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So Let Me Get This Straight

Last summer, a twenty-year old tape surfaced of Donald Trump bragging about all the things you can do to women if you’re rich and famous. Billy Bush giggled like a middle schooler, but said nothing, and was promptly fired. Women came forward… lots of them, from all walks of life, describing in detail how Trump did to them precisely what he said on tape he could do. They were discounted and shamed. Trump went on to become president.

Roy Moore, during a run for the U.S. senate, was recently accused of sexually assaulting multiple women when they were children. Women spoke out from all over, with remarkably similar stories, having nothing to gain and everything to lose. A local mall indicated he was banned from the premises for preying on young girls. His supporters indicate that unless he’s convicted they will continue to support him… and conviction is literally impossible as the statute of limitations has expired. The Republican National Committee pulled their financial support… then gave it back when the race tightened. Alabama voters are repeatedly quoted as saying they need Moore in that position because he fights for the right of unborn children.

Greg Schiano was an assistant coach at Penn State when another coach was convicted of sexually abusing football players. In a deposition, another assistant coach said that other people, including Schiano, knew about the abuse. Schiano denied that account, was not in any position of supervision over the sexual abuser, and says he never witnessed or suspected any abuse. He was never accused nor convicted of any abuse or any crime. He was later hired by Ohio State and was a successful assistant under Urban Meyer, and received outstanding evaluations for performance, character and family values. He then applied for a head coaching job at the University of Tennessee. After initially getting the job, public outcry led to the university rescinding his offer and firing the athletic director. Multiple high-ranking state officials expressed moral outrage that Schiano would be considered for a role placing him as “the face of the state of Tennessee”. The same state that overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump, who was accused not of knowing about abuse but of actually committing it, to become the face of the United States.

Today Show anchor Matt Lauer was fired after multiple allegations from women of inappropriate sexual conduct.

Congressman John Conyers resigned after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.

Producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis C.K., Fox News host and author Bill O’Reilly, televangelist Robert Scoble, CBS journalist Charlie Rose, and countless others across the nation have either resigned in disgrace or been fired for inappropriate sexual conduct.

So let me get this straight.

If you are not accused or convicted of sexual misconduct or any other crime, but fail to report what you deny you ever saw, then ten years later you are morally unfit to be the head football coach of a major university.

If you are accused of sexual misconduct and are the face of a major TV network or popular television show, a journalist, a congressman, or a low-ranking state politician, you must quit or be fired.

If you are accused by multiple independent accounts of sexually assaulting teenage girls, but promise to fight for the rights of unborn babies, you are fit to run for the United States Senate.

If you are video taped saying you can do whatever you want to women, including forcibly kissing them or grabbing them by the pussy, and then multiple women accuse you of those very acts and more, you are elected President of the United States with support from evangelical Christian leaders across the nation. You are then able to dismiss video tape evidence of your earlier statements as fake news, publicly endorse the senatorial candidate accused of sexually abusing children, and maintain the support of evangelical Christian leaders.

Damn.

This world I’m living in… it makes no sense. There’s no consistency, no reason, no principles, no logic. It feels like up is down and down is up. The people who taught me morality, courage and wisdom are acting like amoral, foolish cowards. They preach grace and righteousness, but lack the tiniest crumb of courage to stand for what is right – opting, instead, to forge ahead with a “might makes right” philosophy that flies in the face of everything they claim to stand for. The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” I won’t be presumptive enough to say how Jesus feels about all of this… but I will say with certainty that I’m weeping.

My own “grown-up Christmas list” is that those who are alone and hurting will find healing and love… that those who hurt and lie and exploit others will be seen for who they are and stopped… that leaders who are brave enough to do what’s right regardless of consequences will emerge… and that ordinary people who see from differing perspectives will begin to find common ground and grow towards rather than away from each other.

During the holiday season… may we somehow, some way, against all odds, begin to get just a few things straight.

Parenting, Fender Benders and Racial Bias

At the tail-end of a Sunday-afternoon nap, I was awakened by the sound of sleet. My first thoughts were of the yuckiness of snow and sleet in March… followed very quickly by the panicked realization that our 16-year old was out somewhere driving.

Gracie has a good head on her shoulders, but she’s only had her driver’s license for a few months. And sleet in East Tennessee is unpredictable. I called her, told her to come straight home. Then quickly wondered why I was letting her drive at all. Called her back and her friend answered; they were already on the road. My brain was stuck in that frozen place between an afternoon nap and a sort-of emergency, so I was babbling, thinking out loud about where they should pull over so we could come get them.

Then, I hear Gracie yell in the background, “Mom! I hit somebody! I have to go!” Click.

Click here to read the rest of the article on my friend Cindy Brandt’s blog, where she graciously allowed me to be a guest author. ❤️

Unfolding Miracles: Human Sexuality

“Imagine that you woke up in a world where everyone looked pretty much like you do, and you thought it was a normal world… until you realized it wasn’t. People around you said yellow was blue, and down was up. They were talking about murder and rape and stealing as though they were the right moral choices… while self-sacrifice and giving and loving were the wrong choices. You begin to realize that EVERYONE except you seems to agree, and you start to wonder if you’re crazy. You think surely someone, somewhere will say words that make sense… but it never happens. You’re able to blend in because you look similar to everyone else, but you know that every fiber of your being is an alien in this world. You know that very soon something will happen that will reveal to the world that you are not like them. You live every moment terrified of a mistake… while at the same time feeling like such a piece of crap because you are pretending to be something you don’t even WANT to be. If you can truly put yourself in that place, and feel the terror and confusion and guilt, then you can maybe understand 1% of what I live every single moment of every single day.”

