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!