Except the One to Which We Belong

Except the One to Which We Belong

We are story-based creatures. My earliest memories are of my father lying in bed next to me, spinning yarns about Jim and Jiggles, cowboys on the western frontier. I told similar stories to my children, crafted as I went, the end as much a mystery to me as to my delighted children.

Whether Greek myth or Irish tale, all of the great stories have similar elements. There is a protagonist called to the difficult journey. Initially she rejects the call, until a wise sage gives her the strength to choose the road of trials. There is an antagonist, intent on stopping the hero from finding the Holy Grail. The hero is led into the depths of darkness, where the outcome is in doubt. Eventually there is a dread/hope axis, a climactic moment in which the audience dreads the protagonist will fail, and hopes she will succeed. When she does emerge triumphant, the hero has one remaining responsibility. She must return home, bearing gifts of wisdom. Only then does she gain the freedom to move on.

Most of the myths passed down in our civilization are stories about males. It is not that there have not been female heroes throughout history. It is just that men controlled pen and scroll. The few female heroes tended to be seen as more masculine. Think Joan of Arc, instead of the giant spiritual contemporaries of her era, Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Ávila.

I love the fiery heroines of the recent Disney princess movies. Even more powerful are the female characters in the Disney-produced television show, Once Upon A Time. They are all complicated characters, flawed and vulnerable, just like real heroes.

The universality of the great myths, with their consistent elements across cultures and times, tells us a lot about our species. We know we are a part of something greater than our own individual lives. We know our decisions have consequences, for our own lives and for generations to come. We know the courageous and brave will eventually choose the difficult path, and will be rewarded with both travail and blessing. We wonder if we will be among the courageous. For all of us face at least one great moment when we must choose either the path of safety, or the dangerous way through the long dark night. We know everything hangs in the balance.

These are the moments that define our lives. Have we learned to be vulnerable? Have we come to know that at some level we are both hero and villain? Do we realize our lives do matter, greatly, and our decisions have consequences far beyond anything we might imagine? Do we see our children watching, and their children after them, and their children after them? Do we know that God is with us, whether we find courage or not? Do we have the strength to truly believe the world was made to be free in?

If the answer is yes to all of these critically important questions, we are ready to give up all other roads except the one to which we belong. As we take our first tentative steps on that road, it is wise to remember the Via Dolorosa was a road to resurrection.

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We Need Better Tribes

We Need Better Tribes

Humans are a tribal species. We know it as soon as we are old enough to realize our world has been divided into “us” versus “them.” The American myth of rugged individualism is an illusion. So, we might ask, what do we need from a tribe?

In his book, Hauntings – Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives, James Hollis says a tribal myth needs to answer four basic questions:

  1. Why am I here, in service to what, and to what end?
  2. How are we to live in harmony with our natural environment?
  3. Who are my people, and what are the rights, duties and expectations of my tribe?
  4. Who am I, how am I different from others, and how am I to find my way through life’s difficulties?

Castles and cathedrals are a common tourist destination in Europe. Our deep yearning for these places is a reflection of our desire to return to a day in which tribal life was simple, if not very satisfying. God and King set the boundaries. We were beholden to our creator and our geography. Today life is not so simple.

Carl Jung said the key question of all humans is, “Are we related to something infinite or not?” If we feel connected to the infinite, our desires and attitudes change. But modern man has been told there is no Infinite, at least not a capitalized one. In our devotion to Western science we have shut off all but the logical, reasoning side of the brain. It has left us with a world of information, bereft of meaning.

Mike McHargue (Science Mike) tells of a discovery physicians made after severing the corpus collosum (the nerve bundle that connects the two halves of the brain) in severe epilepsy sufferers. They discovered the left side of the brain, the logical and rational side, often silences the right side of the brain, the intuitive and creative side. To use Jungian terms, the ego silences the psyche.

In these patients, their more intuitive side gained equality with their more rational side. Their left hand might literally pick out one dress, while the right hand chose another. Severing the nerve bundle did not solve the epileptic problems of these patients, but it did result in a lot of curious scientists.

One of their discoveries was when they were able to isolate the right brain, the scientists said they believed in God, something their logical left brain rejected. While they were shocked by the wars taking place within the two hemispheres of their own brains, Jungians would not have been surprised. They had spent decades helping clients listen to their psyches through the constant noise of the ego, primarily by helping them access their dreams.

Dreams allow the psyche to bypass the ego and tell us what we really feel, and what modern man often feels is cut off from any larger story, or metanarrative. Our current tribes, shallow and extreme, do not provide an adequate framework to answer life’s basic questions. As Jung said, man is left with “no love, only sexuality; no faith, because he is afraid to grope in the dark; no hope, because he is disillusioned by the world and by life; and no understanding, because he has failed to read the meaning of his own existence.”  Modern man is in quite a dilemma.

What might be the solution to such existential despair? How about better tribes? We need tribes that depend on compasses, not maps. Emily Dickinson wrote, “a sailor cannot see north, but a compass can.” Too much of American religion demands fealty to outdated maps. Jesus taught us to be compass followers. He replaced detailed maps with the true north of loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. He made us partners in the ministry of reconciling all things to the creator. He gave us work to do, applying the law of love to an ever-changing world.

