There is a moment in the middle of the forthcoming book Faitheist that about took my breath away. The author, Chris Stedman, is living in Bemidji, a small town in the northern part of Minnesota near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Stedman arrived in Bemidji hoping to escape his past in Minneapolis and to live where, as he writes, “I didn’t run into ghosts from my former Christian life that reminded me of the years I spent hating myself for being queer and unable to change it.” By the time he was a student at Augsburg College, Stedman’s disgust at religion had come to define him as deeply as his evangelical identity once had.
Stedman took a job working as a direct service professional for adults with developmental disabilities at a social services agency run by Lutherans (yes, he is self-aware enough to note the irony). His closest relationship was with a man named Marvin, a man who couldn’t talk and who could barely sign. Stedman watched movies with Marvin, sat with him for hours just keeping him company, read to him from his favorite books.
One day Marvin brought Stedman into his room and placed in his hands one of Marvin’s most precious possessions, his prayer book. He wanted Stedman to read from it. Stedman hesitated for a second. Perhaps he was reminded of all those nights he lay awake searching through scripture verses, hoping to find one that would make him feel loved for how God made him. Perhaps he was reminded of the time when, in a drunken rage, he kicked in the glass panel of a church sign. But neither longing nor anger overcame him now. This moment was about what it means to be a friend, about expressing care for something Marvin values. Stedman read Marvin a prayer. Marvin pressed his face tightly to Stedman’s blue flannel shirt and kept it there for a long time.