Of Floods and Humans

Floods and Humans

On September 12, 2013, the town in which I live, Lyons, Colorado, experienced a devastating flood (pictured below) from which we still, four years later, have not fully recovered.  Over 125 houses were destroyed and two bridges I regularly used were obliterated.  Neither has yet been rebuilt.  It will be a decade before the effects of the flood are erased.  Because of the lack of basic utilities, Cathy and I were out of our undamaged home for two months.  As difficult as the experience was, the overall memories are not negative.

On Friday, the day after the flood, I received a phone call from a FEMA representative offering to meet me in the Longmont Walmart at 10:00 AM on Saturday.  There I received a $1,000 check to cover hotel expenses for the next seven days.  I don’t even know how FEMA knew to contact us.  All told we received over $4,000 in help for housing and repairs, which covered about half of our costs.  FEMA and the Salvation Army were amazing.  Individual citizens, churches, non-profits and governmental agencies were extraordinarily caring.  Major corporations were less so.

The apartment complex in which we temporarily located, Camden Interlocken, was tone deaf to the needs of their many temporary residents, refusing to break leases when people were finally free to return to their homes.  Mortgage companies refused to waive late fees when people had no ability to get to their checkbooks in their inaccessible homes.  Unfortunately, too much of corporate America behaved exactly as you would imagine, soulless.

The people of Texas are in the midst of devastation that is unprecedented, yet I have no doubt their experience will be similar to ours.  There will be a minority of carpetbaggers, but those negative experiences will be overwhelmed by the kindness of thousands who will arrive with hands and hearts full of love.  It will give the weary residents hope that in spite of their extraordinary trials, most humans are, in fact, altruistic.

America needs that message.  The mood in our nation is exactly as I expected it to be when the election turned out as it did.  We are more divided than we have ever been.  Our president is without moral authority.  From his unacceptable comments about Charlottesville to his disappointing exclusion of transgender individuals from military service, this one human has done more damage in seven months than most could accomplish in a lifetime.

And yet, as the tragedy in Texas tells us, most Americans, even those who support 45, are far better people than this president whose time shall soon pass.  The resilience the residents of Texas have shown and will continue to show will not only take them through this time of tragedy, it will serve as a reminder that our nation is more than what we see in Washington.  It will not be the politicians who bring comfort to Texas.  It will be the American people.

As frightened as I am of losing more rights than I have already lost, and as weary as I am from the attacks that continue from the religious right, I am not losing hope, because everywhere I turn I see good people who, in spite of the mayhem, are loving well.

Last weekend I gave the keynote speech at the leadership retreat of the  Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boulder Valley.  I was impressed by the compassion, love and commitment to the rights of all people exhibited by these leaders who, incidentally, are considered lost by their evangelical neighbors.  They welcomed my knowledge and wisdom that had once been welcomed by the megachurches a stone’s throw away, churches that would no longer allow me through their doors, let alone instruct their leaders.

Jesus was right.  By their fruit you will know them.  The leaders at the Boulder Valley Unitarian Universalist Church; the Salvation Army workers who stayed for months after our flood until the last person needing a meal had been served; the thousands of rescue workers and everyday citizens who will rise to meet the needs of the residents of Texas; these are the real followers of Jesus.  The pretenders, whether corporate or political or religious, are just pretenders.

And so it goes.

Even the Broken Pieces

Even the Broken Pieces

Sometimes you just need someone to express in words what you would express if only you could call forth your own thoughts.  Could I speak those words?

This past weekend it was my privilege to preach at Highlands Church. My sermon was done on Wednesday and memorized by Friday morning. On Saturday I was busy all day until 9:30, when I first opened my computer and saw the headlines in the New York Times. I had a late evening phone conversation scheduled, but I knew when the call was over I needed to rewrite my message. I started the rewrite at 11:00 and ended at about 1:15. I finished memorizing the changes early Sunday morning and was ready to preach by the 9:00 AM service. Sunday afternoon one of my friends asked for a written copy of the sermon. I wrote back, “Ain’t none.” The changes I had made never made it onto my computer, though they remain seared in my memory.

