This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

saltimages

The title of this post is a bit misleading – it actually should read more along the lines of “This is why we cannot have meaningful relationships and conversations.”

Earlier this week, singer Kim Burrell in a video, predicted that homosexuality and those “who play with it in God’s house will die in 2017.” She also spoke about “the perverted homosexual spirit” in her sermon. (She has since stated that her comments were taken out of the context of her message, and that she holds no hatred for gays or lesbians.) The comments made in her original video came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who cancelled Kim Burrell’s upcoming scheduled appearance on her show.

And I don’t blame her (DeGeneres) for taking that step.

Once again, someone who is a follower of Christ was found to take homosexuality out of the greater context of Scripture and twist it into a something unrecognizable. Predicting the death of anyone in this or any other year is beyond the pay grade of any disciple of Jesus.

I believe that there are several reasons behind this type of thinking:

  1. Bad teaching.
  2. Resentment
  3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

Let’s take a closer look at these…

1. Bad Teaching

At this point in the history of the church, there really is no excuse for this. There are more resources available than there have ever been. (You can find a list of some of them under the “Resources” tab of this blog.) For Kim Burrell to have said these things, it seems that she has spent little time in understanding how homosexuality is addressed in Scripture, and how God works in the lives of those who have experienced same-sex attractions, or any other sin for that matter.

Singer and songwriter Keith Green once said, “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!” We have a responsibility to learn about the issues our culture is concerned with today in order to reach the souls of those around us with the Gospel.

2. Resentment

Sometimes it seems as though Christians speak out recklessly in regards to homosexuality in particular because of a resentment of the wider cultural acceptance of those who identify as gay or lesbian. It is as if lashing out with words you would never hear applied to any other sin is done in a terribly misguided effort to take back ground in some way.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m thankful that people are able to be more open about their same-sex attractions in our culture – I don’t want to go back to where we were. It is good for people to be able to walk down the street without being afraid of getting beat up. It’s good for people to be able to go about their days at work or running errands on eating meals with friends without harassment. It was not a good thing to treat homosexuality as a cultural taboo.

Christians always walk in two worlds – we live here on earth as citizens of another Kingdom. It makes no sense to waste time railing against our status as expatriates. This world is not our home, and we have the privilege of showing those around us what it is like to live a life of freedom and love in Christ. When others see His love in us, they will want to join in the call to know and glorify God.

3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6

Kim Burrell lost her opportunity to meet Ellen DeGeneres, to appear on her show, and to have any kind of conversation or build any kind of relationship with her because she chose to pick out homosexuality as a sin deserving some kind of special punishment from God. Her theology was wrong, and it will take some time and effort to ever have that kind of opportunity come her way again (if ever.)

Without discussions about sexuality – whether about homosexuality or heterosexuality – within the church, room is created for bad teaching and resentment to build, instead of wisdom and contentment in Christ. Too often people are afraid to bring up the subject in a Sunday School class or Bible study, and their conversations end up being seasoned with flamethrowers instead of salt.

Salt is known to be one of the basic human tastes. (The others are sweet, bitter, sour and savory.) According to Wikipedia:

“As taste senses both harmful and beneficial things, all basic tastes are classified as either aversive or appetitive, depending upon the effect the things they sense have on our bodies. Sweetness helps to identify energy-rich foods, while bitterness serves as a warning sign of poisons.

According to Lindemann, both salt and sour taste mechanisms detect, in different ways, the presence of sodium chloride (salt) in the mouth, however, acids are also detected and perceived as sour.

The detection of salt is important to many organisms, but specifically mammals, as it serves a critical role in ion and water homeostasis in the body. Because of this, salt elicits a pleasant taste in most humans.

Sour and salt tastes can be pleasant in small quantities, but in larger quantities become more and more unpleasant to taste.”*

I’ve made the mistake of adding too much salt in recipes, and the results were inedible. When we fail to use wisdom and discernment in our conversations, we make relationships with people who don’t know Jesus unpalatable. (Now, of course, we know that some people may find the message of the Gospel hard to digest – but that is not what is happening in this example with Kim Burrell.) We need to spend time learning within our fellowship groups how to address questions surrounding sexuality in a Biblically sound and compassionate way. I believe that Kim’s words would have been different if she had spoken to other mature Christians first.

Here are some suggestions:

Invest some time in learning more about what the Lord has to say about our sexuality in general, as well as about homosexuality. (Again some excellent resources are listed on the Resources tab of this blog.)

