In Praise of Truth

In Praise of Truth

My cousin had an ornery streak.  One of her favorite pastimes was to draw me into a conversation in which she intentionally denied reality.  “Are you sure he was president?” she would ask.  I’d reply with exasperation, “It’s right here in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America.”  My cousin would keep baiting me, “But it’s just an encyclopedia.” Frustration growing, I’d object, “What do you mean it’s just an encyclopedia?  It’s not ‘just an encyclopedia,’ it’s the Encyclopedia Britannica.”  “Well, I don’t know what that is?  I don’t think you have any real proof Abraham Lincoln was president.”  When I finally ran out of the room in tears, my cousin would settle into her chair, satisfied.  She knew the truth was important to me.  Pushing my buttons was way too easy.

I grew up in an environment in which I was frequently told what was convenient, not what was true.  It was exasperating.  I would repeat information I had received from sources I trusted, and see it met with laughter.  A child’s world is not safe when they are not told the truth.  Since the earliest days of my childhood I have carried a driving desire to know the truth.

In my forties I began to question the notion of objective truth.  Quantum physics had shown objective truth to not be so objective.  The scientist, with his purposes, was a part of the equation.  Subatomic particles acted differently depending on whether the scientist was observing them or not.  Therefore I replaced the notion of objective truth with the notion of rigorous inter-subjective truth.  Okay, I see you yawning there.  I’ll move on.

I believe Jesus when he said the truth will set you free.  My pursuit of truth has served me well.  It caused me to reject the unverifiable religious claims of fundamentalism, to abandon the racism I had been taught, and to come to grips with the reality of my gender dysphoria.

You can imagine how maddening it has been to deal with an evangelical world that has shown little interest in the true nature of gender dysphoria.  They triumphantly quote Genesis 1:27 as though it is a sufficient statement to dismiss the reality of me.  “God made them male and female, and that is that.”  Except that isn’t that.  There are dozens of intersex conditions, but that hasn’t stopped evangelicals from behaving as though Genesis proves otherwise.  When it comes to all things transgender, it is painfully obvious most evangelicals have little interest in doing the work necessary to discern the truth.

Over the past week my frustration with the disregard for truth has skyrocketed.  We have stepped through the looking glass and arrived in a world that is upside down and inside out.  Richard Rorty predicted it.  George Orwell described it.  Neil Postman warned us about it, and Lesslie Newbigin explained how it would infiltrate our religious traditions. And now it has arrived.

From the highest office in the land, we have people repeatedly lying about clearly verifiable facts, and apparently a large segment of the population does not seem to care.  “Alternative facts” are presented as legitimate claims on reality, and those who protest are accused of cynicism and arrogance.  That a handful of people would support such disregard for the truth is not surprising.  But we’re talking about millions.

Please tell me I am wrong.  Please tell me most Americans feel the truth has not become as irrelevant as an old encyclopedia.  But you’re not going to tell me that, because you know the truth.

I take solace in being a part of a very large contingent of Americans committed to testifying to the truth. Last weekend our nation saw what the The Washington Post called possibly the largest single protest in the history of the United States.  Just 72 hours ago, in over 20 airports around the nation, thousands of Americans rose up in support of immigrants and refugees yearning to be free.  Not one act of terrorism has been committed in the United States by immigrants from any of the seven nations affected by the immigration ban enacted last Friday.  Those are the facts.

I refuse to be a part of a compliant society that does little more than shrug in the face of egregious lies.  That is how tyrants rise.  I refuse to be complacent as people repeat lies time and again, hoping the sheer repetition will spin their lies into the perception of truth. That is how innocent people are slaughtered.  I will cry for the truth, even if my blog posts get a total of 12 readers.  I will fight for the truth, because the truth matters, and it will set us free.

And so it goes.

unknown-1

 

Advertisements

Then Sunday Came

Then Sunday Came

On January 21 I joined four friends and walked the couple of miles to the start of the Women’s March in Denver. Our conversation was light, but our resolve was strong. We walked with purpose and joined the march a hundred yards behind it’s leaders. Estimates put the crowd somewhere between 125,000 and 175,000.

Though I came of age during the demonstrations of the Vietnam War, this was my first march. Back then I sat comfortably in my white, male, entitled, draft-exempt world wondering what all the fuss was about. Though it was decades later, I did the same thing with the Million Man March. Dear God, forgive me.