Following Jesus requires an open heart, a good compass, and wise discernment. Jesus speaks to ego and psyche, right brain and left, body and soul. If the tribe of Jesus will follow his instruction to love God, love neighbor and love self, we might wander a bit every now and again, but our trajectory will always be toward true north.  And confident of that goal, instead of arguing among ourselves, we could get back to the ministry of reconciliation.  How marvelous would that be?

I’m allowed to dream, aren’t I?

Loyalty to the Inner Light

Loyalty to the Inner Light

I lectured at the University of Colorado this week and the students had questions about the early days of my transition.  It started me pondering about the insights I have gained since that difficult time.

First, I definitely underestimated how shocking it was for people to hear I was trans. I had been living with the knowledge since childhood, but only four people knew of my circumstances. Having chosen adaptation over authenticity, I had hoped to keep it under wraps throughout my life.   I finally realized I needed to come out.

Many Christians experienced my transition as a betrayal. One friend who has not spoken with me since, said, “I wish you had taken this to your grave.” Others felt keeping it a “secret” had been wrong. I protested that it was not a secret because there was no moral wrong in being transgender. It was just private, like your sex life with your spouse is private. Of course, when my intention was to stay in the closet, I had every reason to keep it quiet. I knew speaking up would end my career.

After I came out, many Christians chose to identify me as a person of questionable character. I suppose it made it easier for them to separate themselves from me.  With impunity, they told stories that were not true.   It was my darkest hour.

I had an “Aha!” moment early in the process. One of my family members asked a woman to watch a speech given by filmmaker and trans woman Lana Wachowski. The woman replied, “I started to watch, but her hair and voice were just too weird.” Her response made me realize that the narrow norms of the Evangelical community were going to stop most of these fundamentally good people from exploring the transgender journey. It was my loneliest time. Grief descended. As novelist Lindsay Clarke writes, “Loyalty to the inner light felt like stepping into outer darkness.”

Fortunately, time is a great healer. Brené Brown says before forgiveness can occur something must die, usually grief. As my grief expended itself in painful fits and gasps, peace arrived like a deep river. I learned to trust its flow.

I know my return to the church hastened my healing. The acceptance I have been shown by a small handful of people from my former church world has been powerful. The welcome I found at Highlands Church in Denver has been extraordinarily transforming. I love that church as I have loved no other.

The decision to forgive is a decision of the will, born of the heart, forged in the soul and sustained by the spirit. It is not cheap forgiveness, the kind offered prematurely by souls frightened by their anger. It is hard won, willing to go through the pain of briefs for the prosecution and briefs for the defense, and a judgment of guilt for both sides. It requires humility, and includes asking the forgiveness of others, for there are always two sides to every story.

I am very much at peace with my life and my faith. I am comfortable in my own skin. I hold no illusions. The attacks will continue. Just today I heard of an online group that has decided I am possessed by a demon, more than likely because of my playful picture in last week’s blog, which also appeared in the Huffington Post. There was no sting in hearing the news, just sorrow for the good people who might be affected by that kind of bigotry. It is a given that I will continue to be vilified. It is all right.  The truth is, I showed up, and it was difficult for everyone. But we serve a God of mercy and forgiveness.  And when the last rays of sunlight grace the western sky on each and every day of this sacred odyssey, I retire knowing love has won.

Obeying the Law in North Carolina

Obeying The Law in North Carolina

This post first appeared yesterday in the Huffington Post, where I have been asked to be a blogger.  It is my second post for them.  Being sarcastic is a little unusual for me, but I must say I enjoyed writing this, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the response.

I fly through Charlotte almost every week. If it’s dinnertime, I stop at Carolina BBQ and say hello to the manager. I have my favorite corner in the American Airlines Admirals Club, where I enjoy the veggies and hummus. I am comfortable at CLT. Though I am usually only passing through, Charlotte feels like home.

Or maybe I should say Charlotte felt like home. My birth certificate does not reflect my correct gender. Every time I enter a women’s restroom at the Charlotte airport, I break the law. As a good citizen, I am not pleased. I have never been arrested. Gees, I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket. I do not want to start breaking the law now that I am old enough to get a senior discount at the movie theater.

I worked in radio and television for 20 years. The New York Times is delivered to my house every Sunday. I peruse the Huffington Post every day. I stay abreast of the news. How could I have missed hearing I am a threat to North Carolina’s women and children. I must have been sick the day that news came out, or maybe I couldn’t read because I had a speck in my eye.

I knew I made a lot of Evangelicals angry when I transitioned, but last I checked no one saw me as a physical threat. But hey, you never know. I guess I missed hearing when you take away testosterone and replace it with estradiol, you are likely to become a sexual predator. I mean, take a look at all of the other people without testosterone, but with plenty of estrogen. Everywhere you turn they are assaulting women and children, right?

