When our opinions no longer matter: LGBT and loving others well

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The internet has pretty much been in an uproar for the last few days over the news about Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner, and her transformation and introduction into the public eye as a woman. I have seen opinions ranging from “YOU GO GIRL! Werk it!” to “Bruce will never be a woman. He is sick and needs serious psychological attention” and everything in between.

We sure like our opinions, don’t we? And more than that, we like to voice our opinions loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear them.

I used to have opinions about people who identified as LGBT. It was actually a topic I felt pretty strongly about. But then I had a friend come out to me for the first time. And I read the story of a young man who was raised an Evangelical Christian and was thrown out of his home when he came out to his parents as gay. And I read from my friend Ben Moberg about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. I learned that 1 out of every 4 kids who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point during their lifetime. Although LGBT youth make up only 10% of minors in the U.S., they represent 20% of homeless youth.

LGB youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if they come from highly rejecting families.

And when I put faces to those numbers, my sweet friends being thrown out into the streets when they needed love and loyalty the most, changed me.

Those statistics are not okay.

The fact that we choose our opinions over saving livesis not okay.

What are we doing? What the hell are we thinking, that being right matters more than being kind. We are majorly missing the point, friends. If we haven’t figured it out by now, it doesn’t actually matter whether we think it’s right or wrong, because kids are coming out anyway and gender changes are still happening and they’re still going to, regardless of our personal convictions.

Because, while the Bible is gray about sexuality, the Bible has never been gray about love.

Love is not a gray area. There are no exceptions. No one off-limits. And we don’t have to agree with the life choices of someone in order to be their friend. (If you are only friends with people who agree with you, you are missing out on a much richer life.)

I don’t know what you believe, friend. But I hope you can set them aside sometimes to recognize that the world is much bigger than the lens you see it through.

Your opinions will not save you. Only God can do that.

Caitlyn Jenner is brave because she, of all people—a previous Olympian—knows that we don’t know how to accept people who operate outside of the norm. She knew there would be hate and there would be judgment, even from her own family. She chose to make a space for herself anyway. And I deeply respect that.

It’s time to stop the witch hunt, and it’s time to stop whining that we’re so persecuted that we’re actually expected to treat everyone fairly. It’s time to acknowledge that we have not loved others well. It’s time to acknowledge that we are beginners, not experts on this topic, and to start from ground zero and go up from there.

It’s time to listen, and it’s time to humanize those we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are no better.

The power of words: compliments + criticisms + the vulnerability of it all

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I’m not an encourager.

I want to be, but it’s not naturally in my personality. If there’s no good in something, I’m not going to force it. If I’m not impressed I won’t blatantly say so, but I won’t lie either. (Sorry. I’m a tough crowd.) That, combined with the strong sense of self-sufficiency I learned from my mother (I love you Mom), and you have a very independent, perfectionist person.

Criticism is my home terrain. Self-improvement is my field of expertise. Honesty is my bread and a good work ethic is my butter.

Because of this, I never feel more vulnerable than when I am sincerely complimenting someone else.

A lot of us avoid compliments. And it took me a long time to figure out why, but I think I’ve found it – it’s one thing to send a Facebook message or leave a note, and it’s an entirely different thing to stare into someone’s baby blues and tell them how much their presence has changed you.

It’s scary. It’s vulnerable. Genuine compliments are hard. How do I look into someone’s eyes and tell them that they are irreplaceable in my life? How do I admit to someone how I have admired them from afar? How can I bare myself as the needy, confused, grateful person I am when all I want is to just be cool? JUST BE COOL.

Interesting how the more meaningful one is also the scarier one, isn’t it?

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The people who know me will say I am hard on the people I love. This is because I want them to be the best versions of themselves, just like I want to be the best version of myself. Honestly, it’s a reflection of the way I treat myself. I am hard on other people because I am hard on me.

Criticism can be eye-opening, but when used without restraint it can cripple vulnerability. When your entire relationship is basically you pointing out the faults in another person, the relationship becomes really tiring and heavy and not a place where you feel safe to express yourself. In order to have a healthy relationship, you must be honest and also discerning.

