Dips and Turns and Twists, Oh My!

Dips and Turns and Twists, Oh My!

From my apartment in Denver, my run south along the Platte River takes me past Twister II, the 10-story rollercoaster at Elitch Gardens. On summer afternoons I hear delighted screams as I jog along the busy South Platte Trail. I have not ridden on Twister II. I do not like rollercoasters. I live on one.

My life includes a daily dose of extremes. I preached this past weekend at Denver Community Church and received the warmest of welcomes. Later today, Colorado Public Radio will play portions of my DCC sermon on their Colorado Matters program. A few months ago the senior pastor and I were interviewed on CPR. They wanted to do a follow-up to the story. I am honored.

Since the Denver Post and New York Times articles were published last month, I have received a steady stream of encouraging cards, notes, emails and Facebook messages from all over the world. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of more than a dozen right wing media outlets, the same articles brought an equal number of attacks.

Shortly after the articles were published, the national convention of my former denomination took place. From the response I received, it was obvious a number of people had seen the articles.  Some felt the need to write and offer variations on the theme, “Shame on you!” Others wrote to apologize for not having been in touch sooner.

A couple of weeks ago I received a scathing letter from a former co-worker, yet last week I was invited to dinner by another former co-worker who served at the same church.  Back in January one old friend said he was going to come and see me, but I haven’t heard a peep from him in six months.  On the other hand, another old friend just showed up unannounced at a church in Cincinnati where I was speaking.  She had her grandson in tow.

As I said, my life is a rollercoaster.  It is not unusual to be attacked by one person and encouraged by another, all within the same hour.

If you are transgender, America is a place of extremes. All too often it is the land of the brave, but it is not the land of the free. We are not free to use whatever restroom we like. We are not free to attend whatever church we desire. We are not free to keep our jobs and find good employment. We are not free to keep our evangelical friends.  We are not free to live wherever we like.

Yet, I am free. I am free to be me. I am free to run along the South Platte Trail. I am free to spend time with some of the closest friends I have ever had. I am free to plant a church with co-workers I adore for their courage and faith and passion and honesty. I am free to serve with the leaders of Highlands Church who have brought me back from the brink of leaving the church for good. I am free to hug my children and grandchildren and former spouse who have warmly embraced me through their pain.

My high school classmate, Junior Huffman, always used to say, “Life is what you make of it.” I rode my bike for 2.5 hours today, and somehow ended up with a leak in the water bottle attached to my bike frame. By the time I stopped for a drink, almost half the water was gone. But you know what? What remained was more than enough to get me home.

And so it goes.

Just Frustrated

Just Frustrated

Okay, previously it has been amusing, but now I am just frustrated. Since I became a woman, no one takes me seriously!

Last week I was in my Denver bike shop when a summer employee offered his assistance. I asked if an aging Gary Fisher Hi-Fi Deluxe frame could flex enough with age to cause a rear disk break to rub. The young man began to explain why rear disc brakes usually rub. I told him I know why rear disk brakes usually rub; that wasn’t my question. I was asking if an aging aluminum frame could flex too much. He proceeded to tell me that my brakes needed to be adjusted periodically. I told him I knew that, and in fact did my own adjustments. He said the rotor was probably bent. I told him the rotor was not bent; I had checked it. I said, “I was not asking if my rotor was bent. I was asking about frame flex.” With condescension he replied, “Well ma’am, what do you want me to do?” I said, “I want you to answer my question.”

Finally the owner of the shop stepped in. He said, “Yes, that is more than likely exactly what is happening. Are you only getting a chirp when you pull hard uphill?” I told him I was, and he kindly explained that the problem was likely to continue until I got a new bike. The problem is frame flex caused by metal fatigue. That is all I wanted to know! But no!! Mr. Summer Employee had to treat me as though I had never been on anything but a flowered banana bike with a basket on the front bumper.

Evidently, I have become stupid. Estrogen has stripped my brain of the number of cells necessary to function as a full human, and now I must be “mansplained” to until the good Lord calls me home. Well, here is what is going to happen. The next male that mansplains to me is going to be prematurely called home. I am going to grab him by his golf-shirted collar and lift him into the air like a side of beef. Then I am going to throw him against the wall and inform him in no uncertain terms that I know what the *$%# I am talking about, and that if he doesn’t know the answer to his question, he needs to admit it. Then I will tell him that admitting I might know more than he knows will not make his penis shrink; it will just make him human.

So there is a deeper problem developing. The more I am told I don’t know what I am talking about, the more I question whether or not I do, in fact, know what I am talking about! I understand a woman’s tendency to doubt herself. After millennia of being told they didn’t know better, it is hard for women to realize that they almost always KNOW BETTER.

I do not claim membership in the club of cisgendered women, those who have unfortunately been subjected to this mansplaining madness since their earliest days. In fact, according to a reliable source, my former wife, I was guilty of mansplaining. What I do know is that after several years as Paula, I am amazed, completely amazed, at the way I am routinely treated by men.

