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Not Your Kids

by Abigail Conley

A story flashes across my screen. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles.

“Not your kids,” a voice says from somewhere inside.

It’s the voice of relief, a promise really, “not your kids.”

June is Pride Month, so there’s an array of rainbow everything on that same screen.

Pictures of happy couples, of families with moms or dads, of chestfeeding and breastfeeding, of pronoun etiquette and label etiquette. Amid those happy pictures, happy shares of stories, there are stories of rejection intermingled.

“Not your kids,” says the same voice from deep inside. I rest assured that my LGBTQ+ kids know they’re safe at church, if nowhere else.

I know the hijabs the little girls wear set them apart from their friends and neighbors. I know the color of their skin does, too. Their families are from Pakistan. I cannot imagine what many of them have been through in their lives. These Muslim children joyfully welcome their Christian neighbors, snuggling up to the adults who are more familiar. I wonder how often they are not safe outside these walls.

“Not your kids,” comes the same voice.

This is the echo of privilege. The fears that accompany so many people do not accompany my kids—the ones from my church, the ones of my own I may have some day.

Children seem to be the great equalizer among people. Children are easier to play with and easier to talk to. They seem to more easily embrace any adult willing to play with them. They worry less about language barriers. My Spanish is even perfect for hanging out with preschool kids, where I can quiz them on colors and shapes.

I remember a plea made in my own denomination that stopped some of the fighting about LGBTQ+ welcome: our kids are dying.

Even the naysayers realized that’s the worst sort of pain.

The voice comes often, “Not your kids.”

If it’s not your kids, it’s easy to forget the sort of desperation that comes with it is your kids. It’s the kind of desperation that dragged Jairus from his home to find a man he’d only heard about. It’s the kind of desperation that made him pull Jesus along with him through the city streets, to a house where mourning had already begun. It’s the desperation that will do anything to save a child’s life.

“Not your kids,” will echo, again. Our privilege will remind us of the fears we don’t have for our children. I wonder, can we learn the answer, “But they’re somebody’s kids”?

A Socratic Path to Online Serenity

by Greg Gonzales

The Socratic Filter might be one of the best tools we have in this world of information overload. Each and every day, we’re bombarded with more information than we could ever memorize, use, or discuss later on. That information gently drops upon our brains, like a drop in a pond which ripples and changes the whole life of the pond ever-so minutely, so it’s important to mindfully decide which bits get our direct attention, and that includes our interactions with people with disagree with online. We could ignore those people, but we can also question them until they don’t have a good answer. Luckily, Socrates gave us a couple of techniques to break down beliefs and build bridges across disagreements.

One day, a friend visited Socrates to offer up some gossip (and I’ll abridge the story here for length). Before letting his friend speak on it, he asked, “Have you ensured that what you’re about to tell me is true?” The friend said no, he’d only overheard the gossip. Socrates then asked, “Is what you’re about to tell me something good, or kind?” The friend said no, quite the opposite. “So you don’t know it to be true, and you don’t know it to be good,” Socrates pointed out. “So is what you’re going to tell me useful or necessary to know?” Deflated, the friend said no. Socrates concluded, “If what you’re going to say is neither true, good, nor useful, please refrain from speaking at all.” At least one must apply, or it’s not worth sharing or listening to.

We should all be so discriminate with our words. Facts and truth are something we ought to share because we live in a democracy and because we all ought to learn more about the world we live in. Same can be said for the good things in life, even if they aren’t necessarily true, because we can grow and heal from them. For example, if a discovery next year proves Socrates was merely Plato’s invention, his stories would still bring us the same joy and wisdom they do now. Useful words ought to be revered, too, for their applications in our own lives. Not all useful ideas are good or known to be true, but they can still hold utilitarian value. To share something true, good, and/or useful is a service to all, whether through art or through a comment at the bottom of a hotly-debated article.

Socrates’s world and our world aren’t all that different when it comes to social and societal challenges we face on a daily basis. We understand that the world isn’t controlled by a set of incestuous gods now, but we still find ourselves shocked by support for flat Earth conspiracies and the millions of U.S. adults who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Those ideas are known to be false, they’re not good, and they aren’t useful. When faced with ideas that don’t pass the Socratic Filter, we just need to remember that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” and begin questioning from there.