This is the description of an articulate, sweet, young transgender teenager. It haunts me. And it’s been echoed, in one form or another, by thousands of young LGBTQ kids that I’ve met and listened to and cried with. It’s the reason that I can’t keep my mouth shut about this topic, even if it alienates some friends or colleagues or fellow Christians. Ignorance, even if it is covered in or excused by “faith”, is still ignorance. And it gives birth to a form of “love” that is actually much closer to hate.

So here goes. My attempt to take a scientific grand rounds presentation, and turn it into a blog post! It will be much longer than blog posts are “supposed to be,” but it can’t be helped.

ChromosomesIt all starts with the chromosomes.

We have 23 pairs of chromosomes, of which one pair are the sex chromosomes. Two X chromosomes (XX) and you’re genetically a female. One of each (XY) and you’re a male (shown in the picture). Our DNA is the “building block” of our bodies, determining everything from our eye color to our risk of developing specific diseases. The sex chromosomes, then, are the “building blocks” of our human sexuality. While some of the other chromosomes also impact our sexuality, this chromosome pair is the biggie. Rarely, there may be an extra sex chromosome, extra parts on one or both chromosomes, or something missing from one or both chromosomes. But in general, the sex chromosomes determine whether we are a boy or girl and get the ball rolling in lots of ways.

The first thing that the sex chromosomes direct, in an unborn human baby, is the internal sexual organs. This is called the gonadal sex, meaning the boy/girl parts on the INSIDE. Boys have testes; girls have ovaries.Gonadal sex

These inside sex organs aren’t visible to us… but my GOODNESS are they important. They produce hormones, and direct the formation of the outside boy or girl parts. The testes of boys produces mainly testosterone, while the ovaries of girls produces mainly estrogen. But the pathways of how these sex factories make hormones is complicated… and sometimes in a long pathway (kind of like a recipe with lots of steps) something gets off-kilter, and the actual hormones produced may be quite different. Even when everything goes according to plan, small amounts of the opposite hormone are released.

Phenotype and Brain SexualityNext up: the internal sex organs, by producing testosterone or estrogen, then direct the formation of the outside sex parts and the brain sexuality. (If you don’t think these hormones are incredibly powerful, then you haven’t experienced one of my hot flashes!!)

The outside parts are formed by the end of the first trimester, and are fairly simple… usually. If a baby has a penis and testicles, they are assigned the male gender at birth. If the baby has a vagina, they are assigned the female gender. This assignment usually happens by the medical team within moments after birth, and is finalized within the hour in the medical chart. Surprisingly to some, though, it isn’t always obvious… and a baby may rarely be born with what is called “ambiguous genitalia”, meaning we can’t tell from the outside parts whether the baby is a boy or girl. In the old days, the baby was assigned a gender based on what was the easiest to make “look good” on the outside through surgery. Nowadays, with our ongoing knowledge of what’s happening INSIDE, it isn’t nearly that simple. But that’s another topic for another day.

The other really important part of the sex hormones is to develop the brain sexuality. Now, most of us don’t really think about the sex of our brain… but there’s all sorts of things, from the way our brain is structured to how it works that bear witness to our brain sexuality. Whether we think out loud or quietly… whether or not we can multitask… even the physical size of certain structures within our brain is heavily impacted by the sex hormones. These things have been discovered through highly precise imaging, as well as functional MRI’s… and the subject could make up 10 more blog posts all on its own! But for now, just think about the age-old saying,“Men are from Mars; women are from Venus.” While some of the behaviors we assign to women or men are stereotypes, and while many of us feel that we don’t fit the prototype, the truth remains that there are important, irreversible differences in brain structure based on the sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, and the hormones that they direct.

But here’s the seriously tricky part. The outside parts are formed in the first trimester, but brain sexuality finalized in the second and early-third trimester. And in between, a lot can happen… meaning they may not “match” in the way we think they should. (That’s a teaser – more about that in a minute.)

Gender identity

So. Once the sex chromosomes, the inside parts, the outside parts, and the brain sexuality are in place, then the next thing to be formed is gender identity.

Gender identity is our internal sense of whether we are a girl or a boy. It’s a complex interaction between our sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside parts, hormones, and brain sexuality. It is probably set in place by the end of the second trimester or mid-third trimester (whenever the brain sexuality is fully completed)… but it isn’t actually expressed until a child is around 18 months or 2 years old. Expression is usually complete by age 3 – and if you don’t believe me, just TRY calling a 3-year-old boy a girl, and see what kind of response you get! Most often (but not always) it lines up with the sex chromosomes and internal/external sex organs. Gender identity is an involuntary biological response (more on that later) that is formed in utero and expressed in early childhood, and there’s no evidence that anything that happens after birth can change our gender identity. It is entirely separate from sexual orientation — apples and oranges.

