A New Church Is Born!

A New Church is Born!

This past Saturday at 5:00 PM marked the first pre-launch service of Left Hand Community Church. We were thrilled to welcome 120 people to commune together in an open and inclusive environment. The evening was wonderful!

Left Hand is a daughter of Denver Community Church, Forefront Church in Brooklyn, and especially Highlands Church in Denver, which gave birth to our hopes and dreams about LHCC.

Three pastors are serving together at Left Hand. Jen Jepsen is our Pastor of Reconciling Ministries. Aaron Bailey is Pastor of Executive Ministries, and I serve as Pastor of Preaching and Worship Ministries.

Left Hand Community Church was formed in the heart of Jen Jepsen, who  preached a wonderful sermon at our first service. Jen came to me in the fall of 2014 and said she thought she wanted to plant a church in Longmont, where she lived. Since I had been a national leader in church planting, Jen wanted to know what I thought. I can pretty much quote my exact response: “Do not plant a church, Jen. It will suck your soul.” (Okay, so maybe I am not always an optimist.)

Church planting is one of the hardest jobs on earth. Having been involved in the field since 1979, (I started when I was only 12 – yeah, we’ll go with that – 12), I know how hard it is to start a new church. I never thought I would be in the church again, let alone be involved in leading one. But thanks to Jen and the good folks at Highlands, here I am, serving with Jen and Aaron at a new church in Boulder County, Colorado.

If Left Hand seems an odd name, maybe an explanation will help. We are a church for all of Boulder County, and running through the middle of the county is Left Hand Canyon and Left Hand Creek, both named for Chief Niwot (translated Left Hand), a leader of the Southern Arapaho people.

Even though their land was protected by treaty from intrusion by white settlers, Chief Niwot welcomed people of European ancestry into the territory. For his generosity he was slaughtered by the Third Colorado Cavalry in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre.

While we’re kinda hoping we don’t end up like Chief Niwot, we do know there are a lot of people opposed to what we are doing. But we are thrilled to know there are a lot more who are fully supportive of our efforts to plant a growing and reproducing church in Boulder County.

LHCC has been embraced by Central Longmont, a Presbyterian Church, and we are blessed to share their facilities. We are also blessed with two highly skilled and powerful worship leaders. Heatherlyn is well known within the Open Network, and is a regular worship leader at Highlands Church. Justin Bullis has led worship at a number of large congregations in the Denver area, and is pleased to join with a church that is open and affirming. Kimberly McKay, an Occupational Therapist from the St. Vrain School District, is leading our children’s ministry. And we are already blessed with a lot of volunteers who are giving a hand at Left Hand. (Too much? Never was crazy about obvious metaphors.)

We are planting LHCC on a budget 1/15th the size with which we started churches at the Orchard Group. And much as I never expected, I am back in the business of raising financial support for my work in ministry.  If you’d like to give, here is the link:  https://lefthandchurch.churchcenter.com/giving/to/2 .  Your help would be really appreciated.

Our next pre-launch service will be February 10, when I will be preaching and Heatherlyn will again be leading worship. Weekly services will begin on Saturday, March 3.

Four years ago this month I was at my lowest point. I had been let go from all four of my ministries and my pension had been pulled. Thanks to the folks at Clergy Advantage and a few old friends, I got through the worst of the financial crisis, but we all need meaningful work, and I was afraid I would never work again.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been one to trust God all that much. You’d think I’d have learned by now. God didn’t bring me this far to leave me. And in a way I never would have imagined, God has me back serving the church.

I believe in the church more than I’ve ever believed in it.  It is the vessel that brings the good news of Christ to a world desperate to know the unconditional love of God.  I pray, so hard, that the love of Christ will ever emanate from the people of Left Hand Community Church.

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Right Through The Middle

Right Through The Middle

“Life is difficult.”