Spend some time listening to those who have experienced same-sex attractions. Ask questions just to gain insight into the perspective of other people.

Find other Christians who are interested in learning more about how to reach out to people around them who are involved in the LGBT community, and talk about your concerns and questions. Invite someone to come speak to your small group on the topic, and ask your church staff for more teaching to be made available so you can ask your questions within the Body of Christ.

There are ways to speak about sexuality without alienating people – and those conversations are best when they are earned. We need to be involved in serving everyone around us, and being ready to give thoughtful (not bland), graceful answers when opportunities do arise. Here is one example that I thought was very good – you may recall that there was an article raising a controversy about Chip and Joanna Gaines late last year, where it was noted that they attend a church in which the pastor has addressed homosexuality as a sin. Just this week, Chip has posted the following response on his blog…it is well worth taking your time to read:

https://magnoliamarket.com/chips-new-years-revelation/

Instead of decrying the state of being attacked and misunderstood, Chip Gaines has asked us all to raise the level of the conversation. He asks us to be considerate of one another and give one another breathing room. It is possible to lovingly disagree and work alongside each other in a community. Let us look for opportunities to do that in this new year.

 

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste#Basic_tastes

Prepare to be Misunderstood…Again

P1070897It’s still difficult for me to grasp – Donald Trump is going to be our next President.  Of the United States.  Of the choices running for office, I favored Bernie Sanders.  I was going to vote for him in protest against the way that the two-party system has failed to represent the middle class, forming an oligarchy rather than a democracy…until Donald Trump actually won the Republican nomination.  Then I was one of the apparently few Christians who voted for Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8th.  In vain, as I live in a state that Trump dominated during the election, but at least I can sleep a little better knowing that I personally did not contribute to this vile man gaining power.

So here we are…and I’m sad and quite concerned about a number of things with Trump coming into office.  First is his willful denial of the existence and impact of climate change on our planet.  Our nation is already moving so slowly in response to this threat, and we are running out of time to make the changes that are needed to provide a sustainable place for all of us to live.  [For more information on things you can do to help, I recommend the following:  350.org, CCL, Katharine Hayhoe.]

Second, I’m concerned about how the church will respond.  Putting false hope in the office of the President, and on national laws / political platforms rather than our calling to personal holiness can have a corrosive effect on our faith.  I’m afraid that is, at least in part, what has led so many believers to vote for Trump in the first place.  We are warned many times in Scripture not to look for power outside of the Almighty, but time and again we fall for the same thing.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
Psalm 20:7

I’m not saying that we should not look for Godly men or women to serve in our government – by all means we should!  But Trump has made it clear that he is not a Godly man, and that he is not out to serve anyone but himself.  Narcissists in power do not make good leaders.

Third, and more in tune with the overall topic of this blog, I’m concerned about being misunderstood – actually – continuing to be misunderstood*.  In truth, people like myself who have spent years wrestling with our faith and out sexuality, and who have chosen to follow the Lord in setting aside our same-sex desires for His sake – we’ve never really been understood by the culture at large, nor truly integrated into the church in a healthy way.

This morning a headline caught my eye:  “Rachel Maddow chokes up describing Mike Pence’s anti-LGBT policies.”  I’ve never watched Rachel Maddow’s show, principally due to not having a cable subscription.  Whenever I have seen clips of her speaking, however, she has come across to me as someone who is fair minded.  So I wanted to learn more about her concerns regarding our Vice-President elect.

Maddow went on to describe some of the anti-LGBTQ policies Pence has promoted.

“Mike Pence said you should not only take away money from HIV and AIDS programs, he said AIDS funding should be taken away from serving people with HIV and AIDS,” she said, “because instead it should be diverted into government-funded programs designed to cure people from being gay, to try to fix gay people.”

On Pence’s 2000 campaign website, he advocated for spending public funds promoting the broadly debunked practice of attempting to change a person’s sexually orientation from gay or bisexual to straight.

“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” he wrote at the time.

http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2016/11/watch-rachel-maddow-chokes-describing-mike-pences-anti-lgbt-policies/

Well, great – that makes a lot of sense.  (For me to be fair, I’ve not fact-checked this.  It is possible that Pence is being misunderstood, but Maddow isn’t the kind of person to promote hype, so I’m going to suspect it’s true.)  Yet, the fact that some people who have sought change in their orientation who are also HIV+ seems to have slipped through the minds of both Maddow and Pence.  I’m sure people who are HIV+ would like to remain alive, regardless of their sexual orientation, and I’ve never seen anyone involved in any type of Christian outreach to the LGBT population propose that any government funds be directed their way.  Let me repeat that last part – I have never seen anyone in Christian outreach to the LGBT population ask for government resources, including funds, to support their efforts.  The separation of church and state, in this sense, is a good thing.

