This is part 2 of the story of 3 men who came into the midst of Gentle Spirit Christian Church who as it turns out were simply visitors sent to teach this congregation and I dare say me, some basic lessons of theology, life and the practice thereof.
Those lessons in the order of each man's story: 1) “It's about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”. 2) Crazy, Wild and Independent is cool with God” 3) despite anger and severe pain you can love and serve God.
I am sharing these stories in 3 parts first because the total blog would be too long and second because I think each visit needs to stand on it's own and cause us to ponder one story at a time.
Part 1 was about our beloved Charles Harris, Today, Deacon Corey Matthew Hoblit and part 3, the Reverend Warren B. Taylor.
I first heard about Corey from a staff member of mine who had known Corey for sometime. At the time Corey was in a local county jail for some infraction of the law he had yet again managed to run afoul of. The staff member's description of Corey talked mostly of a troubled childhood, in and out of trouble with the law constantly, an inability to stay away from drugs, a rebellious and dark spirit, a lack of respect for authority of any type, and one who did not have much use for the church.
My staff person asked me if I would go visit Corey in jail because he thought Corey might be able to relate to me. I wasn't sure if it was meant as a compliment or if he thought Corey and I had something in common. Either way I was not excited about making the visit. I saw it, as a waste time and gas since Corey wasn't asking to see a pastor and I did not want to spend a jail visit hearing how it was not his fault and he should not be in prison.
When I arrived and saw Corey for the first time my insides shuddered, I wasn't comfortable with the feeling I had of seeing God's special child locked up. Don't ask me to explain that last except to say what I felt, was deep in my soul. You know that quiet voice, which tells you what is about to happen, is going to be a work of God so pay attention.
Corey was full of defiance coming to that visiting area, his eyes bright but inquisitive, his walk and body posture screamed, “and who the hell are you and just what is it you want”.
We sat down in the visiting area with me one side of the glass and he on the other. I picked up the phone piece said hello and introduced my self. His response? “You're that preacher Steve sent to save me, well it ain't gonna happen.” “There is notin you can do for me and I don't want you to try!”
Yea, we were off to a great start and yea I knew I didn't want to be here. However, I did try to explain I wasn't there to save him and while he was in jail other than visiting him there wasn't much I could do for him anyway. I also went to say I didn't care why he was there and was more concerned about how he was being treated since he was openly gay or at least Bi. His face softens and he almost whispered, “You're a minister and you don't care if I am gay, damn? I looked him in the eye and said, “Why should I, I am and have been with my partner for 20 plus years.” That was all it took…we began a conversation that lasted for 2 hours. Here is some of what he shared:
I was 7’ish when my Mom would take me to the “Kingdom Hall” in Marietta. I never really paid much attention; it was a napping time for me. Amazingly I did understand some of the stuff I heard.
It was during my teens and the abusive days of hell at home I would go to a Southern Baptist church in Powder Springs. I only went to get away from home. I was accepted for who I was except they didn’t have a clue as to how bad a child I was and treated me with kindness I never experienced at home. But, I had a secret and screw their kindness I would hold my breath…cause I just knew they were going to cut off my hands, pluck out my eyes and send me straight to hell when they really got to know me.
Like a dog who has been chained to a tree all it’s life, when I finally became an older teen, I knew that I knew it all…so I stopped listening to folks and rebelled. This of course brought the long arm of the law into my life, but I didn’t care cause everybody lied and had secrets too. At one point I got locked up in the juvie hall and in order to avoid lock downs would go to church. I always loved God and saw being with God better then here…but this church group did a pretty good job of beating me up with the bible and God’s wrath…I was an awful person wicked, evil and nasty and of course I had a secret.
I knew my faith was good, despite the guilt I could really move mountains with my child like faith. I would have dreams that came 100% true. It seemed God was right beside me no matter what. So this was when I decided my bisexuality was an infirmity from the devil and a possession of demons. My heart didn’t really believe that and for some reason they (church) couldn’t quite convince and beat that into me…call it me being hard headed or my stubborn ass self, but honestly if God was with me why was I bad. A voice in the back of my head kept saying, “your still going to hell for your sexuality.”
I have been in and out of jail at least 60 different times, each time while I was in coming back to God only to slide away when I got out. So I am pretty sure there is not much you, the church or anyone else can do for me or with me.
I tried to explain God didn't make a mistake in creating him, his sexuality was fine and if he would give God a chance that good would come out of all this. Today, I really believe that was the Holy Spirit talking because…
I left the jail with the promise of a return visit, but with a heart broken at the incredible pain this young man was in, and a mind which said he was really lost, he was doomed to a life of drugs and prison. Even worse there was nothing we could do for someone so far gone, so lost, so lacking in any direction at all.
A couple of weeks went by and I get a letter which by the return address one could tell it was from a prisoner. The opening line of the letter read like this:
“I just would like to thank you for the visit, that was the first time someone listen to me talk for so long and didn’t tell me I was a jerk or that I was getting what I deserved. I am confused as to when I would be seeing you again? You said you would come back for a visit and bring a Bible…but hey if you don’t come back it is OK, I understand…you are really not any different then the others. You are busy with people that really matter.”
