the year we ditched Easter

"Well, there's the Easter bunny," Andy said as we emerged from the Cactus Hill motel, and a little rabbit sat in the gravel driveway, looking at us.

Neither of us ever remembers missing an Easter Sunday service before in our lives.  But this year we did.  We wanted to visit all the National Parks in Utah that weekend, so we just took off and did it.

I had hoped to be at Delicate Arch for Easter sunrise, having some deep spiritual experience, but the drive had proven too much for us the night before.  

It was one of those moments to let go of hopes or expectations, let the little seed fall, and just see what came up.  

So we figured we'd just enjoy the drive and whatever hikes happened, whenever they happened, and not worry about Easter spirituality so much.

I did, however, put on The Brilliance on shuffle as the soundtrack for our drive.

A couple of miles into our drive, Night Has Passed began to play.

"Night has passed, and the day lies open before us," the song says.  And then, "We rejoice in the gift of this day."

And the sun began to come up over the horizon.  

So we drove and we sang and I cried at the beauty of it all, and I said, "Who needs Delicate Arch anyway?  This is perfection."

We came to an overlook, where we stopped to take this photo.

As we returned to the car, shuffle brought up what's turned out to be my theme song of the past few months: See The Love.

"I want to see, I want to see the Love, all around you, all around you; I want to know, I want to know the Love that's all around you."

So I had to dance.

There on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere Utah, just the two of us, we experienced "the relentless circle of affection" that Paul Young talks about.

Love doesn't have anything to do with where we are, geographically.  

Love has nothing to do with what we've done or left undone.

Love is not about us.

Love is.

Present everywhere.

Always. 

And on Easter, more than any other day, we should know that this is true and can be trusted.

We might ditch Easter.

But Easter won't ditch us.

It won't.

It can't.

It never, ever will.

This is our deepest and truest reality: nothing can separate us from Love.  

Life, death, things present, things past, angels, demons--nothing.

And if we are deeply, truly connected to that Love, if it's the vine and we're the branches, Love constantly flowing through us, as an integral part of our true Selves, then Love is not something we need to hoard. 

Love is not a way of life we have to defend in endless culture wars.  

Love is, instead, "a life we enter, a Love we share, the ground in which we are rooted" (John Shelby Spong) and something we can give away, freely and fully, knowing that we'll be endlessly filled as we empty ourselves.

This is the story of Easter: 

Let all the seeds fall, and watch new life grow.

Empty completely, and be filled totally.

Open, bloom, shine, light the darkness.

Love is.

And where Love is, fear is not.

Make me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is darkness let me shine light and
May Your love cause us to open up
Cause us to open up our hearts
May Your light cause us to shine so bright
That we bring hope into the dark

All that we do without love
It means nothing
Grant us the courage to give
As You’re calling

Hope for the hopeless, Your love is
Strength in our weakness, Your love is
May we love, as You love
Hope for the hopeless, Your love is
Strength in our weakness, Your love is
May we love, as You love
(As only You can love, oh God)
May we love, as You love

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Epic Utah trip: 5 National Parks in 4 days

We just spent Easter weekend hiking the 5 Utah National Parks in 4 days.  

This trip happened because Andy said, "I have a three day weekend!  Let's go somewhere!"  I said, "I read this blog that said you could do all the National Parks in Utah in a weekend!"  And so we were off.

We were out of Dallas on the first flight to Las Vegas on Good Friday morning and we arrived back in Dallas on the last flight Monday night.  (We added Monday to the weekend because Easter Monday should be a thing in America.  Until it is, we'll just make it so.) 

In between those two flights, we drove the scenic route all the way across southern Utah and back again, about 900 miles round-trip.  

Pretty sure those words--"the scenic route"--were invented for Routes 12 and 24 in Utah.

We managed to put our tennis shoes on about 20 miles of trail in Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.  

While we were walking this weekend, Andy and I were recalling some of the great places we've been able to hike in the past: the rainforests of Papua New Guinea and Kauai; the olive groves and rocky coves of Cinque Terre in Italy; the mountains around Banff and Jasper and Vancouver in Canada.  These hikes in Utah were right up there with the best walks we've ever taken, anywhere.

So, if you, like me, are a freak for natural beauty but have to ration your vacation days like a boss, here's how we hit the highlights of all the awesomeness of southern Utah and still made it back in time for work on Tuesday morning.

Our plan was to pick one good hike at each park, and then drive the rest of the park while stopping at overlooks and getting in any other short hikes that looked interesting.

Zion National Park

We arrived at Zion just after noon on Good Friday.  It was, unbeknownst to us, the end of Spring Break week in Utah.  This meant that Zion was EXTREMELY CROWDED.  We had to park in the town of Springdale and stand in lines like we were waiting for a roller coaster to get aboard the shuttle up into the park.

But it was worth the wait.

The famous hike at Zion is Angel's Landing, but we knew we didn't have time for a 5 miler with an elevation gain of 1,488 feet that's supposed to take 4-5 hours.  

Instead, on the opposite side of the canyon from Angel's Landing, we hiked Hidden Canyon, 3.2 miles with a gain of 1,128 feet.  We still got to climb along the side of the cliff, hanging onto chains, but it only took us an hour and a half.  

At the top, we scrambled up to where we had this overlook all to ourselves.

Then we had time to catch the shuttle up to see the rest of the canyon, and back down to stroll Lower and Middle Emerald Pools, where the trail takes you behind the waterfall.

