Doing the Unstuck

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Let me start by saying that if you haven’t watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix, do what you can to fix that as soon as possible. It is one of the most powerful, life-changing pieces of art I’ve ever seen. Honestly, she has done something spectacular with this show, and I believe all of us can learn something from it. I will also say that if you haven’t watched it, I will be talking about it in this post, so there are some minor spoilers ahead.

The show is largely about Gadsby’s decision to quit comedy. I’m unclear about how long-term that decision is, but it does appear to be an actual choice that she’s making. One of the reasons she gives for making this decision is that she feels like she is arrested in the way that she has told her coming out story. She came out as a lesbian in a country where being gay was a crime until 1997, and didn’t have a great experience. She made a name for herself telling that and other stories where her identity as a gender non-conforming and gay woman were the punchlines.

She goes on to say that she now has a great relationship with her mom, but that doesn’t make for good comedy. Her mom responding in a negative way allows for better tension and release in laughter. But telling only that part of the story has left her with residual self-hatred, because in telling that story over and over, she has crystalized that moment of shame. She is arrested because she has told the bad part of of her story so many time.

As a writer, it’s so easy for me to want to write about the parts of my story that might draw more interest and more clicks. Write about the shame that surrounded me when I committed adultery. Write about the loneliness of being kicked out of a church. Write about the fears of raising a bunch of LGBTQ kids. Write about the grief of losing my son.

Sometimes I wonder if I have been having trouble writing because I’ve written a lot about those things and I’m getting stuck. Stuck in shame, stuck in fear, stuck in grief. Not necessarily in my life, but here, on the page. Feeling like I still need to tell every possible bad feeling I have experienced until I have atoned enough to move on.

Those are all true things. They are all part of my story, and I will revisit them from time to time, no doubt. But I want to explore now as well. I want to tell stories about being in a church that accepts me. I want to tell stories about my husband picking up all of the slack when I was sick with bronchitis for three weeks. I want to tell the stories about reminding my trans kids to put their busted breast form into the trash instead of leaving a boob sitting on the dog’s crate. There is humor and acceptance and love in my life and when I just write about the hurts in my past, I don’t allow myself to fully participate in the present.

Plus, the story of finding random body parts in your living room really is worth reading about.

P.S. The title is my nod to being a Gen X’er who loves The Cure. Congrats to those of you who got it.

Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

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What Was Lost

The question caught me off guard.

I went to Wild Goose this year without actually going to Wild Goose. A rotating group of friends have been renting a house near the festival for the past few years, and people come in during the weekend either to present or to attend the event or just visit with people they can’t see often. This year, I was in the last group. Just a tag-along, there to share a few meals and a few laughs with friends I seldom get to see in person.

I had just put a cake in the oven and was sitting down with a drink in my hand, and Jen Hatmaker asked to know more about my story. I started with the same story I’ve been telling for the past few years. Had an affair. Got pregnant. Had a stillborn son. Lost my mom to ALS. Have some trans kids. Got kicked out of a church. I’m pretty comfortable talking about it, as one of those open-book, over-sharing types.

But then she asked me the question that has had me spiraling for the past few weeks. The question that I wasn’t expecting.

“What did you lose in all of that?”

I was completely taken aback. As far as I know, no one has ever asked me that in the five years since everything in my life changed. I guess most people already have an answer for it. I lost my marriage of nearly 2 decades. I lost the trust of my kids for a while. I lost two churches. I lost my son. It was a season that was so filled with loss that I couldn’t really see anything BUT loss.

I stammered out some kind of answer about losing the ability to repent, because that’s not always the most obvious when I talk about that 18 month stint. But the truth is, I didn’t want to say out loud what leapt into my mind when she posed that question.

I lost writing with confidence.

Oh, there have been flashes of it in the past five years. I have written some things that remind me of the writer I was before. I’m proud of the work I did for Embracing Grief. I feel good about some of the pieces I’ve written about parenting transgender kids. I think I’ve been honest about being in a second marriage.

But most of what I’ve written in the past five years has been timid. It’s been apologetic. It’s been weak.

And no, that’s not the biggest or worst thing I lost. However, because it wasn’t the most important loss, I treated it like it was an unimportant loss. I let other big, important things fill that loss, and pretended that it didn’t hurt that much.