Most men have no idea I am transgender. Unless they know my story, they assume I am a tall post-menopausal woman. In other words, I am of no interest whatsoever to them. I may as well be a frog on a log, croaking into the night.

I wrote on Facebook about my experience at the bike shop and received over one hundred responses. I think three or four were from men. The rest were from women, most of whom have decided to ignore the incessant mansplaining and just move on.

To all of you who knew me as Paul, I AM SO SORRY if I ever mansplained to you. I owe you a great debt of gratitude for not baking me a pie with ingredients that included organic matter.

As for the owner of the bike shop who finally answered my question, God bless you, my son. God bless you and your children and your children’s children. May your family rise up and call you blessed.

And so it goes…

What Am I Missing Now?

What Am I Missing Now?

Eugene Peterson has gotten himself into a bit of a bind. His interview with Jonathan Merritt was wonderful. On the other hand, the retraction had dollar signs and power struggles written all over it. Peterson is 84 and he’s done so much for so many. From me, he gets a free pass. I’ll still read his books.  As for LifeWay and the other Evangelical power brokers who gave him a very, very bad day, there will be no free passes. They are but one of the reasons I am no longer an evangelical.

For years I lived on Long Island, where there are exactly 12 evangelicals and four million Catholics. From the time I arrived in the spring of 1979, all of my friends would screw their faces into contortions when I attempted to explain “who’s in and who’s out” in the world of evangelicalism. You had to be an expert in theological mazes to decipher the code. My Long Island friends weren’t having it. I thank God for them. Their cognitive dissonance was the beginning of my journey away from the machinations of evangelical Christianity.

As for LGBTQ issues, the kind that got Peterson in trouble, for years I kept my mouth shut. I gave no interviews and made no pronouncements. I approved lesbians for adoption in the secular casework I did on the side, but in the evangelical world I avoided the subject. I thought I was doing the right thing. We were doing important things that needed important dollars to bring about important results.

Yeah, I was wrong.

It is my privilege to serve on the board of the Gay Christian Network. I read Justin Lee’s wonderful book, Torn, when I was still Paul. I have seen the thousands of gay Christians who grace our annual conference, and I have heard their stories of rejection. Just last week I had dinner with a therapist who told me of two suicides of young adults the therapist had heard about recently, both former transgender clients. The hatred wore them down.

Christianity is all about flesh and blood and bones and sinew. It is God-breathed flesh and blood beings who die when we tell them they are going to hell because of our interpretation of a few sentences in a series of 66 books of which we don’t have the original copy of any. To an outsider it looks like ancient words on a written page mean more than incarnate humans. It looks that way because it is that way.

The work we were doing that needed important dollars so we could bring about important results wasn’t all that important, because it did not affirm the love of God for all people. On this subject, it is painfully difficult to admit my own failure.

Ironically, I am now doing the same work I did before I transitioned, but with pretty much no dollars. I am not worried. The church we are planting and the national church planting ministry we are starting will welcome all people. LGBTQ leaders will be at the forefront. No evangelical dollars will flow to these ventures, and that is as it should be. The necessary funds will come appropriately, from the heart, beyond the reach of the evangelical gatekeepers.

In my earlier life I was willing to ignore what my heart knew to be true because it was expedient. Knowing that truth, how on earth could I hold any animosity toward Eugene Peterson? It is not Eugene Peterson I am worried about. It is Paula I am worried about. I know what I missed before. What am I missing now?

What Now Do You Ask of Me?

What Now Do You Ask of Me?

Two nights ago I was clearing files from my Macbook when I found three videos of my days as a television host.  One was a show on which I was an executive producer.  The second was an outdoor video we shot at Canyonlands National Park.  The third was a show about classical music shot in an empty concert hall in Knoxville.  In all three I was the on-air host.  Watching the videos put me in a reflective mood.

Our national television program was on the air from 1992 through 2013.  During most of those years we were in 70 markets around the nation.  I loved my time in television, particularly the 15 years I spent on air.  I loved the challenge of shooting in nature, where it was imperative that when there were finally no external distractions, the host better nail the “read.”  The days were long and hard, but incredibly satisfying.

After enjoying  the videos, I started thinking about the person who appeared on camera.  I know that man.  I have warm feelings toward him, and the life he lived.  I know how hard he tried to get it right, and how often he missed the mark.  I like that man, but I do not want to be him.  I know how hard he struggled.  And I know that man was called to move on.

Still, I was proud of the work I had done.  Yesterday morning I showed one of the videos to two of my coworkers.  One recognized in short order that the video was of me.  He has seen pictures of Paul.  The other wondered why I was showing her a video about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  She’s not seen a picture of Paul.   To be known only as the woman I am is gratifying.  But there was an ancillary sadness.  I was proud of that work, yet my friend did not know it was me on camera talking about Beethoven’s Ninth.

