Gender Identity and the Church

On June 10, 2014 at their annual meeting, Southern Baptist Convention members approved resolution #9, On Transgender Identity, written by Denny Burk. After reading the resolution, I am saddened at the apparent lack of understanding by Mr. Burk and the SBC on this topic of gender identity. Even more, I am saddened at the effect this resolution is having on our transgender friends. The Church has an opportunity to connect with those who identify as transgender and be a safe place where they can pursue a relationship with God, if that is what they desire. But to do this, the Church must get educated on gender identity. And fast.

I want to highlight one line of the resolution:

“RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, June 10–11, 2014, affirm God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception—a perception which is often influenced by fallen human nature in ways contrary to God’s design (Ephesians 4:17–18)” (Emphasis mine)

Respectfully, this is a bunch of hooey.

Yes, a person’s biological sex is defined by chromosomes and characterized by reproductive anatomy. But, for example, when we refer to a person’s sexual identity, we are now referring to much more than just physiology –  we are now referring to how a person experiences his or her sexuality. Similarly, when we refer to gender identity, we are no longer strictly talking about a person’s biological sex alone – we’re talking about how a person experiences his or her maleness or femaleness.

Here’s an easy way to think of it:

Sex = Male, Female

Gender = Masculine, Feminine

While biological sex is usually easily defined, masculinity and femininity are not. The latter traits are influenced by many things, including heredity, hormones, early life experiences, self-perception, social expectations, etc. For this reason, two biological males can have two very different gender identities – two different ways of experiencing their maleness. The same can be true for two females.

Simply put, gender identity is not determined by what’s between our legs, but primarily by what’s between our ears – our brains. So if you’re a man, view yourself as a man and feel comfortable as a man, congratulations! – your brain is in congruence with your man parts. And if you’re a woman, view yourself as a woman and feel comfortable as a woman, woohoo! – your brain is in congruence with your lady parts. Your gender identity aligns with your biological sex.

But this is not the experience of everyone. Transgender people live with a degree of incongruence between their brains and their biological sex. And when the degree of incongruence is high, it can create despair, confusion and hopelessness, for a variety of reasons. It can be a terrible thing to feel like a stranger in one’s own body, and tragically some choose to end their lives rather than continue to exist in this trapped state. Others choose to embrace the gender identity of their brains, and this can look different for different people. Some live behaviorally as the opposite sex; others opt for cosmetic or sex-reassignment surgery. And there are some who live content lives amidst the incongruence, with support from family and friends.

If the Church is going to be a safe place for transgender people, it must stay relevant. Advances in science, medicine, psychology, and psychiatry have given us more information now about the human condition than we’ve ever had. The Church should not be hesitant to incorporate new knowledge into its theology – knowledge that affirms how fearfully and wonderfully we are made by God – knowledge that sheds more light on the role of the brain in gender identity – how we experience our God-given maleness or femaleness.

Here’s the bottom line: Our biological sex influences our gender identity, but it does not singularly define or determine it.

The SBC has prioritized making a point with this latest resolution that is neither substantiated by research nor influencing people for good. Rather than passing judgment on how people respond to their experience with gender dysphoria, can we seek to learn and understand? I want to know the stories of our transgender friends – I want to hear their struggles, their pain, their challenges. I want to apologize to all who identify as transgender for the way they’ve been treated by some in the Church. And I want them to know that they are precious to God. I think that’s a good place to start.

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Accountability Partner Love Letter

Dear Accountability Partners,

I hate you.

Love (not),

Amy

It’s a common trend among us evangelical Christians to purposely seek out accountability from others for our spiritual growth. Simply put, we all struggle with a bunch of crap and need each other to help us through said crap. So, our conversations go like this:

“Hey, I’ve been struggling in a certain area of my life, and I was wondering if you would be my accountability partner.”

“Wow, I’d love to be your accountability partner! I’m also struggling in a certain area of my life – wanna be my accountability partner?”

“Dude, you know I do!”

And off we go. Here’s what this accountability typically looks like:

“Hey, how have you been doing with (insert area of struggle here)?”

