Old Friends, New Friends, True Friends

Old Friends, New Friends, True Friends

I have always made friends easily.  During most of my life there were at least 3 or 4 people I called best friend.  I could never choose just one.  When I was very young, before the world insisted I behave like a boy, my best friends were Diane and Kathy and my girl cousins.  From 6 to 16 my best friend was Bob.  I still think of him often, though I haven’t seen him in 35 years.

In high school my friends were John and Lynn (a boy), though I would love to have been closer to Jennifer, Marilyn and Alma.  But again, the boy thing was an issue, so I kept my distance.  For 25 years my best friends were Rob, Rick and David, one in town, two far away.  Now that I am a woman almost all my friends are females, and I love female friendships.  There is less competition and more collaboration.  The conversations are deeper and involve a lot more words.  Guy conversations have a word count.  Girl’s conversations go until they are done, which might be months.  My closest friend is still a guy, David.  We speak every week.  There has been a lot to work through, but he never stepped away to catch his breath.  He has been there from the beginning, on good days and bad.  Consider yourself lucky if you have even one of those friends during your lifetime.

Not all of my friendships have always been healthy.  In some I was the dominant friend, setting the agenda and deciding the rules, not always a good thing.  In others I allowed my friends to manipulate me, something that puzzles me to this very day, since I am not easily “handled.”  I tended to gravitate toward friendships with people who were smart.  My mind moves rapidly and enjoys the company of the like-minded.  I have never suffered fools gladly and it has always bothered me.  I’m pretty sure Jesus suffered fools gladly.

Some of my friends were not real people, but don’t try to tell me that.  Over at Rebel Storytellers, Laura Buffington wrote about her friend David Letterman, which prompted me to think about some of my friends.

Jayber Crow taught me it was all right to ask questions that had no answers.  Hawkeye gave me hope when he fell apart on a bus and thought a crying baby was a chicken and Sidney the psychiatrist had to nurse him through his denial.  Will Barrett (in Walker Percy’s The Second Coming) went into a cave to either die or find God, but he got a toothache and didn’t do either and it was okay.  Roberta was the boy who turned out to be a girl on The Swiss Family Robinson and I wanted to tell her all about me.  Mackenzie McHale on The Newsroom was the woman in media I would love to have been.  And when Jack realized he was called to be the next Jacob on LOST, I knew I was called to this life and I screamed and yelled at God for hours, who said nothing.  All very real friends, present at key moments of conversion in my life.

My best friend is Cathy.  For all the things we have not figured out about this messy journey, this much we know.  She is my person and I am hers and that will not change.  (I know you want me to write about how we are working through all of this, but that won’t happen.  Some things are private.)

I have never really thought of Jesus as a friend.  I think it was the Sunday School pictures.  He always seemed so other from me.  I liked John though, particularly when he was old and wrote about love.  I always struggled with Paul.  I know, ironic.

Now I am thinking of all the other friends with whom I have spent less time, but the friendship runs deep, like Stan and Florence, Charlie and Eileen, Pat and Janice, Briggi, Anne, Sharon, Jen, the other Jen, Brian, Joe, Mark.  I’d better stop because even though I’m female I still have a word count.

You cannot legislate friendships.  They simply happen.  Some are meant for a season and some for life.  All are gifts to be treasured and never taken for granted.  I know that, especially now.  And one more thing.  It is nice, after so many years, to call myself friend.  I like the woman I see in the mirror.  I am glad she came out to play.

And so it goes.

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Resume Virtues and Eulogy Virtues

Resume Virtues and Eulogy Virtues

New York Times columnist David Brooks says there are two different types of virtues, resume virtues and eulogy virtues. I spent the first half of my life building resume virtues. Most of us do. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a part of life’s rhythm. For the last decade I have been more interested in eulogy virtues.

Resume virtues get you a job, keep you out of poverty, and if you are lucky, let you create a more just and verdant world. I believe in the church, that broken and messy community that occasionally gets it right when it focuses on loving God and neighbor and not much else. I devoted my working life to the church, though for the most part it eventually rejected me. Still, I would do it again.

But I was not the Rev. John Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, content to minister in just one place. I was too ambitious and inquisitive. I embraced the Renaissance life, working in the church, social services, television, print media, counseling, preaching and teaching. More than once I built something good. I tried not to leave bodies behind, though when you run something, anything, there will always be bodies left behind.

Then I was done. It was time for someone else to raise the money, cast the vision, dream beyond the ordinary, push the boundaries. I left the land of resume virtues and embraced a life of eulogy virtues.

When you leave one for the other, there are great changes. You have fewer friends but deeper friendships. You listen more and talk less. You trust the flow instead of engineering results. You discover some things no longer feel like a choice. You do not necessarily want to change careers, but somehow you know you must. You have no interest in going back to school, yet you go back to school. You open the cobwebbed corners of your heart to all those things that were always so unreasonable. Some of them begin to pursue you with holy terror. Consequences no longer matter. Being true to the journey does.

