I started my writing here on this website, but have since begun writing for PaganSquare.com and Patheos.com and will no longer be blogging on this website.
Visit here for news, recommendations, and upcoming events.
I started my writing here on this website, but have since begun writing for PaganSquare.com and Patheos.com and will no longer be blogging on this website.
Visit here for news, recommendations, and upcoming events.
At my first Brigid ritual I had an experience that was so unexpected and life changing that I fell silent. I didn’t speak about it to my friends and I didn’t write about it. I didn’t even mention it in my journal. What happened felt familiar, much like the experiences I had as a Christian, but it was also different. The differences left me confused and I asked myself if I had just had an encounter with a new deity. At the same time the familiarity of the experience made me wonder if Jesus and Brigid were actually the same, like aspects of an all encompassing deity.
The more I thought about it, the more excited I became to find an answer. But Ostara came, Beltaine, and Lammas, and the question remained. The wheel turned and Brigid came around again. An entire year had passed and I still hadn’t written anything. I decided to rededicate myself to the question and find the answer on the event’s one year anniversary. So I wrote a piece about Jesus and Brigid being the same. Then I wrote a piece about Jesus and Brigid being different. They were both good pieces but I couldn’t decide which one was true and I ended up deleting them both.
And so another Brigid ritual came and went and then it was Ostara again and Beltaine and the solstice and the days grow shorter. Again. I still didn’t have an answer. And so the wheel has turned to Brigid once again. I have already been to two Brigid rituals and I still haven’t written about her. Two years I waited to write an answer, but today I choose to write the question.
My first Brigid Ritual
I am walking through a part of San Francisco that seems like prime mugging territory. My friends aren’t interested in rituals, so I am traveling alone. I am determined to finish out at least one full year of rituals with the Reclaiming tradition before committing to this path. It’s been a lonely road so far, but at least I expect to recognize some faces tonight. Still, I am nervous, because I know practically nothing about Brigid or Imbolc. I googled both, but couldn’t find any information about what kind of ritual awaits me.
I assume it will be a small event, like Mabon, a circle of twenty, maybe thirty. I wonder why we can’t celebrate in the park and what this venue is going to be like. I double check the address as I walk through this unfamiliar part of the city. Yes, I am going the right way. At least when it comes to finding this venue, I am on the right path. The streets are far too empty and quiet for my liking.
Finally I see a few people getting out of their cars. They are wearing colorful robes, corsets, and cloaks. I have come to the right place. The venue itself is dark with high ceilings and much bigger than I had expected. I am smudged at the door and waved into an open space where well over a hundred people are beginning to form a circle. I greet the few people I know and then find a place to stand, close to the entrance. I always choose places close to the entrance when I am nervous.
A circle is cast, we call in the elements and we invoke Brigid. A beautiful cauldron sits in the center and a fire is lit inside. The fire sizzles and I am awed at seeing a flaming cauldron cast small shadows across the altar. Then the drums begin and immediately people start dancing and singing, Welcome Bridh, O Bridh is come, Bridh is welcome! I don’t know the song, but it is fairly easy to pick up and I join in, stumbling over the order of the words. The singing gets louder, the dancing faster, and I take off my coat.
There is a commotion on the other side of the circle and I see a group of Witches carrying something. A bouquet of flowers, no, much bigger, a bundle of branches? I reposition myself to get a better look. It is a beautiful arrangement of heather, greens, and lilies on a pole. As people approach and kiss the flowers, touch the branches, I understand that it is a representation of Brigid herself. An idol, I think, this is what idol worship looks like in real life! A dozen bible verses come to life and I shudder. I am torn between all that I was taught and yielding to the beauty of this moment.
