I Alone Must Decide
Last week it was my privilege to speak at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. If someone asked me to describe the Goose, I’d say it’s Woodstock meeting the coolest church camp ever! Over 3,000 people headed into the mountains of Western North Carolina for three days of camaraderie, inspiration, instruction and rain – because evidently you’re not allowed to have the Goose without rain.
On Thursday evening I told my story from the main stage. On Friday my son and I presented a workshop about my transition and its impact on our family. I was also on two other panels, but it was Thursday evening and Friday’s workshop that got me thinking. Come to think of it, a lot of the Goose got me thinking. It’s that kind of place.
Shortly before the festival I received two messages from old acquaintances taking me to task for my transition, confident I am doing great harm to others because of my disregard for the “clear” teaching of Scripture. The letters were the latest in a long string of stern reprimands from conservative Christians.
Less confronting, but in some ways more difficult, are my recent encounters with individuals with whom I worked in my previous life, good-hearted people who are now very uncomfortable in my presence. One said, “I still don’t know what I think about all of this.” Sadly, I cannot be the person to help. My friends David and Jen can help these honest questioners, but I cannot. They want Paul to help them understand it all, and Paul is no longer here. My allies are more than willing to come alongside these questioning souls, but I cannot invite them into my pastoral counseling office. I am called to speak out on transgender issues, but not to help old acquaintances come to grips with the loss of Paul. For those few who are willing to go through such pain to “cross over” with me, I am profoundly grateful.
There is an irony in all of this. On one hand, I am speaking all over the nation, preaching again, lecturing in universities, and writing for the Huffington Post. I have more influence than ever. People affirm my courage, compassion and spirit. In fact, they are offering the kindest words that have ever been spoken to me. It means so very much, because these are seasoned saints who have experienced much pain and emerged with great wisdom. I am humbled by their affirming words.
But then I also receive these stern and sad messages from those who believe I am a lost soul. They shake their heads and say, “Paul went off the tracks.” They imagine a life that is sad and lonely and full of despair. It bears no resemblance to the one I am actually living, full of friendships and purpose and joy. But from their limited worldview, it is all they can imagine.
I suppose this dichotomous response is what I should expect in an age of such polarization. My old world and new world don’t speak much. They are deeply suspicious of each other. Of course, the ultimate irony is that both claim to be following Jesus. But their messages are fundamentally different, and in the midst of the fray, I am the one who must decide which voices will carry my heart. I have made my choice.
I have decided to listen to those who love greatly, seeking first to understand before jumping to judgment. I have decided to be open to the honest questioners who are no longer comfortable being unquestionably obedient to doctrines set in stone. I have chosen to trust those whose actions show concern for the oppressed and powerless.
I have chosen to be influenced by those who have been divinely defeated, and have the scars to prove they were deemed worthy of a wrestling match with the Lord of the Universe. I have decided to follow those who believe knowledge and power mean nothing without wisdom and compassion. I have chosen to trust the ones who look the most like Jesus. Oh, I know some will say I have been deceived by Satan, but I know what I know. Love wins.
11 thoughts on “I Alone Must Decide”
I am right here with you on this journey. We are here together.
Omnia Vincit Amor!
Hi Paula, Another good story to start my day. I am happy your life is good. Enjoy the rest of your summer Best Jeri
Hi Paula, As you know, I understand what you’re going through with having comments of the ones not understanding that you are you..For you and my grandson ,I hope someday people will understand and be more understanding. I know my grandson is much happier now that he can truly be himself as well as you.. Janet Huffman
My hope is that you will be welcome in my house and neighborhood always. You have the wisdom, experience and vantage point(s) to teach my children well and good. Second, I hope that when you come, you do not have to confront former colleagues and friend who are damning.
Thank you so much Bert! You are one of the few who have chosen to “cross over” with me, and you are among the people I most respect on God’s green earth.
You have chosen well and are always a great inspiration to me. I cannot picture you being anyone but Paula.
Your current posting reminds me of a few things :
” What is to give light, must endure burning ” ( Victor Frankel )
“The Holy Spirit prays in us with sighs too deep for words ” ( Sacred scripture, unsure of line & verse )
There is great paradox in the beauty of the cross and we must simply choose to hold the Mystery. (me )
Peace to you this day and every day,
I’m from another country. Was your conference recorded? Is there a way to listen it by internet?
Paula, although your transition has put you squarely in the bullseye of public and conservative Christian opinion at a time when polarized opinions are getting even more deeply entrenched, the broader truth of the matter is that it is the scarred who prevailed through a bitter battle with self and the world, Godly but imperfect, with questions more than answers at times but confident in the answers that matter most, those who survive the “sin pointer” of the oh so righteous who are self proclaimed as being God’s more perfect creations yet denying their own fallibility, it is those of us who have encountered and battled and overcome that which Is redeemable through Jesus and greater human understanding, who possess a sometimes lonely-sometimes questioning disposition who are and are increasingly becoming my band of brothers and sisters. How can so many miss the log in your own eye teaching?
For every sinner who according to some has become a lost soul by accepting what they call sin, I am convinced that a world filled of Christians who have not forgiven and who have a shallow understanding of who God is and what His creation looks like number seventy times seven (thousand or million!) or the inverse of how many times we are required to forgive. For forgiveness is not merely a 3-word-phrase of “I forgive you” but a requirement to understand on what principle it is being forgiven, then to understand the other person, to truly live and care for them, and to stop the attitude of superiority that often accompanies these words when applied simply as a “requirement” rather than representing a true change in the heart and mind.
I have often wondered how the Christian Crusades could have taken place in history. But now I understand more clearly based on the “us versus them” mentality that is once again emerging in faith in a very justified and indignant tone. I want no part of it, and yet will stand on the side of Truth. However, we must each know for sure it is Truth, and not our own version of it for which we are standing. If not, I will just be added to the persons and churches who claim they are a Bible-believing church yet who take a stance against the other self proclaimed Bible teaching church across town. What an insecure and confused system of belief that represents. I hope to always be a seeker of the Truth versus a claimer of the Truth, or I stand the risk of making myself out to be more Godly than others or a better Chrisitan than others. What a travesty, what a misrepresentation of Jesus, and what a poisoned gospel this is becoming.
It is all so simple…until you actually are one of those who have the scars that prove the battles took place. And yet you, me, and scores of others stand with wounds of different kinds that have healed and a comfort in our own skin and our inner self that gives us hope and an emerging joy for which we can say, “I’m one step closer to home, home where I belong!”
Paula…these words touched my heart. As was the case in Queen Esther’s life, “For Such a Time Is This” for you. You are shaking the world with your truth. Thank you!