Those three words form the opening sentence of M. Scott Peck’s first and finest book, The Road Less Traveled. I first read the book in 1984. The Road Less Traveled got me into therapy and onto the journey to stop pretending I did not know what I did, indeed, know.

I am not speaking of the fact I am a transgender woman. I am speaking of the awareness rising during my 30s that when it came to the church, I was going to have some difficult decisions to make. The Road Less Traveled raised the most important question of my life. Did I really believe the truth would set me free?

It does. The truth, that is.  It does set you free. But here is a little secret. It does not make your life easier. In fact, freedom takes you to deeper places in which you find fewer fellow travelers, and you are constantly confronted by your need to grow in ways in which you have no interest in growing. There is a reason people regularly give away their freedom. It is painful to be free.

We live in a time in which social media allows us the luxury of avoiding any voices that do not reflect our own. I do not have many friends on Facebook who do not hold an open and affirming position on LGBTQ issues.

I chose this path because there are a lot of angry people who hate me, and for a good long while their rhetoric was simply too painful. Last summer, after an article appeared in the New York Times about my son and me, the right-wing Christian media had a field day. There were thousands of comments on a plethora of sites. I skimmed the comments from just one site. Every single word excoriated my son and me.  (Interestingly, they saved their most vitriolic thoughts for the New York Times.)

The readers of these right-wing Christian sites have the same problem I have. When you only preach to the choir, it is easy to see the problem as being “over there.” It is not. The problem is not over there.  The problem is right here, in my own heart.

The line between good and evil runs straight through my being. I have rejected the evangelical teaching that my sin demands a blood sacrifice before I can be accepted by God. God loves all of me, just as I am, just like I love all the parts of my children and grandchildren, just as they are. But that does not mean I am free of sin.

I am as incapable of living consistently as the next person. One moment I can be loving, generous and kind, altruistic in every observable way.  The next moment I am self-centered, distracted and distant. I can justifying my own positions and see those who do not share them as lesser.

We are all broken, but in our bipolar world it is hard to see our own brokenness. Our friends are broken in the same places in which we are flawed, and therefore less likely to see the log sticking out of our eye.  Why?  Because the log sticking out of their own eye looks satisfyingly similar. We encourage one another in our shared blindness.

Society does provide a natural antidote to this tendency. It is marriage. If your marriage is healthy, your partner calls you on your shit. Occasionally friendships will rise to that level of honesty, but it is rare. I can count on Cathy, my children, and a couple of friends to call me on my lived inconsistencies. Most of the time I am grateful.  Most of the time I am also resentful.  You can be resentful and grateful at the same time. We humans are complicated.

I am struggling to find a way to hear the voices from the far right. In my case, their rhetoric can be dangerous, filled with rage as it is.  I usually hear their words through the filter of another, who protects me from the extraordinarily hurtful words flung my way.

But that does not mean I get the luxury of not listening. Dialog is what keeps me honest. To her clients struggling in relationships, Cathy often says, “You keep stopping the conversation too soon.” People usually stop talking before they ever get started on the real issue standing between them. They do not trust the truth will set them free.  They settle for pseudo-peace, which has the lifespan of a fruit fly.

Genuine peace requires a willingness to enter into chaos and emptiness. It takes hard work and is not easily achieved.  Only the brave are willing to travel through chaos and emptiness.  No wonder most just live quiet lives of desperation.  It’s not very satisfying, but it’s easier than the hard work of full consciousness.

The truth is that my life is no less difficult today than it was before I transitioned and left evangelicalism. It is just a different kind of difficult. Today’s difficulties result from being awake and aware, at least most of the time. They are the difficulties of seeing clearly how my decisions hurt others, how my words continue to serve a patriarchal system, how my condescension diminishes the humanity of another, and how I contribute to the ever-widening gulf between the right and the left.

The line between good and evil runs straight through the center of my heart. It always has.  It always will.

And so it goes.

A New Year and Another Tipping Point

A New Year and Another Tipping Point

I’ve spent the better part of 25 years following the massive paradigm shift within Christianity. As the modern age has given way to postmodernism, the church is reeling.