People come forward to touch Brigid, to kiss her, bow to her, sprinkle her with the sacred waters of the world. I stand on the outside of the crowd, taking it all in. Eventually the dance and the song cease and Brigid is stationed next to the central altar, keeping watch over the cauldron. Then we are invited into a walking trance and I groan. A silly concept, that. I can’t even enter a trance lying flat on my back with my eyes closed wearing earplugs. Walking in a circle with dozens of strangers and expecting to enter a trance is sure to be an exercise in futility. I resign myself to failing at trances and the inevitability that I will be walking around a circle pointlessly.
The purpose of the trance is to find our pledges for the year. I start walking and struggle with frustration. I imagine everyone else having transcendent spiritual experiences talking to the gods while I am busy avoiding stepping on their feet. I give up on any semblance of trance and distract myself by thinking about what I should pledge.
Maybe something about music, playing more music is always a good idea.
Or maybe it should be related to my business, the chocolate factory I own. I reject that idea, it is too mundane, I should really try to come up with something more spiritual.
Maybe creativity. Creativity is a pagan-y spiritual thing. I’ll just say “I pledge my creativity” and get it over with. Except that it’s a very uncreative way to phrase it, isn’t it? I should at least come up with creative wording for my creativity pledge. I bounce words back and forth, wording, dismissing, re-wording, dismissing again. Am I really incapable of committing to creativity creatively? At least so far I have managed not to step on anyone.
“I pledge… I pledge… I pledge… I pledge—-“ And suddenly a word rumbles through me and finishes the sentence. Heat rushes through me and I lose track of my surroundings. I can’t hear anything except my beating heart. No, I think, no, not that! The word thunders through me again, deep, strong, irresistible. It threatens to consume me, it takes over my body, my mind, until there is nothing left but that word and my racing heart. NO! I think directly at it. NO! I take a deep breath. I reach for my rational mind and look around to anchor myself in my surroundings. Apparently I have stopped walking and people are walking around me like a river splitting around a boulder. I take another breath and shake my head to clear my thoughts, then I rejoin the walking.
It’s nothing, really. It’s just my mind playing tricks. It’s nonsense, complete nonsense. I wish my heartbeat would slow down. I feel as if I am waiting to be called into a doctor’s office to receive a diagnosis. Dread and anticipation and the desire to make it all go away, mixed with an insatiable curiosity. The moment I allow myself to feel the curiosity, the word presses against me again. This time I don’t let it overwhelm me. I keep walking and I push it away. It is nothing. It is nonsense. Creativity is what I will pledge. I just need to find the right wording.
I look up from the flowing river of trancing Witches and stare at the fire in the cauldron and at Brigid. The trance journey is ended and people are forming a circle again. Everything is overwhelming, the darkness of the space, the sparse lights, the sounds and the silences in between. I fight to regain composure and back away from the center, hoping to fade toward the edges of the circle. There is an empty space between two lines of blue tape on the floor and I retreat there. Someone steps into the center and tells us to form three lines and wait for our turn to come to the center and speak our pledges. I am not sure that I want to do this part.
Everyone is moving around now, but I don’t know where to go. I search for the areas where the lines will form so I can avoid them. Suddenly I notice that a line of people has formed right behind me. Why? I wish my mind was a little clearer! And then I understand, I am standing on the very spot that marks the beginning of a line. Panic seizes me and look for a way to back out, but just then someone walks up, points at me and two others, announcing we are the beginning of the lines. I am officially doomed.
There is an energy pulsing through the room and it feels like a long lost powerful friend, familiar and strange. I feel held and supported even while fighting my panic. Someone from the first line steps into the circle. She speaks her pledge and a hammer hits an anvil. I jump. Before I can gather my wits again, it is my turn.
