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.