If you previously took the road more traveled by, played by the rules and stayed safe, you know it is time to join Odysseus – not on his first journey – but his last. It is time to join Jacob on the quiet side of the river Jabbok, time to wrestle with God. If you choose not to go on this second journey, God will probably just let you go your own way, declining to fight. But if you do wrestle with God, your defeat will be remarkable in and of itself, full of light and limping and love.

If you read this blog with any regularity you know the nature of my journey toward the virtues of eulogy. You know my wrestling with God. You’ve seen the pain on the page, so much that sometimes it has been too difficult to read. But if something other than misplaced anger draws you to this blog, you too are probably moving toward the eulogy virtues. That is why I enjoy hearing from you, and the comments you so thoughtfully post.

Within certain parameters, like needing to eat, drink, breathe and sleep, we all get to decide how we are going to live this life. To live the resume virtues is important for ego development, cultural growth and civilized life. To live the eulogy virtues is to embark on a journey toward wisdom, undertaken with paradoxical measures of trepidation and joy. I enjoyed the first journey. The second journey? Well, enjoy wouldn’t be the right word. How about breathtaking.

The Danger of Shouting Advice

The Danger of Shouting Advice

Well-known church leaders have responded to the Bruce Jenner interview. For the most part I have chosen not to respond to what other religious leaders write about trans issues. However, embedded within my identity are responsibilities, one of which is to speak when leaders present inaccurate information that could very well cost lives. Leelah Alcorn’s death cannot be repeated.

If you are reading this blog you may already know the individuals to whom I am referring. I see no need to name them. These are people with whom I worked and people I respect. On the subject of gender dysphoria, however, I strongly disagree with their conclusions.

The Bible is silent on the subject of gender dysphoria. Those who suggest it does speak about it must wrest meaning from scripture passages that, upon closer examination, do not deal with the issue at all. For instance, one writer cited Deuteronomy 22:5, a passage about cross-dressing. If Christians are responsible for the 613 laws of the Old Testament, then we are responsible for all of them, not just one. Additionally, cross-dressing and gender dysphoria are not the same. One is a paraphilia, the other a gender identity issue. The same writer equated sexual identity with gender identity, though they are two completely different subjects.

Another pastor said quoting a 41 percent suicide attempt rate is passive aggressive behavior by transgender people to silence those who challenge them. The same speaker said the suicide attempt rate was as high after transition as before. This is simply not true. Over 90 percent of those who transition are happier and better adjusted post transition. After the initial trauma of losing jobs and social standing, the suicide rate drops dramatically.

Transgender people mention the high suicide attempt rate not out of any passive aggressive behavior, but because they have been there – and it is terrifying to be at a place of such existential hopelessness. Most of the trans Christians I know arrived there after decades of attempting to suffer through as their churches taught. To say that referencing the 41 percent suicide attempt rate is passive aggressive behavior is dangerously irresponsible.

One speaker taught that gender dysphoria was a result of the fall, and Christians should just suffer through. In that case, we should also suffer through depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many other medically treatable conditions. Asceticism is a poor choice when suffering can be treated.

There was no mention of any of the studies showing significant brain functioning differences between pre-hormonally treated transgender people and the general population. There is the suggestion gender dysphoria can be cured through proper parenting, a hypothesis with absolutely no empirical support. There is the unfortunate quotation of 40-year-old research that has been discredited by virtually all subsequent research.  There is the quotation of a WSJ article when the Wall Street Journal was excoriated by several respected media companies for publishing such spurious information.

Over the past 40 years I have read just about every word ever written about this subject from a religious perspective. If the conclusions of these gentlemen were correct, I would have accepted them, even if it meant maintaining a tortured existence for the rest of my days. I do not take the words of Scripture lightly.  I do not fear the truth. I believe it sets us free. But finding the truth demands diligent work. It requires time, intellectual rigor, and a willingness to challenge every subject from every angle. The search for truth demands careful and thorough study, and a willingness to give up long held beliefs when the hard light of research leads to different conclusions.

There are no easy answers on this issue. It cannot be dealt with in a sermon, a blog post, or a two-hour television interview. There must be compassion, thoughtfulness, and time involved before positions are taken. It took the medical community a century to reach their conclusions on gender dysphoria. It was not acknowledged and accepted flippantly or superficially.

We all have our blind spots, our prejudices, our unresolved personal issues, our poor hermeneutics. We are all, in a word, human. When on occasion we stridently shout out our bad advice, it is always unbecoming. I certainly know that from personal experience. The individuals who presented this information are very good humans who have done so much for so many. When it comes to gender dysphoria, however, they are dangerously wrong.

Gender dysphoria is a difficult and complex issue that demands humility and compassion from all sides. If a person is not willing to put in the time necessary to truly understand what it means to be transgender, it would be better if he or she remained silent on the subject.