Sexual orientationThe last step is sexual orientation, defined as consistent sexual attraction to either the opposite sex, the same sex, or both sexes. Like gender identity, it’s probably formed by around the end of the second trimester or mid-third trimester of pregnancy, but it isn’t actually expressed until after the sex cycle springs to life and a child goes through puberty. During early adolescence, sexual attraction may flip back and forth… but by the end of adolescence sexual orientation is generally fixed and unchangeable. Bisexual individuals aren’t changing back and forth; their sexuality is “fixed” as attraction to both sexes, with a spectrum of which sex is most attractive. (I know, I know, that’s really confusing, but I can’t help it.) Sexual orientation is also an involuntary biological response, and there is no evidence that anything that happens AFTER a baby is born can impact sexual orientation. It is separate from gender identity – again, apples and oranges.

So here’s the whole thing. Chromosomes direct the internal sex organs, which direct the outside sex parts and the brain sexuality. All those things together direct gender identity (expressed by about age 3) and sexual orientation (expressed around the end of adolescence.)

Human Sexuality

The diagram looks pretty straightforward, right? But it isn’t. There are a lot of things that are confusing… especially if we haven’t taken the time to think them through. And for the most part as a society, as parents, as teachers, as churches, we haven’t taken the time to think them through. So let’s touch on some of the puzzlers.

Involuntary Responses

I’ve used this term a couple of times now, and some of you may be getting mad at me because you think I’m saying that we are sexually programmed robots. You may be thinking, “I’m married, and when I see a pretty woman I have the CHOICE of whether to respond to her or be faithful to my wife!” And that’s absolutely true. And yet, you did NOT have control over whether to be attracted to your wife (or the pretty girl) to begin with. You just… were. So the attraction itself is involuntary, but you have control over what to do with it.

Involuntary biological responses are the things our bodies do without us “telling” them to. Our brain breathes for us while we’re asleep… triggers a cough if something gets stuck in our throat… regulates our temperature… and sends us to the bathroom (and MILLIONS more things), all without our conscious thought. We have NO control over the involuntary response getting started, but have at least a little bit of control over what to do with it. So… if I’m in church, and drink too much coffee and need to go to the bathroom, I can probably wait until the end of the sermon. But I couldn’t wait until next Sunday!

That’s what is so hard about telling LGBTQ people that they can choose whether or not to act on their sexuality. It’s a hard enough sell to get young straight kids to wait until marriage for sex… and we know that church kids fare the same in this area as everyone else. But telling a gay teenager to NEVER have sex with who they are actually attracted to is like telling yourself to never again go to the bathroom. Eventually, something has to give, and all the faith in the world isn’t gonna prevent a serious mess!

Delayed Expression

Things that are put into place at one time, but expressed later are also confusing. It seems for all the world like they are HAPPENING at the time that we first SEE them; but in truth the “happening” is long gone, and all that is left is for the trait to show up. There are many examples of this – simple things like eyes that start out blue and then end up brown, or hair color that is blonde in the toddler years and turns dark by adulthood. We say, without hesitation, “Just like his Mom’s hair did!” without another thought. It can also happen with much more serious things – like Huntington’s Chorea, a progressive, fatal disease which is genetically determined before birth, but shows absolutely no symptoms until adulthood. Another example, more pertinent to sexuality, is the size of the outside sex parts. These things are determined before a baby is born, and there isn’t anything after birth (barring injury or disease) that alters them. But they aren’t EXPRESSED until puberty… because before that it just isn’t yet time.

That’s how it works with gender identity and sexual orientation. Our bodies are miraculous packages, designed to provide what we need at just the right time… and so we express our gender identity and our sexual orientation at the right time, even though they were set in place while we were being formed in our mother’s womb.

In my opinion, this is the heart of the arguments about sexual orientation and gender identity being a “choice.” The age that we SEE a young person declare themselves to be gay or transgender is usually in the teen or young adult years… an age when kids make choices that are often rebellious ones. But the reality is that the only choice occurring is when and how to REVEAL their identity or orientation to others. The actual event happened long before, and has been internally “known” by the person for a very long time. But like my friend in the opening paragraph, they’ve been blending in, trying to figure out if they are the crazy ones or if everyone else is! Imagine, just for a moment, how lonely that must be. And imagine, just for a moment, whether you might finally get fed up, and just bare yourself to the world in whatever way you feel like… not particularly caring at the time if it makes others uncomfortable.

Timing is Everything

Another puzzler – and a big one. In between the formation of the baby’s outside parts in the first trimester of pregnancy, and the formation of the brain sexuality in the second/third trimester, there are hormone surges. These hormone surges can and do impact brain sexuality… but the outside parts have already been formed and are irreversible. This means that the chromosomes, internal sex organs, outside sex parts and brain sexuality may not “match” in the way that we humans (who have somewhat arbitrarily defined “normal” as what we see happening most often) expect them to. A baby might have boy sex parts on the outside, but the part of the brain that controls sexual orientation may be attracted to boys rather than girls. Or a baby might have girl parts on the outside, but a hormone surge impacts the brain at the precise time that gender identity is put into place, and that young child knows without a shadow of a doubt that he is a boy, regardless of what parts are on the outside. Why? Because his brain says so.

