If you’ve known me for a while, you know about my good friend Richard Skorman. He will actually be a highlight in my new book coming out in June: Speaking of Jesus – the Art of non-Evangelism.
Let me tell you about Richard, and his wife, Patricia. They have lived in Colorado Springs pretty much their whole adult life. He is a businessman. A good one. He owns several downtown businesses. As most are dying, shrinking or moving out, his is growing. A used bookstore. A coffee, chocolate and wine bar. A restaurant and a toy store. Above all of those are several offices he uses and rents out.
He was on the City Council for a long time – I think 12 years or so. He was Vice Mayor for several years. In Colorado Springs. Home to NORAD. The Air Force Academy. A large army based – Fort Carson. And another Air Force based called Peterson Field.
Colorado Springs is well-known for is conservatism. It is headquarters for over 100 Evangelical Christian national or international organizations, among which are: Focus on the Family, The Navigators, Compassion International, The International Bible Society and many others. All names you’d recognize. Gigantic mega-churches like New Life dot the rolling hills landscape at the foot of Pikes Peak. It’s a great town. It’s where I went to High School and University.
But the City is divided. It has a very conservative bent due to the Military and high-profile Evangelical presence. Fair enough. Good things to have in a city. But it also has this funky counter-cultural thing going on. A large New Age, Wiccan, and liberal church population. A vibrant and growing gay community – with several gay churches. Much of Richard’s “fame” came about in 1992 when he fought hard (all the way to the Supreme Court) in Amendment #2 in order to have gay rights mandated in companies. He lost, but he became infamous for his pro-gay stance and his other liberal leanings.
He became the Arch-enemy of my community of conservative Christians. He was a secular Jew who seemed to go out of his way to hire gays and lesbians to work at his stores. He seemed to favor the environment a little more then we were comfortable with. He was pro-choice and anti-war. He was a man out of step with his city! And he became my friend.
When we came back from Beirut, the first time in 1993, I started going down to Poor Richard’s (his coffee shop and bookstore) and I would study there. Pray. Read my bible. Prepare whatever talk I might have coming up. I did this some each time we’d come back from Beirut.
In the year 2000 I was asked by our little Vineyard church to come and be the interim pastor as our senior and founding pastor was moving on. I agreed and we moved back “home” for a full year. During that time, I studied at Poor Richards at least once a week, as we lived near the downtown area.
So it was probably two or three months into our time back in the states – probably the fall of 2000, when I finally met Richard. I’d heard about him. I knew he was “one of those,” but I liked his coffee, cheap books, and frankly, I sort of enjoyed the fact that it annoyed some of my friends that I studied there.
(I’ve written in several other places over the years about how we met and the initial stages of our friendship. About me having him speak at our church. About us teaching an Evangelism class together. About our Passover Dinner at his house. And the bible study I used to do at his restaurant and the office he gave me upstairs. So I won’t go back over that here).
So…fast forward. It’s now January, 2011. I’ve seen him a few times since we moved to Denver, but honestly, not a lot. I interviewed him for the new book a couple months back, but that was the last time I’ve seen him. Until last week.
Richard called me one day (right after the New Year) and said “I’m running for Mayor of Colorado Springs and we’re doing our big official announcement at the main Penrose Library downtown. I’d like you to come and speak. And if you could talk about our friendship and how that happened and who you are and what you believe, that would be awesome.”
Of course, I agreed and Chris and I drove down. There were about 150 people in the hall. The media was all there. Former mayors. City Council men and women. Business leaders in the community. A liberal Jewish Rabbi. And the pastor of the Unitarian Church – she actually had very nice things to say to me after my talk.
But I’m pretty sure that Chris and I were the only Evangelical types in the crowd. No followers of Jesus. Probably not many “believers” of any kind. Good people for sure, don’t get me wrong. Some of the nicest and best – just not the religious types. (The former Mayor of Manitou Springs, gave him a Crystal Ball so he could discern his future – and I think she was serious).
So….what do you say when given that opportunity? He hasn’t asked me to preach. No one there thinks they’re at a Billy Graham Crusade. They are shocked that I’m even there, let alone saying something. I don’t want to say too much, or too little. I want to honor my friendship with him, and I also want to take this seemingly God-given moment to say something helpful.
Here is my grid for how I think of what to say when given the platform by a friend out of trust – a friend who is not following Jesus:
- I want to honor the friendship by doing exactly what he’s asked me to do. Not more or less. I take as much license as I feel free to take, within the boundaries of the invitation.
- I want to leave the time with my friendship strengthened, not weakened.
- I want to honor God by not saying anything too edgy or controversial just for the sake of being edgy and controversial.
- I want to say something about Jesus. Not preach the full gospel. But just say something that will cause the people there to pause and think “Hmmm? I haven’t heard it said that way before. Maybe there’s something about Jesus I’ve missed or haven’t thought of.”
- I want to admit my Christian religious heritage, but not feel bad about poking fun of it a bit – in a way that this audience would understand. To use that in building a bridge. Not trash it, but just poke fun as an insider would of his own people or his own family.
I think I did all of these things that night in about 5 minutes. Watch the video I’m posting on my website and let me know your thoughts….
(The video cuts off the first 30 seconds. What I said that got such a laugh is: “Every speaker needs to know his audience. I’m assuming that Richard asked me to speak today because I’d fit in so well as a white, male, heterosexual, conservative, Christian, minister. No?”).