Since I was four years old I’ve been working on my plan to disguise myself as a woman and assault women in restrooms. I went to therapy for twenty years just to mess with my therapist’s head. I endured expensive surgeries, not covered by insurance, because I knew I would have the chance to pursue my nefarious agenda. Though the medications I take give me the sexual desire of a post-menopausal woman, it is just a clever ruse. Once I get into that bathroom, I will take a little blue pill that will — oh wait, that won’t work anymore. Aw dang it, I guess I didn’t think this through.

But thank goodness the Republican legislators and governor of North Carolina thought things through. I mean, they gave themselves 12 full hours, right? They thought through the reality that trans guys with their hipster beards would end up in women’s restrooms, making it much easier for a male sexual predator to walk in as well. Surely they thought of that, right?

I’m pretty tall, so sometimes I am identified as a trans, though most of the time people do not seem to notice. Now I get a chance to let the entire state of North Carolina know I am transgender, because you know, it’ll make everyone feel safer. Never mind that my presence in a male restroom makes me a target for predators. But according to North Carolina Republican legislators, my safety is not important. In fact, I probably should not even exist. Then no one will have to think about this stuff. Yeah, that’s a good solution.

I suppose I will keep on flying through Charlotte, because I can use the women’s restroom at the Admirals Club. It’s on private property. The workers at the front desk have been ardent supporters. Kim and Earleen and others were friendly with Paul for years, and now they are even friendlier with Paula. Come to think of it, there must be something wrong with them too. I’ll have to ask the Republican legislators. They should know.

But what if I have to go to the bathroom while I’m at the gate, waiting for my plane to depart? Oh well, once a law-abiding citizen, always a law-abiding citizen. “Here, could you hold my purse while I take this selfie?”

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The Life You Are Saving

The Life You Are Saving

In my 40s, I agonized over whether or not to take the lead pastor position at an influential megachurch. I told them no, yes, and no again. They were not pleased. A few years later I did the same with another megachurch. Though everyone said these were wonderful ministries for which I was well suited, I could not find the courage to answer the call. For years I doubted myself. I thought I was a coward, lacking any real measure of courage. Over time, however, I came to understand courage was not the issue. I was not pulling the trigger because I had not been called to pull the trigger.

When we think we lack courage we should look more deeply. What we see as a failure of courage might actually be wisdom, masquerading as fear. We refuse the call that is not ours. Others might believe it is our call. Even our own mind might believe it is our call. But the soul knows better. The soul knows a true call, and informs the heart and mind when the call is our own. When you realize the call is yours, you discover you have all the courage you need. Indeed, you are braver than you think.

Over the past few years my life has been turned upside down and inside out. When I answered the call to transition from Paul to Paula, I was thrown into a massive storm of great intensity. That call was not received as a gift. I screamed and railed at God, who seemed to reply with a dismissive, “Deal with it.” I was furious. But I knew I had been called.

Last summer I was called again. I attended church for the first time in years. I experienced post-traumatic stress as I dragged myself across the threshold. Once I entered the sanctuary, however, I realized it was my sanctuary. I wanted to scream at God again, “Seriously, you want me to return to the church? Do you have a short memory? The church rejected me.”   But the tears would not stop and I knew God had called again. Through bread and wine received from the hands of a dear friend, she (God, not my friend) said, “Come home Paula; there is work to be done.”

So I came home and accepted the responsibilities embedded within my journey.

Since transitioning I have spoken in many different venues, from the national conventions of the Gay Christian Network and PFLAG, to lecturing at colleges and universities, to completing a video lesson on trans issues for Lifetree Cafe. I have had articles published in the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and have told my story at Bespoken Live events. The most satisfying work has been my return to the pulpit, where the good folks at Highlands Church have allowed me to preach and offer all of my gifts with great joy.

The call has also been to more challenging venues. Last week I spoke to an appreciative and responsive audience. But even as I spoke, some were registering their displeasure that I had been invited. I was not surprised. It was not the first time people had risen in protest. Two years ago I was informed I should not attend my own high school reunion. (Other high school friends have been wonderfully supportive.)

Nasty letters, emails and comments still arrive on a regular basis. My inclusion in last week’s Huffington Post article on Christian feminism brought lots of positive comments, but it also brought mean-spirited replies from angry feminists and cocky fundamentalists.

When you are in the sweet spot of your calling,  it does not matter whether the moment is difficult or delightful. What is important is fidelity to the call. When you are faithfully within your call, on most days you can actually repeat the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.”

If you believe you are not a person of courage, give yourself some grace. You do not lack courage. Your apparent lack of courage is simply a sign that what you have been asked to do is not your calling. It is someone else’s calling. With an open heart and a trembling hand, take a walk and listen to your soul. It will give you permission to wait. For the day will come when the world’s great hunger finds your deep joy.

When that moment arrives, courage will well up from the depths of your being, scattering butterflies in its wake. The soul’s courier will announce herself at the door of your open heart, “The wait is over; the time has come.” You will look around and see there is no one to answer but you. You alone must decide. And you will find the courage to step across the threshold.  And you will realize the life you are saving is your own.