Yesterday I found out that one of the main characters in the story of my early adulthood was killed as the result of an accident at a gun range. I feel empty and weak against the incredible force of death that is pushing in on us. I haven’t lost anyone that I had been as close to as I had been to Darrin. I had lost touch with Darrin, but the last conversations we had were positive and uplifting. I will remember him as a spiritual and professional mentor. I probably won’t go a single day without thinking of him, his impact was that great on me.
Darrin had a lot of internal complexity. I have thought back so many times to the millions of dumb ideas that I presented to him and he entertained and contributed to. He was playful and could say some of the funniest shit you can imagine, shit that you would never imagine coming from an evangelical influencer. His private charm and sense of concern for young guys struggling to find their place in the world — I have never seen anyone before or after who built their world to serve young guys like this. His theory was sound: if you influence young men, you will influence the culture.
I met Darrin one Summer on a Saturday night as he stood outside of his church after a sermon. I had the weirdest haircut of my life, I was going for a EuroMullet, but it was just looking like I had cut my own hair using the reflection of a dirty spoon. I caught Darrin as he was telling people who left church goodbye. I opened with some softball question that was in line with a lecture that I had listened to of his on iTunes. This is like 2009. He took the bait and mentioned the lecture, and I admitted I had listened to it a few days before. I told him I’m only 20 but I graduated college and was enrolled in seminary for the coming Fall. “You need to be a part of our internship program.” He gave me his assistant’s email address and said that he will get me in touch with the right people.
The right people ended up being douchebags. I talked to one guy who was supposed to oversee my internship and he was a skinny twerp that was in my face in a way that Darrin had not been. Meanwhile, I had started the first few weeks of seminary and connected with a pastor who was out west of St. Louis. He had a smaller church, but was willing to offer me a job as a youth pastor. It seemed like it was going to be a really fun time. I messaged Darrin on facebook messenger and told him the situation. I had been offered a job, I really appreciated his help in starting the internship process with me, but I couldn’t pass up on real money as opposed to “raising support” for my internship at the journey. He texted me back on Saturday night, “Meet me for lunch tomorrow after the 11:15 service. How much are they gonna pay you?” I was supposed to go to the other church where I’d been offered the job the next day and meet the pastor and his wife for lunch. I blew them off and met Darrin instead.
I waited around after the 11:15 service as he said goodbye to folks and gave everyone a bit of his time who needed it. Being a pastor-celebrity is such a different game because you are a sitting duck a few times a week, and folks who are just thirsting for that contact can usually get your attention. It took months of working for him until it clicked that celebrity is a burden, even local evangelical celebrity. There are benefits, but on the whole to this day I think of the pressure he faced and am reminded that fame is nothing to envy.
He told me to pull my car around, so I pull my bright blue Mini Cooper S into the drop off circle right in front of the church and he jumps in. This was the beginning of the next year and a half of him riding with me every Sunday morning, sometimes I would pick him up at his house in the Mini in the morning, drive him to Tower Grove in South City, where he would preach the early service, then I would get the car going in the alley as he finished his sermon (I often had a copy of his sermon notes so I knew when he was winding it up). I would have a sugar free red bull in the cupholder ready for him, and he would jump in and we would ride out to the West County location where he would preach, then I would drive him back for the final service at Tower Grove. We listened to Gaslight Anthem and Mumford & Sons and Frightened Rabbit. He never complained about what I was playing, he seemed to enjoy being in a different headspace. He liked raw and honest rock n’ roll.
That day he interviewed me to be his assistant, we had lunch at Pho Grand, one of his favorite spots where he knew the entire staff (until Mai Lee opened in Brentwood by some of the family members of Pho Grand and I would schedule two meetings a week there for him). He asked if I had ever had spring rolls. “They are good, you’ll love them.” I can’t remember what I ordered, but it didn’t matter. I had been dying to be a part of this guy’s world in any capacity and here I was slurping down spring rolls and Vietnamese coffee with the dude. The surreality of that moment makes me dizzy to this day.