What I mean by questioning is Socratic Questioning, a technique of inquiry used in philosophy and even cognitive-behavioral therapy to break down beliefs into evidence and assumptions, to build complex thoughts and stronger viewpoints. The same technique can be applied online and for brewhouse debates, to deescalate the situation and even build a bridge through in-depth understanding of a fellow human.

Though there are multiple kinds of Socratic Questioning (six, actually, outlined here; they add up to a few main principles. The main idea is to question fundamental beliefs. We all have assumptions that build the foundations of our ideas and beliefs, but they should be questioned and recognized as such so they can be changed when reasonably challenged. If I think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, you might ask, “Then how does the chocolate get into the milk?” If I have to explain myself, I’m likely to uncover something absurd, and change course. Another principle is to never let any part of a person’s position or reasoning or evidence be a given. Everything has a source, and can and should be questioned. If someone claims an idea is true “because it’s in the Bible,” then we ought to ask why they think the Bible is unquestionably true. The second is to get the other person to consider and even explain other viewpoints. This gets the conversation outside the social safety bubble, off defense, outside the pop-culture framework, and into the dynamic marketplace of ideas. We ask how, we ask why — we investigate the views of others, rather than lambaste them for being wrong — and everyone walks away with a truer and more interesting version of the world.

Though I don’t pretend that all lines of questioning will result in Hands Across America 2, it’s pretty obvious that questions are better beginnings to cooperation and sanity than insults and silence.

I Wonder

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’ve been thinking about you.

I have been thinking about your faith.

I’ve been thinking about your pain.

I’ve been thinking about your joy.

I’ve been thinking about your life.

Joy comes and goes. Pain comes and goes. Our breathing comes and goes. Our living comes and goes.

And we have oh so many feelings about this.

Feelings have the potential to overwhelm us. We can easily feel consumed and generalize that to all of life.

In my living, I have come to believe the biggest mistake I can ever make is believing that any singular, isolated moment is the totality of living.

It’s not. Truly it’s not. Yet I keep getting stuck as though it is all there is to this being in life.

No singular moment is the entirety of life.

No singular moment defines our being.

No singular moment will provide what we often desperately want and need: to know the meaning of it all and to know that we matter.

So then… the questions return:

What’s the point of all of this?

What are we doing here?

What is life?

I don’t glean much comfort and edification from the constant string of voices that is our present day reality. I can’t sift through the endless run on sentence of hate that ruins, maims and destroys the gift of living across all space and time of our shared history.

Too much.

Not helpful.

Not God.

Instead of listening to these loud, angry, unkind voices that we amplify all the time, I have something very powerful I can do.

I have what you have: the observation of everyday living and the invitation to wonder.

It moves me.

It nourishes me.

It emboldens me.

It challenges me.

It comforts me.

As the wonder steps up within, I look around and see authentic expressions of life everywhere. Each moment I allow the vulnerability of questions about this world we live in and my place in it, I get a small clue as to what this living may be about.

That journey goes something like this:

What is life?

If the ants are to be believed, life is a hard, constant, vigilant work among your fellows to reach a common goal feeding the need for security.

What is life?

If the trees are to be believed, life is the growth within creating the beauty that is in full view of the world. The health within creates the visible presence we all take refuge in.

What is life?

If rainbows are to be believed, life is the subtle, brilliant shining of light and color. It is the joyous announcement that the storm has passed.

What is life?

If the seasons are to be believed, life is changing in such a way that newness of being is not only possible, it is inevitable; it says if winter feels far too brutal it will be spring again.

What is life?

If the sea is to be believed, life is timing the rhythm of being, retreating and returning, all the while showing off and showing up for the moon.

What is life?

If the flame is to be believed, life is using the source of breath to stretch as far as possible toward the sun. It is the need, the want and the willingness to find the way home.

This living offers us so many moments, so many stories, so many commonalities, so many differences, so many hopes, so many fears, so many sorrows, so many joys.