Somehow I find my way to Brigid and the cauldron. I run through the carefully crafted words in my head. I hear the sizzling of the fire and step closer even as my heartbeat drowns out all other sound. I glance at the Brigid effigy and tell myself that I can do this. Then I place my hands over the cauldron and look into the fire and as I do, time shifts. I lose the ability to differentiate between seconds and hours. I wonder if I have always stood over this cauldron and if I always will. Something in the back of my mind tells me that there are people waiting, so I open my mouth to speak the memorized words. “I pledge—-“ and in that moment an energy surges through me and takes hold of me. The edges of my vision shimmer and my focus tunnels into the fire. I feel the molecules in my body dance and my spirit catch fire. I wonder if I could resist it, but I no longer want to, so I let it take me. I tremble as I become the fire and the fire becomes me. I become one with the molecules around me. Everything becomes more real, more alive. Joy rushes through me, but it is not a light joy, it is heavy with experience and wisdom.
Isee myself stand taller and speak the word I didn’t want to speak, the same word that pressed itself upon me earlier. The word I thought was nonsense, because it scared me. I hear myself pledge it and it feels right. There is nothing else I could have said.
My first pledge
Imbolc wasn’t the first time I made such a pledge. Fifteen years earlier I was at a large Christian festival in Germany and where the Jesus Freak movement was holding a public service. I was raised in a conservative Christian church, and the Jesus Freak movement offered excitement, a way to live my faith without being restricted by as many cultural norms. I couldn’t wait to go to the service and arrived early, but to my disappointment a crowd of hundreds, maybe thousands was already gathered. The service was to be an open air event inside the walls of a bombed out church. The setting was beautiful, but it was clear that the space within the walls would hold less than a quarter of the crowd. Security was already busy turning people away.
In proper German fashion I elbowed my way to a burly security guy and asked if there was any chance of getting in. He shook his head and told me to leave. I was so disappointed, I couldn’t help but tear up a little. I really felt like I needed to be at the service; it was the highlight of the entire festival for me. As I turned to go, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the security guy. He smiled at me and said: “you really want to get in, don’t you?” I nodded. “Well, hold on then” he said. He grabbed my shoulders, and lifted me up unto the wall, through the open hole where a window once had been. He pushed me through the hole and gently dropped me on the inside. “Go!” he shouted, as he continued to push back the crowds.
I was ecstatic. I felt like God had provided a miracle for me to be here. The leader of the Jesus Freak movement preached a fiery sermon and I cheered when he asked who was excited to follow Jesus. Then he asked who felt called to pledge their career to Jesus, to enter a life of full time ministry. As much as I loved Jesus, I never thought to enter the ministry. It was clear to me that I would pursue a normal life with a normal job and that I would evangelize, preach, and lead worship in my free time. But suddenly I felt an energy rush through me, fire and light and life, and my arm shot into the air. I didn’t mean to raise it. I tried to take my arm down, but my muscles obeyed only the energy, so fierce, so passionate, so connected with all that is. I couldn’t bring myself to withdraw my pledge. I yielded and let the energy take me and I was counted among the pledgers. And just like at Imbolc so many years later, it was the only thing I could have done.
Two pledges, two stories. I can’t think about one without thinking about the other. So much changed in the years since that Jesus Freak service. One pledge made by a teenager in Germany, the other by my 33 year old self in San Francisco. A fiery cauldron and a sunny church ruin. Two rituals, two deities, Jesus and Brigid. Are they the same or are they different? I still don’t have an answer. For now I have made my peace living with the question.
We had to banish a vampire from our community. She came last year and was charming and likeable. She was allergic to garlic and once she moved in, we couldn’t cook with garlic anymore, not without all the windows open and her safely away in another room. Of course the connection between garlic and this vampire was a coincidence, and at any rate, she was allergic to many foods. But she was, indeed, a vampire.
She didn’t pierce our skin and drink our blood; but she broke our bonds and drank our power. First she gained our trust; she said all the right things; she was charming and open; she gave tokens of gratitude and affection. Then she asked us for little favors and praised us for our generosity and unusual kindness. And so the trap was set, and the fangs dug in. The favors grew bigger and we were drawn into games of guilt and manipulation. We empathized and worked to support and empower her. Soon she was leeching power and empathy from us as we grew weak and confused. We felt drained and failed to set boundaries and practice self-care and we became agitated with each other. Our community was breaking from the inside out. But she had underestimated us. We are Witches and Heathens and we cast our wards, we called in light, we reclaimed our power, and we banished the vampire.
