Coffee with Stu

STUFor a long time I have noticed a great rift in my community of Silverton, Oregon. This rift is among the people of faith here about whether or not to support our mayor, Stu Rasmussen, who is the first openly transgender mayor in America. He is a controversial figure, more so to those outside of our community, being both praised as a pioneer of gender equality and derided as a sexual alien by many Christians. Yet it is a biblical command to pray for civic leaders whether we agree with everything they do or not, and also to pray for the peace of your city, even if that city happens to be Babylon.

Aside from being mayor, Stu also owns and operates the local movie theater. Many faith leaders and church members of our community have avoided both town hall meetings, as well as the movie theater in town. The avoidance of the theater was often done in the name of “protecting” small children (or oneself) from his racy dress, themed for big opening nights. It is easy to understand why a parent might not want to have an awkward conversation about Stu’s transgender journey with their child, but ostracizing a member of our community seems the opposite of what our leper-touching, sinner-and-tax-collector-loving Lord Jesus would do. I hadn’t really gotten an opportunity to talk with Stu and a class I am in this semester gave me just the opportunity. I generally went to the local  theater when I saw a movie unless they didn’t have the one I came for, despite seeing him in a few shocking outfits. I did not go out of my way to avoid him or anything, it was just impossible to have a conversation at the ticket line with 100 people behind me waiting to get in.

He was easy enough to find and friendlier than I would have expected. For my social justice “experience” for a class, I invited Stu, and a core group of people from Silverton Friends, to Stone Creek Coffee House for coffee and discussion. I wanted Stu to experience Christian table fellowship, something Jesus freely shared with anyone in His own day. I also wanted Stu to know that people of faith want to meet him where he is at as a person and build relationships. I wanted him to meet Christians who are not out to change him (that is God’s job), who accept him as he is, without  expecting him to check his boobs at the door before his voice will be heard. We listened to Stu share his vision for the community, and showed support for his work as a community leader. You simply do not have to agree with everything a person does in order to love them, pray for their work, and listen to their heart.

I really enjoyed our community building experience with Stu. It surpassed my hopes and I learned quite a bit about what is going on in my little town. I had a chance to truly see who Stu is and his heart for our community. At first, Stu seemed standoffish, unsure about what to expect from a bunch of Quakers. I did not know what to expect from a cross-dressing mayor with race-red nails and handcuff’s on his purse either. It helped that some of his friends from my church heard about what I had planned and wanted to participate alongside us. To be honest Stu seemed like one of the most intelligent people with whom I have ever spoken. He has a keenly rational mind filled with facts about this community, about theater and computer technology, and about religious teaching.

My meeting with Stu seemed remarkably ordinary. Most of the time was spent in active listening, with the occasional open-ended question to keep the flow going. Much of what we talked about was regular coffeehouse fare: general stuff about life in Silverton and what was going on in the community, leadership struggles, and biographical history. There were also more personal journeys, in Stu’s case a movement away from faith because of its seeming lack of rationality. For instance, he does not believe the God of the Universe cared about whether or not people wore clothing of mixed fibers. He had quite a few interesting things to say about religion. Stu shared his life-changing encounter with Rocky Horror Picture Show that gave him words to describe his sexual journey, and how people reacted to an eccentric local boy’s cross-dressing for movie nights and later epoch making boob job. Stu was certain his political career, and possibly his relationship with his significant other would be over when he returned home. Somehow, the transgender jump was worth the risk to him. Even as it is hard for me to get my head around why, and to suspend judgment on the merits of such an endeavor, it was easy to see that it took a lot of courage for Stu to be who he was before a community; to risk complete rejection for total transparency.

Stu shared a great deal about his experience with running for office, his journey through bouncing back from the recent theater fire, and was nearly moved to tears when sharing about how the community supported him when people from Westborough Baptist came all the way out from Topeka to picket and protest his election as the first transgender mayor.  After it became clear that ignoring them would not make them go away, and sick of the hateful things they were doing in our community, the churches and local residents (some of them deeply conservative mind you) came together to form a mob dressed in drag and confronted the Westborough mob to drive them out of town. Stu was moved by the people, of faith and without faith, who would rather dress in drag in support of him than stand against him and the work he was doing. This gave me great faith for the church and even greater faith for my community.

protest

It was amazing to think about how much a faith community changes over time, and to wonder how I might have changed if I had been here instead of Kansas during that time. Obviously, it is hard to stomach the things that the members of Westborough Baptist are doing and the havoc they are wreaking around the country. It touched my heart to hear of my community’s faith and love in action, working to correct Westborough Baptist’s error, and standing with one of their own in the face of such a circus. Hearing Stu’s account of conservative Christians, and even those who voted against him, dressing in drag to meet the ruckus head on gave me great hope for the future of the church. The church really does stand up for the oppressed and work for justice. My church actually does this and it makes me proud.

