Moons of Jupiter

jupiter_moonsWe had just recently moved to Raleigh. Four weeks, maybe. We had met only a small handful of our neighbors. I was at the public library one day with Megan when my phone rang.

“Hi. I’m your neighbor from across the street. I met your wife yesterday while I was walking my dogs. She said you were a pastor at a new, small church.”

“Yep. Guilty as charged.”

“I’m calling because I’ve been searching for a church for a very long time, but I have a lot of reservations and fear. I googled your church today and what I see really intrigues me and feels right, but I can’t just show up until I talk to you about something. What are your thoughts on the gay community?”

Quite a question. Inside my mind, time slowed to a near stop … allowing for a thousand thoughts to flood through my mind in an instant. Had this phone call happened 10 or 15 years earlier, I wouldn’t have paused. I would have given a clear answer that reflected the paradigm-of-thought in which I was raised.

It would have been a short phone call.

But a lot has happened in the past 10 years. Not the least of which was meeting Dave.

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I met him at the Urban Ministries Center in Durham. We served breakfast together on Wednesday mornings. For 2½ years, we cracked eggs, flipped pancakes, cut fruit, poured coffee, made grits, and talked. A lot. I told him about my family — Rachel, Kyra and Megan — and he told me about his — Tim, his partner, and Yoda, his beagle.

Dave complicated things for me. I saw Jesus in him.

He was sincere and loving and unselfconsidered and … candidly, he was more Christian than almost anyone I knew. And I was a pastor! Prior to meeting Dave, my thoughts about homosexuality and the gay community were fixed and immovable and “correct.” Dave didn’t fit into my paradigm.

In addition to being friends in real life, we also became friends on Facebook. One morning after breakfast, I sent him this facebook message:

Enjoyed serving breakfast with you this morning. At the risk of sounding like a crazy religious person (which I used to be as a younger man … but am not anymore) you are one of many reasons why I believe in God. I believe God cares deeply for the oppressed and the hungry and the broken-hearted and the down-on-their-luck … and I also believe that we (humanity) at our best, sometimes reveal the markings of God in how we live. That is something you reveal regularly – knowingly or not. See you next week.

In the time of Galileo, everyone knew that the earth was fixed and immovable in the very center of the universe, with everything else (moons, planets, sun, stars) in orbit around it. But then Galileo observed the four moons of Jupiter orbiting not earth, but Jupiter! And suddenly everything that was so certain became unstable.

Dave was a moon of Jupiter.

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“What are your thoughts on the gay community?”

“Well, my answer might not be what you’re hoping for. If you had called me 10 years ago, I probably would have said something harsh and very unkind and insensitive. But everything I thought I knew has become far less certain. Here’s the best answer I can give you. I don’t know. There’s a lot that we don’t know. But if you’re OK with a pastor that doesn’t know, I think you’ll like our church … and I think you’ll feel very welcome.”

Since that phone call, she has become a true friend and another one of Jupiter’s moons. She and her partner attend regularly and are an amazing addition to our faith community. We are so much better with them than we were without them. Together, they’re giving shape to a new “home repair” ministry aimed to help families who could use a helping hand with their homes.

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A friend of mine is a campus pastor at a well-known theological school here in the States. He and I were chatting recently about a student of his. She’s gay.

Every attempt of hers to connect with God is tortured and filled with anger and self-loathing … and with some really great questions.

“What father would watch as their child suffers and have the power to stop it but doesn’t? I’ve done every f***ing thing imaginable to be not-gay. I hate my life. I just want to die. … I went for a walk today and as I stood by the road, I thought, What if I just step out in front of a car? That would be the end of that. No more misery and confusion. I asked God what He thought about people who commit suicide. But He didn’t answer.” [Parenthetically, this isn’t the experience of all gay people … but it is the experience of many, especially within the church.]

What do you say to this? I don’t know. That is what you say. “I don’t know.” Or you say nothing at all.

He and I chatted over the Christmas break. The counsel he ended up giving his student was incredibly profound.

He told her, “There’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know you are loved by God. Instead of coming to God through your sexuality, why don’t you put your sexuality to the side, not hidden or in shame, but just not in the center, and just come to God as a person? Like I do. Just come as a very complicated broken person like we all do … We shouldn’t come to God through our sexuality. I don’t come to God through my straightness … I come to God through Jesus.”

Apparently his counsel has worked. For the first time in her adult life, her spiritual life has become vibrant and alive!

I think his words are profound not only for his student, but for the church as well.

We need to hear a similar admonition, because we have a tendency to approach the gay community as just that. The GAY community. Sexuality is at the center. But what if the church was able to approach them as simply community? What if sexuality wasn’t in the center, and instead we came together just as we are? United through our complicated brokenness?

I think something great might happen.

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Our little church has a lot of moons of Jupiter. And I am so thankful we’re able to worship together. And I believe to my core that we are so much better together than we are apart.

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