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The Day Before the Big Day

Today is February 10, 2018. Tomorrow I will preach a sermon on the intersection of same-sex attraction and Christian faith.

One morning earlier this week, I pulled into our church parking lot and saw one of our new Board members biking down the trail that runs adjacent to the church property. When the City of Waterloo first opened the trail, they posted signs indicating just how many people had walked or cycled along the trail in a given month, I suppose as a way of validating the public funds that were spent on its construction. Those signs are down now, because it’s become a bustling corridor through our city’s Uptown neighbourhoods and no one is asking questions anymore. But the fact that it’s February and we’ve had a significant snowfall this week made this Board member’s early morning appearance seem somewhat otherworldly.

(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)

She pulled up to a stop when she saw me getting out of the car. “I had a dream last night,” she said. “And you were in it.”

There’s no quicker way to lose someone’s attention than to tell them about a dream you had the night before. Who cares? They are all the same: meeting random people in strange situations with some kind of symbolism that you have to decode so you can live life by your new found nocturnal wisdom.

But there’s also no quicker way to grab someone’s attention than to tell them that the dream you had was about them.

“I dreamt that a bunch of us were going to a big party, and as we were walking in, you were really nervous. I think you expected that the only thing anyone would be talking about was this conversation we’re having as a church, so you didn’t even want to go. But then we got to the party and no one even said a word about it.” She continued, “I wonder if we’re overthinking this. Maybe this won’t be such a big deal for people after all.”

“I hope you’re right,” I replied, “I sure hope that’s the way it goes!”

She was off on her way and I turned around to head into the church. Maybe there was something to what she said; maybe we had already faced the worst of it in our conversations with parents of Youth and the rest of it would go swimmingly. Maybe—but I doubt it.

I haven’t trimmed my beard for a couple of weeks now. I was getting ready one morning and looked at my unusually tired face in the mirror and thought, My beard is too neat and tidy. I think it needs to match how I feel. So I just let it go. When we had the extended family over for our daughter’s birthday last weekend, my wife was telling people I was growing my beard in protest of the stress in my life. I kind of like it: a protest beard.

So the other day, when I told Melissa that I was actually feeling a strange sense of calm about everything, she didn’t ask me why or probe into what had changed, but said, “Then maybe it’s time to shave your beard.”

It’s true, though, I really am feeling much more settled heading into Sunday morning, when everything will finally be out in the open and we’ll start getting a better sense of just how much of an impact this is all going to have on our church. The intense daily headaches have disappeared and I’ve been able to sleep at night, which hasn’t been the case for the past couple of weeks. When I’m engaged in conversations with people, I still feel passionate and engaged, but with much less anxiety than I’ve been carrying lately.

I had a chat with someone recently who expressed how her own anxiety has been increasing as ‘the day’ draws closer. She told me about how her and her husband almost left our church eight or nine years ago after a sermon about sexuality that didn’t sit well with their own convictions, and now she was nervous about what I was going to say and whether they might find themselves in a similar situation. It wasn’t a threatening comment, and she was careful to clarify that they weren’t about to leave over anything, but she was being honest with me about the level of stress that some people are feeling about all of this.

Which is kind of ironic, because just last night my wife came home after hanging out with a friend from church who was wondering why all of this was such a big deal; her husband was under so much stress at work that she couldn’t understand how people even had time to think about things like this. This is definitely part of the challenge: not only do people believe so differently about the theme we’re exploring, they also have different ideas about how important—or unimportant—it is for us to be talking about this in the first place.

News about Eric’s ‘coming out’ has been slowly seeping out to our congregation, although I suspect it will still come as a shock for most. People are well aware of tomorrow morning’s theme, of course, especially after last week’s sermon about the distorted views of sexuality we see in our culture and how the Bible tells the story of a Creator whose first words to the people He formed from the dust of the earth were, “Be fruitful.”

My focus last Sunday was on trying to hear God’s heart for a healthy sexuality instead of just talking about the Bible’s prohibitions. I wanted to speak on this theme first to make it crystal clear that, regardless of what we believe about the place of same-sex relationships in the church, our sexuality is a significant part of our lives, and far from being something we should avoid talking about, we need to find ways to acknowledge the positive vision God has for human relationships and sexuality.

If I’m being totally honest, another part of my rationale for talking about sexuality in a more general context first was to help calm the nerves of those who had a growing concern about where this same-sex conversation was going to lead. I wanted our community to know that the tough conversation we were about to begin was couched in a broader narrative of God’s design for human sexuality. I wanted them to hear me say things they were familiar with—things about the distortion of sexuality in our culture, about the capacity of marriage to provide a home for our sexual desires, and about the need to trust that God knows what He’s talking about when he calls us to honour our sexuality by abstaining outside of marriage and being faithful to our spouse within marriage.

I was trying to create fertile ground for what would follow, but then that’s what I have been trying to do since the start of January with our series on listening: preparing our community to hear a challenging message and to engage in meaningful, fruitful dialogue on the other side.

So tomorrow is the big day. I will stand in front of my congregation and push the proverbial cart down the hill, knowing that once it starts rolling, there’s nothing I or anybody else will be able to do to stop it.

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