Imagine, just for a moment, that the very core of your brain was telling you that you were a boy, while the parts of your body you can see look like girl parts. And then, imagine that everyone you know kept saying you were a girl. Even though your brain KNOWS that you aren’t. Imagine that your parents correct you, over and over again, reminding you that you’re a girl. And they are the people who feed you and take care of you, and love you, and you have absolutely no concept for how to reconcile what they are saying with what you know inside. And then, imagine that a famous preacher that millions of people listen to – like, say, Dr. Franklin Graham – referred to transgender people as “sexual predators and perverts.” Try as I might, I cannot put myself fully in that place… but even the attempt leaves me in a cold sweat. Is it ANY wonder that transgender teens and adults face an astronomically-high rate of depression and suicide?

Ancient History

We’re almost done. Hang with me for a final, hugely important concept: what humans USED to know about sexuality. Here’s the diagram of what was known about sexuality when the Bible was written:

Ancient Culture

That’s it. That’s all they had, all they knew. See a penis? It’s a boy. Yay! Our family name will continue! He will grow up strong and tall, have children and grandchildren! Praise God!

No penis? It’s a girl. Bummer. Well, maybe next time. Meanwhile, let’s teach her to cook and maybe she will bear children for someone else..

End of story.

Over time, we learned more about sexuality, and we began to add in things… but the ancient history understanding was so deeply ingrained that we just sort of stuck the other things in around our old way of thinking. So now, our understanding all too often looks kind of like this:

Ancient Culture Amended

It’s like a house with a whole bunch of additions and extra rooms, but the proportions are out of whack. It reminds me of when Jesus chastised his followers, saying, “You can’t put new wine in old wineskins.” Sometimes – most especially for followers of Christ – you have to be willing to blow up your old way of thinking and let him make something totally new out of the rubble.

Now, don’t brand me a heretic just yet. Not unless you know me well enough to know my deep love for Scripture. Not until you understand that I have memorized and kept current over 350 verses. Not unless you know that God’s word gets into me, changes me, transforms me. Before you brand me a heretic, just think for a moment about this beautiful passage:

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

When the psalmist penned this, he thought the world was flat. So for our sins to be removed as far as the east to the west, he probably imagined as, I don’t know… maybe 2000 miles. That’s a long way. And when scientists started to realize the world was round, they caught LOTS of flack from people defending the Bible. But over time, we’ve learned to reconcile the two. We’ve realized that if the psalmist thought the world was flat, that didn’t mean that GOD thought it was flat! It just means that God (for whatever reason) decided to use simple human beings to speak through. He could’ve just floated the Bible down to us, but he didn’t. So the human perspective is, apparently, worth the risk.

And now that we understand a round world, what has happened to this passage? Is it rendered useless? NO — It is even better! Because now we understand that in our round world, you can NEVER get from east to west! Now we realize that our sins aren’t just cast 2000 miles away from us; no, the distance is infinite. Immeasurable. Further than we have the capacity to understand. We could walk around and around and around the earth… and never, ever catch up to them. How cool is that?

So, friends, that’s what I think is happening with human sexuality. You think it’s an abomination? Not me. I think it’s an unfolding miracle. I think God allowed our simple understanding of male and female for long enough… and now, he is ready to blow our minds with the width and length and height and depth of human sexuality.

In closing, let’s return to Franklin Graham. He is quoted as saying, “Gender identity is what an individual ‘feels’ their identity is regardless of the biological reality.”  (www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com, Feb. 6, 2016)

If you follow an ancient historical understanding of sexuality – if we are fully defined by the parts on the outside, and nothing else – then that is a true statement. If you take a pre-scientific understanding of sexuality, add on a few rooms, and call it done, then that’s a true statement.

But, if you choose to follow that thought process, know this:

It is medically unsupported and biblically unaddressed. The Bible never, ever says, “God created them male (which means a penis) and female (which means a vagina.)” No, we humans added our ideas of what was meant by male and female. Not God.

If a world-renowned leader and evangelist chooses to use the term “biological reality”, then it’s reasonable to expect him to have a sound understanding of what biological reality is. To fail to do so is misleading, inaccurate and irresponsible. It isn’t faith; it’s cowardice.

Fear keeps us enslaved in Egypt, while faith urges us toward the promised land. Fear worries that a human scientist will discover something that will knock God off his throne, while faith looks deeply into the telescope AND the microscope. Perfect love casts out fear… and gives us the courage to look at people and things we don’t understand with eyes wide open, ready and eager to see what God will blow our minds with next.

Remember our young transgender teenager from the opening lines of this post? I don’t believe she’s an abomination, or a mistake, or a sexual deviant. I don’t believe she’s a pervert. I don’t even believe she’s abnormal. I believe that she’s a creation of God. I believe that she is an important part of his revelation.

I believe that she is an unfolding miracle. Open your eyes and your heart, if you dare, and see her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Sheep, Take Heart

Over the past couple of years, I find myself increasingly drawn to the outsider, the oppressed, the hurting, the abused, the marginalized, the overlooked, the misfit, the discounted.

The lost sheep.

But here’s the thing. It isn’t really pity or sympathy that attracts me. It’s a sense that their lostness says something important about them that matters. And that their lostness says something about those of us in the flock that needs to be heard.