“Well, I (insert area of struggle here)ed three times this week.”

“Okay. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll pray that next week is better! Are you gonna eat that biscuit?”

While intentions are pure, I don’t see this as helpful. Prayer is powerful and effective. Confession is good for the soul. But if our focus is on behavior, we’re going to fail every time, even with “accountability”.

I struggle with crap, and I have a very small number of women who help me with my crap through accountability. Here is what I’m learning:

1. I initiate my accountability to them. I cannot sit around and wait for them to hold me accountable. They have spouses, kids, jobs, lives…. so while their desire is to help me, they don’t always initiate connection with me when I need it. Once I reach out to them, they are there for me. I can’t ask someone to hold me accountable if I won’t first hold myself accountable to them.

2.  It’s not about my behavior. Behaviors are symptoms. Ultimately, accountability is not about behavior modification; it’s about the soul. I need accountability for the lies I believe in my mind that fuel my behaviors. I need accountability for the rebellion in my heart that produces death. I need accountability for the emotions that I allow to define my reality and drag me into self-pity and despair.

3. It’s about the journey. Accountability, in it’s truest form, is when we decide to experience sanctification together – loving and supporting one another as we are bent and stretched into the image of Christ. And that is a lifelong pursuit. I don’t just want behavior change – I want ME change (most of the time).

4. I need love. True accountability is tough. I know the women I’ve invited into my life love me. A lot. Because when I believe lies and have a rebellious heart and am led by emotions, they stick with me. Their goal is not to change my behavior; their goal is to love me.

Dear Accountability Partners,

I love you.

And yes, I’m going to eat that biscuit.

Amy

 

 

 

 

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Holy Acronym

Religion.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 9.44.33 PMWhat does that word mean to you? Does it provide a sense of comfort, security and community? Or, does it bring a sense of guilt, resentment and hurt? Maybe it’s a mixed bag. No matter which response resonates with you, religion has impacted all of our lives in some fashion. Many have had good experiences, while many others have not.

There are many religions, but they share one common purpose: to connect us with God. So here’s my question:

If God loves us and wants to have a relationship with us, how do we connect with God? With so many religions, denominations and churches, which one has the secret sauce? How do we know which religion is correct? Is there only one way to connect with God? If so, what is it and why do we need 45,000 religions to do it?

Okay, that was five questions.

Many different religions share similar beliefs – what differentiates religions most however are the practices. Practices involve behaviors. So, connecting with God involves bahaving a certain way, doing certain things and definitely not doing other things, right? While one church’s congregants may kneel, another’s may speak in tongues. While one religion’s followers cover their heads, another’s handle snakes. Recitation, memorization, baptism, circumcision, confession…. what’s the answer?

To try to simplify this and make it easy for us to feel connected with God through our behaviors and actions, someone came up with a clever little acronym that fits on a bracelet. Unfortunately, I believe that this acronym has brought even more confusion.

WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? I think Jesus might slap some sense into the Church. Well, maybe that’s harsh – perhaps he would perform a miracle to get our attention, like causing a grapefruit to burst into flames or making unleavened bread taste delicious. Either way, I think he may get frustrated with us from time to time.

WWJD? We already know the answer – he would die. He was whipped, spit upon, humiliated and mocked. Then, he was hoisted upon two wooden beams, suspended by three dirty railroad spikes driven through his wrists and feet, freely breathing his last and yielding his spirit to his Father. That’s what Jesus would do.

I think you would agree with me on this – what Jesus did, I never, ever want to do. Ever. No thank you, I’m good.

So if my goal isn’t to do what Jesus would do, what is it? How can I connect with God? Thankfully, I don’t have to try to connect with God – he initiated connection with me, because he loves me. My behavior doesn’t connect me with God – my behavior is only a reflection of my connection. That is such great news. But if I don’t need to be religious to try to connect with God, how then do I live my life?

I am learning to get out of his way and let him live his life through me –

Not rules, but reconciliation; not law, but love; not imitation, but incarnation; not trying, but dying; not guilt, but grace; not striving, but abiding; not regret, but redemption; not fear, but faith; not effort, but effect; not working, but resting; not failure, but freedom; not condemnation, but justification; not punishment, but forgiveness. Not religion, but relationship.

