I just don’t understand…

As I’ve been reading the news stories the last several weeks, I see lots of comments about the need to protect women and children from sexual predators. Okay…I understand that–and I agree.

However…there are some things I don’t understand.

First of all, what about our sons? Don’t they deserve protection as well? I don’t hear much talk about them in the current discussions.

And…where are all the statistics about transgender people attacking women in bathrooms? They just don’t exist. What does exist are statistics showing that transgender people are more likely than heterosexuals to be attacked–either verbally or physically–in the bathroom.

I understand that people are also afraid of predators (primarily male) dressing as women so that they can enter women’s bathrooms to prey on women and children. But there are already laws in existence that make that action a criminal one. And these individuals are not transgender.

A transgender person is not pretending to be the opposite sex of the gender they were assigned at birth. They have often struggled for years with a mismatch between what they have looked like on the outside and what they feel like on the inside. (I can’t imagine what this must feel like, since my inside and outside have matched my whole life.) Instead, a transgender person is seeking wholeness.

I also hear all of the religious arguments. I understand that…I really do. I just happen to interpret scripture differently.

But what bothers me is that those who are often the loudest in insisting “The Bible says…” in their sermons against members of the LGBTQ communities are far too often heterosexuals found guilty of crimes against children. Isn’t there something about practicing what you preach?

The same thing often seems to be happening politically, when those call most loudly for severe punishments against the presumed LGBTQ child molesters are too often found to be heterosexuals who have been guilty themselves of this crime.

Our fears of each other–fears that have culminated in the “bathroom laws” passed (or being proposed) in many areas have created new challenges for some who are vulnerable in ways we may not have considered–those with special needs. We have made it far more difficult for them and their caretakers because of our fears of those who are not “like us.”

I’m sure that in my lifetime I’ve been in the bathroom with someone who is transgender…but unless someone tells me so, the chances of me knowing that are slim. (And I’ve never been accosted or attacked by someone who is transgender.)

do want to protect those who are vulnerable–but I also want to recognize that the vulnerable are not always who we think they are…and that’s something we will not understand until we are willing to truly listen to each other.

“Vulnerability really means to be strong and secure enough within yourself that you are able to walk outside without your armor on. You are able to show up in life as just you. That is genuine strength and courage. Armor may look tough, but all it does is mask insecurity and fear.”
― Alaric Hutchinson, Living Peace

 

Who am I?

When I look in the mirror in the morning, I see who I expect to see…although I sometimes wish I looked a little younger…or that I didn’t have “bed-hair”. But I generally see the woman I know myself to be.

When I was younger–and even up significantly into adulthood–that’s how I thought it was for everyone. But over the last several years I’ve learned differently.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up, go into the bathroom and look in the mirror–and see a man looking back at me. But that’s what I think it must be like to be transgender…to know who you feel like inside, and yet see a different gender reflected back at you from the mirror.

I still have trouble getting my mind wrapped about all of this…but I’ve come to know several folks who are transgender (not those who are famous and who get much publicity, but folks whose lives are like mine, i.e., folks who go to work and church, who have families, who like going to plays or concerts or the zoo). They are family…they are friends…

For many, I would have no idea that they were identified as a different gender at birth but have no transitioned into their true selves. I’m sure that during my many years on earth, I’ve been in the bathroom with some of them. I’ve never felt threatened. I’ve never worried because I assume they’re doing the same thing I am–emptying my bladder!

These most recent bills–requiring transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches the sex they were assigned at birth–puts them at far more risk than it does me. I have seen some gorgeous women who–under these laws–would be required to use the male bathroom…and I’ve also seen some hot-looking men who–under these laws–would be required to use the female bathroom instead of using the bathrooms they identify with as they have for years with no problems.

Yes, I know that the rationale for these bills is supposedly to protect women from rapists and pedophiles. Okay, I’d be happy to be protected from these two groups of people…but they’re more likely to be “straight” individuals than members of the LGBTQ communities. And there are already laws in place to do this job without demonizing people whose struggles are often difficult for those of us who’ve never been in their shoes to understand.

I look in the mirror and see who I expect to see…and that’s all that folks who are transgender want as well.

 

A prayer for my child (and all children)…

As I’ve read and watched reactions to current “hot topic” issues on social media–especially the issues that affect those who are part of the LGBTQ community–I thought about how to react. I have dear family members who are part of that community, and at times I fear for them. I know that there are many whose lives are difficult because of the way others have reacted toward them.

But as a mother/grandmother/sister/aunt…and minister…this is my prayer for all children.

I look at you,
     my wonderful child…
sleeping
playing
eating…
just being you...
and I pray this prayer
     for you
     and all children.
Be true to yourself… trust who you are no matter what someone else says. You are special… you are unique… there’s no one else quite like you!
Be all you can be… you are gifted with gifts that the whole world needs. Don’t ever say that there’s nothing to offer! Your presence… your smile… your singing or dancing… your empathy… your care and concern… all gifts are needed.
Be safe. The world can be a dangerous place especially for those who refuse to conform. Find friends— special friends— who will watch out for you and you for them.
Most of all, my precious child… know you are loved... that you have a home… a place in my heart.

To nurture the soul…

This weekend I attended a retreat. It was a wonderful retreat with the theme of “Hungering and Thirsting”…looking at those things that we hunger and thirst for. Why? and how can we feed that hunger and quench that thirst?

