Dietrich von Hildebrand, Part II

Christians are distinguished by our belief in the supernatural. Christians in America, however, far too often forget that we are also supernational.  In part II of our series on the life and insights of Dietrich von Hildebrand, we will take a closer look into how the awareness of our supranationalism can protect us from falling for the false idol of nationalism.

holocaust-956654_1280Having served as an assistant to a surgeon in Germany during WWI, Dietrich von Hildebrand experienced the political turmoil within his country in the wake of their defeat. While we can only look back on this time in history with a clear view of Hitler as a demagogue who brought turmoil across Europe and the world, those who lived through his rise to office did not have that advantage. Early on, Hitler did not look like the Hitler we now know. But Dietrich quickly saw through his schemes to what would become a destructive course of action by this man, and became a vocal opponent of Hitlerism. As many people, even Christians, missed these early signs and eventually allowed Hitler to rise to power, it is good for us to learn from what Dietrich was able to discern.

During his collegiate studies, he met Philosophy Professor Max Scheler, whose thoughts and life influenced Dietrich in becoming a Christian. Their talks also opened Dietrich’s mind to the underlying flaws in utopian visions of government:

“Through his discussions with Scheler, he now perceived clearly the danger of an earthly messianism and of the shallow (but tempting) belief that state laws can bring about a transformation of this earth and solve all its problems. It became clear to him that this transformation can be accomplished only through the purification of every single individual, a purification that, as he saw more and more clearly as time went by, can be achieved only by grace…”*** pg 75

Although a young believer, Dietrich had a keen mind, and along with his studies in philosophy he was able to separate the grand promises from the depraved idealism which Hitler was promoting in Germany in the early 1920’s.

“From the outset of the Nazi movement, he had perceived not only its insanity (for the racist principles on which Nazism was based were obviously without foundation), but also its insidious malignity. The Nazi movement was thoroughly perverse, and it incorporated an ani-Christian ethos, which he opposed with his every skill. It was not a question of ‘right’ or ‘left.’ It was a question of truth versus error; goodness verses crime and corruption.”*** pg 194

Hitler made many appeals to the struggling country’s desire to restore the glory of Germany. He used impassioned speeches to build up a vision of a racially superior Aryan population which deserved to take over power from the rest of Europe.

“We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany.”  (As quoted in A History of National Socialism, Konrad Heiden, A. A. Knopf [1935] p. 100)

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”  Adolf Hitler (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/adolf_hitler.html)

Yet von Hildebrand saw that the solicitation of racism and of nationalism among Christians made no sense:

“Since his conversion, Dietrich had found it difficult to understand how people who have been privileged to receive the plenitude of revealed truth could be so tepid, so impressed by ‘public opinion,’ so infected by nationalism. To be a Catholic was, to his mind, to live in a continual state of gratitude for the unmerited gifts of faith, the sacraments, and the guidance of Holy Church. To be a Catholic meant to see ‘temporal events in the light of eternity.’ To be a Catholic meant to keep in mind a hierarchy of values – never to allow earthly concerns to overshadow the faith.

How could one be a nationalist when the Church was so gloriously supranationalist? Dietrich himself felt much closer to a pious and faithful Italian or Frenchman than to a German whose religious views were either crippled or non-existent.

Dietrich often gave expression to this grief, the intensity of which was to increase during the 1920’s. Discovering how many otherwise good people had been infected by totalitarian views (which they did not recognize as such), he decided to write a new work in order to shed light on the Catholic view of the relationship between the individual and the community. It was to develop into an important work, one on which Siegfried Hamburger collaborated closely – Metaphysics of Community. This book offered Germany an antidote to the poison spreading throughout the country, namely, the glorification of the state and the metaphysical denigration of the individual.”*** pg 226-7

Shortly after the publication of this book, Dietrich had the opportunity to speak at a conference. The title of his talk was, “Individual and Community.”