It hurts that much.

Enough that when I acknowledged to myself my lie to Jen, I made myself have a hard conversation with one of my best encouragers, Matthew Paul Turner, about how I could find my way to writing again. And when he told me that I just needed to carve out time for myself to write, and that I needed to scare myself with my honesty, I cried for fifteen minutes. Not because what he said was something that I had never considered before, but because I knew I haven’t been that honest in a long time. I’ve used the excuse that I don’t want to tell stories that belong to my kids or my ex or my family of origin, but the truth is, I’m just scared. Telling details about life is easy. Talking about what those details mean is hard.

Just this week another friend, Nish Weiseth, talked about getting back to blogging. Back to just writing for the joy of it. Back to stories. Back to something that may or may not have a point.

I miss that. I miss sharing my life in words.

So I’m going to do what Matthew suggested. I’m just going to write. It might be messy. It might be boring. It might not be important.

But it’s important to me. Finding what I lost is important.

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A Tale of Two Franklins

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“But the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?” Franklin Graham, 1998

“…there’s such bigger problems in front of us as a nation that we need to be dealing with than other things in his life a long time ago. I think some of these things — that’s for him and his wife to deal with… I think this thing with Stormy Daniels and so forth is nobody’s business.” Franklin Graham, 2018

Talking about infidelity is hard. Back in the day, I had a lot of Big Thoughts about it. Thoughts about what kind of people commit adultery. Thoughts about how we should treat people who cheat. Thoughts about what forgiveness looks like after an affair. And I’ll be honest, they weren’t always very charitable.

And then I was the one embroiled in an affair. I was the cheater. I was the adulteress.

Some of my views have changed. I always thought that I was exempt from having an affair, that I was way too good to make that decision. I know now that avoiding an affair requires more than being good, but also being intentional. It means working on your marriage. It means recognizing that divorce can happen. It means being willing to be happy.

But more than simply talking about avoiding affairs, I have thoughts about the aftermath of an affair, and what infidelity means when you have a public presence.

I’ve read through the first article from Franklin Graham, linked above. In it, he eschews the idea that one’s private actions are not of public concern, particularly when one is in a position of power. He said that President Clinton could not use doublespeak and that forgiveness is available to those who are repentant.

I’ve also listened to the interview linked above where Graham says that President Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels is nobody’s business, and that America (no mention of himself) was wrong to go after President Clinton back in the day.

The truth is, even if you’re someone who is seemingly without shame like Trump, an affair coming to light is embarrassing. A secret that you don’t want out is no longer under wraps. You feel better exposed and you know that exposure hurts people that you probably care about.

And if someone you like or admire is caught in an affair, it’s natural to want the best for them. To want to cover their shame, to erase that part of them that is hard to like or admire. So moving from a position that included “what one does in private does matter” to a position that says an affair is “nobody’s business” is completely understandable switch for Graham.

As someone who has had her private sins made at least somewhat public, I want to believe the idea that it’s nobody’s business. I want to believe that what’s private should stay private. I want someone to give me a mulligan and pretend that it never happened.

But I believe that 1998 Graham is the right one. Not the blatant partisan politics driving the statement, but the statement itself.

Because when I am forced to acknowledge my choices and the way that they hurt others and myself, I am able to find healing. Repentance and forgiveness help us and strengthen us. Bringing what is hidden to light allows us to face shame and overcome it. Acting with honesty after dishonesty allows us to begin the process of restoring trust.

When we say that these things need to remain hidden, need to be passed over, need to be ignored because they’re nobody’s business, we deny people the opportunity for healing. When we offer people judgment free spaces to be honest about their mistakes, we offer hope to those who have had the same experiences, and may prevent others from making the same detrimental choices.

Public people have a unique opportunity to teach when they are successful, but also when they stumble. Seeing our leaders model honesty, humility, and repentance in the face of their embarrassing secrets allows us to see the strength that is inherent in vulnerability. Denying leaders those opportunities by sweeping them under the rug or issuing mulligans keeps all of us from growth. It may seem like we’re trying to avoid shame, but it amplifies shame for many.

Franklin Graham was right to laud his father’s consistency in his private and public life. And if he wants to be a friend and spiritual advisor to President Trump, he would expect the same.

