sexual. I was so used to going to church and having to hide who I was. I guess I used to believe there was something wrong with me too. But that’s been changing. I noticed how you all treat everyone the same, and I like that. I think I am ready to be part of your kind of church.”
I told Mr. T. that we would love to have him back and that hearing all of this made me very happy. In fact, his story about finding someone to love and discovering the courage to be who he is seemed like a real God thing to me. I remembered he likes to quote Christian scriptures, which he knows very well, and told him I believe the scripture that says “Whoever loves is of God, and whoever does not love is not of God.” I also said I think that applies to whoever we love.
He agreed. He said he wasn’t sure why church people go back to the Old Testament laws to quote a verse about homosexuality, and yet skip all the other laws about things like chopping off your hand or poking out your eye. But he said he is ready to live by what Jesus said, “All the laws and the prophets are rolled up into this: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I had to jump in there and say that’s what I believe too: “It’s all about love. That’s why you’re so welcome to be part of us. We believe love trumps all.”
I felt exuberant. I was getting to vicariously experience Mr. T’s ongoing conversion, his direct experience that God’s grace is for him too, not just for other people, but for men like him who love their boyfriends. Grace seemed to have been flowing into him over time as a trickle, then a stream, and now a rushing current. It was washing over him and all through him. And I was just glad to be a tiny part of the whole story.
He went on to ask if I had a book on the beliefs of the United Methodist Church, and I said I would be glad to share one. I told him Methodists don’t profess their beliefs are better than others. They just emphasize certain things in their own way, and remain open to other’s ways. He asked if he would have to be re-baptized to join the church. I said that’s another thing I like about the Methodists, they accept you and your baptism.
He asked other things, like if he could attend Wednesday evening classes with us. “Of course,” I said. (I think he was just checking to be sure there wasn’t some secret code he needed to know, some hidden rule that would exclude him from full participation in our spiritual community). And he moved on to other subjects, like wanting to be a writer and exploring the details of how to get a literary agent and to earn income publishing articles and books. He was trying to help me learn aspects of professional writing I know nothing about. And just the fact that he was valuing himself enough to want to help me seemed like another sign that grace was flowing freely.
Mr. T is a living example of God’s active work in our lives. This is not some distant being who is off somewhere far away in another universe. This is One who is so very present, so patient, wooing God’s child into intimate communion, a moment at a time. This is a God who is love, helping someone who believed he was not as lovable as straight people to know in his bones that he too is part of a community of beloveds, even he who loves his boyfriend. Mr. T is a radiant example of a simple scripture truth: “Whoever loves is of God.” And if it’s true for him, maybe it is true for the rest of us too.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, and share it with a friend who might also need to know they are accepted just as they are.