And here is where the concern with Pence lies – I don’t want to be lumped in with him and those who don’t quite seem to understand the good experience I and others have had in seeking to submit our sexuality to the Lordship of Christ.  It’s not a good idea to divert funds away from HIV & AIDS programs, and it’s not a good idea to have the government fund the type of counseling I received.  It would be nice to see that counseling for those who want to explore the potential for fluidity in their sexual orientation not be outlawed, as it preserves the right of self-determination.  But preserving and protecting this right and supplying funding are two different things.

Sigh…

The good news is that there continue to be more and more articulate individuals coming forward who are being heard who can help to foster better understanding of the complicated issues surrounding homosexuality.  And that is how I see myself, and my experience – I hope and pray that the story of my experiences will help to understand a bit more of the mystery of human sexuality.  I hope it will spur on better questions and cause people to think and look more deeply into their own lives.  I hope that by speaking out eventually well-meaning people like Pence won’t make such terrible suggestions, and fair-minded people like Maddow won’t be so upset.

So we’ll press on, continuing to share what we’ve learned, in the hopes that eventually, we won’t be quite so misunderstood.  May we listen well, serve much, and earn the opportunity to be heard in the days to come.

 

 

*These are most certainly not my only concerns about the upcoming Trump presidency – his narcissistic character, poor choice of advisors, appeals to the base racist elements running through our country, etc. are all terrible.  There are too many concerns to cover in a blog post, actually.

 

For Parents

What do you say when one of your kids “comes out” to you as gay or lesbian?

Here are some thoughtful things to consider:

12 Vital Things for Parents to Say to Their Gay Child

Another Short But Deep Read

Over the past few months I’ve come across some excellent resources that I wish would have been available when I was growing up.  The quality of writing has been on the rise, matching up to the great need of helping the church to grow into it’s calling to walk alongside those who experience same-sex attraction.  I am excited to see how the Lord will use these things to help followers of Christ in the days to come.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends

by Brad Hambrick

I came across a recommendation for this book recently and added it to my Kindle. I was able to read it in it’s entirety during a long car ride, highlighting passages on almost every page.

The inscription on the first page was striking:

This book is dedicated to those who have felt that their experience of same-sex attraction has left them isolated within or from the Body of Christ.

May this book help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God.

~ Brad Hambrick

I’ve never read a book that was so directly dedicated to me, or to people like me (outside of Scripture, of course!) It took me aback for a moment – to think that the author even noticed that experiencing this temptation can be an isolating experience, often leaving a person feeling detached from the conversations going on in a church group, or even cut off from the gospel – the good news of salvation and redemption itself. To see that the goal of this book was to help end and mend this isolation through the maturation of the church was touching.

As I then read through the recommendations, I came across a familiar name – John Freeman, President of Harvest USA:

Finally, a practical book that helps us engage people as Jesus would! Brad Hambrick captures the heart of what is means to invite into dialogue and relationship people who you might otherwise see as so unlike you that you may not know how to begin a substantive conversation. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk teaches the lost art of how to talk with people, draw them out, get to know their story and, therefore, know their heart…all of which makes fertile soil for the gospel to take root and flourish!

That is a fine summary of what this book can help one accomplish. I’ve probably mentioned this on this blog before, but the number one question I receive from people after hearing my story is, “How can I talk to my gay / lesbian friend / family member without offending or hurting them in some way?” People really want to show that they care, and they want to love others well, which in and of itself is a world away from the mainstream of the culture I grew up in.   So there is already a great need for a book like this, and Brad Hambrick does indeed do a wonderful job of giving practical help.

It is a short work – only 100 pages, divided into six chapters which build on one another, so it’s worth reading from beginning to end. The last chapter was the most awkwardly worded, which the author acknowledged as it was a compressed fictional conversation, but you could catch the application of what was shared in the previous five chapters enough to justify reading it through.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends would be an excellent follow up to Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach* for a small group wanting to learn more about bridging the divide between those who experience same-sex attraction and the church at large.