The mood at Highlands was somber, as you would expect in a church whose mission is “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”   Highlands is a church born in moral courage, so acknowledging the white supremacist terrorism of the previous day was essential. So was naming the increasing inflammatory rhetoric from a rogue nation and two world leaders whose ego needs are so much greater than their ego strength. We prayed. Then I shared the Highlands ethos:

Married, divorced and single here, it’s one family that mingles here.
Conservative and liberal here, we’ve all gotta give a little here.
Big and small here, there’s room for us all here.
Doubt and believe here, we all can receive here.
LGBTQ and straight here, there’s no hate here
Woman and man here, everyone can here.
Whatever your race here, for all of us grace here.
In imitation of the ridiculous love Almighty God has for each of us and all of us, let us live and love without labels!                  TMMark Tidd, Highlands Church Denver. May be used with permission.

As I revised my message on Saturday evening, I thought about all the churches from which I had been ostracized. How would they respond the next morning? Would their pastors rise with courage and speak pointedly against racism with the enthusiasm with which they had spoken pointedly against me? After all, white supremacy has not exactly been a hot topic in evangelical circles. Many of the churches whose pulpits I used to grace would prefer to talk about which bathroom I should use than speak about the racism in their midst. How many would proclaim, “All lives matter,” instead of saying, “Black lives matter?” Would they have a clue that “All lives matter” ignores the reality of their white privilege? 

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, Paula. Do you really understand the depth of your own white privilege? Do you really understand what your daughter and three granddaughters and son-in-law and daughter-in-law face every single day? Sure, you’ve received your share of vitriol over the past few years, but they’ve been subjected to it their entire lives. Who are you to think you know anything about being treated unfairly? Your male privilege might be diminished, but your white privilege remains.” Even in the midst of tragedy, my own arrogant judgment had been at work, protesting sermons that hadn’t even been preached yet.

I fell to my knees. What word could I speak to the good people of Highlands, those precious souls whose own struggles are so often greater than my own? What could I say that might release the emotions they were feeling? Who was I to think I had anything to say at all?

Before I went to bed I decided to close my message with the words my father had spoken when I first met him as Paula. As I left his little Kentucky apartment, my father embraced me and said, “I don’t have to understand this. I just have to choose to love you.”

This is how we will heal our broken land. This is how we will heal the nations. One person at a time, loving imperfectly, with one’s whole heart, even the broken pieces.

 And so it goes.

Free Indeed

Free Indeed

Last Saturday I was having dinner with a wise and intelligent acquaintance. Through the course of the evening we talked about a myriad of subjects.  One stayed with me until morning. As we spoke of the spiritual awakening we see unfolding, occasionally within the church but more often outside, she said, “The second coming will be the rise of the conscious feminine.” I asked what she meant and received a thoughtful response that left me pondering the prophetic voices of several women who have come into my life and nurtured me  into greater fullness.  I was reminded of the words a friend recently relayed to me:

As I thought of you on the drive home I reflected on your history and what you represent. You, in many ways, ARE the patriarchal lineage of the church. Certainly you carry that within, with your long heritage of generations of ministry and the closeness of your family to the fabric of the church. Your transition, then, can really be seen as a metaphor for what God is doing at this time in our history. It’s really quite beautiful and my sense is that creating you the way God has is no accident. 

I am happy to speak out on transgender issues when opportunities arise, but my calling has always been to the church. The manner in which that calling is being made manifest is proving to be a lesson in courage and humility.

I am no longer afraid of speaking truth to power. I am no longer frightened of losing my employment, or my friends, or my church. I have learned if you do what is right and are willing to accept the consequences, you can sleep at night.

