my blogJOY IN THIS JOURNEY
My children were born into a life of stability, not poverty. We’ve had seasons where we had to watch our spending very closely, but they don’t know what it’s like to live day to day or hour-by-hour, which is a beautiful thing.
But it also means that our selfishness is powerful. As parents, we need to teach our kids how to weaken their selfishness. By learning to expand their field of vision to include others, empathize, and then both recognize and shoulder the responsibility that accompanies a life of stability, they can help others who lack it.
We can’t (and probably shouldn’t) completely kill selfishness—it’s a survival skill deeply embedded in our DNA. But we can redefine what serves ourselves to include the thriving of all humans, not just us.
Read the rest at the World Vision blog, where I’m guest-posting today. (comments closed here)
I know that I am privileged. (This is a very interesting survey to explore how privileged you may be. I got a 64 out of 100.)
I know that in spite of my concerted efforts to listen, learn, and look, I still have massive blind spots, unidentified biases, and gaps in my education and understanding.
I also know that many people in my circle need to make their own concerted efforts to find, acknowledge, and confront their biases.
I hear (and agree) from my minority friends and thought leaders that as such, I have a responsibility to speak to/teach the people in my circle.
I also know from years of relationship with them that many of these people are firmly entrenched in their mindset. Some are family members, some are church family members. I often overhear conversations in which individuals state some variant of “If he/she cooperated, they’d still be alive” or “Affirmative action is racism against whites” or “Women can’t lead because they let their emotions get the best of them.”
I have family and friends who are in the military, the police force, and other related organizations. They are quick to defend these organizations and the individuals within. Of course. It is their career, or their husband’s/father’s/sister’s/wife’s that we’re talking about.
I get it. It’s scary to acknowledge the crack in the armor. What if the crack keeps cracking open wider and wider? What if it all falls apart? Getting anywhere close to asking yourself “If I’m wrong about this, what else am I wrong about?” is too much for most of us.
So, when those conversations take place in my hearing, often I stay quiet. I don’t contradict or question or challenge. Often, I leave altogether.
I stay quiet because I don’t believe they will change.
I stay quiet because it’s taken me 20-25 years to break down the bigoted ideas I had to the point where I am now, I know it takes time and courage and more time. I’ve been there. Until you find another life line to anchor everything to (mine is “love wins”), this is the most terrifying experience in life. And I’m afraid that any move I make could add to the terror, not help stabilize.
I stay quiet because I know that pushing too hard can cause people to dig in deeper, harder, more stubborn. When people push me, I immediately resist.
I stay quiet because I believe that my energies are best focused on younger, more malleable people.
I stay quiet because this is someone I care about. This is my family/friend/neighbor/etc and I don’t want to create drama or “borrow trouble” (which is something I constantly tell my kids to avoid).
I stay quiet because I think it might work better for us to outlive the bigoted baby boomers and baby busters. Because I think it’s far more likely that we can make change with my generation and younger. Because I have no hope.
Maybe these are excuses. Maybe I stay quiet because I’m a coward.
I don’t LIVE quiet.
I am not secretive about what I believe.
I do what I can with my privilege to elevate other voices and open doors for them. I’m trying to live this, walk this out in my everyday life. I’m trying to show, not tell (one of the cardinal rules of writing).
Is that enough?
How do we DO this? How do I actually and effectively engage bigoted and willfully closed-minded thinking within the context of the relationships I have? How do I push just enough to be heard but not so hard that they slam the door in my face and move deeper into bigotry?
P.S. Hi. I’m back, at least for now. I have no idea how often I will write, or where this blog may go. But what’s happening in the United States right now is too important not to engage. I have this, so I’m using it.
I don’t know what I thought would happen at the end, exactly, when I started this in a little place on Blogger more than 10 years ago. I didn’t think about ending at all.
I’ve been blogging for TEN YEARS, y’all.
Back in 2004/2005, I desperately needed to connect with people, and with myself. Our oldest daughter was critically ill, in and out of the hospital so often I kept a bag packed by the door. The only people I saw any given week were hospital staff, either at clinics or therapy appointments or maybe in my living room if they came for a home visit. We tried to make it to church On Sunday. That was it.