*See the Resources tab for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs of Hope in the Midst of Grief

P1180179_2This past weekend we have witnessed horrible events that still hang heavy on my heart and mind.

On Friday evening, after singing at her concert, Christina Grimmie was shot and killed while signing autographs for her fans. Her brother tackled the shooter, who then turned the gun on himself, taking his own life.

Then, the news early Sunday morning shared the loss of 20 people at a gay bar in Orlando, with tens more injured. By that afternoon, the death toll had risen to 50, and I’ve heard since that 53 lives were lost.

Stunning, again, such loss – these were people with promise, going about their lives peacefully. They had no reason to think that this would be their last time heading out the door, seeing their families and friends, or hearing their last song.

As soon as I learned of these incidents, I prayed for their friends and families. Yet the sorrow has lingered longer than the headlines. I have a friend who lives near Orlando who might have been in that club, but thankfully was not. Just yesterday I learned that my aunt went to church with Christiana Grimmie in NJ, and shared that their pastor spoke of her loss on Sunday morning.

One thing that I have noticed that brings me some hope in the midst of this is the reaction from the Christians around me. Online, the first news I had of the story was from the post-gay community, who are united in grief and in prayer. At Sunday School the first prayer request that morning was for those involved in the shooting in Orlando. Ugly words have been rare, and there has been much less hesitation to reach out in love.

I pray that this is a sign of maturity – long past due – in the church as a whole. I encourage anyone who knows someone in the LGBT community to voice your sadness, and ask those around them how they are feeling / what they are thinking about what happened.

After the shooting that took place at a prayer service Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17th, 2015, (where a shooter sat with the church members for an hour before standing up to kill nine people) I remember the next time that I went to church, for the first time, I wondered what would I do if someone came into the sanctuary with a weapon. Would I be hit instantly, or would I be able to duck under cover? What about my husband, what would I do if he was injured? Would I be able to help anyone?

No one should have to think about these kinds of questions going to church, or to school, or a movie theater, a mall, or a gay bar.

There have been a variety of reasons behind these mass shootings in the US – mental illness, racism, extremist Islamic terrorism, etc. In every case, bringing a gun into a peaceful assembly of people is an act of cowardice. It will not advance any cause, or resolve any problem.

I have seen a (very) few people decrying prayer as a response to these incidents. At first I was taken back by this, after all – how can prayer hurt? There is in our culture the belief that prayer is mere sentiment; a well-wishing, fleeting thought aimed vaguely at the sky. And for some, sadly, that is all it is – a notion of the mind, dissipating into thin air. But for those who know the Lord personally, prayer is communication with the Creator of the Universe, a direct connection with a supernatural, holy, and awesome being who bends low to listen to us. There is an underestimation of the power of prayer, and the impact this conversation can have on the individual praying.

But if that disapproval of prayer is actually a disappointment, a frustration with those who pray and turn away unchanged, or not motivated to put their prayers into helpful action, then I can understand, and even agree.

One way that I’ve found useful in turning my prayers for an end to these mass shootings & for peace into practical action is supporting the work of Americans for Responsible Solutions (http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/).

You may remember that on January 8th of 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head while at a public gathering with constituents. Six people were killed and nineteen injured in that incident (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrielle_Giffords). Since that time, Gabrielle and her husband Mark Kelly have started Americans for Responsible Solutions to address the complicated matters surrounding gun violence in this country. Both Mark and Gabrielle are gun owners, and do not advocate overturning the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The legislative actions they do support address a variety of issues surrounding gun violence in a variety of ways, and I believe that they are common sense ways we can agree on that will help. Please consider looking into their proposals and supporting this work.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-21

The Parent Trap

parent trap image

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/02/14319/

I came across this article last month, entitled, “Is Christian Teaching on Sexuality Psychologically Harmful?” I found several aspects intriguing, and I thought I’d pass it along.

The first point of interest was the false dichotomy that there are only two choices for Christian parents of teens who come out to them as LGBT – either complete acceptance / celebration or complete rejection. Those are, thankfully, not the only choices parents have. But the promotion of that narrative relates directly to the second point I found interesting in this article…the way that preparing for only either one of these reactions robs parents of breathing room when they hear this type of announcement from their kids.