Nowhere is this more obvious than the way I treat my boyfriend. I love him more than sleeping in, pie, and Netflix (3 of my favorite things), but I don’t let anything slide and he knows it. He’ll tell you he’s grateful because I’m pushing him to be a better person, but I know it doesn’t always feel that way. There are times when the compliments are scarce and the criticisms are many. I criticize because it’s safer for me to analyze him than to trust him. Sometimes my critique is more selfish than selfless.

• • • • •

He and I had a last-lunch-before-spring-break, the buzz of the dining commons around us as we talked about faith and God and identity and shame. And suddenly I found them – the words I had been searching for.

I looked him in the eyes, and I told him how he is living Jesus: in the way he works behind the scenes without recognition, how he makes time to help people he barely knows, how he is endlessly patient with me as I muddle my way through my huge, sometimes crippling fear. How those who humble themselves shall be exalted. How those who put themselves last shall go first. How the one who leads by example is the one who should be leading us from the podium. How he’s making me better, just by being himself.

His eyes filled with tears as I spoke and I knew, in that moment, that this is the most important work I do. Nothing is more important than this – extending tenderness to those I love most.

And we sat there, both blinking back tears and grinning and hearts as soft as butter, and there is no sweeter moment than one who is reminded of how much they are loved.

• • • • •

I know it’s scary. It’s tough as frick. But I hope you’ll tell someone how much they actually mean to you – how much you need them, and how they give you strength to go on. We forget how much power words have until we hear them, and once we hear the right words, we are never the same.

Still Feminist: A guest post from Esther Emery

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Esther is a new friend of mine, and I am so excited to have her on the blog today! You can find her blogging at www.estheremery.com and tweeting @EstherEmery.

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My feminism has been through the weeds. I dragged it through my conservative phase, discussing female Biblical heroines with complementarians and trying to dive into the sisterhood.

And then I dragged it through a crash course on intersectionality.

It had become impossible for me to ignore the ways in which white feminism as an entity (through the actions of white women) has been violent towards people of color, especially women of color and queer or trans people of color. Hashtags like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen and #YesAllWhiteWomen were hurtful but also eye opening. I stopped writing about feminism for a while. I tried writing about allyship, and even the troubles with allyship, but that didn’t go very well either.

I’m not going to tell you how and when this happens. Because that’s a really good way to get into fights. I’ll just tell you that when you are ready to see it, you will see it.

And when you see it a little – this is my experience – that’s the beginning to seeing it a lot. I was rocked right off my feminism. I lost my grounding. I felt like maybe I should just stop, because maybe I’m doing more harm than good.

There is a lie to this, of course, but there is also a truth. There is both a lie and a truth in the voice that says, “You can’t work on justice issues, because you don’t have enough of the characteristics of the oppressed.”

The lie is this idea anyone is unable to work on justice. Anytime. Ever. I can always do something. The truth is that I can’t assume that the interests of justice line up with my own interests. Anytime. Ever. I can always be the oppressor as well as the oppressed.

The lie wants you to lie down, be quiet, go away, shut up. The truth wants you to be transformed. The lie wants you to settle for the way things are; change nothing. The truth wants you to simultaneously seek change within yourself and within all the structures you inhabit.

It is necessary that I locate myself in systems of oppression, as accurately as possible. But this is not because the work of liberation is owned by some certain band on the pyramid. This is because exposing these would-be invisible structures by which humans are tracked differently from one another is the knowledge that unlocks our possibilities. When you can see the structures that divide, and the powers that oppress, then you know what the hell it is you’re trying to change.

From where I am located – as a white, Christian activist – I have to do the really quite unpleasant work of interrogating the systems which I inhabit.

This is unpleasant because people’s feelings are everywhere. This is unpleasant because if I communicate my concerns about/to someone who is particularly not interested in hearing them, I could be identified as “angry,” or “a troublemaker” or just silently shut out.

But I’ve been a feminist since I was fifteen. And I’m thirty-five. So that’s familiar.