Like many evangelical Christians, I grew up reading C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I liked their stories and I justified their use of ‘magic’ by telling myself that it was ‘redeemed’ because of their Christian faith. Later I fell in love with Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories and the idea that myths hold power to “steal past those watchful dragons”. I was fascinated by the love the inklings had for story, myth, and magic. I was fascinated, but I didn’t understand. My literalistic reading of the bible blinded me to the depth and wisdom found in myth.
When I was dealing with this psychic vampire in my community, I discovered the power of myth, the truths hidden in ‘fantasy’. Once we identified her behavior as vampirism, we set a course of action. We understood that she was feeding on us and that she needed our emotions and our power because she didn’t know how to find her own from within.
We know that vampires start out as humans who are bit by other vampires. In the beginning they don’t want to hurt others. They themselves are badly hurt by a vampire. The other vampire sucks on them but then their own need takes over and controls them. They are no longer humans in control of themselves, they have become slaves to their thirst. Vampires can be pleasant and warm and loving, until the shadow of their need takes hold and their fangs come out.
Vampires avoid light, so we decided to shine light on our vampire. We worked to take back our own power and stand in our own light. The myths teach us that we gain power over a creature when we learn its true name. We had seen shifts in our vampire’s behavior whenever we came close to identifying the nature of her shadow. So we planned a meeting with her.
I was to take the lead and be the spokesperson. There were three of us confronting her. One of my allies had been the first to see through her. The other had walked with me through doubt and confusion and helped me reclaim my power. They were powerful Witches, ready to speak up and lend whatever support needed.
I had never before excluded someone from a community and I hated having to do it. I can’t stand confrontation at the best of times, so I knew this was going to be hard. We grounded, we centered, and we cast sacred space to shed light, to see and speak clearly.
As expected, she tried manipulation to elicit empathy, but I was prepared. I told her that she needed to listen carefully. She twisted my words, but I repeated them, again and again, until she heard them. It was an exhausting psychic struggle, but I was shedding light, and I had my allies. The facade was crumbling and the message was getting through. Little by little she appeared to be shrinking, her energy becoming smaller, taking up just a small space on the couch. I held eye contact as I spoke.
And then suddenly her demeanor changed. Her face fell, and she said: “I didn’t want this, I didn’t want any of this,” and I knew it was true. My eyes left her eyes and as I named the need, the shadow that possessed her; my gaze was drawn away from the crumpled body on the couch and I stared at an invisible form on the chair to her left. It was an empty chair, but I sensed an entity there, I felt the presence of the shadow that had split, left her form, and hovered over the chair. I had named it, and my gaze was locked on it, and it was no longer with her.
“This is not what I wanted”, she said again and I glanced at her and my heart broke. “I know!”, I thought, “of course you never wanted any of it, and this is the real you, the you I loved and wanted to be in community with.” I looked back at the chair and Shadow was still there, strong, weary, defiant.
“So what do you want me to do?” I heard the human form on the couch ask. This was the part where I was supposed to tell her that she needed to leave. But I was transfixed on Shadow. It was so real, so tangible, so her and yet so not her. I stammered. My eyes went back and forth, from the body on the couch and to the shadow on the chair. I was overwhelmed by the experience and couldn’t speak. My friend asked if I needed her to take over and I nodded.
I don’t remember much after that. I know my friend told her she had to move out and she said something like “now that my worst fears have come true…” and then we talked logistics. At some point she reunited with Shadow and together they left. My two friends asked me why I had faltered and was staring at that empty chair. As I struggled to put words to my experience I knew they would understand. They know the power of myth and they know the truths and wisdom that lie hidden in the realms of fantasy. They see the same unseen and know that there are worlds within worlds. They know that vampires are real and that together we had just exposed and banished one.