Cultural tipping points are interesting phenomena. Divorce and remarriage were huge issues in the church until suddenly, they were not. Divorce was no longer the scandal it once had been. America had reached a tipping point. Today you still might find a few fundamentalist churches that frown on divorced people, but for the most part the church has moved on.

Throughout the history of the church, when a culture reaches a tipping point, the church is the last cultural institution to change. It was true of the notion of a geocentric universe. Though the church put Galileo under house arrest for believing the earth revolved around the sun, it finally accepted the obvious. We see the same phenomenon today when it comes to belief in a literal six-day creation. Just a few years ago it was anathema for evangelicals to believe in evolution. Now, many accept the findings of science.

It took longer for our nation to reach a tipping point on slavery, but it finally came in the middle of the 19th century. Unfortunately, since our nation was built on slavery, undoing the damage will take centuries. We are nowhere near becoming a nation of equity for people of color.

In the last decade America reached the tipping point on marriage equality. Most Americans came to realize gay couples make great parents and good citizens.  But the church lags behind.  A recent study by churchclarity.org indicated, quite accurately, that of the 100 largest churches in America listed by Outreach magazine, none affirm LGBTQ individuals.  (It might also be noted that 99 percent of those churches are led by males, and 93 percent are led by white males, another area in which the church lags behind.)

I am the beneficiary of American culture having reached another tipping point. Outside of evangelicalism, most Americans are accepting of transgender people. Pretty much everyone except the religious right responded negatively when Trump tweeted that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military. The generals ignored him, and just yesterday it became law that transgender people can serve in the military.  The evangelical world is the only environment in which I am rejected for being me.

The church eventually changed its position on a geocentric universe and slavery because the church was wrong. The church was also wrong on gay marriage and the acceptance of transgender people. LGBTQ people are not a threat to anyone, anywhere. Sooner or later, common sense defeats irrational fear.

Now we find ourselves at another tipping point.  #MeToo is the tipping point on sexual assault.  But as usual, the church is slow to respond.  We need look no further than Alabama to understand that difficult truth.  Evangelicals preferred to believe the claims of one white male over the claims of nine females.  To the rest of the nation, the evangelical church in Alabama seems woefully out of touch.  They are right.  When it comes to sexual assault, the evangelical church in much of America is out of touch.

I do have hope.  Though late to the party, the church usually does eventually come to its senses. Religious people do not like change.  But given enough time and information, history tells us they do eventually embrace the truth against which they initially railed.

At the moment, we are in a dark season. The tide has turned on LGBTQ issues and now it is turning on sexual assault.   And while we have barely begun the work needed on America’s greatest problem, racial injustice, we can be pleased that the voices calling us to action are being empowered as they have never been empowered before.  Those in power don’t get it, but as we saw in Alabama last month, the people do.

And so it goes.

For The Greater Good

For The Greater Good

The time surrounding my departure from Christian employment was not pleasant. I had to call board members on Christmas Eve and tell them the reason I was being let go. For several more months I remained unavoidably immersed in a world in which my gender identity was seen as sin. Very few people saw my transition as the calling it was.

That was four years ago. It feels like another life, because it was another life. A real death occurs when you have lived within the evangelical tribe and choose to depart from it. Throughout my life I had noticed that those who departed were stricken from the record, as if they no longer existed.

Yet here I am, four years later, alive and well. On the fourth anniversary of being let go from my work of 35 years, I was contemplating how much my life had changed when an email arrived telling me the video of my TEDxMileHigh Wonder talk had just been posted online. The timing did not seem random.

How could so much redemption occur in such a short period of time? I believe we have a God who makes crooked ways straight. I believe we live in a world tilted in favor of redemption. And I believe the forces of love are greater than the forces of condemnation.