I felt isolated, alone, and rather freakish. We were dealing with things like feeding tubes and heart arrhythmias, seizures and occupational therapy, IEPs and wheelchairs. No one else I knew had any of that in their vocabulary.
The blog gave me a place to process this unexpected parenting journey. The act of writing helps me organize my thoughts and corral the worst case scenarios I concocted with such ease. And I found friends in a space where we could meet and encourage each other without having to coordinate schedules and worry about babysitters, or you know, put makeup and clean clothes on.
This blog has been invaluable. It introduced me to some of my best friends and served as therapy as I worked through the most challenging and painful years of my life (thus far – please God don’t let it get worse).
As my writing changed and developed here, it gave me new writing opportunities, and eventually paid ones. Without this blog, I wouldn’t have become a contributing writer at A Deeper Story, encountered the work of World Vision in Bolivia and Sri Lanka, or become a child sponsor. I wouldn’t have met the person who knew the person who hired me at Feed the Children or had the opportunity to become a manager and leader in the workplace.
Scott used to ask me, back when this blog was the crux of a huge power struggle at a former church (the pastor thought he had the authority to tell me what I could and could not write here on my personal blog), how long was I going to keep this up? When would I be done?
I had no answer back then. I just knew that I wasn’t done yet.
I needed to grow up more. I need to make it through a traumatic transition and settle into the next phase. I needed to wrestle in a personal way with what it means to live with integrity, follow my convictions, promote peace, feed healthy relationships, and protect the privacy of my family and myself. I needed to experiment, take risks, make mistakes, and see for myself how it played out.
Those few of you remaining loyal readers (you are the BEST) may have noticed that I have only posted here once a month or so for the last two years. I think I needed to go dormant for awhile to ease into the idea that it might be done. That I might not be a blogger anymore. That I might need to take my energy and passion into a new arena.
I’m finally there. Not that I know for sure what I’m doing. Hah! That, I’m beginning to think, is a pipe dream. But I’m finally ready to turn out the lights, lock the door, and close the blog for good.
For the first time, the idea of doing so is not terrifying or unthinkable. I realized this week that closing the blog will be a relief.
I’m taking down my posts in the next week, saving them for my own reference later, and deleting the Facebook page.
Who knows? Maybe in another ten years, I will finally have a book to share with you. I do know this: I won’t stop writing. I can’t — it’s who I am. I just won’t be doing so here.
So, for now, this is goodbye. I wish you the very best.
Today, A Deeper Story is running what is most likely my last post for the group site. At the end of February, we will stop publishing new material (though the archives will stay indefinitely). I’m not sure yet what I will do with this new void in my personal writing schedule, but I do know this – I will keep writing. The work of finding common ground and understanding within our stories is not done, and it will never be.
Today, I’m thinking about racism and injustice and where to go from here. Some friends I trust who identify with other ethnicities have read it and given me their feedback before I published it.
Mostly, I have questions about what’s going on right now, like “Are things actually worse this year? Is fate or God or the weight of years of injustice finally pressing our faces into our own steaming pile of shit, forcing us to acknowledge things we’ve always before managed to shove out of our collective consciousness?”
I’m closing comments here, so I hope you’ll click over to read the full post and join the conversation in the comments there.
On Tuesday night, we took our youngest son to see a movie. We drove home along the stretch of interstate where it eventually became clear that a young woman had committed suicide early Sunday morning, just two days prior. I couldn’t stop thinking about how dark and desperate one’s despair must be to drive you to actually step out in front of a tractor-trailer on purpose.
Within hours, her death was connected to a suicide note posted on tumblr, in which she wrote out exactly what kind of despair drove her to end her life.
Leelah Alcorn is transgender. She was born with a male body and named Joshua by her parents. But her suicide note states that since age 4, she’s known she was a girl inside.
Her parents are understandably reluctant to speak publicly. After all, they are grieving the death of their child. However, Leelah’s mother Carla did speak briefly to CNN on Wednesday and confirmed some of what Leelah wrote in her suicide note.
Carla said, “We don’t support that [transgender], religiously. But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”
We don’t support that religiously.