It’s gotta make you wonder.

The Antidote

by Abigail Conley

“You two are the reason Amazon is working on drones,” he says, laughing. His wife and I nod in agreement. For the most part, we’ve given up scouring stores and instead scour the Internet. She sticks to Amazon Prime. I prefer PrimeNow, but use it only when I have free credits. I do have a budget after all. I keep a few PrimePantry credits on hand. Occasionally, I’ll opt into slower shipping for the digital download credit. My love of free stuff and my desire to have things right away are often at odds.

I’m an old millennial who has no interest in SnapChat. I do summon Uber and Lyft if I need a ride, though. My food is ordered on GrubHub, available in Phoenix before Seamless was. Postmates is the backup plan if I want something else. The cat’s food and litter are delivered courtesy of Chewy. At work, I often give up on trying to use the landline and pick up my cellphone instead.

The world, it seems, is literally at my fingertips. For the most part, I no longer run to Target for something; a few clicks mean it shows up at my doorstep in a couple hours or a couple days. Scheduling flights, hotels, just about anything, is just as easy. Many baby boomers marvel at this world. “We need…” they’ll say in a church meeting. “It’ll be here on Wednesday,” is my response. I catch myself being frustrated if something isn’t available for digital download or will take longer than two days to arrive.

Once, I remember a conversation with a baby boomer pastor, as I complained about ordering something. “You have to pay for resources like that,” she said. The fight I wasn’t willing to have, “But it should be available for instant download. I can’t wait a week for it.” In that case, it was true; a week later would be too late.

I readily confess that Christian faith means playing the long game. I have no idea what that means in the world I live in. I mean, I no longer have the patience for commercials, much less the glacial turns of history. This year, as the Revised Common Lectionary follows Matthew, I’ve been especially aware of Matthew’s obsession with quoting prophets. He appeals to something ancient to prove the validity of the experience of Christ.

“Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,/And they will call him, ‘Emmanuel.’” Matthew 1:23 & Isaiah 7:14

“You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,/because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.” Matthew 2 & Micah 5:2

“Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Matthew 2:15& Hosea 1:1

The list goes on and on, throughout Matthew, as the Gospel writer calls forth ancient voices to cry out with the people in his world, “See what God is doing!”

Not quite two thousand years later, I have people reading Matthew, shouting, “If this is the promise, why hasn’t God done it yet?” My initial tendency is to join their anger. Why is there still so much pain? Why is there still so much violence? Why? Why? Why? The response that comes from somewhere beyond me is, “It’s coming.”

I feel the weariness of waiting some Sunday mornings, when I head to worship for what seems like one in countless times. The truth is, I probably haven’t even hit two thousand worship services, yet. The truth is, the people I encounter in that place create an organism—dare I say the Body of Christ?—that is both timeless and formed at a single moment in time.

In the best, Spirit-breathed moments, I wonder if this thing called Church is the antidote I don’t know I need. Like most medicine, it’s not always pleasant.

Still, it is Church that bids me to ask for a ride from a friend, not summon a stranger who is part of the 1099, no benefits economy. It is Church that bids me to come, to eat, with people, not from a take-out container in front of the TV. The young adults who care for my cat when I’m out of town are from Church, too. It is Church that has taught me to pick up the phone, not just send a text; tone is not so nearly misconstrued over the phone. It is Church that calls me into a way of being that is so different from what I would choose on my own.

It is Church, this antidote, that also says, “Wait! Listen!” and calls out anew even in the midst of ancient voices.

And so, I lay down my phone, and hope.

The Sacred Path of Transition

by Joe Nutini

Today I want to talk a little bit about the concept of “the sacred path of transition.” This topic came to me after starting classes on Shambhala art. I am not necessarily a visual artist but I am definitely like to write and I do enjoy art a great deal. It’s interesting being in this class because I’m surrounded by people who seem to be very into visual art and that is really not my style. For me, the way that I write is how I express the Images and concepts in my head.