I think many lost sheep have found our flock lacking in important areas. Many lost sheep have found our flock suffocating,  untrustworthy, or even dangerous. They’ve felt abandoned, misled, neglected or mistreated. In order to save themselves, they’ve had to get lost.

And guess what? If you are a lost sheep, feeling lonely and disillusioned and hurt and cast aside and overlooked… lost sheep of the world, GUESS WHAT??!?

God sees you and loves you. He gets you. He is looking for you and looking out for you. He seems to have a special place in his heart for lost sheep. And He – not the pack, not the alpha sheep, not the earthly shepherds, not the fat sheep, not the aggressive sheep, not the sheep council, but THE Shepherd – will always have the last word.

Lost, hurting, treasured, precious sheep… hear now the word of the Lord, who loves you and hurts with you and is desperately searching for you.

And those in the flock… elder sheep, and young sheep, and leader sheep, and earthly shepherds…  if we dare… hear now the word of the Lord, from the prophet Ezekiel, who has climbed up on his soap box and has some things to say to us.

Then this message came to me from the Lord:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD:

What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve.

Lost sheep 8You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost.

Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve.

“”Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land… from among the peoples and nations. Lost sheep 2 I will feed them on the mountains and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland… There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills.

I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak.

But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!

“And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to his people:

I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. Isn’t it enough for you to keep the best of the pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn’t it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Why must my flock eat what you have trampled down and drink water you have fouled?

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will surely judge between the fat sheep and the scrawny sheep. For you fat sheep pushed and butted and crowded my sick and hungry flock until you scattered them to distant lands. So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another.

“I will make a covenant of peace with my people and drive away the dangerous animals from the land. Then they will be able to camp safely in the wildest places and sleep in the woods without fear.

I will bless my people and their homes around my holy hill. And in the proper season I will send the showers they need. There will be showers of blessing. The orchards and fields of my people will yield bumper crops, and everyone will live in safety. When I have broken their chains of slavery and rescued them from those who enslaved them, then they will know that I am the Lord. They will no longer be prey for other nations, and wild animals will no longer devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will frighten them. 

“You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”  (Ezekiel 34:1-22;25-28;31)

Lost sheep 7

Lost sheep, don’t give up.

Shepherds and flock… go find them.

 

People and Parts and Chromosomes

[This post originated several months ago when I got up on my soapbox on Facebook. It seemed to resonate with people, led to a radio talk-show appearance, a local newspaper article, and eventually to this blog. It keeps reappearing, so I decided to repost it here.]

June 2, 2015

For the beloved Mama Bears, raising your LGBTQ children with tenderness and ferocity, this is for you.

For Tomm Zorn who committed suicide last week, and all the courageous transgender folks out there trying to find your path, this is for you.

For my many Christian friends who are struggling to understand while remaining true to your faith, this is for you.

For those angry and inconvenienced by the media attention, who prefer posts of what you had for dinner over the plight of children killing themselves, this is not for you.

When faced with the choice between passionate speech and wise silence, I’ve never had the sense to keep my mouth shut. Which explains why I’m dumb enough to make a “Caitlyn Jenner Post.” Here are a few points I would like to share from a recent Grand Rounds presentation that I gave at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, followed by some general opinions.

Our sexuality is a lot more than the “parts” that show on the outside. It is made up of our chromosomes, our brain sexuality, our internal parts, and our outside parts. The chromosomes direct the formation of our inside parts (ovaries and testes) and sexual differentiation of the brain. The brain and internal sex organs make neurotransmitters and hormones that impact each other as well as forming the outside parts. Most of the time those things match — outside parts, inside parts, brain sexuality and chromosomes. Those four things combined together establish, likely before birth, our sexual orientation (who we are attracted to) and our gender identity (whether we believe we are a girl or boy).

Here’s the rub. The external parts form very early in fetal development (the first trimester) but sexual differentiation of the brain much later (second and third trimester). Hormone surges can and do occur throughout the pregnancy… so a fetus can TOTALLY be born with a female brain but male outside parts. Or with a male gender identity but female attractions and mannerisms. There’s a tremendous amount of science available, and over the next weeks and months I will begin sharing what I know.

In ancient history, all that mattered were the outside parts. But now that we know all that we know about what’s going on inside our brains… now that we know about chromosomes and hormones… now that we know that people can honest-to-God be born with parts and brains and genders and attractions that don’t match… could we maybe just stop long enough to think about that?

If I woke up tomorrow with guy parts, that would seriously mess me up. Or if someone told me I had to figure out how to be attracted to women in order to be “normal”… well, it just wouldn’t happen.

And you guys out there… what if you woke up tomorrow with big old boobs and no dude parts? Or what if you straight guys had to figure out how to be attracted to one of your “bros” and how to not be attracted to women in order to be considered normal?

I’m not trying to be offensive, I’m just saying… THINK ABOUT IT. That would be really difficult. And lonely. And scary. We might hide from the world… or act out… or do crazy things to try to draw attention away from that part of us. Or we might get depressed, or start drinking, or doing drugs. Or kill ourselves.