I know many Christians were unhappy right to life groups were excluded from sponsoring the march. What made the event so effective was that it was not the brainchild of any one group. Therefore, excluding one group was in poor taste, whatever one’s position on abortion. I was also concerned that not enough women of color were involved. But a long time ago I gave up expecting well-meaning humans to be anything but messy, so if anybody gets it 80 percent right, I’m in.

Joining over two million women in 600 cities across the globe was exhilarating. There was a gentle spirit in the crowd, and a collective wisdom. We were angry, to be sure, but I heard only a handful of curse words and very little hate-filled rhetoric. These were women doing what women do, working together to solve a problem. That was Saturday. Then Sunday came.

When one of my fellow marchers got home from church on Sunday she bundled up in a blanket on the couch and headed to the volatile world of social media. My friend is smart and generally knows better than to go places where trolls are lurking. She was overwhelmed by the volume of vitriol, women lambasting other women who chose to join their sisters in a peaceful protest. A high percentage of the verbal attackers were white evangelicals. As another of my Highlands Church friends posted on Facebook yesterday, “Hello, did Mean Girls teach us nothing?”

I expected this kind of response to me personally when I transitioned. I was the first leader from my sizeable religious tribe to come out as transgender. There is always a special hatred reserved for those who are first. Just ask Hilary. I knew people would attack. The anger turned out to be far greater than I anticipated, but I figured, “I’m a big girl, I can handle it.” But I wasn’t prepared for the newly discovered power of social media, particularly Facebook. The hate that spewed forth from that medium was almost more than I could bear.

Two weeks ago I spoke with Gene Robinson, the first openly gay man to be elected as a bishop in the Episcopal Church. We were both speakers at this year’s Gay Christian Network conference. After one session Gene talked with me about the cumulative effect of years of having been attacked. He said, “You stand firm on the outside, but inside it’s not so easy. It accumulates.” I took it as a gentle warning that maybe I don’t know half the price I am going to pay for having exploded the narrative in my little neck of the woods.

Just yesterday I was talking with another well-known Christian leader who has received more than her share of hate mail. She said, “You stand strong in the day, but then you wake up in the middle of the night…” Her voice trailed off. She knows too. It takes a toll when people hate you.

I make no apologies for being unhappy Donald Trump is president. He propagates falsehood and shows little regard for the powerless. His attitude toward women is deplorable and his excoriation of entire people groups is inexcusable. I protest his presidency on biblical grounds. The bible teaches us to love our enemies, welcome immigrants, and treat all humans with respect. By protesting Saturday, I believe I was following the example of Jesus. But unhappy as I am with our new president, that is not why I am writing this particular post.

I am afraid the lack of civil discourse exhibited in the aftermath of the women’s march is one more tragic example of a parasite that could eat up our nation from the inside, destroying its soul in a way no external enemy could ever do. It does not matter whether the source of hateful rhetoric comes from the right or the left, it is just plain wrong.

When Facebook becomes a tool utilized by the masses to attack any tribe but their own, we have a problem. When the attackers are evangelical women attacking other Christian women, we begin to understand just how deeply this behavior has become woven into the fabric of our nation.

Unlike when I transitioned, the women who marched on Saturday did not know they had to build barricades to protect themselves from hurled insults. They did not know they needed to compile resources to prepare themselves for the verbal onslaught. If they had watched the Civil Rights movement they might have been better prepared, but for many who marched, there was not enough awareness of that pivotal time. Therefore, many of the women were sitting ducks, unprepared for the words so easily formed on the keys of a computer screen and delivered instantly, without benefit of edit, and without having to look anyone in the eye.  Sticks and stones break bones. Words break beings.

To my sisters, please be kind. I am afraid you are taking your cues from angry white men instead of listening to your own hearts. You took an effective tool of democratic societies for centuries, a peaceful protest, and turned it into an attack against you. I’ve only been a woman for a short period of time, but long enough to know that outside of an eighth grade classroom, this is not normal female behavior.

When I was a young leader I once had to let an older employee go. I had never terminated an employee, so I asked our attorney for a script I could use, which I read, without emotion. The employee was gracious. He said, “Well I am not happy, but this will go better if we can both be nice.” That man has long since left this earth, but I will never forget his words. Or as the late Rodney King so memorably said, “Can’t we all just get along?”