Another year gone. So much broke last year. My last-ditch effort to save my business proved futile. Communication with a friend broke so badly that I hired a mediator. My community nearly broke in half. Broken friendships, broken trust. To top it off, my housemate and I totaled the car when a stoned driver smashed into us.
So much brokenness and now a new year is upon us. Things will mend, our community is already healing and growing, I love my job, the bruises are gone, and we’ll get a new car. But I often wonder what it would be like to draw a clean line between the past and the present by taking on a new name. A magical name.
Many of my friends have magical names and they are beautiful. I encounter their namesakes in nature, Seed, Rock, Snow, Cypress, Madrone, Thorn, Root, Tree, Lynx, Moon, Raven. They have mythological names, Gwion, Gwydion, Phoenix, Morpheus, Bran. I love their names, I love that they evoke images, feelings, stories. I have been asked why I don’t have a magical name.
I did go on a quest for a magical name once. But in the end I always come back to the name given to me at birth. Annika Mongan. Annika is a Swedish variation of the name Ann, which comes from the Hebrew word for grace. Ever since I reclaimed my life after my abusive marriage and fundamentalist Christianity, grace has been my theme. I have been granted a second chance at life. It is a gracious gift. It is a rare treasure. It is grace.
Annika is also the name of a character in Pippi Longstocking, written by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Annika and her brother Tommy are Pippi’s best friends. My brother’s name is Tom. My parents didn’t know the story of Pippi when they named us. Astrid Lindgren wrote other books, including Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, which is my favorite book – ever – and has become the myth by which I live.
It was a very young Annika who first felt Divine touch in the form of the Holy Spirit. It is the name my parents called when I sang to the stars and ran wild in forests and fell in love with Jesus. It is the name under which I became a Jesus Freak, believing that He “called me by name”. It is the name I provided those who asked why I was saying cruel things about our transgendered co-worker. It is the name under which I said the vows that bound me to an abusive husband for a decade. It is the name I didn’t understand when I tried to end my life. It is the name under which I did things I am ashamed of, I regret, I treasure, and I am proud of. It was my name as a child, a Jesus Freak, a fundamentalist, a missionary, a wife, a divorcee, a seeker, a chocolate maker, a lover, a business owner, a student, a coven sister, a writer, a musician, a Witch.
It is a name of continuity. It carried me through my worst mistakes, failures, and despair, into a life I truly love and treasure. “Annika” has been on a wild and long journey and it makes the name sacred to me. As I strive to integrate my past, all of it, including the things I did and experienced as a fundamentalist, my name is my anchor. Why don’t I have a magical name? I do! Annika may not be the name of something I see on a hike and it isn’t found in any mythology we know of, but it is deeply magical to me. It is who I was, who I am, and who I will be. Grace is my magical story, Annika is my name.
As for my last name, Mongan, a genealogist in Ireland told me that it meant “the hairy people”. On that I refuse to comment.
Helicopters roaring overhead. Spotlights sweeping over me. Sirens. Bullhorns. Angry chanting. Drums. Fireworks. A trash can on fire. Lines of cops in riot gear. Suddenly the crowd turns and I am in the front with hundreds of people behind me. To the freeway, they shout. A guy next to me sprays the word POWER on the freeway bridge. More cops in riot gear. Helicopters flying low. People running toward the freeway ramp. Cop cars speeding through the crowd; protesters jumping out of the way.
I take a deep breath and stand back. I was on my bike when the church bell rang once, twice, six times. It rang across the dark, quiet lake, and it sounded foreboding. Now the lake is lit up by flashing lights, the sky reverberates with the sound of engines and sirens. The crowd has taken the freeway. No one is paying attention to me standing off to the side, my friend recording everything on her camera. I pass more police cars and motorcycles on my short walk home.