We know that men who are paralyzed, women who have mastectomies, or people who suffer a mutilating injury are still a man or woman — even if their “sex parts” are absent or dysfunctional. Why? Because the sexuality of our brain and the chemicals it produces and the hormones raging through our bodies (given that I’m a menopausal woman, the term “raging” is quite appropriate) are more important than the outside parts. That’s just the truth.

And as a Christian, that doesn’t threaten my God OR my Bible. He absolutely created us male and female… but what that means is a heck of a lot more complicated than checking the parts below the waist. What makes us male and female is infinitely, gloriously, divinely, beautifully complicated. It’s the reason that after 24 years of marriage, Mike and I sometimes communicate like we are the same person, and other times like we come from different planets. We aren’t “typical” — not by a long shot. I love pro football, took a charge from him on the blacktop basketball court on our first date, cry at least twice a week and think out loud. He loves to cook, is a librarian, thinks about things for, like, 2 months before he speaks them out loud, and loves his alone time.

Sexuality is complicated. Human beings are complicated. That’s because we were created by a God that is way bigger than we can ever begin to imagine. If He had required the perfect design and the perfect people, Genesis would’ve been a very short story. But guess what? Us humans screwing up His design of the garden, of our humanity, of our relationships, and of the whole world was NOT a deal-breaker for Him. Instead, He continued to love us and pursue us and demonstrate compassion. He even made CLOTHES for Adam and Eve to help them with their embarrassment in the garden!! Who does that??

The point is, we don’t always know nearly as much as we think we do. We can misinterpret science, and we can misinterpret the Bible, and we can misinterpret each other’s intentions. And we can really mess each other up in screaming about how messed up everyone else is. But really, we are all pretty messed up… and we are also all pretty cool. Every one of us are walking around bearing the fingerprints of God.

So I think it’s up to you and to me how we respond to things we don’t understand. We can respond with anger and fear and ridicule, or we can respond with compassion and respect and a genuine desire to learn and understand. Our choice of response reveals our character and faith, and history will judge how well we did…

Guns and Kids and Jesus

Early this morning I opened Facebook, just as a way to ease into the day. Instead, I was confronted with a picture that won’t leave my mind: An adorable, chubby-cheeked, 8-year old little girl smiling into the camera. She lived just a stone’s throw from where I attended college. And she died at the hands of the 11-year old boy next door with a shot gun.

I know there’s many perspectives on this issue. I know there are legitimate reasons to own and carry guns. I know many trustworthy people who do so.

I know that the basic problem is a conundrum. While I feel safer with less guns, others feel safer with more. We aren’t both entirely wrong… or entirely right. What makes one person safer (like a Dad who sleeps with a gun under his pillow) puts another in danger (like the little kid next door who accidentally comes across it.) Pass a law to prevent the mentally ill from owning a gun, and the young woman being treated for depression following a rape is an unintended casualty, now unable to protect herself.

It’s complicated. I get it. But tonight I’m grieving a little girl. So I have some things to say.

First, about kids.

Guns harm kids far more often than they protect them. A gun in the home will accidentally kill a child, or be used by a teen to commit suicide, many-fold more times than it will be used to ward off an intruder. So please accept that a gun simultaneously protects AND endangers your family.

Children can be taught to shoot, load, unload, clean and store a gun. But they cannot truly comprehend the meaning of “forever dead.” Time and again, kids involved in shooting incidents say over and over and over again that they thought their Mom or Dad or sister or friend would get back up after they said they were sorry. They do not.

Kids can’t drive or work or volunteer at the puppy shelter till they are 16. Can’t buy cigarettes or a lighter or vote till they are 18. Can’t buy alcohol till they are 21. Can’t rent a hotel room without an adult till they’re 25. Why? Because while an 11-year old may possess all the physical dexterity and intelligence needed to drive a car, his brain isn’t ready for the responsibility.

So don’t tell me that parents just need to teach their kids about guns, anymore than parents should just teach their toddlers about the poisonous chemicals under the kitchen sink. While most kids will stay away from guns when told to, some won’t. And if they don’t, they might die. Or maybe the 8-year old girl down the street will die, instead.

Second, about Jesus.

There are lots of legitimate arguments for owning and carrying a gun including (but not limited to) self-protection, sport, and constitutional rights.

Jesus, however, isn’t one of them. He never gave us instruction or permission to kill someone else before they have a chance to kill us. Instead, he told us to turn the other cheek, give the coat off our back, walk two miles instead of one, love our enemies, and go out into the world as lambs among wolves.  When his disciple used his sword in an attempt to protect Jesus, he reprimanded him, healed the injured soldier, and spoke words that should echo loudly in our hearts and minds today:

“If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.”

Jesus taught that we die in order to live… not that we kill in order to not die.

The teachings of Jesus are often hard to swallow… and so many folks might simply conclude that this is one they don’t buy. They might simply choose to disagree with him on this point. Every human being is completely free to choose what they believe is right and true and good. So if you want to own a gun as an American… or a Southerner… or a hunter… or because of your fears… or because of your rights… then you absolutely have grounds to do so.

What you should NOT do is lump gun ownership and usage in with Christianity. Keep your gun, but leave Jesus out of it.

Tomorrow I will have writer’s remorse, and I will feel bad for the obvious points I’ve overlooked, the unchecked passion, and the people I’ve offended.

