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.