Choosing/learning to speak from a more intersectional perspective is all the things that feminism has always been for me. Destabilizing. Invigorating. Humbling. It’s the end of a sentence I started with my own angry/beautiful cry twenty years ago.

This journey has never been exactly safe. But it has made space for breathing. It has never really been clear. But it has been a dialogue with truth. I guess the only difference is that in the teenage version I felt only one step away from the promise, while now I know it is a long, and dusty road.

I can’t be unseated from the truth of my own story, even as I open and yield to the revelation of experiences that are not my own. I have a source. I have a real life context. I have a place where I live. And right here, in that place, I can be taught to listen better to the truth of the whole world.

So I guess I’m still a feminist after all.

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estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

 

Your heart is not your enemy.

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My greatest enemy is not a weapon I was born with.

The church culture that condemns society and its methods of connection and tells us to live a better way, is also the same church culture stripping us of our ability to do so.

I read an article today, like many out in the blogosphere, about how we should be dating differently. The world tells us we should be getting in each others’ pants pretty quickly, physical love before emotional connection, the tangible over the spiritual. Christian articles tell me that this is bad, and I agree. It’s the wrong order. The emotional and spiritual should come first as the largest priority.

But from there, the messages get ambiguous and I’m left thinking do you even get what you’re saying? We’re told we shouldn’t settle for someone who isn’t doing it right, even though the one in the temporary will make us happy. We should wait for the one in the long term, even though we’re going to have to fight our nature to do it. And I think this is wrong.

Not a single bone in my body has ever found the world’s system of connection appealing. It looks heartbreaking, and lonely, and lots of people walk away feeling disenchanted. And I think to tell us that what we’re craving will end up like that is a lie. Teaching us to ignore our gut instinct is such a dangerous thing to teach people. Because it wasn’t until I learned to go with my instincts that I really found people that were worth loving. To get to that point, I had to go through years of un-learning the message that my spiritual culture taught me: I can’t trust myself.

This argument is typically founded on the belief that we are born inherently sinful, and I think that’s true. We are born with the curse of humanity, the illness that sentences us to eventual death. However, this illness is cured by the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, leaving us free from our inherent sin nature. We are no longer bound by the flesh, which means our thoughts and feelings are no longer tied to our sin nature. If the Holy Spirit lives in us, working as a “conscience”, how is that any different from our gut instincts? I have often found that my instincts align with Scripture.

Ignoring our inherent conscience that was designed by the One who made us has not given us a benefit that is worth the self-trust we lose by burying it.

If you’re like me, and you’ve stopped listening to yourself: your feelings matter. You’re never going to understand yourself until you start listening. And even if your instincts aren’t 100% accurate, it’s still important to know why you feel the way you do.

Put your head and your heart together, and make love a team effort.

What binds us together: clothing + the womanhood beneath it

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The first time I wore lip gloss, I was in the 7th grade. I wore it to church and I was absolutely terrified, a thief’s fear of being caught red-handed. All I wanted was to make it through the service without anyone saying a word.

I finally thought I had gone under the radar when I heard my friend’s voice, loud and teasing, walking towards me, practically shouting Hannah’s wearing lip gloss! My little girl is growing up! And I really thought I might shrivel up and die.

And I vowed to myself, in that moment, that I would never draw attention to myself as a woman ever again. The embarrassment was more than I could handle. And my little blossoming womanhood stifled itself into a hole, deep within myself.

I didn’t wear lip gloss again until six years later.

It’s easy to forget you’re a girl. Once you shove something deep enough in you it’ll start to take root there, tired of fighting its way to the surface. I buried being a girl for as long as I could, hiding it under baggy t-shirts and jeans, my entertaining personality and boldness. Girls cared too much about what other people thought, cared too much about how they looked in the mirror, cared too much in general, and I wanted none of that. No one would dare tell me I care “too much” because that girl label was not for me.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that my fear started to cave. My love for high heels and pretty hairdos and feeling elegant and sexy as hell had been my little secret for 18 years, hiding beneath how I told people I was a “tomboy” and “I can’t walk in heels to save my life.” (That part is true, but that doesn’t stop me from loving them.) I wore heels for work weekly that year, getting my sea legs, and growing confident in a blouse and pencil skirt. I had never felt more empowered.