One of the questions that was asked in one of the sessions was “What nurtures your soul?” We were given five minutes to write down as many things as we could think of that nurtured our souls, and then we were given a few more to write another list of spiritual disciplines we practice regularly. Then the question was, “What do you see when you look at the lists?” For some of us, the lists were completely different. Some of us had one or two of the same things on both lists–and a very few found that their lists were very similar.

As we talked more, we began to realize that in reality, the things that nurture our souls can–and should be–the same thing as the spiritual disciplines we practice regularly. It’s not that there’s a huge difference between the two things–but the primary difference is doing them with intentionality.

That was an “aha!” moment for me.

As I had worked on my list, I realized that I had not put down any of the things that you might expect to see from a minister/preacher’s kid…i.e., going to church. But because I am involved in providing ministry on a regular basis, much of what I do in preparation (i.e., studying, practicing hymns and service music, writing) is something that also nurtures my soul…and can easily be a spiritual discipline.

But I also realized that the very first thing I had written on my first list was also something that easily gets shoved aside when other “important” responsibilities demand my time and attention. What was it? Writing poetry.

That is often how I make sense of what is happening in my life, in the lives of people around me, in my world. When I let it get shoved aside, I realize I am tamping down something that is at my core…a gift I have been given…a talent I need to honor.

We also talked about how easy it is to spend time on those things that nurture the soul when we draw apart for intentional focused time. But then Monday morning comes…what then?

We were challenged before we left to let this Monday morning be different…to focus on one spiritual discipline that nurtures our souls and to spend time doing it just this week–and at the end of the week, to evaluate what happened. How do we feel? What changed in us?

Monday morning is tomorrow. I have another busy week ahead of me…but I realize that feeding my soul is as important as feeding my body. So…

I’m going to find/make time to do some writing every day this week. I’ll share with you the end of this week how it went…what changed…and how my soul was nurtured. How about you? Want to join me?

 

Pray for your enemies

Jesus is reported to have said a lot of things that are difficult to understand. One of them is this…to pray for your enemies and those who “despitefully” use you. When I read that when I was younger, I thought, “Yeah….right!” It didn’t make a lot of sense.

Then several years ago I got caught in a downsizing situation that was very difficult. There were some individuals involved in those decisions that I blamed…that I didn’t like. Actually, it was more than that–I hated them.

But this scripture kept coming to mind. Finally I gave in and told God I would pray for them. I’m sure that sometimes God cringed at my prayers, because sometimes they went something like “Okay, God…you told me to pray for them. So here I am. I don’t know what they need…and I don’t really care. But you take care of them!”

Not very Christ-like…but very real responses to the way I was feeling.

Fortunately I was able to find another job in that institution and to stay long enough for there to be healing and reconciliation.

But these last few weeks, I’ve found myself responding to yet another situation that has involved a lot of my friends losing their jobs…and being hurt and angry. I don’t blame them. That’s a normal–and sometimes healthy–response to what’s happened to them through no fault of their own…as long as they don’t get stuck in that anger.

What I’ve found happening in my own life, though, has been surprising and unexpected.

The situation was beginning to bring back some feelings and emotions from a few years ago. I knew I didn’t want to go back there, but I was really finding myself struggle. And yet…despite my cynicism and anger, I also found myself praying. That in itself wasn’t surprising–but what did surprise me was who I found myself praying for.

The prayers weren’t just for my friends who lost jobs and my friends who were still there but grieving losses, but I also found myself praying for those who had made some of the decisions that brought us to this point…some of whom I had had anger with previously. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure why I was praying for them sometimes, but I kept feeling the need to do so.

And it’s out of those experiences that I’m finding myself getting through this. It doesn’t negate what I believe is a need for significant accountability, but it’s also allowed me to respond more from a position of grace and empathy.

I like the way this scripture is expressed in The Message:

 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”

We pray for our enemies not just because they need the prayers (they do)–but because of how it changes us as well.

Grace and Accountability…

This last week there has been a lot of discussion on social media related to the financial challenges currently facing my faith denomination. Because these events have impacted many people through job losses, these discussions have been anything but hypothetical! There has been anger…pain…questions about how on earth this could have happened…worry about the future…

There have been calls for grace…to wait until we have more information about what’s happened. There have been suggestions that we give folks the benefit of the doubt.

And there have also been sharp calls for calling people to accountability…to hold someone (or several people) responsible for these events.

I don’t think it has to be an either/or. I think there is room for both.

I don’t know all the circumstances…and I don’t know if I ever will.

But I also know that those who lead my faith tradition are human beings–not perfect beings. They are going to make mistakes–although hopefully not again these drastic mistakes! But they also have personal issues that they have to deal with, and sometimes those situations get in the way of what we expect of them as leaders. And so I need to give them grace…just as I would hope to receive grace.

At the same time, I believe that it is important to hold church leadership accountable. We trust them to make wise decisions…to act with integrity. And when the results of those decisions create situations where budgets and staff have to be cut so drastically, I believe it is appropriate–and necessary–to hold them accountable.

This doesn’t mean that I am suggesting finger pointing or accusing individuals of malfeasance. I’m not.

But in order for there to be healing, reconciliation, and a way forward for members to begin regaining trust, we cannot ignore this situation. If we can grant grace to leaders–and yet also ask for (and receive) accountability from then–then…and only then…can we begin to move forward.