That’s a lot to put on a bracelet.

I’m so thankful that I don’t need religion to connect with God. Jesus died a painful, bloody death, not so I could have a religion. He died so he and I could have a relationship. Life is much better when I stop striving and let him do his perfect living through imperfect me.

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My Number

In a couple of weeks I’ll be 41.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 11.12.46 PM

Taylor Swift wants me to dance like I’m 22. Really, I’d settle for holding my pee like I’m 22. If I dance like I’m 22, I will pee like I’m 41. And let’s not even talk about running, coughing, laughing, sneezing and jumping.

Prince used to sing about partying like it’s 1999. That used to sound so cool, until 1999 when I turned 27 and was having my first baby like it was 1999. Yeah, I was staying up all night – just me, my newborn and my glider rocker.

Bladder muscles weaken. Hairs turn gray. Joints begin to make noise. Elastic  waistband pants become tempting. The TV in the bedroom is bigger and louder. The article “the” is spoken before words that don’t require it – let’s go to the Applebee’s for dinner! And worst of all, my husband sometimes refers to me as “mom” – and not in a sexy ‘hot mama’ way, either. Forgetfulness, sagging, uncontrollable flatulence…. it’s all part of the aging experience.

I’m a pretty open book when it comes to numbers – I’m currently 40 years old, 5’4″ tall, 125 lbs., size 9 shoe with a 29″ inseam and a 32″ waist. I’m very thick-waisted, however I have no butt. I think God thought it would be fun to take the fat from my butt and put it in my waist. He can be funny like that. But I digress….

The truth is, I’m so thankful to still be around to experience it all. I have never understood the mindset of women who refuse to share their age when asked. They respond as if the number of years they’ve been alive is a shameful secret, a curse, a-number-that-must-not-be -named. I just don’t get it.

I’m about to turn 41, and I’m so thankful that I’ve been given 41 years of life. Each year is a gift from God. Each year represents memories and blessings that mean so much to me. Each year is another opportunity to laugh, to grow, to learn and to love. Why would I view my number of years on earth as anything other than a gift to be celebrated?

I think I’ll dance like I’m 41.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:16

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Why I Believe

I know this is crazy, but I’m posting twice in one week. I’m out of control and I don’t care who knows it.

Easter weekend seems like a great time to write about my huge decision years ago to stop trying to earn God’s love and just accept what he offered me – a Savior by the name of Yahweh – or as most of us Westerners know him, Jesus. It’s a decision that I’ve never regretted, and the reason for that has everything to do with Easter.

Let’s just cut to the chase – If Jesus is dead, then I’m a fool.

Only a fool would place her eternal security into the cold hands of a corpse. Only a fool would live her life for a man who couldn’t even save his own. Only a fool would pray to a powerless mortal. Only a fool would believe the lies of a convicted heretic. Only a fool would worship a dead God.

Am I a fool?

Thanks to the Bible, we know more today about a poor carpenter named Jesus than we do about Caesar Agustus, Emperor of the entire Roman Empire:

The Bible isn’t a book; it’s a compilation of 66 ancient historical manuscripts written by 40 authors over a period of about 1,500 years, written in 3 languages on 3 continents. What?

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are accounts of the life of Jesus, written by the 4 men for whom they’re named. Each account has slight differences and even apparent contradictions when compared to the others. Because of this some might deduce that these differences and contradictions nullify the authenticity of scripture….

….I tend to think that if these 4 accounts, written by 4 different men, were identical in content, it would point to collaboration and fabrication by these men. The differences actually verify the authenticity of these men’s personal accounts. Luke was written 10 years after Matthew; Mark was written 8 years after Luke, and John was written 20 years after Mark.

In the Old Testament there are over 400 prophesies about the life and death of Jesus. He fulfilled every single one. What?

I could go on, but my point is, you should read the Bible. It’s the historic documentation of Jesus entering human history to redeem fallen mankind, and it’s fascinating.

