From Paint-by-Number to Rembrandt

The Journey From Paint-by-Number to Rembrandt

I once spent the day with a movie script doctor, a British gentleman who made a lot of money fixing flawed scripts before they were turned into blockbusters. He said, “No matter how messed up a person’s life, when watching a movie they become moral. They might make wrong decisions left and right in their personal lives, but they want the hero to do the right thing.”

What makes us a moral species? Is it just the efficient machinations of the evolutionary process, or something more? When I was well indoctrinated in Fundamentalist theology, these and other questions consumed my thinking days.  I was a child of the modern age, steeped in the logic of the Scottish philosophers. I demanded that religious faith behave rationally. I preferred a Christianity of systematics. I did not know what to do with the Holy Spirit, who seemed far too wild and unpredictable for a thinking man’s religion.

As a man, I was rational. If something could not be measured rationally, it was probably not very important. That was one of the perversions of the modern age, with its confidence in scientific certainty. Then Quantum physics came along and the modern age was turned upside down. It turns out nothing is quite as certain as it appears. While science has come to accept this major shift, the Evangelical church is still caught in the more certain, but false, world of Newton, Bacon, Descartes and the modern age. I can’t help but wander if part of the reason is because the Evangelical church is still dominated by men.

Pretty much everyone in my circle of close friends says I no longer think as much like a man. My thought processes have moved somewhere between the two genders, which studies show is pretty typical for transgender women. No one knows the exact reason, though it appears to be both hormonal and social. I only know what I have personally experienced, and the changes have been enlightening.

As a man, my world looked like a paint-by-number set. Everything made sense, but it wasn’t very pretty. My world is now looking more like a Rembrandt, with the infinite play of light and shadow. Most of the time I no longer need answers, but I do need time to ponder. Questions that once demanded resolution have become mysteries to be accepted and embraced. On the other hand, and paradoxically I might add, nowadays there are some things I just know, confidently. I need no scientific proof.

I no longer need to know why a movie audience is always moral; it just is. I know that through the worst religious oppression, women still fill churches and nurture faith from generation to generation, while men concern themselves with wars and rumors of wars. I know mothers will awaken at the slightest sound from a baby’s room, while fathers can hear a the tiniest of aberrations from a car motor, but are likely to be unaware whether or not their child is actually in the car.

I know I say all of this at the risk of sounding sexist, but there are differences in how men and women move and have their being.  I now spend the majority of my time with women, and my priorities are changing.  I want to listen more and talk less.  I want to find solutions collaboratively, instead of imposing them unilaterally.  I want to look through the eyes of the powerless, not the powerful.  And these changes taking place in my being are confirming something else I always intuitively knew. There is a reason Mother’s Day is a bigger deal than Father’s Day.  Somewhere way down deep, mothers see the world the way it really is, hopeful and redemptive.

When all the scientific truths have been upended and the wars brought to their tragic conclusions, some things will remain.  The audience will always be moral; science will never be certain; and the nurturing, gentle, whole heartedness of mothers will still make the world go round.

And so it goes.

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Seriously, Please!

Seriously, Please!

I know those of you who choose to read this blog because of my posts about the church are frustrated with the number of recent posts on transgender issues. I understand your frustration. However, right now there is a national attack on the transgender community, and it is critical for Christians to do their research before weighing in on the topic.

In March of this year Dr. Paul McHugh and the American College of Pediatricians published a position paper on transgender issues that has been widely quoted by pastors of Evangelical churches. There are a number of problems with that decision, all related to inadequate research.

