Two years ago, I met a guy named Preston Sprinkle at Audiofeed Festival, in Urbana, Illinois. I'd heard of him prior to arriving through a friend - Jay Newman - who booked both of us to be there, but I wasn't sure what I thought, because my context for having heard of him was a blog he wrote in response to Mark Driscoll's Bloodthirsty Jesus, and I was attending Mars Hill Church at the time, and was on the defensive. I remember having some sort of sarcastic remark prepared for the Q&As that he was offering at the end of his topical conversations surrounding his book on hell with Francis Chan, and pacifism, and homosexuality. Thankfully, I didn't have the courage to go in for the kill.
This last year, both of us were invited back, and I didn't feel as salty, and I made sure to sit in on both of the morning talks he delivered. I think we talked a little bit more, too. He was kind. Both years, he brought one of his kids, and both years I thought about how cool it was that he was making sure they were a part of his life in that way, especially at a [lovably] crusty fest.
Before Preston asked me if I'd consider reading the book that he released this week - People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just An Issue - it was already in my Amazon queue, waiting for shipment. After listening through his lectures this summer - and not just learned, regurgitated content, but careful, compassionate conversation - I knew I had to read it. I even asked him if Zondervan would let me do the audiobook for it (that offer is still open, btw - I'm sure a ton of Zondervan employees read my blog. Lolz.) And after reading it, I knew I had to write something about it.
I also knew I'd wrestle with whether or not I would.
Here I find myself insecure, knowing that I've not an authoritative voice in a conversation that exists around and pigeonholes and idolizes and demonizes real life human beings as though they were only a popular hashtag, or a theological debate, or a marketable rainbow. Knowing that many of those people are wrestling through their own confusion, or have come to conclusions, about what they believe, or where they fall or categorize themselves in relation to this book's address. Knowing that many of those people are my friends. Knowing that I've loved the interactions I've had on tour throughout the years with practicing same-sex couples who've come to listen to me perform and felt like there's hope in what they hear. Knowing how much I value them as people and how incredibly thankful I am for the opportunities I've had to show kindness and love that I think is, sadly - true or perceivedly - a statistical rarity within the Christian community. Knowing that the most succinct form of what I want to say to "my own" is, "Read this. I think it's helpful," but feeling like its relatively out of the blue enough - at least in relation to what I usually write here - to warrant some explanation. Plus, I do a lot of my own processing out in the open.
I also know that I'm working through my own questions. I know that this is as much of a process-piece as a book review. I know that this conversation is not dismissible simply because popular culture has practically deemed it a hate crime to ask those questions, or, on the flip side, because Christian culture digitally flogs the same asker. I imagine someone has written me off already for just saying "I've got questions", even though I haven't even told you what they are. I also know that much of what's praised in a Nike #betrue design has about as much to do with love in that pop culture’$ world as the Westboro Baptists' horrific campaign for popularity in the "Christian" economy does.
I know that the suicidal story of the “faggot” who was somehow less than human in Preston’s study of people is not a unique one. I know that I've emails in my inbox and text messages on my phone from parents asking for advice on how to interact with their sexually-explorative children, and from abused explorers, and I feel at a loss for what to say because knowing or acknowledging or understanding all of the information in the world (or in the Bible) still doesn't translate into sympathy, the same way that truth doesn't inherently translate into compassion.
And I have the potential to be such a noisy, clanging gong.
I know that I've not always loved people worthy of love well. I know that I miss a best friend who decided he couldn't be loved by people like me when he bid farewell to his fiance, his church, and his family in lieu of a relationship hidden behind the scenes. I remember the way that I wept when he left. I still feel myself break three years removed. I wish he would have chosen to stay, and I wish we could have been safety. I know that I still don’t know how. What things can I own? What things can he? And how to love a fiance in the wake, friends confused, relationships strained? To come back to it with both repentance and forgiveness. I know that he hates everything that I stand for, or thinks I stand for. Maybe he even hates me, but I want to love him. I know that the pain of broken relationships and estrangement are brutal.
My copy of Preston's book is stained with tears and holds more of a Wreck This Journal vibe than a new release, for all its underlinings and margin scribbles. That's not me being poetic. I want to love people well, and I know that there have been / are times when I haven't / don't. That's where I think I have to start if this is going to be a conversation I have - with my sin.
I guess I'm starting.
This blog post is the first of a three-part series, with the remainder to follow tomorrow and the next day. I rarely split things up like that, but it's no short piece, and I think it's an important enough thought to warrant making it absorbable. Check back tomorrow. Thanks for reading.