Here’s where I manage to go from Chris Rock to a Reformed Church minister in 3.4 seconds. That, my friends, is called Embracing All Sides of Oneself.
First, let me clarify that I am not some super religious zealot out to preach the gospel to y’all. In fact, one of the things I love most about Arthur – and his former congregation, Marble Collegiate Church – is the lack of preachiness. I never became a member of Marble, but because of its warmth, openness, and acceptance of all people, I went to church more often during my four years in NYC than I had since leaving my parents’ jurisdiction (at least legally, if not geographically) at the age of 18. People of all races, religions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations flocked to Marble, were welcomed at Marble, were loved at Marble. Even Muslim and Sikh cab drivers would park along 29th Street and stop in to hear Arthur speak. It was a wonderful respite for so many people from a city that’s often cold and isolating. And Arthur was the center of it all. When he retired on February 1, 2009, I was buying my house in Seattle and was unable to attend his final service. I was so saddened by this, but was determined not to miss it, so I set my alarm for 8:00 a.m. (on a SUNDAY…yes, ME) and watched the entire thing via streaming video on my laptop. And filled an entire wastebasket at the Alexis Hotel with Kleenex. An ENTIRE wastebasket. Because this man’s words reached into my heart every. single. time. I knew I was going to miss his presence immensely – even if only virtually via streaming Sunday sermons.
When Arthur announced his retirement, the church elders sent a letter to everyone in their database, asking us to consider writing a letter to Arthur, telling him how he had touched our lives. I’d never met Arthur personally, but I knew I had to write to him. During that final service, he was presented with over 1,000 letters in a beautiful wooden box. Given that volume, I never expected to receive a personal response from him, but I did. Nearly nine months later, along with an explanation that he initially felt he couldn’t possibly reply to everyone who had written, but then knew it was something he had to do, because these people had taken the time to do the same for him. I was floored. And touched. And in awe yet again of someone who was such a powerful force in my healing during those years in lonely, bizarre NYC.
And with that, I turn him over to you so you can judge for yourself – make sure you listen to at least one of his sermons before you scroll through the “read” options. I think you’ll find he’s among the greatest storytellers of our time. Even if God isn’t really your thing, I hope you can look past those references to see the larger, more compassionate message in every word he delivers. The man is a wonder, he is a force, he is a dude who rocks.
- Listen (scroll down to the bottom of the page for Arthur’s sermons…”Forgive and Move On” is one of my faves)
- Read (so many good ones here from the last few years of his tenure at Marble – through January 2009)