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Reflections on Why Christian 2018

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Growing up, my sisters and I spent many long days at my grandparents’ house. We would bang out “important” letters on the old Underwood typewriter. We would play dress up with clothes Gram had, making up little plays to entertain the adults. We would swim in the pool in the summer, jump in piles of leaves in the fall, play “cars” in the spring (a game where each person picked a color car and we’d see who saw ten of their color first), make snow angels in the winter.

One of my favorite things we did was to hide under the steps to the basement with an old tape recorder and leave messages for each other. My sisters usually left shorter messages, but mine would be epic. Long and usually filled with a lot of religious speak. Because when I was a little girl, I really wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. I loved Jesus, I loved preaching, it made sense.

I don’t remember who told me I couldn’t be a pastor. Maybe a parent? Maybe my own pastor? Maybe I just gleaned it from the culture around me? I went to a denomination where women weren’t (and are still not) allowed to be ordained. Our particular church didn’t allow female members of the congregation to vote on issues put before the church. Women couldn’t lead mixed adult Bible studies. A man who cooked at the camp I went to every summer was chided by a visiting pastor for doing “women’s work.” So maybe no one had to tell me I couldn’t be in authority over men. Maybe it was just how things were and I figured it out.

When you don’t see women in positions of authority, you can start to think that women don’t deserve positions of authority.

By the time I reached young adulthood, I had fully embraced that world-view. Women shouldn’t be ordained. My first vows included the word “obey.” I don’t know if I was ever a model submissive wife, but I could spout the party line with conviction enough to make up for any misgivings I might have had.

The truth is, I had a lot of misgivings. I never could understand why our church thought the Bible was literal about women being silent, but didn’t require women to have long hair or wear head coverings. It struck me as odd, considering both were New Testament commands, authored by the same man. It didn’t seem very consistent. Why did some rules about women apply, but not others?

This tension between what I said I believed and what I actually believed gnawed at me. Gnawed at me until it had bored a hole in my soul where it could sit comfortably, where the cognitive dissonance was tolerable. Until one day when I said that it was stupid, that of course women were called to be pastors, that of course wives were equal to their husbands in every way, that of course we should burn down the patriarchy.

But in the midst of that personal spiritual revolution, I stayed in churches that taught the inferiority of women. Oh, they would never frame it that way. There would be talk of the value of everyone, and specific roles that men and women played. Talk about protection and covering. But it all boiled down to the same thing. Anatomy trumped equality. And so that little hole inside of me continued to exist, because even if I believed something different than what my church taught, I was still immersed in that theology. I was the one defying the rules. I was the one who was wrong, or rebellious, or heretical, or whatever. And since I was a woman in defiance of men, it still managed to ping that place in me that had half believed in male superiority and it left me with just a twinge of doubt. Just a dash of unease.

I am no longer in a church or denomination that teaches a gendered hierarchy. But my church still has two male pastors. Most of the people in front of the congregation on a given Sunday are men.

Please hear me. I love and appreciate these men. They have played a critical role in my ability to attend church at all. They are unabashed voices for justice for the oppressed of all kinds. They bring words of grace and mercy and compassion and truth and back them up with their actions. I am proud to be a part of this church.

But that little space for tension still exists. Despite the possibility for a female pastor in my denomination, my practical experience is still that of a male perspective, of male leadership.

Attending Why Christian forced me to face some of the discomfort to which I have grown accustomed. One after another, ordained women of all stripes – queer, straight, black, brown, indigenous, cis, trans – all gave sermons. All spoke words of truth and justice and equality. They showed, without equivocation, that women are called and ordained, not only by churches, but by God, to be bearers of the Good News.

And it was hard.

Not because I believed it was wrong, but because it forced me to believe it was right. The truth that combated the lies I had been told as a little girl, and that I later spewed from my own mouth, was directly in front of me. It forced me to repent of my unbelief in a God who truly calls ALL to serve in exactly the capacity to which they are equipped. It brought me face to face with the truth that women are not merely theoretically “allowed” to lead, but that they are doing the work, regardless of anyone’s permission-giving. It forced me to face head on that cognitive dissonance and really start to expel it in a meaningful way.

I’m still processing a lot of it. I’m thinking about that little girl with the tape recorder and wondering who she might be today if she hadn’t been told that women didn’t mean as much to God as men did.