And so it goes.

img_2770

 

A Group of Very Brave People

A Group of Very Brave People

As I wrote last week, it was my privilege to attend the 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I shared my testimony at the Women’s preconference, gave a keynote address at the main conference, conducted a workshop, and handled a few other responsibilities over four and a half days.*  It might have been a cold week in January, but I left town warm to my core.

Fifteen years ago Justin Lee started an online presence in which gay Christians could interact with one another and find bread for the journey. With the passing of time GCN became a vibrant ministry that touches the lives of thousands.

I first met Justin in October of 2015 at the PFLAG national convention. For several years I had watched him from afar, impressed with his intelligence, his irenic spirit, and his sensitivity to varied theological perspectives.  We talked for hours at the PFLAG event and barely three months later I found myself speaking at the Houston GCN Conference.  Shortly thereafter I joined the board of GCN.

The ministry of GCN is varied. Not only do we conduct the largest LGBTQ Christian conference in the world, we also have a robust online presence, educational resources for LGBTQ individuals and their families, and later in 2017, conferences for LGBTQ parents and LGBTQ teens. Our hard-working board is committed to developing a growing organization with strong financial health, thoughtful and progressive commentary, and a commitment to meeting needs far and wide.

Earlier this week I was talking with the worship pastor of an OPEN Network church as he reminisced about the isolation that existed within his former evangelical world. He said, “Everyone you meet has siblings, parents and grandparents in ministry. It seems incestuous.” The evangelical world certainly is insular. If you are on the inside of one of the many evangelical tribes, you are well cared for and assured of a place at the table, but only as long as you keep its spoken and unspoken rules.

In the 1980s I first tested the boundaries of my particular evangelical tribe when I decided to attend a Roman Catholic study group. My boss said, “Be careful. They might cause you to lose your way.” That particular study group did cause me to lose my way, which then allowed me to find my way past the parameters of my evangelical background. That Catholic group was a gift on my way toward authentic living.

Many of those who attend the GCN Conference did not have the benefit of a way station on their journey out of restrictive evangelicalism. Having outed themselves, or having been outed, or being the parent of a child who was gay, these people were stripped of their credentials and left on the spiritual streets with no place to call home. They did not have the theological and educational opportunities available to me. They did not have a small group that eased them out of fundamentalism. One day they were in. The next they were out.

These recipients of evangelical judgment arrive in scores at the GCN Conference, desperate to hear a good word, any good word, that will assure them they have not been forgotten by God. For four days every January the conference is a spiritual safe haven. Some in attendance believe it is wrong for a gay person to have an intimate relationship with another gay person, and have decided to live celibate lives. Others do not hold that conviction. Inclusivity is at the core of GCN, and room is held for both groups.

Over the past few years GCN has also developed a focus on the needs of the transgender population, as evidenced by transgender keynote speakers in each of the last two conferences, and my presence on the GCN board.  As we become aware of the needs of marginalized groups, it is our desire to serve them.

On two occasions I had the opportunity to present a keynote address at the national convention of the evangelical tribe of which I was once a part. I was honored to be able to do so. However, last week’s opportunity was markedly different. At one I spoke as a white man with power and status. At the other I spoke as a transgender woman without power or status. I spoke to thousands of others who have been cast out of their spiritual homes, yet remain committed to Christ. The price they paid for their faithfulness to their identity is great, yet they abound in grace toward those who will no longer worship with them. I was humbled to be in their presence, and have much to learn from their experience of rejection and their gracious forgiveness.

It is not often you have the opportunity to go from a position among the powerful, to a place of lost privilege, to a new position of even greater influence.  I thank God for the blessings that have been bestowed upon my life, and I pray I will have the wisdom to discharge my new responsibilities with both confidence and humility.  GCN and the broader Christian community are deserving of nothing less.

And so it goes.

*If you are interested, you can watch my keynote presentation at youtube.com/gaychristiannetwork. Click on videos and go to Session #2 from the GCN 2017 Conference. The message begins 53 minutes into the video. Within a few weeks the video will have been edited to include just the message, but for now it is a video of the entire streamed service.

subhero_about

Reflections on the 2017 GCN Conference

Reflections on the 2017 GCN Conference

I walked off the stage as the noise of the crowd gathered. They applauded, then stood. I was shocked. I felt all right about my keynote message, but I knew it wasn’t my best. I have had a fair number of standing ovations over the years, though certainly more in the last three years than in all the others combined. Is it because I have become a more compelling speaker? Is it the generosity of the audiences I encounter? Is it because I risked everything to be who I am? I suppose it might be a little of each.