Earlier today I read Esther Emery’s The Song of Girls Who Don’t Wear Dressesand while I have grown to love dresses with a deep and abiding affection, I resonated so deeply with her passion and fierceness. While her desires motivated her to wear belts and tank tops and spiky hair, that same feeling is what inspires me to wear heels and curl my hair and put on lipstick. And even though our outward appearance may look different, our passions unite us. And that’s a really beautiful thing, to find a kindred spirit beneath a different skin.

Dear friend: however you wear your hair, no matter how short your skirt or loose your jeans, whether you wear jewelry or a baseball cap, I hope you empower yourself to feel determined, smart, strong, and totally badass. Because whatever we might look like on the outside, it’s the kindred spirit beneath us that binds us together.

#fireworkpeople: a community for women who are already changing the world

#FIREWORKPEOPLE (2)This blog post is part of the #fireworkpeople blog tour happening from October 15-30. You can learn more about #fireworkpeople on Ashley’s blog, on twitter at #fireworkpeople, or in the #fireworkpeople facebook group.

I met Ashley Beaudin when she followed me on twitter last summer, and she invited me to join the #fireworkpeople twitter party.

I’ll be honest – I’m a bit of a skeptic. When I see a brand or motto that tells people how great they are all the time, I always raise an eyebrow a little and think to myself so you’re basically telling someone they’re awesome when you don’t even know them? How can you claim that? But then I remember that some people are genuinely nice and really want to be cheerleaders for people they don’t know, and while I don’t always get it, I do respect it.

The main draw for the people in the group was how positive and encouraging it was, but I wasn’t entirely convinced someone could authentically encourage me if they didn’t actually know me. But as the months progressed, I have been so impressed by the people who are a part of this group. They talk about their lives and their struggles and the lessons their learning, and their ability to bounce back from heartbreak and their resilience in the face of struggle truly inspires me. This is not just a group of people who want to change the world: this is a group of people who are already equipping themselves to do those things. There are real live women in the world who exist off the internet, doing and spreading good lessons with great power. And this inspires me.

If I could sum up the message of these women and their passion, I would simply say this: you are not alone. And I think this is a message we could all hear a little more often, that we are not the only ones who grieve and rage and fear. We are a part of the beautiful community that is Humanity, and if we have nothing else in common, we have our love of being a part of it.

It inspires me greatly to be a part of such an honest, wise community. And I read, and listen, and think. Women tell their stories, and I laugh and cry and feel with them, because I have been there. I have been mocked, I have been humiliated, I have been loved.

And I hope this community of compassion will spread to the edges of our worlds by the time we’re done.

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Redefining fierce

Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be known as “fierce”. As a kid I was as feisty and stubborn as they come, but I was also short and blonde and had a huge smile that I wore daily. I was “cute”. Always cute. Sometimes adorable, occasionally even pretty, but never fierce. Fierce was reserved for taller, slimmer women who were tan and wore lots of eye makeup and lots of black dresses.

That was never me. That could never be me. I would never be tall and slender, I would never have high cheekbones, and I was not the kind of girl who wanted to spend much time in front of a mirror.

I was taught that you earn words like awards, trophies you collect and frame for the world to see. And words like Fierce, Sexy, or Strong were not words I had earned. I did not look the part, so I could not play the part.

I was so, so tired of being cute. I grew resentful for my unintentionally naïve appearance and sweet smile. So I decided I would smile less, with the hope that I might be taken more seriously. But it never works to try to embody someone you are not, and I quickly realized my end did not justify my means. No single word could bear the weight of all I want to become.

So now I wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and tell myself that I am fierce and sexy and strong. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing gym shorts and soccer cleats or 3 inch heels – I am a force to be reckoned with. And when I give myself this power, I don’t shrink anymore. I don’t feel small. I can stand tall in the strength I have taken for me, because I stopped waiting for permission to believe in myself. It was in me all along.