I guess to find out, this 43 year old woman needs to work on believing it.

 

 

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

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I Can’t Agree to Disagree on the Nashville Statement

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Another day, another back and forth between Christians about LGBTQ people.

Yesterday, a group of evangelicals released a statement about sexuality called the Nashville Statement. It has everything you’d expect. Condemnation upon condemnation for LGBTQ people and those who affirm them laid out in 14 neat articles.

And it was met with strong words. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s church released The Denver Statement. The folks over at The Liturgists released a response. GCN posted a reflection. LGBTQ Christians and allies have been vocal about their opposition to this way of thinking.

In the midst of all of this tête-à-tête, I saw someone who sides with the Nashville Statement ask a Denver Statement person if there was a way the Nashville folks could disagree about this issue that was acceptable to the Denver folks.

That’s the crux of it, I think. Can we, as people of faith, have an “agree to disagree” view on sexuality and gender expression?

I’ve thought about this question for years. And the more stories I hear from LGBTQ people, the more I think the answer is, “No.”

I haven’t always felt this way. When I center the thoughts on my own journey toward affirmation, I want to find grace for the intolerant. I know at least a little of what they believe because there was a time when I believed it too. And honestly, I don’t love condemning past me, because I know that I was trying to be loving.

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t loving.

No, I wasn’t spewing hate. I wasn’t shouting epithets and slurs. I wasn’t banning folks from churches or even pushing to deny equal rights. I probably didn’t directly contribute to LGBTQ suicide or homelessness.

But I was okay saying that it was sinful to want to be with someone of the same sex. I was okay saying that gay people should probably not marry, but just choose to be alone. I was okay suggesting that love wasn’t really love and that some kinds of love were more righteous than others. I was okay suggesting that there was an inherent flaw in LGBTQ people that made them less valuable, less deserving of love, less important to the Church.

When I focus on the way those actions impact the LGBTQ community at large and the LGBTQ Christian community specifically, how can I find a way to just brush that off? How can I see that as a mere difference of opinion? How do I just shake my head and move on to something else?

The question behind the need to agree to disagree is, “What is an acceptable level of homophobia I’m allowed to display without making you think I’m a bad person?”

We see it with racism. We see it with sexism. We see it with islamophobia.

We want to keep thinking and teaching what we already think and teach, and we don’t want people to tell us that what we’re thinking and teaching hurts people. We want to approach these as simply theological issues and ignore that at the heart of every issue is a person.

But I’ve sat with my child in an emergency room after a suicide threat. I’ve watched people lose their kids to suicide. I’ve watched friends struggle with significant bouts of depression. Things like the Nashville Statement aren’t simply theological positions, they’re words that wound, words that kill.

If you agree with the Nashville Statement, I don’t think you’re a monster. I don’t think you’re out actively abusing LGBTQ people. I know that you probably have a gay cousin or co-worker or friend who you get along with just fine.

I know, because I was you.

At some point, though, we have to look hard at people, not theology. We have to engage empathy. We have to decide if hurting people is okay in the pursuit of theological correctness. We have to decide if we are okay with the fallout from our positions. We have to decide if we want to feed the hungry or heal the wounded on the Sabbath. We have to decide if we want to pluck out eyeballs or forgive.

But I’m here to tell you, I’m not going to just agree to disagree if you support words that harm the LGBTQ community. I won’t stay silent when you relegate LGBTQ people to a theological position. I won’t back down when you embrace ideology that casts LGBTQ people as sinners and second-rate humans.

I won’t agree to disagree, not because I think you’re bad, but because I think my LGBTQ friends and family are good.

 

Ming Jun Tan

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There is no “but…”

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I spent much of the weekend glued to my phone, watching what was happening in Charlottesville, VA. From the torch wielding march on Friday night, to the murder of Heather Heyer on Saturday, to the original lackluster response from the president, the events of the weekend consumed me.

 

The naked, unmasked hatred on display shocked me. What upset me eve more, however, was the intense amount of hedging I saw from other white people. Taking a cue from the highest office in the country, I saw instance after instance of “on many sides” being spoken.

Let me speak without equivocation. There is no “but” that can follow a condemnation of white nationalism. There is no “but” that can follow a censure of Nazi slogans being chanted. There is no “but” that can follow a denouncement of “Jews are not welcome here.”

