Jen and Markus Haeusser, fellow evangelists in the City who serve with Youth With a Mission, share quite articulately how the party impacted them.
“What really struck me was when you talked about how people's lives are celebrated when they die, but why not celebrate with a party while you are still living instead of at a funeral! This made so much sense to me. It's the idea of living in the moment and also that someone's life is worth celebrating in real time. I was also inspired at the redemptive nature of your journey. You didn't sugar-coat any of the struggles and we can all relate to pain; however, you did a wonderful job of showing how there is also joy in the midst of pain. We can celebrate the beauty that comes from the ashes.”
I was even more surprised at the responses from some of my non-Christian friends, of which 50 showed up at the party. For example, one of my atheist friends, an attorney whom I’ve spent many hours with talking about apologetics and philosophy, emailed this to me the day after the party.
"I felt heartened by the love, support, and warm sentiments expressed by the attendees toward Steve and the two of you, and found much of the thoughts expressed about this significant life's milestone applicable to my own situation, which was an added bonus. I hope that you were as moved as we were by the strong outpouring of love and support.”
Giving the party was the most personal, redemptive, and vulnerable storytelling of my life ever. I took sizable risks throughout the party planning: financial, the intermingling of guests from all across the socio-economic, and spiritual background, throwing an art show and mini-concert, offending some with the testimonies, and even to blow up 6 huge portraits of myself. Done incorrectly, it could have been very narcissistic.
But it worked, because of Jesus’ work in my life this season. I’ve experienced much healing, much belovedness, and was able to shun huge vats of shame to plan this party. From this place of vulnerability sprang new channels of creativity and innovation, not just for me but for the ones who planned the event with me, members of a discipleship group I lead. Together, we debriefed the party and experienced breakthrough and lots of healing from the event.
I used author Richard Rohr’s theme of “Falling Upward” to frame my stories. To flesh them out, God brought together a “dream team” of artist talent. I can only highlight a few here. Dozens of flower arrangements were donated by my friend Gabriel Herrera who runs anewleaffloristandplants.com. Bruce Cockburn, Eric Owyoung (Future of Forestry) and Kate Lamont are recording artists of utmost creativity & integrity, and they all donated their musical talent. Eric and Bethany Herron are a top notch cinematographer and artist, respectively. They created 5 videos and art installations shown above to anchor each of the 5 motifs. The chance to collaborate with each of these artists was such a blessing; God exceeded anything I could have imagined by bringing on these friends into the storytelling.
The makeup of my guests is a part of my story in of itself, and illustrates the calling and vision God’s given me. For example, guests noted the beautiful racial, social, and spiritual diversity in the room. They included people who shepherded me, people I’ve shepherded, and non-Christians in my life. In fact, I had to limit invitations to Christian friends to make room for the many non-Christian friends I invited. Some of the people I would have most wanted to come were those who were shut in or faced other barriers, friends who are caretakers, disabled, etc. A few years ago in my own “wilderness,” I did not attend parties so I sympathize. It’s God’s grace that I could even give a party!
For example, a few weeks after the party, I received a call that my mother was non-responsive, and was being rushed into ER. Doctors suspected a stroke. Today, she's in a great hospice situation and our times are sweet and tender. But her days are limited. I'm assured that she knows Jesus. Just today, after days of rarely talking, she voiced her love for Jesus through prayer. God timed the party before this unstable season with my mom. He is good.
Kingdom Rice is the “new wineskin” organization that ties all this relational investment, writing, equipping, and evangelism work together. The party has opened up new opportunities on all fronts. It will take discernment from me and Kingdom Rice board members to discern next steps. We have been meeting, and taking a retreat on Jun 30th to hear what the Lord wants. In a future letter, I look forward to introducing you to Kingdom Rice's exceptional board members.
Some post-party next steps are obvious. My wife, Cathy, and I have been following up with non-Christian friends, and experiencing greater trust and spiritual depth in our conversations than ever before. People are moving closer to the Kingdom. And for Christians? I’m especially excited for one of my teaching gigs come June 17-21. Why? I’ll be teaching alongside the best scholars, professors, and practitioners on the subject of honor and shame. These comrades wrote the books and taught the courses on the subject (including course I took), and have provided the theological background for my ministry for years. I will be equipping attendees to apply the principles I’ve learned to reach diverse people in our cities, just as I’ve seen God do in my life. My talk is titled “City Evangelism through an Honor-Shame Framework: San Francisco edition.” See here: https://honorshame-conference.com/sessions/workshops/
Also, this will be my first conference travel (to Chicago) without my family this decade; I’m working out the care for my family in my absence. I’ll be preaching at a local church there, teaching at the conference, & networking. Please pray for God to move, at home with my family and at the conference. I’m 50, and I feel the “journey” is just beginning!