Having survived my necessary defeat, I am free to listen to the call of the Spirit. The message about the patriarchal lineage of the church was in an email I received in June. Because of its power, the email remains at the top of my inbox, just beneath another powerful email I received last November, shortly after the election:

We are grieving and we need to grieve. It comes in waves and the men don’t seem to need to – only the women and minorities. So we will. We will grieve well, we will grieve complete, we will grieve because something fundamental to who we are as a people, as a nation, has died. We can discuss the rising later, it’s too soon. This is the middle Saturday. And you are amazing and fabulous and going to rise to partner with this world – when it’s time. 

When you are unencumbered by fear, the call of the Spirit is amplified and unmistakable. These women who have spoken into my life have known great loss and understand the freedom that lies in surrendering to the truth.

Last week one of them asked why I had befriended her. In a meeting just a few days earlier I had listened to her story of extraordinary courage and thought, “Why on earth did this woman befriend me?” Truth is I’m not sure we befriended each other. I believe we were brought together, refugees fleeing a tribe with a penchant for naming scapegoats. We knew we were made for more and dared to answer the Spirit’s call.

Cathy, my wife for 40 years, always called me toward greater heights than I would have sought on my own.  Her wisdom, like the wisdom of these other women, is grounded and organic.

Most travelers prefer convention and stick to the main highways, focused on the destination and not the journey.  I treasure these fellow travelers I have found on the road less traveled.  When you encounter kindred spirits on a nameless dirt path far from convention, you receive them as the gift they are, a visitation of the conscious feminine.  And together you travel on, as the whole of creation is being reconciled to our loving creator.

And so it goes.

Evangelicals Experiencing Shame

Evangelicals Experiencing Shame

D. H. Lawrence said a writer sheds his sickness in his writing. Preachers tend to do it too. As a pastoral counselor, I couldn’t help but notice the recurring themes that popped up in the sermons of pastors at the churches I used to attend. I kept my thoughts to myself.

I have also noticed that those of us who blog tend to use our posts to work out stuff. If you pay attention you can sometimes discern the unresolved issues the blogger is working out at your reading expense.

Of course, if you want to play armchair therapist with your favorite blogger, you do need to pay attention to your own countertransference. Countertransference is a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a client. It requires the therapist to discern what her reactions are telling her about the client’s psychology and what they are telling her about her own. If you want a good therapeutic outcome, distinguishing between personal and diagnostic countertransference is essential. If it sounds complex and difficult, it is because it is.

All of that to say it’s probably better if you don’t make too much of the themes you may or may not discern in the sermons of your preacher or the posts of the blogger you follow. What you “discern” might be more about you than it is about them.

It’s better if a blogger tells you outright about his or her unresolved issues. I tend to do that. A lot of you read this blog because I am painfully honest about the transgender experience. Of course, the truth is a lot of my issues have nothing to do with being trans. They have to do with being human.

This past week I allowed myself to become triangulated. Triangulation is when you become the third person in a two-person conversation. It is virtually never appropriate. I tend to triangulate out of concern for a person, and I’m inclined to do it when I think the issue is urgent. I almost never triangulate when I have had a chance to sleep on it. There might be a lesson there.

Once I have triangulated I tend toward self-condemnation and shame. Which is not helpful, because what is called for is an apology. The self-condemnation is self-referential and not helpful. But hey, once a fundamentalist…

We do not get to stop being human. Until that final breath we do stupid stuff that makes us feel as though it’s time to turn in our maturity badge. Fortunately, being human is not a condition to be corrected, but celebrated.  God loves us just as we are, no improvements demanded, no conditions stipulated.

Unfortunately those of us who grew up fundamentalist have a hard time letting go of our transactional understanding of our relationship with God. This is the reason we hold our shame so deeply. When you are convinced God’s love for you is dependent on your performance, how else could you respond?

I felt guilt when I triangulated. That was appropriate. I apologized to the people involved. Guilt asks for an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an apology. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Guilt serves a purpose. Shame does not.

The whole triangulating episode was confusing. I’m still not sure exactly what happened. But the shame that keeps trying to poke its head through the door?  Yeah, I keep shoving it out. I’m not having it. I am human, and stuff’s gonna happen. If I was perfect, you wouldn’t be able to live with me.

And so it goes.