A Weekend in San Diego
After an article appeared in the New York Times about his church and his relationship with me, my son was offered a book contract. We haven’t talked a lot about the book. I know he has been working hard on it. I also know he is writing about his experience of my transition from his father to, well, I don’t know exactly what you’d call me. I suppose I am his “parent who is no longer his father.” It seems like Native Americans would have a word for that. Westerners do not.
The book is also about his leadership at Forefront Brooklyn, a church he started in New York City five years ago. Forefront Brooklyn is a daughter of Forefront Church, a congregation begun by the Orchard Group, the ministry with which I served for 35 years, most as CEO. Jonathan led his congregation into becoming a full membership church, a congregation in which anyone can serve in any position, regardless of gender or sexual identity.
Leading his congregation through that process necessitated his leaving the Orchard Group, which I know was painful for everyone involved. By the time that happened I was already gone, having been let go immediately after coming out.
One chapter of Jonathan’s book is about the future of the American evangelical church. He asked me to write a few thousand words that could be used in that chapter. My first draft is already finished. I used to teach a Doctor of Ministry course entitled, “Current Trends in the American Church.” I like writing about that stuff, and did it every week for 12 years at the magazine where I was editor-at-large.
This past week Jonathan also asked me to write about two specific days, one in the fall of 2014 and the other in the spring of 2015. Writing that section has not been easy. I’ve written 1400 words about each. I have not seen what he is writing about those days.
I didn’t think I remembered much about either day until I started thinking about them. There is an entire 18 months of my life that is kind of lost. I sometimes wonder if I will look back ten years from now and not remember much about my current life either. I thought it would take about five years to fully work through my transition. It is going to be closer to 10. I hope it is only 10. This stuff is not for the faint of heart.
I am actually not sure I am ready to read what Jonathan has written. I imagine it is going to be painful. I mean, the experience itself has been painful, so the memorialization of it is also likely to be painful. I know he will be honest about it.
People often ask if I am planning to write a book about my experience. I am not. I had a few offers from publishing companies, but I’m maintaining a counseling practice, planting a church, starting a church planting ministry and writing a weekly blog. Besides, I wrote nine books. I’m not sure I have another one in me.
I had a lot of complex feelings when I was writing about those two days. On the days I was writing I was also speaking for the Mission Gathering Revive Conference in San Diego, an enjoyable weekend event. I wrote in the morning and late at night. I found I needed the grounding of a handful of new and old friends as I wrote. They helped keep my soul afloat.
I treasured my time with Fred Harrell, Brandan Robertson, Melissa Greene, Paulette Wooten and David Roberts. They are good souls, all, who are living honest and open lives. You need people like that around when you are doing soul work. They had no idea I was doing that particular kind of soul work, since I did not tell them I was writing about one side of a two-sided conversation about two difficult days several years ago.
I imagine sometime this week I will receive my son’s words on paper, the ones I am afraid to read. I may read them right away. I may ask Jen to read them first. You know Jen. I write about her a lot. I know my son will be gracious. It is in his nature to be so. But I also know the pain my transition caused. Telling that story will never be easy for any of us.
It means something to write in close proximity to others who have also made courageous decisions and are living with the consequences. They know the sordid tale of pain and the redemption that comes on the other side, but never soon enough and never when you expect it.
I am glad I was in San Diego with friends last weekend. I needed them. The creator and creation provide promptings and visitations when needed, reminders that we are never really alone.
And so it goes.