How I Changed My Mind

I’ll admit it.

Once upon a time when it came to homosexuality I was in the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” camp. I mean, it was so clearly against God’s law. It said so right there in one or two verses in my Bible. Besides, I didn’t know any gay people.

Well, actually I did. One of my first escorts to a winter dance was a gay guy in our youth group. Except no one openly said he was gay. There were just some oblique remarks about the fact that he was different, maybe he was “that way.” I didn’t care. He was a great dancer and I had a great time.

As I got older I was scared of looking at the issue directly. It was so different from my experience and that foreignness felt like threat. Still, I eventually decided that I owed it to myself to consider the issue more in depth.

Two things happened.

The first is that I read a book. Entitled, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor, it provided for me a context for the biblical verses regarding homosexuality. I realized that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality but a terrible abuse of the Middle Eastern hospitality mandate. For the first time I considered what sort of practices Paul was really railing against, and the fact that he had no model of a committed, monogamous gay relationship.

Ironically, I’d been on the wrong side of selective scripture myself. I came along as a woman called to ministry in the eighties in the Southern Baptist Convention, a time when that issue was part of the dividing line between folks on one side and different folks on the other. I’d had people tell me straight out and to my face that I must be wrong because after all, Paul said that women should keep silence.

Of all people, I understood the dangers of proof texting. In reading this book and others I finally understood that we’d been doing the same thing to gays and lesbians.

A second thing happened that was just as important and even more powerful. Openly gay people started coming to my church. When they found welcome they told of other experiences, like being met at the doors of churches and told not to come in because “we don’t want your kind here.”

(Parenthetically, let me just say I cannot imagine Jesus ever saying such a thing.) 

They told me of the anguish and sometimes near suicidal despair of trying to reconcile being who God made them to be and who God’s people demanded that they be. I saw a brilliant, kind, funny and deeply faithful man face his own death with fear that the fundamentalist preachers were right. This man who’d followed Jesus his whole life at the end of that life feared going to hell.

I’ve seen them care for partners whom they could not marry, in sickness and in health. I’ve seen them care for their friends and give sanctuary to abandoned and abused four legged friends. I’ve laughed with them and been inspired as they’ve shared their gifts in worship. I’ve seen them care for Christ’s body, the church, doing what needs to be done for the church as a whole and for individuals within it. I’ve seen some of them be deeply involved and others just show up on the occasional Sunday – kind of like the rest of us.

I’ve seen my friends love God and love people.

If this be the gay agenda, then by God, may they be successful in overtaking our culture.

When I was called on staff of that church I was the first ordained woman to serve. One of the older members later admitted that she couldn’t understand why we were calling a woman when “there were so many fine male ministers around.” After confessing this to me, she said, “but then I met you and saw that you were going to be my friend.”

I met these folks, and saw that they were going to be my friends, and in that I was blessed indeed.

Reading the book opened my mind. Embracing my friends opened my heart.

I have to disagree with something President Obama said after the Supreme Court handed down its decision. He lauded the “small acts of courage” that led to this day, like people coming out. With all due respect, Mr President, that’s no small act of courage. That’s a great big, knees knocking, heart pounding, doing it even though your life may change forever act of courage.

Through these roller coaster weeks it has become increasingly evident to me that we cannot afford not to know each other. Law enforcement and citizens, black and white, gay and straight, popular and outcast. We need to know each others’ stories and to catch a glimpse of each others’ worlds. Only then can we truly hear with our hearts what the other is trying to say.


Mat on Cats

Mat on Cats
Pre-mat version of my cat

She purrs on my lap as I focus on one section of fur. Finding a sliver of space to slip the comb in, I slowly work the teeth of the cat comb back out.

My best guess is that as my cat’s blood sugar got out of control with her developing diabetes, my cat didn’t feel vey good and her grooming suffered. However it happened, she developed large mats of fur along each hip.

So now we work each day working them out. My job is to keep combing until we hit pay dirt – a section of matted fur pulling loose and getting free. Her job is to allow me to do it.

We’re making headway, the two of us. In some ways it’s become a meditative time, an exercise in mindfulness as I focus on the fur before me. I think it may also be a pretty good metaphor for the healing process.

1. We don’t always know our lives are getting matted up until after it’s done.

One day we realize that everything’s in a tangle. We have to do something different.

2. It can be a slow process and you’re not always sure you’re making progress.

Some mornings I work, not really sure if we’re making headway or not. The mat looks the same. Or, it’s become more disorganized with raggedy patches of fur now sticking straight out but still matted up. All I can do is keep working patiently, trusting that even the little bits of fur that are coming out are a step in the right direction.