  1. The American College of Pediatricians, which published the position paper, is not a highly respected medical society. It is a 200-member group of conservatives whose positions are often seen as radical by the mainstream medical community. In no way is it affiliated with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatricians, a venerable institution supportive of gender transition.
  1. The paper indicates there are no biological origins of gender dysphoria. In reality there are over 150 professional peer reviewed resources showing the biological origins of gender dysphoria. For instance, as far back as 1973 it was widely known that mothers who took DES had sons with a much higher incidence of gender dysphoria. A recent Boston University meta-study of the plethora of peer reviewed resources concluded, “Current data suggests a biological origin of gender identity.”
  1. The position paper indicates up to 98 percent of children who present with gender dysphoria will desist from expressing a desire for gender transition, a number quoted out of context and without documentation from the DSM-V. There are no known studies that support that figure or any similar figure. In fact, recent studies show a child solidly claiming at an early age to be transgender is highly likely to continue to identify as transgender into adulthood. In response to a study entitled, “Gender Cognition in Transgender Children,” by Olsun, Key, and Eaton, the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch concluded, “Gender non-conforming children show clear implicit and explicit preferences for their expressed gender early in life…They do not appear to be confused, pretending, delayed, gender-atypical, or oppositional in these views.”
  1. Dr. McHugh and the paper’s co-authors speak of grave medical consequences of cross-gender hormonal treatment, yet their information is based on a form of estrogen not widely used in over 15 years. In regard to today’s hormonal treatment, in July of 2014, Henk Asscheman, MD, PhD, the principal investigator in a study of 2,000 transgender individuals treated in 15 US and European centers concluded, “There are mostly minor side effects and no new adverse effects observed in this large population.”
  1. Dr. McHugh continues to refer to a study headed by Celia Dhenje, MD that researched post-transition suicidal ideation. Dr. McHugh concludes suicidal ideation exists because gender transition does not resolve gender dysphoria. That is, in fact, the opposite of what the study concludes. Dr. Dhenje has publicly called Dr. McHugh’s misuse of the study unethical. The study concludes that the cause of higher than average suicidal ideation in transgender individuals is not related to their view of themselves in their preferred gender, but is related to external discrimination, rejection, and isolation. In other words, Dr. McHugh’s position paper is one of the causes of transgender adolescents having suicidal ideation.

I appeal now to my Evangelical friends who have quoted Dr. McHugh. Just because Bob Russell, Jim Burgen, or even the Wall Street Journal quote the positions of Paul McHugh, it does not give you license to repost that information without determining if it is factual. It is unethical to reprint (or preach) what you refuse to thoroughly research.

This is not an esoteric conversation; lives are at stake. For a people who claim to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent,” there is a lot of loose talk going on. For God’s sake, if you want to preach about a social issue, choose racial injustice, spousal abuse, misogyny and poverty. Those are real issues very present in the American church. Give the transgender rhetoric a rest. It is based on nothing but uninformed prejudice.

And so it goes.

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When the Tempest in the Teapot Is You

When the Tempest in the Teapot Is You

One day last March, over the course of 12 hours, the legislature of North Carolina spent $42,000 for the singular purpose of taking away my civil rights, stopping me from using the restroom that corresponds with the gender on my driver’s license and passport. Within a few weeks a major American controversy had erupted, and I said, “Whhhaaatt? This is a tempest in a teapot. Transgender people don’t abuse children, though evidence suggests some clergy and politicians do. What is going on?”

This whole fiasco might be fascinating to watch, except for one thing. I am the tempest in the teapot. After a lifetime of fear of retribution for emerging as I truly am, my fears are being realized, not just within the Evangelical church, but in the entire State of North Carolina, to say nothing of the 22 other states in which anti-transgender legislation is pending. Evidently a lot of Americans do not want me to exist, let alone go to the bathroom.

My initial response was a sarcastic piece that appeared in the Huffington Post. It was fun to write and garnered a fair amount of national attention. But as the controversy escalates, I am getting uncomfortable.

This is quite a comeuppance from my previous life, in which I was treated deferentially. Paul enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. If I accidentally took the wrong seat on an airplane, the other person assumed the problem was theirs. If I was waiting in line at the grocery store, they were likely to open a new register. If I told the guy at the Apple Genius Bar my Mac wasn’t fixed by repairing permissions, he believed me. Yeah, that was then.