But for tonight, all that really matters is a blonde-haired, brown-eyed little girl.

God’s peace…..

Lambs or Wolves?

These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to The Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. Don’t take any money with you, nor a traveler’s bag, nor an extra pair of sandals. And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road…” (Luke 10:2-4)

Our pastor this morning spoke on this passage, as well as a number of verses that followed it. The first half of the sermon was wonderful… enlightened, inspired, filled with humble instruction. The second half of the sermon… well, I couldn’t tell you.

As Father Chris worked his way through this passage, he stopped. He’d been talking about the instructions Jesus gave to those he was sending out, particularly the phrase, “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves…” He jokingly said that it was a bit different than most motivational speeches! He was about to move forward, then suddenly paused. He asked that the next passage be removed from the screen so that he could go backwards for a moment. And then he asked us a question.

It’s a question that stopped me cold. It’s the reason I don’t recall the last half of the sermon.

It’s a question that continues to rumble around my head and my heart. A question we should ask ourselves every day of our lives. A question we should ask others. A question from God. And a question that I hope sticks with you, as it did with me:

As Christians, are we more like lambs… or more like wolves?

That is all.

The Difference

When Jessica was around 4 years old, she came bounding down the stairs, yelling excitedly,

“Mommy! Mommy! Guess what?!? You’ll never believe it!!!”

I looked up, already smiling, to see what I was about to never believe. Anyone who knows anything about 4-year-old little girls knows that everything is a drama, with the whole world their stage… complete with lots of exclamation points and hand motions. There aren’t many things in the world more adorable…

“Look, Mommy… THEY’RE TWINS!!!!!”

She landed at the bottom of the stairs, breathing hard, face flushed, with two small dolls clutched in her arms. They were cloth baby dolls, purchased at two different stores, and they were indeed identical: the same size, the same hairstyle, the same dress, the same tights, even the same sewn-on shoes. But there was a rather obvious difference, too. One had dark chocolate skin, while the other had off-white skin.

We had never discussed race with Jessica, and had been intentional about finding ways to describe people that didn’t involve skin color or any sort of disability. Instead of referring to someone as “the little black girl,” or “the boy in the wheelchair,” we would instead say, “The little girl who helped you with your backpack” or, “The little boy who always wins the reading contest.” We didn’t have a blueprint for how to do it, and to be honest we just kind of faked our way along, not sure if it would actually make any difference.

So when my ultra-observant daughter… the one who would come home after an evening out together and describe 50 different details of the restaurant, the people, the songs playing, the signs on the way home, most of which I’d failed to notice… when THAT child called those dolls twins, I was stunned.

I recovered as quick as I could, and said, “Uh… yes! They are twins! How crazy is that, when we bought them at two different places?”

Something in my initial hesitation caught her attention. (Remember I said she was ultra-observant?) She stared briefly at me, in that creepy “what are you hiding from me” look that all young children possess, and looked carefully back down at the dolls.

Then she said, “Wait a minute… there’s just ONE difference…”

I could’ve kicked myself. I knew what was coming. And I wasn’t the slightest bit prepared to discuss racial issues with a super-inquisitive 4-year old. But, like is always the case in parenting, you just keep on going, rarely able to prepare adequately for the moment.

“Look, Mom… there’s only ONE difference. This one has blonde hair, and this one has black hair…”

Then, proud that she’d figured out the difference, she ran back upstairs to play with her twins.

Recalling that story never fails to take my breath away. It reminds me of the beauty and clarity in the eyes of a child… and the cloudy, murky vision of us older and wiser adults.

Why do I glance at people and automatically place them into categories? Why do I define people by the color of skin, the cadence of voice, the body language, the facebook posts, the political stance, the clothing, the car, the smell, the size? And why are certain categories more important than others?

I tell myself, well, some things are more obvious than others. How am I supposed to know that a man wearing dirty jeans, driving a truck with a gun rack, with a pronounced Southern drawl is actually a millionaire? Let’s be real here… he looks like a good old boy driving to his modest home and family after a hard day’s work.

And yet… changing just a few details gives lie to my rationalization. Because if the man was dressed the same, driving the same old truck, but was black rather than white… my assumptions may be different. I may assume that he’s up to no good, or be less likely to assume he’s going home to his family. I might think the gun rack was for hunting people rather than deer.

It seems that we spend much of our time and brain power placing the world around us into categories. As we walk down the hallway, or through a crowded store, our brains register millions of images and thoughts.

Black. White. Pretty. Obnoxious. Fat. Latino. Handsome. Foreign. Polite. Disabled. Muslim.  Arrogant. Happy. Ignorant. Short. Indian. Tall. Kind. Funny. Weird. Bright colors. Barefoot. Silly. Belly showing. Tattoos. Professional. Poor. Stressed. Loud. Helpful. Sick. Cute. Noisy.

We overhear conversations all around us, and with a nearly audible “click”, we place them into categories.

Liberal. Right-winger. Evangelical. Progressive. Tree-hugger. Rich. Poor. Gang-banger.

And then based on those categories, we make additional assumptions.

Lost. Ignorant. Flighty. Racist. Entitled. SOB. Rich. Backward. Irrelevant. Brainwashed. Worldly. Bigot. Lazy. Greedy.