I started the job and it was immediately way out in front of me. I had luckily just got an iPhone (it was 2009 and the iPhone had only come out in 2007), but my laptop was a piece of shit so the church bought me a MacBook as a first order of business. Darrin wanted me to be outfitted. His former assistant had moved to a different position in the church and I had messaged him at exactly the right time to bypass the internship process.
Our personalities did match in a certain way — in regards to passing time together and listening to music. In regards to productivity, I’m not sure I contributed a ton to Darrin’s world. I worked really hard and became more organized and productive than I had in my entire life, but I burned out really bad about 9 months in and then held on for dear life during my final 9 months as his assistant. I became deeply acquainted with his family and his life and his weekly flow. Sunday afternoon was a total post-sermon burnout, he would be completely depleted. He mentioned to me a few times his theories about the adrenal glands and how public speaking was particularly draining. Just when it seemed like he was too busy for his family because the pressures of the world were getting to him, he would have me cancel a whole day of meetings hours before so he could take his kids for ice cream and to the park.
His family was amazing, just all fascinating personalities and high energy and each of them is going to do such incredible things in the kingdom but I’m devastated to imagine how dark their world must feel right now. I’m so sorry for them. Darrin is an incredible father and friend to his kids. Darrin and Amie are best friends and any time you talked to Amie, you could understand Darrin better. It made sense why he could model empathy even as a macho guy, they are so emotionally intertwined.
One guy in the church was really into Mumford and Sons a full year before they were on any sort of mainstream radar. They came through town and played at a small bar called Off Broadway. I secured a couple of tickets for Darrin who liked the band too and wanted to be there. I rode with a few friends from church and ran into Darrin at the show — these moments were always funny because most of the church staff would be vying for a moment of Darrin’s attention, but I literally texted the dude 50 times per day and had more face to face meetings with him than anyone in the organization, so when I would interact with him at social gatherings where I wasn’t working, that was a different vibe altogether. Hard to describe. Well, I briefly stood next to him for one Mumford and Sons song, and he leaned over to me and said: “If I sang in a band, I would sing like that guy.” He had this infectious attitude that he would call something cool when he saw that it was cool. He was also right. If Darrin had been leading a rock band, he would have wailed anthems like Marcus Mumford that made you want to jump through a brick wall. Darrin was playful and imaginative and sincere. He was a rockstar in disguise as a baptist pastor.
Those are a few of the snapshots that I have of my time with him, but I would do better to reflect on how I changed under him. I would do better to remember the hard times I witnessed in his story. And the times where I met total failure, and he didn’t condemn me. I wish I had done better to tell him what he meant to me. I wish I had reflected more clearly on the gifts he had given me. I wish I had been there to lift him up.
I don’t know what part of writing this narrative is important for me. I am looking for forgiveness I think. I lost my mind, being in this high pressure evangelical world ripped me apart. I didn’t realize the stakes at the time, it might as well have been a fraternity to me. I didn’t account for the families and the children and the thousands of people looking for peace. People want to quiet the voice down, to shut up the nagging sensation that they have nothing to offer the world. Darrin gave me a new self-perception as one who can lean in to the world, I don’t just have to be blown back by the forces of nature. I am free to own what’s in front of me. I am free to commit to the things I love.
One time I stood in his kitchen and talked to him about some nonsense scheduling issue or whatever. The entire time he was dumping a bunch of shredded cheese into a tortilla, and then he took some ham out of the fridge and threw it on top and tossed it into the microwave. Never missed a beat in the conversation, his kids are running all around, screaming in the other room. He was just looking at his quesadilla through the microwave door and waiting to respond to whatever question i was trying to formulate. The microwave dinged and he smashed that quesadilla in about three bites. I have done this many times since, except I usually add some honey mustard.
I love you, Darrin. It feels way too soon. I hope you enjoy some quesadillas up there.