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WORDS FROM FRIENDS

OF SERENDIPITY AND MEANING

Reading at McCormick Seminary
I’m standing on an underground platform in a city I’ve never been to—Philadelphia—and I come upon a woman holding a train schedule. I ask her if I’m in the right place for the Paoli line. “Yes,” she says, then asks if I’m in Philly for the Occupational Therapy Association Conference. No, I was there to be interviewed for a documentary film about LGBTQ elders who were impacted by their faith communities when they came out. I tell her I’m on a book tour, and she wants to know what the book is about. My gaydar is buzzing. I’m pretty sure she’ll be receptive. In fact, as I give her the elevator version, she taps her chest, indicating that my story is, in some way, her story, then says that she’s come to no resolution with her religious past in the Church of God in Christ in Tulsa—possibly even more extreme than my own upbringing. “I think you might relate to the book,” and I offer her my card. It’s at this point that we exchange coordinates. Delighted by the surprise that we both live in Albuquerque, we agree to meet up when I get back from touring. If this sounds like a dream, it’s not. It’s the kind of serendipity that has happened again and again on this adventure.

I knew I had embarked on a sacred journey to the City of Brotherly love when obstacle after obstacle popped up as if I were in some online war game. It was the penultimate day of March, but severe thunderstorms in Houston and Chicago delayed original flights and rerouted flights, until I finally arrived after midnight, seven hours after I was due. Despite my shortened time in Philly, the day was rich with encounters; whenever my host and interviewer, Kristyn Komarnicki and I were together, we talked nonstop—deep stuff as well as getting-acquainted stuff. When she went off to a meeting, I visited the African American Museum, making a difficult choice over the Jewish Museum and Independence Hall. In the evening we attended a fascinating salon at Eastern University where a Catholic theologian engaged us on the topic of desire and spirituality.

I left the next morning for Chicagoland, staying for a few days with my nephew Noah’s in-laws in the suburb of Wheaton. Mary and Wayne Kok are such gracious, hospitable people, and it was a delight to get to know them better. On Sunday we visited Pullman Christian Reformed Church (CRC), where Noah and Megan and their three children are members. It is a church that dispels in microcosm MLK’s statement that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time in the US, and I was touched so deeply by the experience that I’ve been doing some research on that church’s history and plan to write a future post about it. Four days after my arrival, I read at McCormick Seminary where Noah is a student and had set up an event that was co-sponsored by the seminary’s student council and the Center for Inclusivity. The reading was attended by a diverse group, people who shared some of their own stories and asked penetrating questions.

My cousin Colleen, who lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), picked me up at seminary housing the next day, and we got to play in Chicago with her friends Jim and Debbie Dehlin. The highlight was our visit to the Chicago Art Institute, which is one of my three favorite museums. The other two, in case you were wondering, are the Georgia O’Keeffe in Santa Fe and the Louisiana in Humlebæk, Denmark. After Chicago, Colleen drove me to Gladstone in the UP, where I held three small events. The first became the most emotionally charged of any event I’ve done thus far. One of the women attending was in a deep struggle to fully accept her lesbian stepdaughter, and she felt alone, angry and hurt, expecting her fellow Catholics (all attendees in the UP were Catholic), to come to her side. They did, too, offering her love and comfort without agreeing with her I’ll Never Change stance. Maybe she will, and maybe she won’t, but at the end, she asked me to write down the title of a book I suggested she could read, simply because it might make it possible for her to live in harmony with a stepdaughter she loves. And the next day when we ran into each other at a fundraising breakfast for the high school baseball team, she hugged me enthusiastically. I asked later if those who knew her thought that was genuine, and they were excited about what they perceived as change that had already happened. I also met with two Cursillo groups—people who retreat together and meet weekly for their spiritual growth—one women’s group and one men’s group.

Colleen was a champion ferrier—not a caretaker of horses’ hooves, but someone who ferried me from one place to another, driving me down to Under the Bridge, as Yoopers refer to lower Michigan. Thus the people who live Under the Bridge are referred to as Trolls. The Bridge is the Mackinac Bridge, and we were clearly on another sacred journey, as we were delayed two and a half hours waiting for ice on the cables to melt, instead of dropping onto us in chunks from 552 feet above. We ate an extended breakfast while we waited and rescheduled our planned meeting with Bari Johnson, a friend of Colleen’s who also happens to be on the Board of one of the Presbyterian seminaries. When we met the next day, we enjoyed finding we had lots to talk about, and we hope to meet again.

I am still blown away by the generosity of everyone I’ve met on this tour. Grand Rapids, Michigan, the city of my birth, was no exception. I’d once met and later interviewed Cara Oosterhouse (see blog post from December 3, 2015), a longtime activist for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the CRC. Now she and her wife Jacquie Kaiser welcomed me into their home for eight days, taking me out to eat, driving me to places I needed to go and taking various routes so I could enjoy Grand Rapids terrain, including me in an extended-family Easter dinner. Cara had gone to considerable trouble to set up three of my four events in the erstwhile Furniture City. Husband and wife Clarence Joldersma and Grace Veldhuisen took us all out for drinks, dinner and stimulating conversation in two of Grand Rapids’ trendy establishments. Don and Dorothy Huizinga held a home event for high school students and afterwards shared the heartfelt story of supporting their gay son. Julia Smith arranged for me to meet with SAGA (an LGBTQ support group) members for lunch at Calvin College. Art and Judy Jongsma hosted a house party replete with wine and beautiful home crafted hors d’oeuvres. My brother Bob and sister-in-law Ardith hosted another house party with delicious desserts, and Bob endured every single one of my events for which he must win a prize—not sure what yet. The largest event was sponsored by All One Body at Neland Avenue CRC—72 enthusiastic attendees, so many of whom thanked me repeatedly for being there. These were mostly CRC members, but to my delight, a classmate from the creative writing program at Western Michigan University, author Adam Schuitema (His most recent book is Things We Do That Make No Sense.), whom I hadn’t seen since 2005, also came.

After all this, Amtrak to Chicago, a night in a hotel there to decompress, a plane back to the Q with a day to wash clothes and run errands, then back on a plane to meet Cheyenne in Seattle and pick up my van in Bellingham and drive it home. But that’s another story.

©Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved
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