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About jtower11

Hi there! I am James Tower: A husband, father, dreamer, visionary, thinker, poet, mystic, metal-worker, and scholar. I have served College Avenue Friends since 2013. I like to describe the way God has been at work in my life by saying that "He has been creating in me the heart of a pastor, the mind of a scholar, and the zeal of a missionary." I have an extremely nontraditional background as Jesus has given me freedom from the slavery of addiction to drugs, and my journey to faith came later in life after an overdose in 2000. I graduated with a M. Div with an emphasis in biblical studies from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland Oregon in 2016. I have a love for teaching and revealing the historical and doctrinal context from which the biblical text arises, and connecting its redemptive message to life today. Other interests include teaching a leadership class based on the Friends Testimonies at William Penn University, writing, and metalwork such as blacksmithing, a passion which I enjoy teaching others as a way of discipleship. View all posts by jtower11

6 responses to “Coffee with Stu

  • Howard

    Such a beautiful story of the love of Christ manifested in modern times. I could just sense Jesus sitting with you both with his arms around you. Thanks so much for sharing this story of unconditional love – Godly love.

    • jtower11

      Thanks Howard! It did seem like one of those divine inspired moments, and as a friend recently wrote, “conversation can kill caricature.” It is easy and natural to judge people from afar, but it is holy to love them where they are at. I pray we can find a loving eye as we journey with God. I am glad to share this story. You are very welcome!

  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing! Your story portrays the Jesus I know. You are 100% right that it is not our job to change someone, it is God’s and He does such a better job than us humans. 😉 Relationship is the only way and at the heart beat of our Daddy. Have you read Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli or The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning? Both are amazing books and share stories just like yours. We are called to love with no strings attach or with the motives to change someone…just LOVE. I absolutely love what you shared. I’m not one to follow blogs, but I guess that changes now. =) Thank you again!

    • jtower11

      Hello Jen! I appreciate your thoughtful encouragement and the blog follow. I have read other books by those authors but not those specific ones. My time for personal reading has largely been eclipsed by seminary, but perhaps one day I will get to them. I don’t know how much about my story, but I used to be a heroin addict. The people of my church didn’t have a clue what to do with a guy like me, but they loved me and let God work. I believed a lot of crazy things and my whole life didn’t change overnight, but they just kept on loving me. I think God can use us to bring conviction at times, but generally calls us to simply love and hope and wait. You are right, relationship is key. Telling someone they are wrong outside of relationship will mostly be perceived more as a threat than an act of love. Sometimes in the church we expect others to achieve benefits that come only through the Holy Spirit, before a person has actually had that encounter. Why do we tend toward a model in which a persons beliefs must change first, then their actions change, and then relationships can be formed, when most people’s experience works from the reverse? Relationships come first, then behavior, then beliefs in my experience. Appreciate your comment. Thanks Jen!

  • Candy Deane

    I really liked your story. I have yet to meet Stu, but I have always admired him since learning of him. I support your interpretation of how Jesus would address Stu and others of different lifestyles. Rocky Horror Picture Show had a major impact on my life, although not in the same way as Stu. Thank you for sharing!

    • jtower11

      Hi Candy. Thanks for your feedback. It seemed Jesus’ love knew no bounds, but often ours is often limited to those who return it. If you feel comfortable sharing how Rocky Horror Picture Show had an impact on your life you are invited to do so. If you wouldn’t want that posted here for the world to see feel free to shoot me an email. I would be interested in hearing your story. If you live nearby we could even grab coffee some time, if you want. Thanks for your encouragement. Also, Stu is a pretty approachable guy. I went years without meeting him also, but it is definitely worth the effort to contact him and pretty easy to do so. If nothing else, you could talk about that movie! I would encourage you to look him up.

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