Often, I feel little bit insecure about writing and drawing in this class, even though that is really not the point at all. We are really guided to look to the moment for inspiration. Sometimes, I find that hard to do this when I am feeling insecure. Which brings me back to this concept of the sacred path of transition.

There is a lot of fear there for me when I think about writing on this topic. For starters, I wonder why I even want to write about something that is so personal to me. What is it about writing on this topic that is so important? As a transgender person, I feel like I would have to out myself. I feel like people would also assume that I’m writing about something that is only about being transgender. There are so many more transitions that we go through. There’s birth, death, illness and other things that happen in life that move us from one experience to another. These can all be considered transitions. For now, I want to begin by sharing my feelings and thoughts around the whole concept.

So what do I mean when I say, “the sacred path of transition”? I’ll start by breaking it down a bit. To me, the word sacred means that something is holy and deserving of respect. This could mean that it is attached to something that is religious or not.

The word path, in the context that I’m using it, simply means the road upon which we walk. Of course, I’m speaking about this in a metaphorical sense. What one believes about the concept of “path” could be more complex. It is possible to believe that the path leads to somewhere, perhaps a particular destination. It could be that we are simply on a path that we have labeled “life”. Perhaps as we live we begin to grow end evolve into something more than when we first arrived. Maybe it means that we are slowly making our way back to that which we actually were to begin with? Of course this is all very esoteric and up for discussion and discourse.

So what do I mean when I put the words sacred and path together? The way that I like to think about this is that we’re on a journey that we call life. This journey is holy and worthy of respect. For me, this also means respecting the fact that everyone is on their own sacred path by virtue of simply being alive.Therefore, each person’s life is ordained and worthy of exploration. We may feel as if we have the best idea of what would benefit this person most on their path. Perhaps sometimes we do. However, this concept is one that lends itself to believing that there is value in pain, pleasure, anger, sorrow, and all of the other emotions that we experience. Without these things I wonder if we would be who we actually are supposed to be.

So what does this have to do with being chronically ill and transgender? I will tell you that at one point or another in my life I wished that I was not transgender and that I was not chronically ill. I wished that I was not transgender because of society and the things that I had been taught by certain religious organizations. I wished that I was not chronically ill because I found this to be a huge barrier to my desired lifestyle. However, both have taught me that there’s something sacred and profound to be discovered when life presents us with circumstances that may seem difficult.

In regard to being transgender, I feel that this concept of sacred path is also important because many people view the transgender experience as one that is problematic in some way. I will say that I’m only speaking for myself when I say this but for me I’ve come to realize that being transgender is a blessing. Even though it can be a difficult life to live, it has afforded me a very unique experience. I lived my life for about 21 years as a person who was perceived to be female. I have now lived my life is a person who is perceived to be male for about 15 years. This has given me unique insight into the ways in which gender and gender roles affect both men and women. It has made me a much better therapist. It has also brought me more into myself.

I also believe that if there is a creator, they made me this way for a purpose. In experiencing chronic illness, I believe there is a purpose as well…even if it is simply me using my mind to find purpose within it. Thus, this experience is one that is ordained and holy. At the same time, I recognize that there’s a lot of suffering that happens as a result of holding an identity that is often looked down upon in society and to be living with illness on a daily basis.

Right now this is where my thoughts are on this topic. As I said I am sitting down to write a book about this and I will offer some blogs based on my writings as time goes on. I look forward to ongoing dialogue with you all.

Prayers for Annual Meeting

by Karen Richter

Good day, SWC friends! It’s Annual Meeting time! Like many of you, I am full-up with travel plans, budgets and resolutions, to-do lists, and tiny bottles of hair products. Instead of the “usual” blog article for this first Monday of May, I’d like to share with you my prayers for our gathering in Albuquerque.