All of this, it seems, can flash through our minds in an instant… so before we even open our mouths to have a conversation with someone we don’t know, we’ve already formed opinions and judgments about them. And they have already formed opinions about us. Sometimes they are correct… sometimes they aren’t… and how would we ever know? It’s already all muddled up by our assumption and presuppositions.

It was into just this kind of arena — political and religious tension,  power plays, vicious ideological separation, and intense competition for hierarchy — that Jesus did something remarkable. Something crazy. Something that turned everything upside down. He brought a little child forward, and he said to the crowds,

“I tell you the truth, you must change and become like little children. Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who makes himself humble like this child.” (Matthew 18:3 NCV)

A part of me loves this passage with all my heart — it is an important reason I became a pediatrician, because it strikes a deep chord within me, resonating like the lowest string on a bass violin.

But another part of me is terrified by this passage. Because when I’m in conversation with other people, I’m far more interested in winning the argument than in making myself humble. I’m far more interested in honing in on their weaknesses, than exposing and admitting my own weaknesses. I’m far too busy clicking people into categories, following where that leads me, and then after the fact recalling the words I spoke… while having difficulty remembering anything the other person said. I’m far more interested in being at the top of the ranking system, than at the bottom.

Oh, to have the eyes and heart of a child. To learn not to see, in order to see more clearly. To become deaf, in order to hear. To become foolish, in order to be wise.

To look at the people around us, and be able to pronounce with utter certainty, “There’s just one difference. This one has blonde hair, and this one has black hair….”

 

All That I Know Isn’t Much

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:10-13)

Remember lying on your back picking shapes out of the clouds? That’s what I think about every time I read about the “puzzling reflections in a mirror”. Look! A hippopotamus! Fun fact: when I was in med school I always saw body parts in the clouds. Where others saw a dinosaur or a daffodil, I saw the aorta or the large intestine. Medical school does not necessarily produce normal people.

We don’t get too worked up over differences of opinion when it comes to a cumulus cloud… but we surely do over other things. Like race and ethnicity. Or gun control. Or the definition of marriage. Or policemen. Or flags. Or immigration. Or rainbows. These days, referring to someone as “he” rather than “she” is enough to draw the battle lines.

I don’t think we intend to be contentious or mean-spirited… it’s just that these topics seem to hit where it hurts. We seem to be at some sort of turning point in history. Even trying to describe THAT brings about sharp differences of perception: where some people see the dawn, freedom, and a bright future… others see the end of life as we know it.

None of us are objective, much as we’d like to pretend we are. The truth is, each of us brings our own wisdom and knowledge and experience to the table… but it’s colored with our fears and hurts and insecurities. Put it all together, and nearly any sentence uttered can result in the age-old Southern expression:

“Them’s fightin’ words!”

I think we desire certainty more than anything. We want to KNOW… and we want to KNOW THAT WE ARE RIGHT. Unfortunately, much of life doesn’t lend itself to certainty, and matters of faith require… well, faith. That’s uncomfortable. So our response is often to gather together with other people who agree with us. We gather together in clubs, or denominations, or schools of thought, or advocacy groups… often for very good reasons. But another reason may be this: there’s something about a lot of people all saying the same thing that provides confidence. (It’s why I love being in Neyland Stadium in the fall — there’s just something awesome about 100,000 people who all agree with me!)

Into the midst of our desire for certainty… our longing to be right…  and our fierce, chin-lifted, fist-clenched posture… comes Paul’s refreshingly authentic words:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…

All that I know now is partial and incomplete…

Wait. What?

Isn’t Paul the guy whose words we so often use to beat each other over the head with? Weren’t his words the deep trench that put our nation at war with ourselves over slavery? That led to the splitting of denominations over the role of women? Aren’t his words the grand canyon separating us over how to define marriage?

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…

All that I know now is partial and incomplete…

Is it possible that some uncertainty is okay? When faced with really complex things… is it possible that it’s okay to not have all the answers? Is it possible that faith is less about having our theology tied up into a tidy package… and more about trusting in a God who is way bigger than us?

It isn’t as though Paul left us hanging, either. He didn’t just say, “Life is complicated, so do your best… have fun… chill out… hakuna matata.” No, he gave us very specific marching orders in how to conduct ourselves when we are uncertain:

LOVE.

The whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 says, in essence, that everything we generally put our trust in is worthless without love. Knowledge… wisdom… faith that moves mountains… sacrificial giving… the gift of prophecy… eloquent speaking and preaching… all of it adds up to nothing without love.

I wonder, if we were to use this passage as our method of grading all the arguments that occur over “what’s right”… if the score wouldn’t end up being 0-0.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that if the guy who wrote half of the New Testament can say that everything he knows now is partial and incomplete, maybe we ought to follow suit. Perhaps it’s time to season our demands and our turf battles and our culture wars with humility and gracious uncertainty. Perhaps, in doing so, we would begin to have discussions and relationships that are, in the Bible’s method of scoring, actually worth something.

Perhaps it’s time to stop being divided over our certain beliefs… and instead become unified by our faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Three things will last forever…

Not certainty. Not truth. Not wisdom. Not theology. Not science. Not marriage. Not a specific nation. Not a specific race.

Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.