A handful of friends crossed over with me. Those old friends, plus many new friends and co-workers are wonderful people, with hearts intent on the ministry of reconciliation. They are kind, articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, loving and accepting. When you know you are unconditionally loved by God, you are free to love recklessly and abundantly. I have been the recipient of that kind of love.

The night before my TED talk, I changed one line of the script. I had planned to say, “Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the authentic life is worth living.” I changed the line to say, “Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the call toward authenticity is sacred, it is holy, and it is for the greater good.

The world I now inhabit is a world that knows there is one best way to live, and it is for the greater good. It is to do whatever you must to embrace equality, create equity, and work for justice.

In four short years I have moved from a place of almost complete rejection to receiving the most meaningful applause I have ever known. I have gone from friendships that were conditional, based on tribal loyalty, to friendships that cross all kinds of barriers, including race, gender, socioeconomics and religion.

I am living abundantly because I have been abundantly blessed. God is good. She does make crooked ways straight, and she is forever busy drawing all things to herself.

And so it goes.

The Grinch and the Gospel

The Grinch and the Gospel

The Grinch

Not gonna lie; it’s been a rough year. With a president who promises the moon but delivers only lies, we have a problem. With Charlottesville and increasing hate-filled rhetoric that evangelical churches ignore instead of confront, we have a problem. With Congressional Republicans willing to sell their souls to wealthy donors, we have a problem. With a television news network serving as a right wing propaganda arm, we have a problem.  On a national level, it has been a hard year.

It’s also been a tough year on a personal level.  Since coming out as transgender, I have received thousands of blog comments, emails, messages, letters and phone calls whose words are carefully chosen to wound me as much as possible. Many have come from family and friends. While the correspondence slowed down for a couple of years, it escalated in 2017.

Part of the reason is because of the positive national media exposure I received this year.  A second reason has been the anti-LGBTQ alliances of right wing evangelicals who have been empowered by this administration. I hear from those troubled souls several times a week. As far as I can discern, every single piece of hate mail I received in 2017 was sent by an evangelical. It is what it is.

The Gospel

From a public and professional perspective, 2017 has been a wonderul year. I have preached the Gospel and talked to audiences in 15 states about the realities of being transgender. Countless people thanked me for the difference I made in their lives by helping them understand their child, parent, friend, co-worker, neighbor or fellow church member. Every single day I am thanked for my courage, transparency, honesty, character and inspiration. Every. Single. Day.

During 2017 I had an incredibly satisfying three months as an interim pastor at Highlands Church in Denver. During the summer I was hired as Pastor of Preaching and Worship Ministries at Left Hand Community Church. I became the co-director of Open Launch, a new national church planting ministry. Cathy and I grew our joint counseling practice, RLT Pathways, providing therapy to an increasing number of people, whether or not they had the ability to pay.

A long feature article in the Sunday New York Times about my son, the church he leads, and our relationship, (Faith and Family in Transition) was a well-written and accurate look at the life of a family in which a member has transitioned. The positive response was life affirming.

During 2017 I was able to provide assistance to Denver Community Church, a large and dynamic congregation with two campuses in Denver. My work with DCC resulted in two feature appearances on Colorado Public Radio, which led to the public highlight of my year, an invitation to speak at TEDxMileHigh.

Speaking to a sold out crowd of 5200 at the Bellco Theater was quite an experience. It was the most responsive audience to which I have ever spoken. The TEDxMileHigh staff and my co-speakers were wonderful people who are making a huge difference in the world. The video of the event will be released sometime next year.

Across America I found plenty of good news in 2017.  Amazing Americans rose to the challenge to stop the nonsense and bring change to our world. It began with the Women’s March in January, and continued with the courageous work of reliable media outlets like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and from a Christian perspective, Sojourners.

Great female leaders arose from within the post-evangelical world to boldly call for change, including Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans and Lisa Sharon Harper. The women leading She Is Called, an outreach of the Open Network, have been powerful in their proclamation of the Gospel. Carla Ewert, Jess Kast, Tina Schermer Sellers, Rachael McClair, Jennifer Fisher, Jen Jepsen and Kate Martin have led us in new directions of activism.