Spirit of Life; Spirit of Love – we ask that you cover our Annual Meeting with good gifts:

  • That a spirit of prayer mark all parts of our time together.
  • That volunteers for the hosting congregations have a good experience and feel appreciated.
  • That delegates and guests are welcomed with hospitality.
  • That all persons speaking in the plenary sessions and workshops feel heard and valued.
  • That relationships with one another and with You are renewed, deepened or begun afresh.
  • That we might more fully cherish our covenants with one another.
  • That each person present listens gracefully to the voices around them, especially when there’s disagreement.
  • That we grasp opportunities for celebration and connection.
  • That our inaugural anti-racism training goes smoothly and that lay and clergy participants and participant/facilitators are energized and inspired to further reflection and to work in counter-oppression movements.
  • That travel is a safe and enriching time for those who are coming to Albuquerque by car or plane.
  • That each person attending leaves with a sense of renewal and centeredness around their calling in the United Church of Christ’s setting in the Southwest Conference.
  • That we each travel home safely with energy to work alongside God and our brothers and sisters to further our mission and vision in the world!

Spirit whose name is mercy, hear our prayer! Amen.

Enough

by Abigail Conley

There are a few times in my life that Bible verses haunt me. Whenever I stay in bed a little longer, the verse my mother used to wake me up when I’d slept too long comes to mind, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.” It’s both Proverbs 6:10-11 and Proverbs 24:33-34. It’s also an incredibly refreshing way to wake up.

Every time I walk past the people counting offering on Sunday morning, I think of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers. I don’t mention this to the folks faithfully counting the money each week.

The one that gets me time and again, though, is from the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

I never thought that would haunt me. I’ve never cared a lot about stuff, really. Cars are modes of transportation and as long as they get from point A to point B with air conditioning and heat, I’m ok. Home should be reasonably comfortable, definitely safe, and have decent access to Target and grocery stores. I have no desire to own a purse that cost several hundred dollars. I think I’m pretty easy to please.

And yet, the haunting phrase comes, “Do not store up for yourselves…” It always stops there. Somehow, in the United States, being a responsible adult means storing up things. I feel strangely accomplished that there’s an extra stick of deodorant in the cabinet, shampoo and conditioner waiting under the sink if needed, a back up meal in the pantry. The other day, my partner and I went to Costco. “Do we have toilet paper?” I asked. Neither he nor I knew how much, so we got another Costco size package of toilet paper just in case.

It turns out, we had a brand new Costco size package of toilet paper when we got home. We have a storage closet on our balcony, ready to hold what won’t fit inside.

“Do not store up for yourselves.” Treasure, we might think, rules out the mundane things like toilet paper. I’m not sure it does.

Somehow, things like toilet paper are marks of success. When basic hygiene items aren’t readily available, we often think people are irresponsible. My mom is quite proud of the fact that in their 39 years of marriage, she and my father have only run out of toilet paper once. It’s a sign of a well-managed household.

The stashed toilet paper is part of a bigger picture, one in which my partner and I recently opened up IRAs, are paying off what little debt we have, and putting money into savings. We’re living into the middle class narrative of managing money and being prepared. The list of things we should do is long, after all.

I’m not sure how it fits with the Gospel, though. I’m not sure what it means when we literally have a storage room full of extra things. I’m not sure what it means that we have money in the bank “just in case.” We live in a place and time where the people who don’t have those things are looked down upon. We want to teach them how to better manage their resources so they, too, could save 50¢ on every roll of toilet paper.

“Do not store up for yourselves,” but surely Jesus didn’t mean being prepared for a rainy day, right? Could it be possible that our treasures are the most mundane things of all?

Erasing Illusions of The Other Not Easy, but Possible

by Greg Gonzales

Comments sections provide a blank, free speech forum where we can discuss an article, get into the nitty-gritty production details of YouTube videos, and share great ideas to transform the world — that is, in another universe. In this world of all possible worlds, the comments sections are reserved for posturing, political parrots, and pointlessly insulting others. Part of why people do this comes down to what David J. Pollay wrote: “Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up,they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.” Our nation’s trucks are overflowing — its people are overflowing — with rage, loss, and confusion. When we get caught up in an online argument, we’re not changing the world, but instead letting people dump their garbage all over us. Luckily, so-called “internet tough-guys” tend to hold normal conversations in everyday offline life. The best thing is to ignore the trash, and make real human connections outside the internet, where we can see each other, read body language, and face people directly.

