Leading with Love: Part 2

Last week I celebrated. This week I am looking at the more difficult things I encountered around the marriage equality decision. I find myself struggling to find the words to describe how it feels to see friends on Facebook express their dismay that marriage has been deemed a right for everyone. In my experience, the polite-acceptance-despite-this-being-an-abomination-to-god has caused more harm than the violence that comes at those of us who are gay or transgendered. It’s fairly easy to blow off the ugly venom from the likes of Fred Phelps. He’s an extremist that gives gay people a good name.

Far more damaging are the subtle silences and disapproval that come from those who love and like us as individuals. Very often their words are framed as “God’s word.” You all matter. Your quiet disapproval goes inside too easily, it carries too much weight. I know because have taken it in–until way to recently. I have agreed with you and wished I were worthy of your love–as if your love were more legitimate, more important than my own. You have the power to harm and you have used it–with or without understanding the impact you were having.

I haven’t always known how to hold my heart open and make room for those who do not see as I do. If I didn’t shut people out in righteous anger, I slipped silently away to protect myself from anticipated pain. I have struggled not judge those with whom I do not agree, to figure out how to share my experiences of how what they have expressed has impacted me. I have excised my voice to keep peace, to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Writing my blog posts in the aloneness of my living room is my first step toward speaking instead of disappearing. If I can break my silence in silence, perhaps I will find the ability to speak directly to the people who posted the things that struck me in the heart.

So here’s what I believe. To say LGBTQ folks are unloved by God is harmful. Invoking “God’s judgment” when it is really just a person’s own, takes a huge toll on those of us who have felt the longing to be a part of God’s love. Being straight is not a choice. Neither is being gay or bi or trans. Embracing those who are–or refusing to–is. Many Christians and other people of faith have claimed that being gay and choosing to experience the beauty of the love and sexual expression that grow out of that is an abomination to God. Just as many people have seen LGBTQ people’s right to marry as coming into alignment with the love of God.

What I want is for the people who are comfortable in their belief that God has no room for the LGBTQ community to go within and struggle with their beliefs as we have struggled with ours. We had to create lives of meaning and joy in the face of being told nearly everywhere we turned that we had no value. Some of us couldn’t do it. We have lost so many precious lives to drugs and suicide; we have lost too much light to lives lived in the shadows. We need you to go within and really know that your beliefs have the power to devastate the lives of LGBTQ people. You have a choice. You can make a difference. Use your power for love.

Bearing Witness

I watched Bryan Stevenson’s 2012 TED Talk, We Need to Talk About an Injustice over the weekend. I consider myself to be a fairly aware white woman, but Stevenson pointed out a number of things about the experience of black people in this country that I simply have not fathomed.

For instance, Stevenson notes that terrorism did not come to this country with 9-11, [or even the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City]. It existed for years before slavery was abolished and for years after–when a black man could be lynched for simply failing to move off the sidewalk if a white man or woman was on it. I know that it was not safe for black people if white people took exception. I know that it still isn’t. Yet the disconnect between my thinking and my understanding is undeniable.

Stevenson gave voice to what I have not been able to articulate in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and countless other black men and boys. We have created a society of fear that justifies anything that happens to those we fear. White people for the most part don’t question it–if we are even aware enough of all of the atrocities perpetrated on people of color to question it.

In his talk, Stevenson said, “we have in this country this dynamic where we really don’t like to talk about our problems. We don’t like to talk about our history. And because of that, we really haven’t understood what it’s meant to do the things we’ve done historically. . . . We have a hard time talking about race, and I believe it’s because we are unwilling to commit ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation. In South Africa, people understood that we couldn’t overcome apartheid without a commitment to truth and reconciliation. In Rwanda, even after the genocide, there was this commitment, but in this country we haven’t done that.”

When I have been deeply upset about some way I have been treated, there is one response that evaporates my anger or pain, my holding a person out as if they don’t matter to me. It’s not an apology, which so often come without any real meaning. Apologies are often offered as a way to get away from uncomfortable feelings and back to equilibrium in the relationship between two or more people. To be honest, I have often not even involved the other person in my truth and reconciliation process for fear that the bonds between us would not be strong enough to hold me in my hurt. In an attempt to preserve some degree of relationship, I have tried to do all the work myself–and in the end lost the friendship anyway because it could not hold up under the accumulated weight of my feelings.

However, when I have been met by a heart willing to feel the pain that has been touched in me, my feelings of pain and anger have evaporated. Not diminished slowly, evaporated. When I have been able to look a friend in the eye; when they have found the courage to tell me that this thing that I did confused or angered or hurt them; when I feel the pain that I have caused and own that I did not act with integrity or courage, I have felt the anger/distrust/pain evaporate and trust renew and deepen.

It takes courage to see ourselves capable of harming another. It takes courage to see how we have contributed indirectly to the harming of another through our ignorance, through our unacknowledged history, through the privilege we are afforded by an unjust society that values “us” over “them.” Stevenson states that we cannot be “fully human until we pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to unfairness, to injustice.” He is aware of the challenge in paying attention to these things. It will break our hearts to do it, but reconnecting our hearts to our minds will heal our world. It may be the only thing that can.

Surrendering to Greatness

One of the topics in my Core Prosperity Relief (CPR) course that really called me out was about faith and surrender. We were asked to give ourselves a number from 1-10 that spoke to where we were in relation to faith at that moment. That question proved to be the key to the lock that had presented itself in the (Center for Spiritual Living) CSL strategic planning session that took place the weekend before.

A group of 10 of us had met that Saturday to work on answering the question we had set for ourselves: “How will we change the world this year?” I love this kind of work. We all threw out suggestions. At one point, though, after the leader encouraged us to go deeper, I hit a hard patch. I knew she was right. There are a lot of things that matter to me, but what would matter enough to me that I would step over the inertia threshold and actually do something about it? What would be big enough to engage me, to keep me from hitting the snooze button and rolling back over?

I sat there stuck. All of us seemed to be. Finally, the facilitator put it like this: If we were each given a month in which the other 9 would support our vision, our cause, our work, what would we offer up? That question was like a razor-sharp knife slipping right through all of the blanked-out resistance I have used to keep myself from even thinking seriously about really doing the thing that matters most to me. I knew in that moment what my month would be about. And I felt how deeply afraid I was of putting it out there, of asking others to join me in making it happen.

It’s simple–I want to help heal the divides between (and within) people that have arisen through false stories they have been handed about who they are, about who the “other” is, about what is possible in the world, about what is possible within/for/through each one of us. It’s hard to fear someone who has shared their story with you. It’s hard to hang on to the stories about ourselves that defeat us when someone helps us listen a new story into being. A new story that rings with the truth of who we really are. That is how I want to change the world.

What kind of surrender would it take for me to say: “This is my thing; it is powerful and I want you to join me in it”?

It will take the kind of surrender that doesn’t use the excuse of “I don’t have the first clue how to make this happen.” Something in me does.

It will take the kind of surrender that knows that anything that gets inside your skin like this is inside mine is fully supported and divinely guided, that all I need to do is take the first step.

It will take the kind of surrender that knows the truth about who I am and how people see, respect, and love me. I am a storyteller. I am a story listener. I am fierce. I am equal to this challenge.

So what was my number on that day? Though I ‘d like to say it was at least an 8, the truth is that I often find myself balancing on a tipping point. Not quite sure if I am a 4.9 or a 5.1, struggling to see the minute differences between the two. And that is exactly where I was in that moment—5.1 and tipping. What I am celebrating today, is that I have closed in on that 8, and I am still climbing.