It was my honor to speak for the 59th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. The service, virtual this year, is usually held at the National Cathedral the morning after the inauguration.
When I first saw the list of participants, I was humbled. Who am I to be in the company of leaders who have fought for civil rights throughout their lives, while I, a privileged White man, was clueless about my entitlement? Fortunately, life should not be judged by our failures. The question is not whether we have failed, but whether we allowed those blessed defeats to shape and form us into better vessels for service.
There are times I still feel like a privileged White evangelical male leader, even though that world has completely rejected me. But that sense of entitlement is difficult to shake. It grips its claws into your needy ego. But I have learned much over the last seven years, including how to let the past be the past. I remain an alpha personality, and I do not apologize for that. Interestingly, however, virtually every opportunity that has come to me since transitioning is not something I went looking for. I did not reach out to TEDxMileHigh or TED. Both came to me. The same is true of my speaker’s agency, my book agent, the publishing house releasing my memoir, the movie studio making a film about my life, the Biden campaign for which I was privileged to serve, and every church at which I have preached. Every single opportunity came to me.
I said in a sermon not long ago that hope usually arrives from the outside. Whether as a result of hard work, fate or just good fortune, opportunities come our way. But it’s not that we have no agency in the matter. We must say yes to those opportunities. You have to say yes to hope, though it is almost always terrifying to do so. “What if my TED talk isn’t very good and no one watches it?” ” What if no one reads my book?” ” What if I say something wrong in the Inaugural Prayer Service?” I am always terrified when I say yes, but in the past I learned how awful it feels when you dare to say no. I only said no once, but it took me years to get over that decision. You do not say no to hope.
Of course, though saying yes is the first step in responding to hope, the call of hope always includes a period of time on the road of trials. Therefore, yes without perseverance, guarantees that a journey will end before it ever really begins. If you persevere, however, your yes eventually leads to the prize of great price, the Holy Grail, as you experience the joy of doing good work.
I believe that hope, plus yes, plus perseverance, equals destiny. Saying yes to an opportunity that comes your way, and persevering through the journey that arrives with that yes, is what creates your destiny. Achieving your destiny includes both external and internal elements. Being in the right place at the right time is certainly a part of it, but how you respond to that external opportunity means everything.
Saying yes is difficult for most of us, because someplace deep within, shame stalks our better angels and tells us we are not worthy. I find that a lot of people who are jealous of the good things that have come my way actually have nothing against me personally. They just have not wrestled their own shame demons to the ground. They think, “I know I’m not worthy of honor, so what makes her think she’s worthy?” The truth is that we are all worthy.
When I finished my reading in the 59th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service, I wept. I wept because of the privilege and honor of participating in the service. I wept because it was a very moving service, a fitting end to the two days of the inaugural festivities, the collective sigh of relief we all so desperately wanted for the last four years.
To those who invited me to be a part of such an inspirational service, I offer my thanks. I owe a debt of gratitude to Josh Dickson from the Biden Inaugural team and Michael Vazquez from the HRC and everyone else involved in planning the service in which more than two dozen people from a plethora of faith perspectives came together to produce one amazing hour of conviction that we can work together to heal our nation.
It was just seven years ago this week that I was at the lowest point in my transition from Paul to Paula. I had lost all of my jobs and almost all of my friends. I didn’t know if I would survive. But I believed the call toward authenticity is sacred, and holy, and for the greater good, and I persevered. And since that time, I have been wonderfully blessed, far beyond anything I could have imagined.
When we are placed on this earth we are given the responsibility to shape our lives to fit the challenges of our times. The faith, conviction, and determination with which we approach those challenges is what will be remembered. How much suffering did we ameliorate? How well did we love? How many times did we say yes when hope came knocking on our door. Did we persevere through the challenges?
I have no idea what hope is yet to come, but I do know I will keep saying yes, and I will persevere. It is the only decent way to live.