The Alcorns are among those Christians who don’t believe that transgender exists as a legitimate identity. From Leelah’s note, it appears that her parents did their best to shut down her insistence that she is not a he, including forcing her to attend “conversion therapy” (also known as “reparative therapy”).
I have seen and heard this adamant refusal to admit the existence of transgender, intersex, and asexual individuals. It’s right up there with a refusal to recognize homosexuality as anything other than a sinful and perverted sexual choice.
Why? Why can’t Christians wrap their heads around the idea that a person could be born into a body that doesn’t reflect who they really are on the inside?
Conservative Christians teach that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin entered the world and broke things. This is how they explain the origin of birth defects, natural disasters, cancers, and the inability to live a perfectly righteous life – violence, lying, stealing, promiscuity, etc. They say we’re born with a preference for sinful living, but we’re also born into bodies prone to disease and a world bent on self destruction.
This leaves a few possibilities when we consider sexuality and gender identity. But for some reason, conservative Christian churches consistently categorize non-straight sexual behavior and gender identity as a sinful choice.
If this is where you land, please hear me out. I’m treading carefully because this is such a delicate subject and it gets at the heart of who people are.
First, we must agree that transgender is a real thing. It isn’t “all in their heads.”
Second, I want you to consider the possibility that being transgender, in which one doesn’t identify with the gender assigned them at birth (aka the moment when the doctor exclaims “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy”), could possibly be a part of living in a broken world with bodies that don’t cooperate with oneself.
This isn’t the perfect solution, but hear me out for a minute.
Consider the baby born with heart defects or the child diagnosed with autism. We easily recognize these as manifestations of living in a broken world (though you can find strains of Christianity that do blame every illness, injury, defect, and bad thing that happens on sin or lack of faith).
Can you imagine having a doctor tell you that your child has cerebral palsy or Asperger’s or Down’s Syndrome and responding, “We don’t support that religiously”? At best, it’s flat-out denial of a physical reality. At worst, it’s tantamount to saying it’s your child’s fault. Something didn’t work right during the child’s development from fertilized egg to embryo to fetus to newborn.
Jesus himself said that birth defects aren’t caused by someone’s sin. His disciples pointed out a man born blind and asked Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, to cause his blindness. Jesus told them no one sinned.
In a perfect world, people would never be born in the wrong body or in a body that doesn’t cooperate, but this isn’t a perfect world.
Now, here’s where this analogy starts to fall apart. In an earlier draft of this post, I wrote, “Being born with a physical gender that doesn’t match who you are inside is no different than being born with heart defects. Transgender isn’t a sin, nor is it a choice, nor is it fake. It’s one more example of the brokenness in this world that we all have to live with in one form or another.”
But I reached out to a group of friends who include Christians who identify as other than heterosexual and/or cisgender for feedback on this post. They pointed out that this still states that being transgender means you’re defective. While it’s an improvement over saying that transgender is fake or that it’s a sin, they told me it is still damaging.
I have a lot to learn. I know that many transgender individuals wish to or choose to “transition” so that their physical body matches their inner reality. To me, that sounds like someone who would say that their body didn’t match their selves and they wanted it to. Maybe the word anomaly or defect or “product of the fall” isn’t the right way to describe it, but having our insides match our outsides matters to many of us. Others insist that just as we find incredible and beautiful variation in nature, the variations in gender and sexuality among humans are similarly natural/normal/acceptable. Maybe those who choose to transition wouldn’t feel the need if we accepted transgender as another variation of normal. I don’t know. Maybe the difference in perspective is part of the beautiful variety within human beings.
Christians, we must deepen and better inform our understanding of gender identity. We’re killing people with our ignorance, our belligerence, and our refusal to educate ourselves. Leelah’s story is a tragic example of how utterly we can destroy a fellow human being when we get this wrong.
Here are a couple of resources recommended to me:
- Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano, a trans bisexual woman
- The blog of H. Adam Ackley, who talks about transgender issues within a framework of Christian orthodoxy
You can do something else, too. Sign the petition to enact Leelah’s Law to ban transgender conversion therapy.