You don’t get to say, “But Black Lives Matter is just as bad.” BLM stands for equality, neo-Nazis stand for white superiority. BLM stands for peace, neo-Nazis stand for violence. BLM is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to blame say, “But they shouldn’t have removed the statue of the Robert E. Lee because of possible repercussions.” This isn’t “removing history,” it’s removing a celebration of someone who fought against the United States in favor of slavery. Those statues are traitorous and racist. Statue removal is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to say, “But what about reverse racism.” First of all, reverse racism is not a thing. But even if there are instances where a person of color has something that a white person doesn’t, that doesn’t excuse hundreds of young white men marching around screaming “blood and soil!” Reverse racism is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to say, “But the antifa activists are just as violent!” If you’ve ever suggested that students need to arm themselves against Muslims so you can end them because you see them as a threat, you have already stated that you think violence is an acceptable response to a threat. If you support the NRA’s violent rhetoric, you have stated that you believe force is acceptable when dealing with threats. We can certainly have conversations about the use of force to take down a threat, but unless you consider yourself a pacifist, you can’t talk about how the antifa are responsible for violence. Antifa is not to blame for white supremacy.

You don’t get to say, “But I need time to process what all of this means.” While it’s true that knee-jerk reactions aren’t generally advisable, we can safely condemn overt, blatant racist behavior without the passage of time. We may take time to craft a more nuanced condemnation, but when we see something deserving of our ire, we can voice our disdain immediately. Calls for a quick response are not to blame for white supremacy.

What allows white supremacy to flourish is when we make excuses for it. Every time we add a “but” to our condemnations, we give white supremacy more power. Every time we add a “but” to our disapproval, we give white supremacy more room to grow.

Every time we add a “but” in our conversations about white supremacy, we make ourselves an ass.

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Transgender Lives are not a Burden

Content warning: suicide

Finn & Mom
The ban on transgender people serving in the military has been weighing on my mind since I saw it yesterday morning. My kids have not indicated an interest to serve in the military, so it’s not really about that, but rather the language used.

“Burden.” 

“Disruption.”

These words keep turning over in my head.

I’m in several groups for parents of transgender kids. Last month, one of the moms lost her son to suicide. Their dinner conversation had been about ways to afford his medication after their insurance claim had been denied and they were told that their income was a bit too high to receive patient assistance. This was a fully supportive family, but when they were talking about ways to afford a $1400 monthly shot, Finn might have felt like he was a burden, a disruption. In the middle of the night, he laid himself down on the train tracks. His mom found out the following morning that her son was dead.

Many of us have sat in a hospital room with our trans kids with threats of suicide, or suicide attempts. We’ve sat there, grateful that we have our children, wondering how we can keep them safe, wondering how we can ease their pain in a way that allows them to stay with us. Suicide statistics for transgender people decrease dramatically with the support of their family, but we are reminded regularly that there is no way to eliminate them. Finn’s death haunts me because it reminds me that our children’s lives are fragile.

But a burden? A disruption? No.

We create burdens and disruptions in the lives of transgender people all the time, and then have the audacity to say that they are somehow bringing it on themselves. Or worse, that their mere existence is a burden and disruption for us.

We have to change our thinking. 

There is disruption in the life of a trans person every time the wrong name is used.

There is disruption in the life of a trans person every time the wrong pronouns are used.

There is disruption in the life of a trans person every time there is a hint that they can be made cis if they’d just pray harder.

There is a burden placed on the life of a trans person every time someone votes to restrict where they can use the bathroom.

There is a burden placed on the life of a trans person every time they are called “confused” or “perverted” or “abomination.”

There is a burden placed on the life of a trans person every time they are denied a place in a church simply because of their gender identity.

The good thing is that we can remove some of these burdens and disruptions. We can use chosen names and correct pronouns. We can educate ourselves on the damage inflicted by reparative therapy. We can let our lawmakers know that we support laws that protect transgender people rather than punishing them. We can affirm the gender identities of all people we meet, rather than just those that we feel comfortable around. We can embrace all genders as a part of God’s family.

Let’s work together to unburden our trans brothers and sisters. Let’s disrupt their lives in the best possible way, by showing them our love and support.

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