For me, in March of last year, one of those places was at an airport bar, waiting for a flight. A fellow patron and I watched Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump paraded across CNN’s feed for a few minutes. We exchanged work stories and duties, and it turned out he was a Border Patrol agent. Of course, the conversation quickly turned to politics, as the news ticked on about Trump’s border wall proposal. The agent told me his decision was between Sanders and Trump, but he said he liked Trump for his sincerity and lack of political entrenchment, where Sanders is a career politician. Then I asked about the wall. “Trump isn’t going to do it,” he told me. “It’s just rhetoric.” As a border agent, he was against the wall, saying the barriers down there are about as effective as a physical barrier can get. Then we discussed other solutions, like tech and immigration policy (which he agreed were better solutions, after years on the border), until he had to get on a plane and never see me again. What I assumed would have turned into a bicker-fest actually helped us find some common ground. While we didn’t change each others’ minds, we did learn each others’ views, which is a big step in unifying two people with conflicting ideologies. We didn’t fight, we didn’t bicker, we just explained our views and moved on with life, both happier for having learned something.

It’s not easy to convince someone of a mistake, or a character flaw — change is hard, and we can’t force someone to change, but the world sometimes reveals the truth in astounding, painful ways. Allen Wood, a retired Army Sergeant who fought in Vietnam, wrote in a Facebook post about how he was taught to hate, growing up with a father in the KKK in southern Georgia. “I grew up in a racist society and I willingly participated in it. I cannot deny that I used the ‘N’ word many times. Maybe you grew up the same way. That was my world and I had to belong in it.” However, one day, he changed. “The truth came on a very very hot morning in Vietnam when we were ambushed by a small group of local Viet Cong irregulars,” he wrote. “A man almost gave his life to save mine. He did not stop to ask if I was white, black; Christian or not. I was his friend and buddy and he willingly placed his life between me and certain death.” Turns out his hero was a black soldier, but in this moment of crisis, preconceived notions of race didn’t matter. Wood’s arm suffered an injury, and his new friend, George, suffered an injury to his side. As Wood tended George’s wound, their blood mixed right there on the battlefield. “There was no hatred, no distrust. Just two men in a bad situation and wanting to survive. …. After that singular incident, watching his blood mingled with mine, I looked at the world totally different. George and I talked about our different worlds and were constantly struck at how, in truth, they were the same worlds.” Sometimes, to let go of hate, we have to see that we all share the same dark-red blood as everyone else.

Without a doubt, we all live in the same world, even if Socrates was right that “The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Reality may differ person to person, depending on individual brain chemistry and impressions and histories. After all, the world we see is relative to the tools we have in our heads and bodies. Even so, through careful conversation, through shared experience, we erase the illusion of The Other and find common ground. Take a breath, smile, ask for your fellow human’s name, and then ask more questions.

The Gift of Being Trans

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’m not a man because I have facial hair, though I do love having facial hair.

I am not a man because people perceive me as one, though I love the affirmation of that recognition.

I’m not a man because my parents call me their son, though I adore my parents knowing I am their son.

I am not a man because my wife calls me her husband and my son sees me as his dad, though that makes my heart full.

My manhood comes from accepting myself and living into my gender rather than denying truth.

My manhood comes from lived experience of white, heteronormative, dominant culture and my personal commitment to rejecting privilege,extending power out to those long hidden and long suffering.

My manhood comes from understanding power and potential abuse. And in making sure I stay as far from that line as possible.

All of these things are true for any lived gender experience. My manhood has nothing to do with other’s expectations of gender role performance.

My manhood exists as part of the intrinsic value of being fully who I am. As does womanhood. As does any personhood.

I don’t hesitate to cry as a man. No one ever told me not to as a child.

I don’t hesitate to tell my guy friends I love them and give them hugs. No one taught me that was weakness as a child.

I don’t hesitate to express emotions. No one ever told me this was bad when I was young.

I don’t hesitate to affirm someone’s lived experience as valid. As a kid, no one ever indicated that I should somehow know more about someone than they would know about themselves.

