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.

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.”