I can still hear the chanting and bullhorns from home. Helicopter circling low, lights sweeping over my house. Later I stand in my room and notice one sound missing, the constant hum of the freeway. A black line runs between the city lights where I think the Interstate is supposed to be. The darkness is only broken when a single chopper races across the empty highway.
I wish I could go to sleep. My body is tired but I know I won’t be able to sleep with the noise of the protests. But that’s not what I am upset about. Tonight I may worry about losing sleep, but tonight, tomorrow night, and on many other nights, people of color worry about losing their lives.
Sometimes, on nights like these, I wish I could go back to the sleep, but I am just beginning to wake up. Waking up to a system of injustice, systemic racism, my own white privilege, and the realization of how I perpetuate racism has been painful. But it isn’t near as painful as waking up to find that the killer of my child goes free, that justice doesn’t apply to me, that my country declares my life to matter less, all because I am black. Those are experiences I am privileged not to have. So the very least I can do tonight is to learn, to listen, and yes, to stay awake.
I will never forget the moment I saw Sheena for the first time. We had known each other for years. We had spent time together, but I had never actually seen Sheena. I hadn’t even seen a picture of her. I was nervous about our first meeting and wondered if I’d recognize her. I summoned a picture of the last time we were together and tried to imagine Sheena. But when she finally came walking up to me, I did not recognize her. Who was this beautiful, elegant, radiant woman? Surely not the same person I used to know.
Sheena was a fundamentalist Christian who had fathered 11 children before transitioning genders in her late 50s. I first heard about it through mutual friends who spoke of demon possession and called upon us Christians to pray for deliverance. There was talk of spiritual intervention and staging an exorcism. The therapist was to blame, he put sinful thoughts into our friend’s mind. Or maybe it was due to the demonic dome over Santa Cruz. Maybe both. There was panic and disbelief, grief and anger. Everyone talked about our poor confused, potentially possessed friend and how hard this must be for the wife, the children. And then I received an email from our friend introducing herself as Sheena.
I reacted like everyone else, refusing to believe, holding on to my picture of the old person. But as I read the email, a second time, a third time, I saw her childhood through her eyes, how she always wanted to be a mother, how she would pray to Jesus every day that he would make her like all the other girls. Sheena’s story broke my heart and my worldview. I began to re-think gender. And as I thought about gender, I thought about sexual orientation. And as I thought about sexual orientation, I thought about my religion and I saw how we treated people like Sheena. I wrote to Sheena and we exchanged many emails as she went through the process of transitioning genders, and I began my transition out of my religion.
Sheena’s wife left her and filed for divorce. Most of her children turned against her and shunned her. Her Christian friends either ignored her or prayed for her repentance. I was the only friend who knew her before and stayed with her through her transition.
I met with Sheena often and we talked about our new friends. She had found a community of progressive Christians and she began volunteering with an LGBT group, speaking at events. She was transformed. Her life-long struggle with depression a thing of the past, she glowed, she laughed, she became social and outgoing. Sometimes she’d giggle like a teenager, talking about going out on first dates. She had found herself, she had become alive.
Then her wife came back out to California to finalize the divorce. And in the courtroom, at the very last moment, she changed her mind. She said the Lord had revealed to her that divorce was an even graver sin than tolerating Sheena’s gender. And so the divorce was called off and they moved back in together.
A few weeks later I sat in a restaurant with Sheena and her wife, the two of them holding hands, and looking very much like a young couple in love. Sheena discussed going to San Francisco for the pride parade when her wife launched into a monologue about “those gays” and their sin and the abomination of homosexuality. They continued holding hands and snuggled even as the litany went on. How many people have had the experience of going out for dinner with their transgendered bi-sexual friend and her homophobic fundamentalist Christian wife?
Even though her wife wouldn’t fully acknowledge her transition, Sheena continued to be happy. She found ways to speak out, ways to stand out for herself, ways to be seen for who she truly was. And she continued to love. She loved her wife and her children, regardless by which name and pronoun they called her, she loved her friends, and she loved Jesus, knowing he accepted her for who she truly was.