No one ever told me these things, that is, until my medical transition.

I then heard these messages frequently from well meaning guys who just wanted me to know the lay of the land regarding their understanding of manhood.

I actually got to skip masculine gender construction in my most vulnerable years. As well meaning people attempt to “teach” me about their understanding of manliness, I get to try things on and throw off the crap that doesn’t fit me.

I didn’t transition to live out western culture’s stereotypes of gender. That would be awful if I had. I transitioned so body, mind and spirit would have congruence. Authenticity was, and is still, the aim.

This dude loves to give hugs, loves to express emotion, loves to listen as you tell your lived experience.

My manhood has nothing to do with this culture, but has everything to do with my humanity. And yours.

Image credit: Creatista

Long Road to Compassion

by Mary Kay LeFevour

Shortly after meeting my wife Laura, 30 years ago, she told me the ultimate story of compassion where the Bodhisattva Quan Yin gives her arms and eyes to her dying father who had abused her throughout her life and had even ordered her beheading! I had recently received my Masters in Women Studies and my first thought was, “Wow, this Quan Yin needs to read some Mary Daly. She is one sister who desperately needs a consciousness raising group.” In 1987 I was an angry, fire-spitting feminist and if this was compassion, I wanted nothing to do with it.

Flash forward 24 years later to my first meeting with Ben, one of my new Clinical Pastoral Education classmates. We were sharing what our root religious traditions were and found we both had been raised Catholic. He told me quite frankly that he believed women and gays should never serve as priests in the Catholic Church and in fact he would leave the Church if that ever happened. I immediately thought, “Quan Yin, give me strength!”

***

A lot of life experience, seeking, and meditation has happened between my initial perception of Quan Yin as a dangerous role model for women and calling upon her to help me maintain compassion in the face of Ben’s fear and ignorance. Over time, I have come to love the beautiful ideal of the Bodhisattva who though they are able to reach nirvana, delays remaining in that transcendent state of freedom and continues to reincarnate out of compassion in order to help suffering beings reach their own enlightenment. I now keep a statue of Quan Yin on my altar to inspire me to strive towards the depth of compassion that the Bodhisattva embodies.

***

To my classmate Ben’s great delight, he found me an easy target for his sarcasm and sexism. In my mindless moments I take his bait and engage in fruitless debate about the patriarchal practices of the Catholic Church and in more mindful moments, I mentally roll my eyes and just smile. But I still found myself nowhere near the state of compassion as an expression of presence that does not hold attachment to outcomes. I just wanted Ben, as a weekly irritant in my life, to go away.

Laura watched my suffering and in her infinite compassion pulled out her Maharatnakuta Sutra and read this to me:

“Furthermore, there are four things that can cause a Bodhisattva to become a friend to all sentient beings:

  • To wear the great armor of patience
  • To benefit sentient beings without expecting any reward
  • Never to regress from great compassion; and
  • Never to forsake even those who often annoy and hurt”

Meditation on this sutra motivated me to keep trying to find compassion as I interacted with Ben.  I was committed to seeing through Ben’s persona of the sexist homophobe to his essential Self.

Over time I begin to see his other personas – the caring connector, the frightened boy who was continually criticized, and the Ben who yearned for warmth but was desperately afraid of appearing needy or vulnerable. I tried to hold all of his personas in my heart as Ben provoked me with his barbs. I wanted to see the enlightened being that lives beyond the personas. When Ben presents a case study (describing a recent pastoral visit) I give him positive feedback and would witness his warm connector persona appear.  At every positive comment, I see a relaxation in Ben’s shoulders and a shy smile. I feel his pleasure in being seen as the compassionate being he tries to be.

I begin to think there is a change in our relationship. That maybe my prayers to Quan Yin are being answered and Ben is softening around the edges and willing to show his essential Self. But I’m forgetting that true compassion has no expectation of outcomes and this lesson is brought home to me one Monday when after presenting my own case study that I felt was a successful spiritual care visit, Ben turns to me, smiles condescendingly as he says, “I found your pastoral visit to be….very superficial.”

Oy, Quan Yin, give me strength.