And the conclusion to YS Sacramento …
During the general session (GS) I started talking about my story, my unique experiences and how the broader Christian community has intentionally run away from any type of constructive tension that pushes us to cause growth when it comes to building bridges with the gay and lesbian community. I don’t want to give my GS all away … I don’t want to give away my quotes, my stories and the whole talk because then why would anyone want to come to the next two? So you’ll just have to live with that summary for right now!
As I was standing on a 7×7 stage, that was surrounded by thousands of people in a circular fashion on all sides, talking about homosexuality and the Church you could sense the crowd’s tension easing a little bit a few minutes into everything, not necessarily because I was saying what they wanted to hear, but because they found themselves strangely and uniquely gravitating to being able to in some small way relate to me as a straight evangelical man who was a former Bible-banging homophobe who was thrown in the middle of a crazy life because the Lord deemed it so. In fact, I actually got a few claps – the crowd still dumbfounded, but a few none the less.
My time flew by and I had no idea what just happened or the impact (or lack their-of) until my talk-back session after the GS. The talk-back session is what follows all GS’s where the GS speaker goes into a separate room and answers questions for an hour (and my talk back session was held in conjunction with 2 other GS speakers as well).
About 300 people showed up! And as soon as I said I didn’t have an agenda for what to talk about other than to answer questions 100 hands shot up. Sweet! I love questions. (I came to find out afterward from one of the YS staff that what happened during my talk back session had never happened before at any other event). Not only did a ballroom full of people show up, but it’s not like I had anywhere else to go so I told everyone I’d just stay until all the questions were answered.
And then we all got kicked out at 1am by a security guard! That was the theme for all of my experiences throughout the weekend.
My first workshop was at 8am that morning (thanks YS for the great scheduling on that one!). I thought I was screwed because I just spent 3 hours answering everyone’s questions, and, Question: who in their right mind (besides me because I was contractually obligated to do so) would wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to go to an 8am workshop on homosexuality after I just spend 3 extra hours with everyone? Answer: about 200 more people who tried to pack into a room fit for 67. People sat on the floor around me and beside me, people sat out in the hallway, wherever they could. I WAS SHOCKED! In going with the theme, another 70 or so hands shot up for questions, and once again, since I had nothing else to do I just stayed and answered all of them – for 3 ½ more hours!
Oh, and it didn’t stop there. My next workshop was on Sunday afternoon, and after the convention buzz about the GS, the talk back and the first workshop, YS moved me to a large ballroom (picture to the right). Another 300 or so people showed up to that one as well. And just the same, I stayed almost 2 hours after to keep answering questions.
My main point to all of this has nothing to do with the numbers. I would have done the same for 5 people. The main point though, is truly about the sheer numbers of people who:
1) Stayed hours after each session trying to process all of this new paradigm bridge building theology in real time, not knowing where they’re going to end up, but realizing that it needs to happen!!!
2) Those who pulled me to the side while I was walking in the hotel or the convention center needing to ask more questions because they had continued to wrestle with, think and about and challenge themselves while processing this new info well after the sessions and the Q&As were over.
And there is absolutely nothing more then I could ever asked for from anyone.
Throughout the weekend I was so tremendously humbled by everything. I was so tremendously shocked for how I (and the topic) were received. I was so tremendously encouraged by the number of church leaders from all over the country who gathered to purposefully enter into a difficult conversation without knowing where it would go. And I was so tremendously blessed to be a part of the greatest conference experience I have ever been a part of – not because YS treats both their speakers and attendees totally first class (which they do), but because of the mass amounts of hungry youth workers who face the gay-religious-mainstream disconnect every day of their life without any help, knowing the church can’t move forward until this topic is handled in the right way. What a great God we have, and what great followers He has produced.
I can’t wait for Pittsburgh at the end of the month.