Earlier this year Sheena passed away, and I know as a Christian she considered it “going home”. As I went to the funeral, I knew her family would remember her under her old name and gender pronouns. I was reminded that funerals are not for the dead, but for those still living. Little was said of the Sheena I knew, but much of the father and husband she had been, the family she had raised. There were confessions and reconciliations as estranged family members met for the first time in decades. I spoke briefly of the Sheena who opened my heart but mostly left the family to their grief, their memories, and their reunion.
But this weekend her name was among the Beloved Dead, read aloud for hundreds to hear. I cried for her and I shared her story in sacred space. Her name was in the prayers of All Saints Sunday. I will share her picture, laughing as so often, I will share her story, I will share her name.
I remember a courageous woman. A woman who was not afraid to be honest. A woman who stood up for what she believed. A woman who risked everything to be her true self. A woman who was willing to lose the world in order to find herself. A woman who was elegant, genuine, charming, and beautiful. A woman who inspired others and loved with patience and depth. A woman whose memory will always put a smile on my face. Her name was Sheena Renee Adams.
What is remembered, lives.
In 1998 I came to Seattle as an international au pair, but things started to go wrong as soon as I arrived. My host family forgot I was coming and never paid me. I suddenly found myself out of money in a foreign country. It was during this time that I discovered Mars Hill church and fell in love with its cool style of worship, passionate theology, and hip culture. The church rescued me from my au pair situation and moved me into the Noonday Sun, a Mars Hill community house for women.
While searching for work I spent all of my free time volunteering at Mars Hill. We had just acquired the Paradox Theater and I was a token girl there, learning how to use power tools, ripping out seats while talking theology with church leaders. Mark Driscoll would often come work with us. I remember laughing together, discussing theology, construction, Seattle weather, my native Germany. I have many fond memories of that time, including one of a Mark Driscoll who was very different from the author and pastor who just resigned.
It had been a very rainy winter, even more rainy than most Seattle winters. The sun hadn’t made an appearance in 102 days and the air was permanently wet. If it wasn’t raining at the moment, it had either just stopped or was about to start again. On this particular day someone came running into the Paradox shouting “there’s a giant fireball in the sky, you guys have to come see it!” We put down our tools and went outside to look at the sun. It didn’t last long, the rains returned the same day, but we celebrated by ordering pizza and eating outside in the dryish air. As so often, Jeff came walking up. Jeff was a guy who could talk anyone’s ear off. I think he was homeless and I found him very annoying. He could never keep up with our intellectual conversations and would rant about meaningless topics. I really wished we were back inside and he would just go away.
But that day Mark Driscoll was with us and rather than ignoring Jeff, he turned to him and gave him his full attention. Mark listened to everything Jeff said and responded in ways he could understand. I watched Jeff light up. Mark was meeting him at his level of understanding and Jeff was glowing. Mark didn’t just tolerate Jeff’s mundane rantings, he showed no sign of annoyance. Jeff left that day appearing much more peaceful and content.
I felt ashamed of my own attitude. I reflected on how Mark’s behavior was part of a pattern that I admired. It was one of several encounters in which I saw Mark act with exceptional gentleness and kindness. I tried to express this to a friend later that day. I said something about him being different than other men. That he wasn’t macho, that he had a gentleness about him. That there was something tender about him, a softness, a sensitivity, a compassion that other men lacked.
When I met him again a few years later I hardly recognized him. His gentleness was gone, his kindness replaced by hardness. The Mark Driscoll I used to know was lost and I couldn’t find him behind his manly persona. In 1998 I lacked the language to describe the person I had admired. Today I can see that he was a lot like friends I have today, friends who are queer, gay, trans*, gender non-conforming. I don’t know how the 1998 Mark Driscoll would identify, but if I were to meet him again today, I don’t think I’d see a cis-gendered heterosexual man.