It was startling enough to enter the world of women, where you are always considered not quite as competent as the boys. But now to be the object of outright derision is quite the conundrum. What began as a North Carolina nuisance has become a genuine problem. I’m starting to think, “What’s next?”

Then I stand back and take stock. My suffering can be measured in millimeters, not miles. No one is burning crosses on my lawn. I am not being turned away from poling places, or made to sit in the balcony at the movie theater. Racism was, and is, a national disgrace.  For me, transphobia is little more than an inconvenience.

I flew through Charlotte last Friday. Everyone at the Admiral’s Club was apologizing for the actions of their self-important legislature. They said, “This is embarrassing. It makes us look like backwoods bigots.” It is important to note that North Carolina’s HB2 was in response to an expansive civil rights law passed by the Charlotte city council. Not all of North Carolina has lost its mind, just the prejudiced and ill-informed part. It is the same crowd that has always looked pretty bad in history’s rearview mirror.

I go to North Carolina again next week, and I will spend ten days there in July. I am not worried. What I face is nothing compared to what my African-American son-in-law faces, or what my Indian daughter deals with, or what my Indian daughter-in-law has had to endure. They have known real prejudice, not just the media-hyped transgender wars. And what they have faced is not as difficult as what their parents went through, or their parents before them. Prejudice has been around a while.

I am embarrassed I had so many years of privilege. Last Friday I watched a man all dressed in Brooks Brothers, about my age and height, as he was given more than his share of attention at the Admiral’s Club at LaGuardia. He has no idea how much America is tilted in his favor. I would not trade the knowledge I have gained by losing that privilege. It has been eye opening and life changing. When I compare my life of privilege to the bit of prejudice I receive nowadays, it will take decades before the scales of personal privilege are balanced.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not happy about HB2. But if that and Evangelical rejection are the only problems I have to face, I should stop complaining and count my blessings. I live in a nation in which the President and  Attorney General have my back, and America’s largest corporations are willing to take a stand against LGBTQ injustice. I live in a world in which I still get to preach and teach in the church (though not the Evangelical church) amidst people who are wonderfully supportive. All in all, I’ve got it pretty easy.  This tempest in a teapot will pass, and life will go on, and all manner of things shall be well.

Rejecting Adaptation for Allegiance

Rejecting Adaptation for Allegiance

I have spoken with several psychotherapists who often ask their clients, “Where are you stuck?” They all say their clients have no problem answering. We humans know where we are stuck. We just need help getting unstuck.

I love mountain biking, evidenced by how often I find illustrative material on the trails. On the trail I ride most often, Picture Rock (pictured below), I go through periods in which I cannot seem to get through a section I have ridden previously without difficulty. It is always puzzling. “Has the trail changed?” It happens. As rocks become dislodged and clay turns to dust, the terrain shifts. Areas once easy become problematic. On other occasions I am riding in the wrong gear, which causes pedal strikes from the different rhythm. Sometimes the problem is my physical body, specifically the effects of estradiol on the continuing diminishment of my muscle mass. Most of the time, however, the problem is none of those. The problem is in my mind.

Mountain biking takes extraordinary focus on nothing but the few inches of trail in front of you. It engages all of your senses and demands both sides of your brain. Since the dominant side of the human brain (the left brain for most of us) tends to edit and filter what the right brain wants to express, it takes unusual circumstances for the right brain to find opportunities for unedited expression.

All of which means when you are riding narrow singletrack, which demands the full attention of your left brain, feelings normally repressed find the opportunity to bubble up into consciousness. As they wend their way through the harshness of your demanding ego, they grab your attention. You lose your focus on the trail and forget how to ride through sections that used to be easy to navigate.

After ruling out the simple problems, like taking a line in the wrong gear, I stop looking at the trail and turn inward. What is my problem? Is it a complex I am seizing from the past, ghosts from childhood? Is it the fear always close by, life’s twin existential threats of abandonment and feeling overwhelmed? Is it my unwillingness to take the next risk my life demands, the last one having been so traumatizing?