The truth is that as frustrating as it is to wake up to the headlines each morning, when I look at the cloud of witnesses fighting for racial justice, LGBTQ inclusion, gender equity, nuclear disarmament and other efforts to bring peace to our planet, I find hope.

Evil is being recognized and defeated. With every election that says no to self-serving bigotry, I find hope. With every speaker at every TED conference who shares a Big Idea that will make this world a better place, I find hope.  With every abuser brought down by #MeToo, I find hope.

In the Millennials who are rejecting self-serving forms of capitalism and embracing concern for their neighbors, I find hope. With every friend who stands behind me and takes my call late in the evening, I find hope.

God is busy reconciling the creation to the Creator, through our hands, our feet, our bodies and our voices.  We will not rest until that reconciliation has touched every single human.

May you and your family find peace this holiday season, and may hope rise in your soul.

Hope on a Slippery Slope

Hope on a Slippery Slope

I was given an article from a conservative Christian magazine that spoke about a former evangelical that no longer believes in the existence of God. The author suggested that when the person rejected the inerrancy of scripture, he stepped onto the infamous “slippery slope.” The inference was that if the reader, too, steps onto the slippery slope, he or she can expect the same tragic result.

The person who sent the magazine article said he was concerned “for my mortal soul.” The truth is, I am concerned about the sender. I am afraid there is more than a little bit of projection going on. I know the young man, and he is too smart to be held captive by a tribe whose DNA is rooted in fear. I am afraid he will lose his faith.

I have found far more people who have lost their faith by staying too long within the evangelical camp, than those who lost their faith because they departed from it. My faith is the strongest it has ever been. The same is true for every progressive evangelical I know. For the first time in our lives, we are resting securely in the loving arms of Jesus. Our faith is not fear based; it is rooted in God’s unconditional love. It is truly good news, hence our reluctance to give up the term “evangelical.”

It was only over the last 500 years that Western man became fixated with rational thought and the notion of absolute truth. There was a false belief life could be logically understood and uncertainty could be made certain.

In that rational world, Christians made the Bible the capstone of absolute truth. Words on a page were to be trusted more than the messy machinations of churches of humans. It was difficult to tell whether they were worshipping Jesus or the Bible.

In a world in which propositional truth is seen as the ultimate ground of being, all it takes is a single chink in the armor to bring the entire metanarrative down. It was the reason the evangelical world insisted on the inerrancy of Scripture, a concept not birthed until the modern age. Inerrancy was the belief that the original autographs (copies) of Scripture were without error. Scripture claimed no such thing for itself. The fact that we did not have original copies of Scripture was not seen as relevant. It was the idea of inerrancy that was important.

Today we know better. We know we can get close to objective truth, but as long as humans are the ones doing the observing, we can never be truly objective. Knowing, of any kind, is a risky and non-exact business.  Therefore, those whose faith is rooted in inerrant original copies of scripture live in perilous territory.  Their faith demands a certainty that does not exist.

The truth is that life is a slippery slope, but it is not something to be feared. It is to be embraced. Certainty is a myth. Once we accept that all truth and knowledge is slippery, we can look for the ample handholds along the way.

Those handholds are not propositions; they are people. They are incarnate humans who love well, and pursue the ministry of reconciling the creation to the creator. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes. What they hold in common is a belief in the inherent goodness of man, and the important work of bringing about the kingdom of God here on earth. Some are even Christian.

I find great hope in these people who love well and never give up hope. They bring me through my dark days and hold space for my pain. They bring joy, often in the form of a shared tear or a reassuring hug. They love well.

This is an uncertain and capricious world, but there is hope. It is not in the idea of an inerrant book.  It is in the truth that God is busy reconciling all things to herself, and doing it through those who are created in God’s own image – fallible, flawed, marvelous and miraculous human beings.

And so it goes.