“Typically, those who finally come out of the closet have done so after a long, hard process of soul-searching, struggle, and self-questioning. This is precisely why the event itself is so important to them. But when this dramatic news is announced, those to whom it is announced are expected to come to terms with it immediately and respond with unflinching affirmation and support. This expectation just isn’t realistic about the nature of such news and the impact it has on many families. Awkwardly stumbling through such news is dramatically different from refusing to accept a vulnerable person with grace and compassion. It is human to struggle; it is divine to love the other without conditions.” ~ Andrew T. Walker and Glenn Stanton

I remember the conversations that I had with each of my parents (they were divorced, so these occurred separately.)  This was in my early 20’s and in grad school – not quite the same situation as a teenager living at home.  But I had spent a long time wrestling with my sexuality and my faith, and I’d tried to be prepared for any number of possible reactions.  Confusion was something I expected, along with elements of surprise and doubt and questions about what this might all mean.  I was thankful that I was able to give each of them space and time to work through the variety of emotions that came up at once.

It’s bothered me for a long time to hear LGBT groups educate teens on how to come out to their parents, with warnings to expect rejection if their parents are persons of faith. It creates a pre-meditated tension, where any sign of confusion or surprise causes some teens to jump to the conclusion that they are being rejected.  It’s important for teens to be encouraged to show some maturity and discernment, especially in the midst of such an emotionally charged conversation.

There were a few steps that I took to prepare for these conversations with my parents:

  1. I chose the time and place carefully.
    1. This is not the type of conversation you want to have during the midst of an argument or stressful situation. This information should not be used as ammo, or as a weapon against someone close to you.
    2. I made sure that they were each in a good place to be able to listen, and that we would not feel rushed.
  1. I had trusted friends praying for me ahead of time.
    1. This was such a comfort – to know that while this was my story, I wasn’t in it alone.
  1. I thought through what I was going to say, and prepared myself for any kind of reaction.
    1. I tried to make my best guess at how each of my parents might react, and thought through what might make the most sense to them, or what might be easiest for them to understand. I knew that my mom, especially, was quite sensitive (she has since passed away), so I came up with a few illustrations and examples in case she started to take things too personally. (Which she did, but I as I’d thought she might, I gave her information to correct that train of thought, and then gave her space to think about it all. To this day, I don’t hold her initial reaction against her.)
  1. I had set up time to talk to several good friends soon after sharing the news with each of my parents.
    1. This allowed me to know that I could have a safe space of my own to work through how the conversation went, whether it had been good or bad. It meant so much to me to have friends set aside time to pray with me & to listen before and afterwards. That gave me a sense of comfort, shelter and love, which provided the strength to get through it well.

The third point that stood out in this article was not advice on how Christian parents could react to such news – there are good resources for those looking to learn more about that on the Resources page of this blog. Rather, it was learning about the work of someone who has taken a deeper look into how Christian parents do actually respond.

Ritch Savin-Williams, Ph.D., is the chair of the Department of Human Development and a Professor of Developmental Psychology at Cornell Univ. who specializes in gay, lesbian, and bisexual research. Walker and Stanton write:

“Savin-Williams also explains that teens who come out to their Christian parents are generally treated just as well, if not better, than kids who come out to other types of parents. In fact, he finds that it is often parents’ Christian theology that contributes to a caring—though often difficult and awkward—interaction and navigation through this news. More often than not, families with children who struggle with same-sex attraction do not respond with judgment, condemnation, or rejection. Rather, there is typically a promise of unconditional love and comfort for the child, even while the parents themselves wobble through coming to terms with this startling news.”

Savin-Williams also states that there is no epidemic of gay teen suicide – which is welcome news!  [You can learn more about Savin-Williams’ conclusions about gay teens here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130732158].

This was new information for me – to learn that someone has been taking note of how Christian parents are reacting to the coming-out news of their teens, and finding that even when they are not celebrating the news, they are loving their child. I was encouraged to see that this is evident to a psychologist and professor at a major university, and I hope that the trend will continue.

Approachability

Same Outfit, Different Appearance

Earlier in this series on Gender Identity, I wrote: “For quite some time, people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl, and now, even on days when I’m wearing the exact same clothes that I was then, no one questions that I’m a woman. How did I get here from there?”* I would like to explore that phenomenon a bit in this post. Why is it that I can wear the exact same clothes I that I had worn years ago, and yet there are no longer any questions about my gender?