“It proved convincingly that any attempt to create community at the expense of the individual person was not only radically erroneous but would lead necessarily to a complete misunderstanding of the very nature of community.” It pointed to the horror of both anti-personalism and totalitarianism and to the incompatibility of these ideologies with Roman Catholicism. It unmasked errors rampant in certain Hegelian formulation that placed the state above the individual, and forcefully argued that the opposite is true. Not only does the individual – rather than the community – deserve to be called a ‘substance,’ in the fullest sense of the term, but only he has an immortal soul destined to an eternal union with God, whereas all human communities will one day disappear with the end of the world. On the other hand, Dietrich emphasized the dignity and value of a true community, thereby also condemning liberal individualism.”*** pg 228-9

totalitarian:

of or relating to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.*****

Just this past week, Dr. Mark Yarhouse, Professor of Psychology at Regent University posted on his Facebook page the following quote from the Epistle to Diognetus (written sometime between 130 A.D. and late 2nd c.), which contains a description of some of the earliest Christians:

“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle….While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.

They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are ‘in the flesh,’ but do not live ‘according to the flesh.’ They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.” (Chapter 5)

Nationalism puts false confines around who we are as followers of Christ. The Lord operates across all boundaries to reach into the lives of individuals – He respects no boarders. He is a supranational God. When we become Christians, we become inhabitants of a new Kingdom, and are expatriates from the very land on which we stand. We bring the “admittedly unusual character” of our own citizenship with us wherever we go.

John Mark Yeats, in his article “A Question of (Alt) Right and Wrong,” puts it this way in regards to racial divisions:

“But this concept is often missed by many in America. The Gospel destroys our broken and sinful concepts of race! Jesus’ victory on the cross ended the hostility between Jew/Greek, male/female, black/white/Hispanic/Asian. It doesn’t erase our ethnic heritage or unique attributes – this is not an ‘I don’t see race’ proclamation. Instead, it is a new vision that despite these differences, we are placed into a new family where we become one because of Christ.

Can you imagine the powerful image of a room full of people from every nation, every socio-economic bracket and every generation crying out to God? This is when we begin to defy expectations since there is no other reason for all of us to gather save for the shared hope we have in Christ! The early church recognized this reality and even referred to themselves as the ‘third race.’ They still came from places of difference, but willingly abandoned those cultural markers to embrace an identity in Christ Alone!”****

Alice von Hildebrand points out in her biography of Dietrich that, “Von Hildebrand always made a sharp distinction between ‘patriotism’ (a legitimate love for one’s country) and ‘nationalism’ (an illegitimate feeling – an expression of a person’s inflated ego.)”*** note on pg 241 He saw that the answer was not to disparage Germany, but to protect it from the abhorrent madness Hitler was rapidly bringing with his rise to power:

“[Dietrich and his new friend Klaus Dohrn]…saw that it [Nazi ideology] was waging war on what was best and noblest in Germany. Hitler was the country’s deadliest enemy. To love Germany and hate Hitlerism were two facets of the same thing. Both men agreed that a true German patriot had to do everything in his power to oppose this evil and liberate his country.”*** pg 251-2

Indeed, there is a place for patriotism, but it is a conception which thrives only when brought under the reign and authority of our eternal King and when we measure our country by the standard of His Kingdom. Without care, the fondness one has for their homeland can become misplaced worship. Tucked away in the conclusion to C.S. Lewis’ sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” is a reminder of the temporary nature of all countries:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, and civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals that we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, and no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence, which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat —the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” – First given at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, June 8, 1941 (Emphasis mine.)

No earthly nation will achieve eternal redemption, and no civilization will surpass the Kingdom. Being a citizen of a good society will not save us, but the salvation found when we put our faith in Jesus will bring each of us into a transcendent Godly society that will never end.

***Alice von Hildebrand, The Soul of a Lion (page references in the text above)

****http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/a-question-of-alt-right-and-wrong?utm_content=buffereeeb0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

*****Apple dictionary

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Keeping Sin in Perspective

This post by Matt Moore was timely in the wake of Kim Burrell’s statements earlier this week. Matt shares his thoughts on feeling that homosexuality was somehow different than any other sin, and how that mindset can undermine the potential for growth in one’s relationship to Jesus:

http://www.moorematt.org/not-an-anomaly/

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.

 

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/