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.


4 thoughts on “From Paint-by-Number to Rembrandt

  1. Well, Paula, this again clarifies my own thinking. I am newer to transition, and while I have faith that it’s change for the great, it is still unsettling. I likened it to a break with reality, but in a good way; a chick exiting the eggshell.

    Thank you for what you do and are. Be well!


  2. I’ve only ever been female and, from age 16 to middle age, only evangelical … and, until relatively recently, I was also one of those black-and-white-thinking, systematics-loving, rationalist moderns. Like C.S. Lewis to theism, I had to be reluctantly dragged to a more “quantum” view of things (I’ll never say “post-modern” again!). I suppose it *is* a more typically female way of thinking — though I have to say my former self would have cried “sexism” at the notion.

    A few years ago (I was somewhere along the path to quantum thinking) I experienced a Traumatic Life Event, during the coping with which it became clear to me that I would have to choose between theology and religion (Old Self: “false dichotomy!”). I chose the latter, and it has made all the difference.


  3. Another excellent, thought provoking observance. The older I get the less I know and the less I need to know. There is so much more room for the “mystery” of God and how she may work in this world. Wow, I would have never said that in our Alma Mater or in any of the churches I served. That is why I am no longer there. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”



  4. I was raised United Methodist but was strongly influenced by my Southern Baptist friends and liked it. Not until I came out as gay and moved to San Francisco did I officially become an evangelical. Mine is the opposite of the typical story. How about that? I dared to be different. Yet an evangelical Christian who was LGBT positive. The black and white are wonderful but I am learning to allow space for some gray.


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