In my study just to the left of my desk on the wall is an old painting of Jesus rescuing the lost sheep. It was if that picture screamed at me:
“If I got time for you, then you have time for him, no one is too lost!”
I went back to the jail the next day with my study bible from collage days in hand as my apology for not keeping my word.
When Corey got out of jail it was not long before he showed up at church, he was staying with a person from the church and looking for a job.
For a guy that had so much against him, he was also a gifted and talented man. He could adapt to situations quickly, was a quick learn and for the most part was comfortable with the congregation and felt at home because no one seem to care about where he had come from or why…they knew his heart and seemed to accept him for that.
He was a blessing to the church, he was young, wild, irreverent and full of life and wildly curious about serving God. He kept all of us on our toes and most of the time a smile on our faces.
We learned Corey had a special gift of being able to relate to people on the edge and fringes of life. This gift showed brightest in the volunteer work he did for “Habitat for Humanity”. He also gave time to the “Hallthorn Behavioral School” where he work with the mentally challenged, did field trips to the “Tommy Nobus Center”. He did the “Breast Cancer Walk” and worked with the “Orphan Foundation of America”
When he finally got a job at the “Smyrna Thrift” store he would clock in 1 minute late so he would be docked 15 mins of paid time of which went to the “Paralyzed Veterans”.
His last job was at Starbucks and while he was a challenge for management his co-workers loved and supported him unconditionally.
Corey was a jack-of-all-trades. At various times he served his community and congregation by cooking, doing repair work, yard work, antique refurbishing, woodworking, electrical work, small engine repair, cleaning, making small jewelry items and last but not least computer repair and computer building. All the work he did with computers was self taught and learned.
When another member of the church had a need for help and a roommate he moved in and within a short period of time had found a best friend, sister and companion for the good and bad times. They were inseparable. They shared a love for one another that was not only unconditional but also able to withstand each other's flaws that would have sent most other people in opposite directions in anger and disappointment.
There was no person or animal that was out of Corey's reach, or was too much trouble to help or didn't deserve his attention.
One night when Corey had gone out “dumpstering” (this is another blog story all by itself), he came across a kitten that had been dumped. Actually not just dumped but buried alive up to it's neck and left to die. He dug that cute little solid black kitty out, brought it home and nursed it back to health. “Mayfield” became his buddy and companion on Corey's nightly bike rides through the neighborhood. No, not in a crate or basket but sitting proudly on his shoulder enjoying the view and the man who had saved a precious life.
Another night Corey found an under-age run-away in the neighborhood and went above and beyond what most folks would do to get this child help and support.
His love for God and his understanding of Jesus Christ as his Savior brought him to the point of asking to be baptized and shortly afterwards entering Deacon training for the church.
In the time he was in training he developed and implanted a fund raising function for the church called the “Live-Tithe”. He used his dumpstering skills to find one person's junk and make it another person's treasure buy setting up an E-bay account and auctioning off the products.
Yet, the real story here is not all the good that he did but rather his love for God and desire to experience the full love of God trumped all of his short comings, all his challenges, all the dark self destructive behaviors.
Despite crack having a hold of him, despite a wild and independent streak which caused him untold grief and despite those moments of darkness where there was no one who could reach him; he with God holding him, walking and running with him brought him what is described in Acts 6:1-8
1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
7So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
8Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
He made sure of his ability to get to God, he built a sanctuary in the back yard of the house where he lived…his roommates were married there. He built an alter in his bedroom where everyday depressed or not took “Holy Communion”.
Towards the end of his visit with us, he came to me and said he had found that special person who he knew would make him happy. This person made him feel alive and gave him reason to get up in the morning, a reason to look forward to each new day!
Yet, he was concerned for 3 reasons, one this person was his former music teacher from grade school and there was a significant age difference, what would people think? 2nd, it was a women and would I be supportive of that? Third he was afraid of blowing it.
We both had a good laugh over his first two concerns when I replied,
“When the hell did you start caring about what people think…and of course I understand that God doesn't give a damn about the gender of the one whom you fall in love with, so why would I?”
When he brought her to church the first time, when she met his roommates, his first two concerns vanished in an instant. She was beautiful in looks and in spirit and the effect she had on Corey was evident…this was God's gift to the two them that said loudly yes there is someone “special” for everyone if you just step away from yourself and let God work.
As to his third concern only time would have answered that question. Time that Corey didn't have. When Corey died suddenly at the end of September we all were left to wonder why? How could this happen? Why now just when for the first time in his life he was on top of the world, so ready and so willing to move ahead.
I am not even going to pretend to have the answers to those questions. I dare say anyone who would attempt to answer those questions on the pretense of making us all feel better is a fool. We will all know those answers in time but the time is not now.
However, what I do know is God taught our congregation and myself some very important lessons.
1. The story of King David is alive and well in today's world.
2. There is nothing too wild in a person's life to choose to give up on them.
3. Crazy is in the mind of the beholder and is every bit as important to a full and faithful life as what some call sane!
4. An independent life opens far more doors and opportunities to learn then it stops.
Yes, heaven gained an angel. Yes, we lost a son, a friend, a brother, an uncle, a lover, and a servant of God.
Yet, in that loss I would be re-missed if I didn't point out, in our loss we gained a hero…a hero that shows us once again nothing is impossible with God and in today's world that is a message we need to hold onto.