Likewise, as I work on my life or help someone else work on theirs, there are stretches in which it feels like nothing is happening. We’re focusing on making different choices but everything feels the same. We’ve been working on our insides but our outsides look unchanged. All we can do is keep trusting the process, trusting that all of these small steps are yet leading us to better places.

3. When we least expect it, a big chunk breaks free all at once.

As I work on my cat, something starts loosening up. I pull gently with the comb, and suddenly a large chunk of fur breaks free. One more piece down.

Most of our journeys are travelled by one small step following another. But when we least expect it, a lightbulb moment breaks upon us. We find the one puzzle piece that fits everything together. In a moment of clarity, we realize that everything our therapist has been telling us is ACTUALLY TRUE – and we see that relationship, that job, or even ourselves in a whole different light. Something shifts inside and we know the ground has shifted beneath our feet, in all of the best ways.

So, as you consider the work of healing and change in your life, remember my cat and be patient with your own mats.

One of the ways lives get tangled up is with grief. Sometimes part of the tangle is not realizing that what we’re feeling is grief – or that we have a right to grieve. If that’s you (or someone you love), check out the recording of my webinar, Is My Grief Weird? Find it here.

For other webinars, visit

Let’s stop Celebrating this Heritage

Did you know that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery? It was an economic battle. Or a fight for states rights.

That’s the wisdom i’ve gleaned from social media in the last few days since a young man spewed his racial hatred in a flood of bullets in a Bible study in the historic Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

Confederate flagOh, and the Confederate battle flag is just a symbol of our heritage. And there really isn’t any racism, unless it’s what whites have to experience. (The views expressed on social media are not necessarily the views of this writer.)

The heritage thing is a biggie. The argument for the continued display of the Confederate flag over the SC statehouse is that it is a symbol of our southern heritage. Let’s be honest. Isn’t it time we stopped celebrating that heritage?

Lest you call into question my right to ask that question, let me establish my southern cred. My ancestors came to this country through Jamestown in the 18th century. One of my ancestors fought for the South at Gettysburg, as I recall, being wounded there. After the war the family homeplace in Chatam, VA was taken over by a northern carpetbagger… until that carpetbagger “disappeared. On my grandmother’s walls hung portraits of two fellow Virginians: George Washington and Robert E. Lee.  I’ve never lived farther north than Piedmont North Carolina. Recently when I ordered coffee in a coffee shop in Princeton, NJ, the transplanted Virginian serving me said, “Your sweet tea will be right up.” My accent gives me away.

There is much of my southern heritage that I am indeed proud of and deeply love. I love biscuits and ‘lasses. I love walking through a park and having total strangers speak to me with kindness and welcome in their tone. I love the southern tradition of story telling and singing, part of the heritage of summertime churches with the windows wide open and two dozen funeral home fans moving in rhythm while the varnish from the pews is melting and staining our Sunday best.

I love magnolia trees and dogwoods and azaleas and the way spring just comes right out and loses all decorum, blooming all over itself. I love neighbors who keep interrupting my yard work because they want to stop and talk. I love a slow southern accent and its thousand variations. (There is one sports commentator on TV who talks faster than my ears can hear.) It’s all part of my heritage, bless my heart.

And none of it has anything to do with the battle flag. That was the flag of a rebellion.

Of course the Civil War was driven by economics. Southern plantations were built on the foundation of slave labor. They couldn’t survive without them. And of course it was a states rights issues. Southern states wanted the right to have slaves and moreover, wanted new states entering the Union to have that same right.

The South fought to preserve their peculiar tradition of slavery. While individuals may have fought because it was their home (Lee himself was torn between serving the Union he’d sworn to defend as a West Point graduate and fighting for his home state), the driving issue behind the war was slavery.

That’s the heritage the battle flag celebrates. That’s the heritage we need to stop celebrating. I am proud of my ancestors but not proud of the fact that they fought to defend an indefensible way of life. I cannot celebrate the fact that my ancestors owned at least one slave. (A surviving family will calls for the transmission of ownership for a female slave named Sukey.) That is not a heritage to celebrate. That is an injustice.

The other week I saw a car with a sticker on it from my alma mater. I went to a small school, and I’ve had people, upon seeing my school sticker on my car, run across a parking lot to tell me they went there too. But this time, for the first time, I didn’t want to meet the driver of a car with my school’s name on it. I was sick to my stomach.

Because the car had a bumper sticker on it as well. “Free at last” the sticker proclaimed, but there was no picture of Martin Luther King on it. Instead, there was a picture of the White House with a confederate flag flying above it.

That flag wasn’t expressing the hope for a southerner to be in the White House. (Off the top of my head, I can think of presidents in my lifetime from Texas, Georgia and Arkansas.) No, it was clearly a racist statement: the white people will be free at last when this black man is out of the White House.

That’s no glorious cause. And neither was the Civil War. That chapter in our heritage calls for repentance, not celebration.