I puzzled over my feelings for the remainder of the day.  Late in the evening I called my friend Jennifer who lives on the left coast and was still awake.  I told her of my struggle and identified it as an issue of transgender integration.  That is not where her thoughts took her.  Jennifer talked about Genesis 12:1, when God called Abram to leave his old life and enter a new land, “I will show you.”

As soon as she referenced Genesis 12:1, I knew the truth of her words.  Yesterday’s struggle was not about integration.  It was about call.  The call of God is always from something comfortable and known to something unseen and unknown.  God did not say to Abram, “Come to this land that is right here on the other side of the fence.”  The call of God is always to a land yet to be seen.  And often, traveling to that land means leaving a good life behind.

In yesterday’s case it was good work once seen by thousands (if not millions) but now sitting in a videotape canister God knows where.  Good work from a previous call, but not my current call.  The work of this call is still in production, unedited.  The land to which I am called is barely in view, and only through a glass darkly.

I was called to be Paula.  I was called back to the church.  Now I am called back to ministry in the local church.  I also feel strongly called to stand in support of the women (and men, but mostly the women) who will bring the heart of Christ and wisdom of the Spirit back into the life of the church.  The church desperately needs their female guidance.

When Odysseus returned to Ithaca he did not get to remain for long before he was called by a blind prophet onto another journey, inland this time, with nothing but an oar for company.  Apparently this is the way of those willing to accept the call of God.  (For we are all called.  That is not the question.  The question is whether or not we accept our call.)  There will not be just one call.  There will be more.  Sometimes I wonder if they are even bound by time.  I do not wonder, however, about the proper response:

“Yes, God, what now do you ask of me.”

On Wings of Eagles

On Wings of Eagles

It is the day before July 4. I am sitting on the back patio of our beautiful Colorado home where I have been watching a golden eagle soar high above the ridge behind the house. I marvel at her beauty and grace as she rides the currents, eyes fixed on the ground below.  This is the first season I have seen her on the ridge, bringing her serenity into my busy life.

Since the recent articles in the New York Times and Denver Post, I could use the serenity.  It’s been quite a whirlwind.  Of all the emails and messages I have received, I am bothered most by the accusations I have abandoned my faith. The truth is my faith is stronger than ever, riding the currents of hope, love and compassion. I have not left my faith, but I have declared my independence from evangelicalism. When a certain brand of Christianity reviles you for being who you are, you are inclined to examine its doctrines and practices. I had begun that process before my transition. It accelerated after I was expelled from within its ranks.

I bristle when people say I am no longer a Christian, for my belief in the message of Jesus is unrelenting. Not only do I believe in Jesus; I believe in the church. In fact, I believe in the church so much I am going back into local church ministry.

I made my way to Highlands Church in the summer of 2015. That first Sunday I knew I was home. For the next two years I began to unlearn what an evangelical male pastor knows. I began to understand what it means to be a woman in ministry. To put it mildly, the difference is massive. When your entire career is spent with no women in leadership (how many places is that true nowadays?) you don’t exactly learn to see with a feminine eye, or become aware of the extent of your misogyny. It’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s just that you don’t know what you don’t know. I had a lot to unlearn. Still do.

About a year ago I began leading the Highlands church planting team, doing what I had done for decades. When it was time to hire pastors for a new church Highlands was planting in Boulder County, Mark Tidd, our founding pastor, said, “Paula, it’s not too late to put your name in the hat.” I cried for a while. In fact, I believe Mark might have gone home, had dinner and returned before I stopped crying. For the third time in my life, I knew I had been called.

So, I am joining my two good friends, Jen Jepsen and Aaron Bailey, as pastors of a new church. Aaron, a successful entrepreneur and member at Highlands, sold his company and began looking for the next big thing. Little did he know God would tell him the next big thing was planting a church! Jen Jepsen, a former member of the megachurch where I once preached, found me after I transitioned and said, “I think I am supposed to plant an open and affirming church in Boulder County.” Even though I discouraged her because of the massive amount of work involved, I knew she was called, and I knew God had sent her to inform me that I too had been called.

Now here we are, the three of us, getting ready to launch a new church. (More staff will be hired in the future.) We’re already holding dinners, starting study groups and joining social justice teams as we look for a place to meet on Sundays. Weekly services will begin next spring. The last time I planted a church was in 1984 in Brooklyn, New York. I was twelve. (Yeah, I’m goin’ with that, twelve.) And here I am again, feeling the call of God so firmly I can hardly contain myself.

Life takes twists and turns and doubles back on itself often enough. It is the way of the Spirit. In my previous life I turned down offers to be the senior pastor of more than one megachurch. Now here I stand, ready to join Jen and Aaron and the people at Highlands in starting the opposite of a megachurch, a new church. Only God knows what is in store.

If you live in or near Boulder County, Colorado, and you are looking for a church that is a truly welcoming place for all, get ready, it is coming. On wings of eagles, it is coming.