If I sit with myself long enough, I can usually identify the problem, though it takes a lot longer to find the courage to face it. Taking the road less traveled means rejecting adaption for allegiance to the soul. It is never easy work.

I have recently passed a number of milestones. I have gone back to work in church planting, my vocation for the better part of four decades. I am working with churches and pastors, helping them find their rhythm in ministry. I am counseling individuals and couples, helping them pedal through their own rough terrain. And I am preaching again, a great joy.

I have a gnawing sense my work is not done. There is a restlessness that remains, holy, unsettling, necessary. Some things we do not choose. They choose us. I will be patient, and the message of the heart will bubble up through the fissures of my willful ego.

Recently I started attacking a new section of trail, my previous stopping point having been determined by a skill level I have now surpassed. It is time to climb higher, through more difficult terrain. I have not traversed the new section one single time without coming off the pedals. But I will figure out the lines to take and the gear that matches my strength. It is all a part of the journey.

And so it goes.

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Will Anyone Care?

Will Anyone Care?

If, like me, you would like to see the Evangelical church fully welcome LGBTQ people, do not argue Scripture. Instead, spend your time studying church history and cultural anthropology. It will be a better use of your time.

As the Pulitzer Prize winner E. O. Wilson has written, humans are the only eusocial species that believes an enemy is necessary for a tribe to survive. Religion has been especially adept at creating enemies where none exist. There is no surprise in this behavior. It has been happening as long as there have been religions.

If you peruse church history, however, you also see the church never gets too far behind the culture at large. Because he believed the earth revolved around the sun, the church forced Galileo into eight years under house arrest. When was the last time you saw a church supporting the notion of a geocentric universe?

Though it took 100 years, the church eventually came around on slavery. Through the middle of the last century, Evangelicals would not allow people who had been divorced into church leadership. When is the last time you saw a divorced person barred from Evangelical leadership? The Bible says more about all of these subjects than it says about LGBTQ issues.

When we adopted our daughter from India 37 years ago, we became a transracial family. Some Christians from my Evangelical community believed we were “mixing the races,” which they saw as against the teaching of Scripture. I haven’t heard that complaint lately. As with so many other subjects, the Evangelical church eventually embraced transracial families and moved on. True, it is taking longer to see women in Evangelical leadership, but the trajectory is clear.

When it comes to marriage equality and other LGBTQ issues, the story will be the same. There is no evidence that living out one’s sexual or gender identity harms anyone. The only argument they have for rejecting the LGBTQ community is their own interpretation of a handful of Bible passages. That is not enough to sustain their opposition.

The Evangelical world is struggling, but change will come, because the Evangelical church is nimble. It does not have the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church or mainline Protestant denominations. Those institutions can take decades, even centuries, to pull the lever on change. When Evangelicals decide to shift gears, it happens fast.

Today’s influential Evangelicals are entrepreneurs who cut their teeth in a free market economy. They understand market share. Their leadership is lean and adaptable. Their roots do not extend to Rome or Canterbury. Their roots reach back to iconoclastic firebrands like Jonathan Edwards and Dwight L Moody. They know how to attract and keep a crowd. And they know when it is time to move on.

The activism we see today is a last gasp. Large Evangelical churches have been among the loudest supporters of the recently enacted hate laws in Houston, North Carolina and Mississippi. But if you look more closely, a greater number of influential Evangelical churches have remained silent. One megachurch senior pastor recently said, “I know when it comes to marriage equality the culture has moved on, but my money hasn’t.” Many of these churches are lying low, waiting for the opposition to die down before they begin playing catch up.

LGBTQ issues in the Evangelical church will not be decided in the theology departments of Evangelical seminaries. They will be decided in the boardrooms of today’s religious influencers, America’s large churches. And the decisions will ultimately be pragmatic. If we are patient, the landscape will change.  We will be fully welcomed into these churches.  I suppose the question is whether or not anyone in the LGBTQ community will care?