On Monday, I wore my NorthHaven t-shirt with a rainbow flag on it to the gym for the first time.

The gym I workout at is more industrial than commercial. It’s an old big rig garage that’s now home to a hodge podge of fitness equipment. No a/c. No heat. The kind of people that workout there aren’t quite like commercial gyms either. For one thing, there aren’t many senior citizens. There is one though.

He’s there every morning at the same time I am. His is the aesthetic of a biker with a shaved head and a handlebar mustache. Our paths cross frequently, but we never said anything more than, “how many more sets do you have on that bench?”

On Monday, he cut straight through the gym to ask me what the rainbow flag on my shirt meant. There goes my workout, I thought, but what I said was, “it means all people are welcome and wanted at my church just the way they are. Gay folks included.”

“Do you have a shirt to tell Black people or brown people they can come too?” he followed up with more than a little bit of antagonism.

“No,” I chuckled. Not an unfair question, I guess. I told him that in Oklahoma, the assumption was that gay people aren’t welcome in most churches. That’s why we wanted to explicitly say otherwise, and we hoped that the rainbow flag was a welcome sign not just to gay folks, but to everyone else too. If it wasn’t, then I’d just have to keep having conversations like this one, I told him.

That seemed to satisfy him. Either that or he wasted as much time between sets as he was willing to lose.

I chalked it up to a strange interaction and didn’t think much more about it.

Today, when I worked out I wasn’t wearing my NorthHaven shirt, but my curious old friend was there again. As soon as he saw me, he darted straight at me once again.

I braced myself. Sometimes this kind of behavior means the person spent their evening googling Bible verses so that they can tell me off. But not this time.

He dug into his pocket, yanked out a $20 bill and thrust it at me.

“Here. This is for your church. Do something good with it.” He spit the words like they were poison and dashed away.

He was back under the barbell before I even put the money in my pocket.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed out loud and shook my head. The interaction was too bizarre. So many questions rolled through my mind, but clearly he didn’t want to engage anymore than that. At least not then.

When he finished his workout I made sure to ease toward him in hopes of satisfying my curiosity.

“Hey, I just want to say thank you, and assure you that we’ll do something good with your money.” I said. “What made you decide to do that?”

And that’s where the story started.

He was a sailor. A career man in the navy, and he loved it. He was also gay. Not married. No desire to marry. He wasn’t religious either. Religion is mostly for the weak minded, he said. He walked out those doors 50 years ago and had no desire to go back. But, he continued, there might be a place in the world for churches to be good to everyone. At least, enough for him to give $20 towards it. He wasn’t giving $50, he reminded me more than once.

Life is strange; we people are stranger, and interactions with strangers are stranger still. Still, I give thanks for a church that even people who don’t believe in church feel inspired to give toward.

He’s right. The world might be a better place because NorthHaven is in it.

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