After Jesus rose, he spent time with his followers on 10 different occasions. He was seen by over 500 people. Many of these people were martyred – not for something someone told them or for something they believed, but for something they saw – a dead man walking who claimed to be the Son of God.

I’ve just decided to go with whatever the guy who came back from the dead says.

My faith is not based on false hope or fabricated tales. It is not based on a prophet’s so-called revelation from God or on religious tradition. My faith is based on Jesus’ empty tomb and a bunch of witnesses who saw him after he died. My faith is based on the fact that Jesus’ body has never been found. My faith is based on a documented event that happened in human history – the resurrection. And 2000 years later we’re still talking about it.

Mostly though, I believe because of what Jesus has done and continues to do in my life. And that can’t be quantified or explained. It can only be experienced.

Am I a fool?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor

He is alive! Happy Easter!

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Leadership

Many think of themselves as great leaders, but if you asked those they lead you might hear a different story. Many don’t think of themselves as leaders, but they have great leadership potential. And then there are those who recognize their own leadership abilities and are brave enough to learn to lead well.

We all have some ability to lead well – the trick is learning our leadership potential, who we are supposed to be leading, and how to do it with excellence.

Here are some ideas to consider related to leadership:

Great leaders adjust their leadership according to who they are leading. If we try to lead everyone the same way, we make assumptions that may not be true.

– Great leaders are humble servants. Leading out of  position forces people to follow; leading out of servanthood draws people to follow.

Great leaders lead out of their strengths and delegate their weaknesses. When we try to improve our weaknesses, we become weaker leaders and our strengths are not fully utilized.

Great leaders don’t protect their position; they leverage it to reproduce their leadership. Our goal should always be to replace ourselves by training others to lead well.

Great leaders give opportunities to those who aren’t ready for them. We grow most by our experiences and by learning from our failures.

Great leaders produce results. Without results, our leadership days are numbered.

– Great leaders communicate that everyone is important, because everyone is important. People who know they’re important don’t feel like they’re following a leader; they feel like they’re partnering in leadership.

I have been blessed to sit under some great leaders – George Bush, Donald Trump, and Bill Gates, to name a few. Okay, not them. But one leader I have been shaped by is Andy Stanley. Regardless of your religious leanings, you should be listening to Andy’s leadership podcasts if you want to be a great leader. You can subscribe at http://andystanley.com. (No, this isn’t a ploy to get your money. It’s free!)

Also, I was greatly helped with these ideas by John Maxwell’s book, The 5 Levels of Leadership. If you are interested in becoming a better leader, I recommend this book.

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Palms Up

imgresA concept and practice called “palms up” was shared with me recently, and since I have a blog followed by millions (okay thousands) of people I thought I’d pass it along. I hope it is as helpful to you as it has been for me.

Keep this on the DL, but sometimes I can have a bad attitude. I can be defensive, argumentative, negative, resistive, stubborn, prideful, opinionated and ornery. I tend to think that I have the best ideas, the best practices, the best observations, the best solutions and the best hair (that last one is true). Put me in a meeting with my team members and watch as I inadvertently tear someone down, dismiss a comment, ignore someone’s apparent stupidity, and argue my point into the ground. Then observe as I withdraw, sulk and go all passive-aggressive for the rest of the meeting when I don’t get my way. It’s super fun.

Obviously, this is bad.

How do I combat my tendency to become frustrated with the very people who are passionately working alongside me, striving for shared outcomes?

I put my palms up.

No, this isn’t figurative. This isn’t a metaphor or mental imagery. I literally lay my hands on my lap and turn my palms towards the sky. It’s no Jedi trick, but it really works.

How? Somehow, placing my palms up directly affects my attitude.

It is almost impossible to be angry, argumentative and defensive when I have my palms up. It’s a posture of surrender, openness and acceptance. It immediately brings me to a place of humility and vulnerability. It keeps me open-handed and prevents me from becoming possessive and selfish. Placing my palms up allows me to listen and respond to others in a loving way and reminds me that this conversation, this meeting, this job, this life is not all about me.

Palms up is a simple practice that has had huge implications for me. I still don’t get it right all the time, but with my palms up I’m making progress.

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