Here’s the text for the 8 September 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.
Everything I owned was packed into my Mazda hatchback – boxes, bags, even a bookcase, all arranged Tetris-like into every possible space.
It was January 1997, I was 21, and moving 500 miles north to Chicago. My life was in massive transition. I’d finished uni, come out of the closet, I’d decided to be a minister instead of a doctor. My car bumper sported a Jesus fish AND a celebrate-diversity-rainbow-flag sticker.
The drive was fine until just before dusk a snowstorm hit, and then I heard the dreadful thump-thump-thump punctured tyre sound you never wanna hear but especially not in a blizzard on the motorway in the middle of nowhere without a mobile (because it’s 1997).
I pulled over, unloaded everything I owned onto the snowy verge, only to discover I had a spare tyre in the boot but my sister hadn’t replaced the jack she‘d borrowed.
Snow coming down fast, I flapped my arms at the oncoming traffic, begging for help, performing this desperate SOS dance routine – but nobody stopped.
I was completely panicked. I searched the boot again and saw a flash of blue peeking from underneath the lining. Was it the jack after all?
But as I grasped it, I remembered exactly what it was. I pulled hard and released into the wind a 10-foot-long aquamarine feather boa – a leftover from a really tragic Halloween costume the year before. But in that moment, I waved it like a banner of salvation and hope.
And it worked! A vehicle pulled over! But then I realized it was a rusty pick-up-truck, gun rack in the window, dead deer in the back.
My feather-boa-waving stopped.
I became super-aware of my rainbow bumper-sticker.
Two gruff guys got out, dressed in camouflage.
I thought: This is not the diversity I want to celebrate.
They said: Looks like you got yourself a problem.
I thought: This is the beginning of a Shetland episode.
I said: Uh, I don’t have a jack.
No jack! They started laughing. Well, they said, that’s easy enough to fix.
They got a jack from under the deer, changed my tyre, even loaded all my stuff back into the car.
One of ‘em grabbed my shoulder: Welcome to Illinois, brother. It felt like a blessing.
Jesus says: Love your neighbour as yourself. I’d always thought of myself as the one doing the loving, but those guys turned me into the neighbour being loved.
They were my first teachers in ministry. They taught me a truth that I believe is stronger than any culture war: we are bound together by a divine love that doesn’t deny our differences but uses them for good.