Your shadows shorten when you stop hiding. In my later years as a male it always felt like sunset, with long thin shadows falling off my wrong body as the sun slipped behind the mountains. In the darkest hours I was too exhausted to cast shadows, even in a full moon.

The effects of hiding accumulate, even when the hiding is an outgrowth of love for your family. You do not want to explode their narrative. For land’s sake, you don’t even want to explode the narratives in which you are only a bit player. Life is capricious enough without having a husband, father, boss or friend confound things further by changing genders. But there comes a time when you realize you have no choice in these matters. You will either die or become so diminished you can no longer be counted upon, or possibly even found.

Later, after you are alive again, you realize how perilous the journey was, your life hanging by a thread. No wonder people listened for the engine to turn off when you came into the garage. But then you forget those perilous days, because the order of misery tucked inside misery gets lost in the remembering. Eventually life resumes, and if you can take in its lesson, you have more wisdom, grace and power than before. You have been blessed through your trials.

When the service ended, I was surrounded by those eager to express their gratitude. I have spoken before larger crowds, but I have never received such thanks. It was overwhelming. I needed to retreat to my hotel room to collect my thoughts and take stock of my feelings. When I opened the door, there was my roommate, nestled in her bed, covers up to her neck, a look of consternation on her expressive face.

I sat down on the bed and we began to talk about her morning and mine. I settled onto the floor and finished the remainder of a chopped salad from the evening before. Our conversation was grounding. Her honesty and openness is such a gift to my life. Grounding is important in these uncertain times, when it is possible to awaken to a land in which a misogynist has been elected president.

After our talk I stood at the bathroom mirror and thought, “Yeah, I probably should have checked my hair one last time before I got up in front of 1400 people.” Then I headed down for a delightful interview with two women from Marquette University who are doing a qualitative study on how churches interact with LGBTQ members. I thought, “Where have these kinds of people been all my life?”

Next was a follow-up Q&A from the morning’s keynote presentation. I spoke from the overflow about subjects with which I am acquainted; the American evangelical church; tribal behavior; what the Bible does and does not say about LGBTQ issues; the importance of good exegesis and a healthy hermeneutic. There were lots of thoughtful questions from a gracious audience.

By five o’clock the conversations had accumulated and I was spent. With each message of thanks I had asked a little about those offering their appreciation. As I might have expected, these people were survivors of unspeakable injustice. Their very presence was a testament to the tenacity of their souls and resilience in their hearts. I had spoken to a room full of walking wounded.

Of course, I have always preached to a room full of walking wounded. What made this room different was the fact these people had dared to be open about their wounds. Then they moved beyond them, no longer ensnared by a narrative kept silent. For such integrity and courage, they were rejected. Yet they wore their hard-fought character on their faces. I wept for these people who heard me speak the words they would have spoken if only they could have found them? I had offered words that caused them to say, “Yes, yes, that is my story!” It was an honor.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the evangelical world is frightened by these precious beings. If Jesus had wandered onto earth this past Friday, I think there’s a fair chance he would have been at the GCN Conference listening to my message, without judgment. (Well, he might have had a suggestion or two about my stories from the Gospels. I mean, he was there and all.)

I am sorry I did not speak up sooner on behalf of these courageous souls. For too many years I was hiding in the shadows, an entitled part of the majority, a privileged person attuned to the suffering within my own soul, but deaf to the suffering around me. But this is not a time for regret. Work must be done. There is a world waiting for good news.

When I reflect on the 2017 GCN Conference, I will remember all those good people with whom I spoke, like the beautiful red-haired, green-eyed mother who told me of her gratitude that someone, finally, understood her story. I will treasure the precious conversations with my dear friend, as we talked far too late into the night and slept far too little. I will think upon the few minutes stolen with Lisa Salazar and Austen Hartke, talking about our common journey. I will be grateful for Justin Lee, his coworkers, and my fellow board members willing to work so hard to make GCN strong and vibrant.

To all those people and 1,400 more, I say thank you. I can’t wait to do it all again in Denver, January 25-28, 2018.

And so it goes.

gcn-conference-1