Of course there are some easy cues – my hair is longer, and I wear earrings. However, from some angles you can’t tell what the length of my hair is, as I’m often wearing a hat with a ponytail. And usually my earrings are small and not noticeable. Even from a distance, people can consistently tell that I’m a woman although I might be wearing hiking clothes or some other tomboyish outfit. I suspect that this is due to a factor that is hard to describe in one word. I think it’s because I carry a different air or atmosphere – an attitude or mindset – about me that goes deeper than perfume.

pine

Approachability

The way that I used to carry myself – my posture, eye contact (or the lack thereof), mannerisms, conversation (tone of voice along with my choice of words), was not welcoming to men. I was guarded, wary, and easily triggered. Often, I was a living image of the Heisman Trophy – one arm extended, the other carefully cradling the football. At the same time, I would wonder why men were not asking me out, or taking the time to get to know me better. Well, who would want to crawl over and through all that barbed wire, landmines, moats and traps? It takes courage to ask someone out, and I had put up many layers that were getting in the way.

I thought I was brave, yet in reality I was fearful. I didn’t want to take risks, I wanted guarantees. I assumed that the “right guy” would be the one to prove he could see through my defenses and find the real me. It took a long time for me to see that my defenses were over-the-top, and that I could trust the Lord to be my Shield, my Shepard – He would have my back. When I leaned more on Jesus and became more open, (which took years), it made a great difference.

Approachability is not the same as attractiveness. One can be approachable, yet not attractive. And one can be quite attractive, yet not approachable.

Karl Bonhoeffer, the father of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once described first meeting Paula von Hase at at meeting at the house of physicist Oscar Meyer:

“There I met a young, fair, blue-eyed girl whose bearing was so free and natural, and whose expression was so open and confident, that as soon as she entered the room she took me captive. This moment when I first laid eyes upon my future wife remains in my memory with an almost mystical force.”

~ Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In reading this, there is very little description of Paula von Hase’s appearance – we read that she was “fair” with “blue eyes.” I’m pretty sure that would accurately describe a good number of women across Germany. Yet we do get a good impression of how approachable Paula von Hase was to Karl Bonhoeffer – her “bearing” and “expression” were captivating. She was “free and natural…open and confident.” Much different than the closed and cautious air I was exhibiting for many years.

[As an aside: Karl Bonhoeffer’s reaction also reminds me of what Alice Von Hildebrand said about what the response of a man to a woman and vice verse is:

“…the proper response of a man to a woman is enchantment, and that of a woman, ‘when seeing a man worthy of being called a man’ is admiration.”

(See the last post on this blog: https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/inside-the-outside/) His first impression lasted through many trials. Their marriage by all accounts was happy and lasted through WWII and the loss of several children and other family members who fought against the Nazi regime.]

On the flip side, someone can be quite attractive and yet be intimidating or carry a cold shoulder. Google, “intimidating” and choose images. You’ll see a good variety of examples – I found it telling that what came up in this search were mostly faces rather than animals or objects.

I think that approachableness is a combination of several things – I’d like to focus on two that I’ve not already covered in other posts on this blog: Actions and Mindset.

Actions

Sometimes subtle, sometimes not – I liked the definition of the term, “bearing” that Karl Bonhoeffer used in the quote above. This is from the Apple dictionary:

bearing |ˈbe(ə)riNG|

noun

1 [ in sing. ] a person’s way of standing or moving: a man of precise military bearing.

• the way one behaves or conducts oneself: she has the bearing of a First Lady.

For me, it was easy to read my posture as a huge “back away” billboard, as I used how I moved and rested to physically create space for myself and to put men in particular off. Again, some of this was comical, as during this time I was close to 100 lbs. and under 5 and a half feet tall. At one single’s group, I would carry a book bag with my Bible and note pad in it. I choose a folding chair early and grabbed the one next to it to set in front of me, using it as a desk for my Bible. My feet would rest on the legs of the chair in front, and I was “dug in” to listen and learn. Very attentive, but not very inviting for anyone else to sit next to me and start a conversation.

Think about how you might set yourself up with a book and/or headphones or a pillow and blanket on a plane for a long flight when you hoped to get some quiet rest. That was me in almost any social situation. Looking back now, I realize that I would accessorize for disassociation, distance, and defense. At the time I wasn’t conscious about it.

After starting to put the pieces together, one day I prayed that one of the men in the singles group would sit down next to me. I used a tote bag instead of the backpack, and didn’t spin a seat around to use as a desk. I took time to chat with people in the group, and then simply sat down. I remember feeling rather vulnerable, as silly as that may seem. Within a minute, though, one of the guys in the group – actually the tallest and one of the nicest fellows there – strode across the room and said out loud for all to hear, “Well, I’m going to sit down here next to Dee!” He said it in a tone that implied that everyone else was giving him the cold shoulder, and he felt that the only welcoming place in the room was there next to me.

