When I walked in, for the first time in years, I felt at peace. You have to understand, my life was in a state of total chaos. I didn’t get the opportunity to ease back into civilian life; I went from being in Afghanistan operating in the Shah-i-khot Valley, to being in a metal tube hurtling through the air at a high rate of speed, to standing at an airport in the Southeast.
When I got home, my paternal grandfather was living with my parents, and they needed help, so despite my reservations about living at home again, I moved back in with my folks, took a job during the day, and spent my evenings caring for my ailing grandfather.
So this little coffee shop would become my haven, my home away from home, my refuge from the chaos that was my life. Little did I know (and I don’t know why the giant, stained-glass cross didn’t give it away) that it was also a Lutheran church. The pastor was there in the evenings a lot, and we struck up a friendship that has continued to this day. Eventually, the pastor would encourage me to re-read the Bible, starting with Romans. When I reached Romans 2:4, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and glory of the kindness of God. I point back to that moment now as the moment when Christ kindly removed the heart of stone and replaced it with the heart of flesh. The goodness of Christ and the gospel had vanquished my resistance entirely. Over time (about 2 years), the church would recognize what they considered a real gift for teaching, and I started getting regular admonitions that I should consider seminary.
That was an idea I fought tooth and nail.
Without digressing into an inordinately long excursus, just let me say that at the time, I didn’t think much of a seminary education. In a lot of ways, I still don’t.
At any rate, the church wound up calling and ordaining me as an associate minister; at the same time, our denomination was in the beginnings of the open stage of all out conflict over the question of homosexuality.
The next five years would be horrific. I’ve been cussed out by bishops, had my tires slashed and all the windows on my car busted out, and been attacked with a tire iron, leading to a cracked skull and broken ribs…all over my opposition to the church declaring homosexuality to be anything less than sin.
But through it all, I was being trained for ministry, which eventually led to one of the most earth-shaking realizations of my life.