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The Parking Garage

July 15, 2018. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve sat down to write. My brother and his family are visiting from South America and I have hit ‘pause’ on just about everything over the past couple of weeks so we can spend as much time as possible with them during the short time they’re here. The last time they travelled to Ontario as a family was three and a half years ago, and that was in the winter, so this time around, we’re doing every summer activity we can think of, giving my niece and nephews as many new experiences as we can. We took them to a beach on one of Ontario’s Great Lakes, took the ferry to Toronto Island before catching a Blue Jays game, and crammed the whole family into a big old house just outside of Niagara Falls for some sightseeing. And that was just the first three days!

(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.)

On the day we went to the baseball game, my seventeen year-old son and his girlfriend had to drive down later in the day to meet up with us as they had both just started their first full-time summer jobs. After the game, to spare my son having to drive on the 401 late at night, I sent him home with the rest of the family and my brother and I caught the subway to Yorkdale mall, where my son had parked the car. Before they left, my son explained where the car was parked, although it was a little frustrating that he hadn’t thought to take a photo of the parking spot, since it was such an enormous parking garage. 

I should mention that it was a new car—just three months old. If you want to get a sense of just how much this season of life and ministry is affecting me, look no further than this completely out-of-character purchase. A new car? I am incredibly conservative when it comes to finances and am well aware of how quickly a new vehicle depreciates once you drive it off the lot. Generally speaking, I don’t like spending money on myself and prefer to avoid anything that would come across as even remotely showy. So what on earth possessed me to buy a new car? 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and while I’m not sure I can pinpoint one specific reason, I have a couple of theories. The first is that I didn’t have the mental energy to navigate the world of used cars, which is stressful for me on the best of days. It would have meant running the risk of buying a lemon and adding more stress to a situation that was (and is) pushing me to my limits, while having a reliable, new vehicle with a full warranty would alleviate that concern. The other theory is that, at some unconscious level, I wanted to add something good to my life, which actually feels pretty crappy right now. The reason I think this might have been a factor is that I find myself enjoying this new car so much more than I would have expected. Now you have to understand, the reason we needed a new vehicle was that our old one, a 2001 Corolla complete with roll-down windows, literally gave up the ghost in our driveway. (My youngest son was particularly embarrassed by this archaic feature, despite the fact that whenever I drove his buddies around, they always commented on how cool it was that they could actually roll the windows down!) Anyway, after driving around an old, slowly-dying car for so long, this new Corolla drove like a little piece of heaven.

Back to my brother and I in the parking garage at Yorkdale, which will explain why I bother mentioning that we bought a new car. Owen told me where he parked: “You just walk in the main entrance to the garage and it’s right there, straight ahead. You can’t miss it.”

Except we did miss it. Which seemed strange, given the fact that it was late at night and the parking garage was nearly empty. For the next half hour, my brother and I walked back and forth in that garage. When there was no sign of the car, we went on to check every aisle of every other level in the garage. Had my son somehow sent us to the wrong parking garage? But no, I called him and he confirmed the details, which his girlfriend confirmed. We were in the right place—our car just wasn’t there! I had to acknowledge the only possible explanation: someone had stolen our new car.

After nearly an hour of searching, my brother and I found ourselves standing in the mall’s security office, explaining the situation while scanning a wall full of surveillance monitors. It was more than a little humiliating, but the humiliation turned to jubilation when a security camera mounted on the ceiling of the garage revealed that our new car had not, in fact, been stolen, but was tucked away in a small, hidden section of the parking garage surrounded by five-foot-high concrete walls that made the vehicle impossible to see unless you walked up this extra little ramp...which my son and his girlfriend somehow forgot to tell us about!

Regardless of the temporary terror I experienced, the hour long drive home from Toronto was a good opportunity to talk with my brother about everything that has been going on in our lives over these past few months. Every time we get together like this, we make a concerted effort to stay in touch after they leave, but as time passes, the number of months between Skype calls grows and before we know it we’re almost completely out of touch. He had heard at least some of what was going on, likely from Melissa, who is much better at communicating with family and friends than I am. But even what he had heard was now a few months old now.

I started from the beginning, summarizing what you’ve been reading here to bring him up to speed. I know it’s unreasonable to expect someone to give me the time I would need to tell the whole story, but I definitely feel like sharing our experiences in a ten minute summary fails to do it any justice at all. There’s so much I forget along the way, so many details I leave out, painting only a partial picture of the journey our church has been on, giving little more than a glimpse into what has been happening in my own heart.

My brother and I have an interesting relationship. He is only two years younger than me, so we grew up quite close, despite the fact that we are very different people. He is the kind of person who could sit down beside a homeless person and strike up a meaningful conversation, which is something that would scare me to death. His arms are tattooed, he has various piercings, and wears a long beard that suits his personality just about perfectly. I am way too clean-cut for any of that. (One time, many years ago, his wife knotted my shoulder-length hair into dreadlocks, which both of them also had at the time. The style suited them to a tee, but it’s a decision that friends and family still mock me about to this day!) Over the years, we have learned to appreciate one another for our differences. There was a time when that probably wasn’t the case—when I would have judged him or resented him or dismissed him for making choices that I would not have made—but time has allowed me to see the value in how he is wired and in how he has chosen to live his life. I’m sure he could write something similar about me, too, as I know that he sees the world very differently than I do, and yet he seems to understand that everyone plays a unique role and that the main thing is to play the role that you are meant to play, and not the role that someone else wants you to play.

If my brother and I have learned how to appreciate our differences, we’ve also learned how to back down when tensions start to rise. Not in an unhealthy way, but in a respectful way. In the past, we would let the pressure build to the point when we didn’t want to be around each other, but somehow over time, and without ever actually talking about it, we recognized that our relationship was more important than our ideas or positions. 

All of this to say that I have been looking forward to talking with my brother about things. To be fair, I already knew where he stood on this issue—that he would be affirming of gay relationships. His wife’s uncle has been married to another man for a number of years now and they have always talked about it matter-of-factly. While my “disapproval” of such a relationship always led me to avoid showing too much interest, I was well aware that they saw nothing at all wrong with it. There was almost certainly a time when my brother would have held a different opinion, but as I’ve come to learn, when real people enter the field of view, perspectives tend to change. So his reaction to what I shared on the drive home was pretty much as expected, agreeing with our desire to avoid drawing lines of exclusion, and appreciative of my willingness to lead our church into such unstable waters.

It’s interesting: when I was wandering around that parking garage, I was overwhelmed by the fear that I’d lost something valuable, I was unsure of what more I could do to solve the problem, and I could feel my stress level rising to unhealthy levels—all reflections of the thoughts and emotions that I’ve been having over these past few months with respect to our church’s journey. But the other thing I had as I walked the aisles of that garage was the calming presence of someone by my side, which I also had as we drove the hour-long stretch home together, talking about the challenging journey our church is on and the hope that, in time, we will find what we are looking for.

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