It was as though the Lord was going out of His way to make sure that I understood that He had heard and was answering my prayer. (And that cracked me up.) My billboard that had read “go way” had turned completely around into, “Howdy! Why not stop and sit a spell?” That was a turn for the better!

Mindset

Even with an attractive appearance and welcoming posture, one can easily exhibit a closed off mindset. My conversation usually revealed a tendency to shut down around men, while being open towards women. I would use harsh, cutting jokes to insult men, and used sarcasm as an offensive and defensive weapon. Again, I was frustrated for years that none of the men around me were making an effort to take the time to get to know the real me. I now see that I had set up terrible obstacles for them to maneuver before they could have a chance to be my friend. It was not fair, and unrealistic to expect of any man.

During a counseling session on this topic, I was challenged to look for opportunities to compliment the men around me. Any man – not just the fellows I was hoping to get to know better in my singles group. I had become so tuned out to men that it was hard! I had never thought of this before, and I’m sorry to say that my mind drew a blank at first. It was a huge blind spot in my life, and obviously needed quite a bit of work.

Fortunately I worked in a field with plenty of opportunities to encourage people. In my sessions with male clients, instead of going for a sarcastic one-liner, I would look for ways to sincerely compliment whatever aspect of the fellow’s character that stood out as they worked to meet their goals. I still kept my ironic sense of humor, which many men would warm up to, but I made an effort to look at the men differently, and to think deeper about what it was that I admired in them. Some were concerned about being able to provide for their families, or how to spend quality time playing with their kids who were too young to understand their injuries. Some showed tremendous resiliency after being in accidents that completely turned the course of their lives around. Some were standing up for injustices in the community around them, others cared for their wives with a deep, sacrificial love that I didn’t know could exist outside of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And the Lord gently and lavishly encouraged me along the way.

Be more attractive!

Well-meaning women often gave me shallow advice, at times in an attempt to make themselves more comfortable by associating with people who looked and acted just like them. I would hear things like: “Make an effort – try some makeup – put on a dress – wear some perfume” etc. But those suggestions were like telling someone with anorexia to eat more – not hitting the mark by a long shot.

Over the years I learned more about the deeper changes that truly make one more attractive – how to create an open and welcoming space around myself, and how to drop the chip on my shoulder and instead carry an air that a new acquaintance described as “imaginative” and “fun-loving.” Life is better this way – the energy that used to go into keeping my guard up can now be channeled into listening and learning more about other people.

One day on my way into work after getting my hair cut and styled, I complained to the Lord that I was tired of women always noticing and complimenting a new hairdo, and never hearing a compliment from a guy. So, I asked Him to have a guy notice and say something nice about my hair for a change.

Later that afternoon while working with a fellow, in the middle of his exercise routine he said, “I like your new haircut. My wife wears her hair that way.” Another direct answer to prayer. And not only was he complimenting me, he also complimented his wife, and set what he said in the right context of respecting his relationship with her. It was humbling to see God working so directly.

Years later, the same client came in. He had a surgical procedure done that had caused him to temporarily lose his voice, and came in with his wife, who was a pleasure to meet. They had come through a scary medical situation, and I was very glad to see he was on the mend. As he was working on an exercise machine that I was using to test his endurance, he waved me over. “I like your hair,” he mouthed, and shot me a grin, with his wife smiling beside him. I thanked him and had to turn away quickly as tears came to my eyes. It was such a joy to see how they had been sustained through this tough time, and how the Lord also was reminding me of His sustaining love and care for me. He is the God who hears and answers prayer.

 

In this series I hope that I’ve been able to shed a bit of light on some of the complex underlying issues that were a part of my own experiences with and expressions of gender identity, and some of the multiple things that came together that made a difference. If you’ve been reading these articles through I hope that you will think about getting to know a person beyond whatever their appearance may be, and then you might have the opportunity to find out what their appearance means to them. Jesus always looks at us from the inside out – getting closer to Him helps me to see people the way He does. Getting closer to Him means spending time with Him in prayer, in worship, in reading His word, and serving others. When we invest in our relationship with Christ, we’ll be much better equipped to invest in living alongside and loving others.

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/gender-identity-iii/