Life and Love Without Labels

Life and Love Without Labels

My mentor was a retired Roman Catholic seminary rector with whom I often had lunch. During one afternoon at Joe’s Pasta and Pizza in Bay Shore, New York, I asked Jim about his rather unique use of the word conversion. With his smiling eyes he graciously answered: “There are moments in life when you come to two paths and must make a choice. You choose a path and are greatly surprised where it takes you and what it demands of you. If you allow the choice to shape you, it can be a moment of conversion. I have had four in my life.”

I do not remember what his conversions were, because I was too busy being self-referential, thinking about my own conversions. (Alas, the lessons we miss by not listening.) Not long before he died, Jim told me he was entering his final conversion. He said, “I am dying, and I must let go. I must fully let go and give myself to Jesus.” I miss Jim, but his spirit remains in me.

My first conversion was when I came to realize I knew better than to follow my church with blind obedience. I like Derek Flood’s language in his book Disarming Scripture. He says there is unquestioning obedience and there is faithful questioning, and the Scriptures give examples of both types of people, frequently at odds with one another. I knew I was not like most other people in my world. I was a faithful questioner.

Another conversion came when I accepted the role as CEO of the Orchard Group, a position I did not particularly want, but knew I needed to accept. Taking that risk caused both the organization and me to grow exponentially.

My call to transition to Paula was the most profound conversion of my life, but I’ve written enough about that, so we’ll leave it alone. My most recent conversion was, like the others, unexpected. Given the church’s rejection of me, I assumed my years in the church were over. It was a big loss, but one over which I had little control. My spiritual life would have to proceed where two or three were gathered together.

Then on June 21 I was surprised by joy. I attended a worship service at Highlands Church in Denver (highlandschurchdenver.org) and cried clear through the service, from one end to the other. Jesus came in the form of my friend, Jen Jepsen, who loving placed communion in my hands. It was a moment of profound conversion – the body of Christ, broken for me. I knew I was called back to the church.

Two months later, on August 30, 2015, the worship was excellent, the building inviting, and the weekly communion a celebration of life together, just like it always is. But on August 30, I preached! Jenny Morgan, Mark Tidd and Rachael McClair (the pastors) invited me into their home and trusted me to fix dinner. It felt completely and utterly normal. I did what I was created to do and for the first time I did it in the right body, the one my soul always inhabited. The response was amazing, incredibly warm and affirming. And the best part were all the people who talked with me about the Scriptures I used and what those stories meant to them. The fact I was trans was, if not exactly incidental, not really all that big a deal either, because Highlands Church lives its ethos.

This past Sunday was the church’s sixth anniversary. Jenny preached a thoughtful, well-crafted message about a community covenant based in humility. The church planter in me estimates the church is running 500 to 600 people, pretty good for a church started from scratch.

I ask myself what accounts for that growth? I know it wasn’t great funding or denominational support. Highlands had neither. I think it is the leadership with which the church is blessed, and the ethos Mark Tidd penned nine years ago, three years before the church started. Spirit-inspired, that ethos permeates the building and the people within:

Married, divorced or single here, it’s one family that mingles here

Conservative or liberal here, we’ve all gotta give a little here

Big or small here, there’s room for us all here

Doubt or believe here, we all can receive here

Gay or straight here, there’s no hate here

Woman or man here, everyone can here

Whatever your race here, for all of us grace here

In imitation of the ridiculous love Almighty God has for each of us

And all of us, let us live and love without labels!

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9 thoughts on “Life and Love Without Labels

  1. You spoke of Highlands when we met for lunch a few weeks ago, and, I’m happy (and not surprised) that you’re preaching again. You’re a preacher/teacher…and there it is. If you were here right now you might despair at the foolishness going on today. Take care, and give a yell when you’re back in this neck of the woods.

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  2. “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will not bear fruit.” JC Clearly God used you in very fruitful ways before your transition Paula, but in the sacrifice you made for the sake of living your truth, Highlands got to experience some of the first fruits of what I’m certain will be a bumper crop that will feed and nourish many!

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  3. LOVE reading of this ‘conversion’. You ABSOLUTELY are called to the church. The church would suffer from your absence. So glad to hear you have found the spot in the church that is in tune with the Love of Christ and wise enough to open its doors along side you.

    Your work is so important Paula. Your voice is special and unique and desperately needed during these times. God is truly working through you in some very profound ways. May He bless and keep you, my dear dear friend. I say friend because the indwelling spirit of Christ in both of us makes this a reality though we’ve never met face to face. Thank you for being you! Be blessed.

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  4. “Look at the last ten people you’ve texted,” a church planter recently challenged his congregation. Listeners pulled out their phones to scroll through their screens. “Now. How many of them look just like you?” Take a moment to practice this yourself. You may discover that the proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together” rings true. It is human nature to seek out people who share experiences and histories similar to our own. Yet if we spend the vast majority of our time with similar people, we run the risk of seeing the world through a very narrow lens! — from the Orchard Group Website

    Hmmmm . . . and they let you go because they didn’t like your new wardrobe?

    I’m glad you found Highlands. It sounds like a place I’d like to be.

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  5. I loved your sermon you did at Highlands. You spoke with such love and grace. Thank you for sharing and blessing Highlands with your sweet and beautiful soul. It touched my heart to read this and to hear you speak!

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  6. My family and I were fortunate to hear your speak at Highlands Church in August, and we loved the boat stories you told. Such great illustrations. My favorite: Paula, Paula, stand up! It is clear you are called to teach and preach, and it’s wonderful you have found a community to share that gift with. I hope we get to hear you speak again. Blessings to you and yours!

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