My column for The Antelope County News 4.14.2021

I wrote this column in response to the recent column by a ministerial colleague from the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in town. In his column he warned our county of the evil of “transgenderism.” I gave him a call and let him know I was submitting a counter-point. He was gracious. Here’s my column:

It was a Holy Spirit moving; God is in this place, make me an instrument of your peace, bona fide miracle. God worked all things together for good and, I was one of the ones who needed some work before God could get it done.

Years ago, my administrative assistant and I chatted about how our minds have changed over time about different issues. Homosexuality was one. I’d come to see that God’s love is so much wider and deeper than mine. Before I knew Gay Christians, I didn’t think one could be both. Over time I learned how wrong I was. I said, “One thing I still can’t wrap my head around is transgender. I just don’t get it.”

“I have a terrific autobiography by a trans man you can read. It’ll give you some perspective.” She said.

Reading the book opened my eyes. It was a gut-wrenching, brave story of a man, born with a woman’s anatomy, who knew, just as surely as I know I’m left-handed, that he was a man. Reading one book didn’t clear up all my questions about transgender, but it was a start.

Five weeks later, the book was still on the backseat of my car as I went into a local therapist’s office. The therapist made the appointment with me, saying one of my parishioners was her patient and they would like to talk with me together. “Can you tell me what this is about?” I asked. “Let’s talk about it then.” She said.

“Lori has something she wants you to know about her, but she’s concerned once you do, you won’t let her stay in your church. She loves God and your church. She hopes she can stay. But she needs you to know who she is.”  

I looked at Lori. Her eyes were downcast, her shoulders rolled. She was sad-looking, vulnerable. My mind raced. Is she a sex offender? Has she murdered someone? Has she been in jail for some horrendous crime?

“Lori has been told not to come back to several other churches and was evicted from senior housing. It is difficult for her to tell you. That’s why she wanted us to meet together–so I can help her in the aftermath of our conversation today if need be.”

I looked at Lori again. “Whatever it is, you can tell me,” I said.

“I’m transgender, well, I’m intersex,” Lori said. “I was born with indeterminate genitalia. My parents wanted a boy, so the doctor and my parents decided I was a boy. That’s how they raised me but, that’s not who I am. I am a woman. May I please keep coming to church?”

Do you see what God did? Do you remember that book on the backseat of my car? I had chills up and down my spine. Surely, surely, God was in that place! God prepared me for this moment. (Six weeks earlier, I would have hesitated and stammered and hemmed and hawed). Without hesitation, I said, “Oh, Lori! You are a precious child of God. You are loved. Of course, you are still welcome in the church.”

What business of mine was the “equipment” under Lori’s skirts? My business was helping Lori know how broad and how deep God’s love is for all of us.

Nothing grieves me more deeply than when it is Christ’s church that wounds God’s beautifully unique, mysteriously made, created in love, children. If you are gay, straight, bi, intersex, trans, non-binary, green, purple, or blue, make no mistake, any church that says you don’t belong is wrong. God loves you.

Barrier-breaking Love

My column for The Elgin Review May 15, 2019

I ran into a friend in the produce department of the HyVee near our Omaha home last week. It had been over a year since we’ve seen each other. She updated me on her kids, her husband’s health and their newest adventure. I filled her in on my new ministries and our pending move to the parsonage in Neligh and the apartment for Mike in Lincoln until he retires late next year. We talked about church. She told me she has been struggling with being part of a church for the past year or more.

My friend’s professional life involves answering a crisis hot-line.

“I’ve taken so many calls of people contemplating suicide this year. People are so divided and there’s so much hate out there. Folks are having a hard time, and, in the past month there have been even more after the United Methodist Church made their anti LGBTQ decision at their General Synod. Gay kids call and say, ‘even my church hates me. I might as well just end my life and get it over with.’”

I wonder how many of us who are actively involved in the church think about the decisions we make around faith and about the way we practice our religion and talk about God as matters of life and death? Surely it must grieve God that the body charged with sharing God’s abundant and unending love with the whole world has somehow managed to twist that message into its’ opposite, that only certain people are “in” that only the properly pious are privy to God’s grace.

If it grieves my friend to listen to teenagers who feel their lives are worthless, how must it grieve their Creator to hear that the life they’ve been given doesn’t feel worth living?

A long time ago, Paul, the apostle of Jesus, wrote in a letter to a church in Galatia, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

God’s message to the world in Jesus was a message of barrier-breaking love. God’s message to the world in Jesus was that the things that separate us from each other are the things that separate us from God.

I pray the day will come when no one ever again hears of a decision made by the church and feels less loved as a result.

I pray the day will come when all God’s children of every stripe, orientation and hue know how precious we are to our creator. I pray the day will come when every hurting, doubting, lonely human in need of community will find their way into a radically inclusive, love abounding, grace overflowing family of faith.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.