Having seen the canyon, we thought we had seen the park.  We shuttled back to our car to drive on to our AirBnB for the night.

And then there was The Drive: the big rocks, the tunnels, the wildflowers, even a herd of buffalo...

The next morning we headed out before the sun was up, driving along the Sevier River valley.  We'd climbed into some elevation during the drive up from Zion, and it was 25 degrees with patches of snow still on the ground and a serious windchill.  

This was definitely the day for the fleece-lined tights I'd packed after reading that there could be big temperature differences between the parks. However, I'd been so hot at Zion the day before that the fleecies were still in my suitcase and I spent most of the day shivering in capris instead.  I was grateful for the packable down jacket I'd added to my suitcase at the last minute. Gloves and a beanie would have been welcome, as well.  Here's my little memory device for next time around:  Bryce Ice Baby.

Bryce Canyon National Park

In contrast to Zion, Bryce was nearly deserted when we arrived at 7:30 Saturday morning, and it never crowded out like Zion, even though it was a free admission day and a weekend.

This meant that we hiked among the hoodoos from Sunrise Point to Queen's Garden and Navajo Loop, to Sunset Point and along the Rim Trail almost in silence.  It was heavenly.  

2.7 miles, this hike took us 2 hours because we took so many pictures along the way.  I've heard this trail called the best 3-mile hike in the world.  The photos almost do it justice.

As we drove the rest of the park all the way out to Bryce Point, stopping at view points along the way, First Aid Kit's Hard Believer offered us these lyrics:

"It's one life, and it's this life, and it's beautiful."

Indeed.

We loved Bryca Canyon so much that we thought about ditching the rest of the trip and staying right in this spot forever.

But we'd challenged ourselves to do all 5 parks, so we forced ourselves onward, via Scenic Route 12, which turned out to be a national treasure all of its own.  Crazy beautiful, all 111 miles of it.  This is where I just started dash-camming it.  

Capitol Reef National Park

We rolled into Capitol Reef about 4:00 Saturday afternoon.  This is a pretty small park, mostly a historic site where there are petroglyphs along the cliff walls, and restored pioneer cabins.

We drove out to the end of the road and hiked a ways through Capitol Gorge.  Up on the canyon wall, pioneers had carved their names as a register of their passing.  Slogging through deep red sand gave me a solid appreciation for the toughness of anyone who traveled this way before God blessed us all with 4 wheel drive vehicles.

That night, we backtracked west about 15 miles for our Air BnB.  Andy couldn't remember why he'd decided to backtrack, until we started driving early Sunday morning, and we realized there's 136 miles of amazing scenery, but not much else, between Capitol Reef and Moab, where our final two parks are located.

Arches National Park

When we arrived at Arches, we drove all the way out to the end of the road and hiked the Devil's Garden Trail out to Dark Angel.  There's very little shade on this trail, and I wouldn't want to do it in the summer.  For us, though, it was 6 miles in perfect spring weather.

With lots of rock scrambling, arch exploring, and lunch along the way, it took us almost 4 hours.

The first part of the trail is wide and paved, all the way up to Landscape Arch.

After Landscape, there's a rock scramble that winnows the crowd, then two more arches: Partition and Navajo.  At Partition, you can climb out through the arch and sit on the edge, overlooking this spectacular view.

After Partition and Navajo Arches, there's a bridge section of trail. challenging for those afraid of heights, fun for those invigorated by heights.  

The payoff on this trail is two more arches, a gorgeous overlook, and finally the monolitic Dark Angel, where we found ourselves completely alone for our lunch break.  

I think if I were visiting Arches in the summer, I would curtail the Devil's Garden hike and spend more time on the shorter hikes that would be less taxing in the full sun.  If you're visiting with kids, the area around Windows and Double Arch are fantastic: very close to the road and lots of rock scrambling and exploring available.

Delicate Arch is probably the most famous arch in Utah.  We opted to check it out from the viewpoint below the arch, rather than taking the 3-mile hike in for a closeup photo, because we knew we still had one more park to go before we slept.

Canyonlands National Park

The expansive views of Canyonlands (Island in the Sky district), it turned out, were the perfect fond farewell to our speed-tour of parks.  

Our final hike: 2 miles out along the canyon rim to Grand View Overlook.

We drove out of Canyonlands at dusk and found our way back to Green River and a motel bed.  Monday, we drove all the way across Utah, knicked the corner of Arizona, and arrived back in Las Vegas for our flight home, tired, full of gratitude for the endless beauty of the earth, and already thinking about "next time."

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it all falls into Love

What do we do with Easter every year?

How do we bring it down out of the clouds of pomp and ceremony and organ toccatas and overblown lilies, into the dark spaces of our hearts, where new life is so desperately needed?

What will all this Holy Week hullaballoo mean to us on the Monday morning after, waking up hungover from a hundred hallelujahs and too many chocolate bunnies?

How does this Easter thing ACTUALLY change our lives?

I've been thinking about what Jesus said: "Unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

That's often quoted as a prophecy of what Jesus was going to do on the Cross: surrender his life, and in so doing, become the first born of many siblings as Romans 8:29 says.

If Jesus is the first-born among us, and if we're intended to obey when he said, "Follow me," then how do we follow our brother Jesus this Easter week?

I think about all the things I cling to, and wonder if I am supposed to release them.

The little seeds of things that seem like sustenance to me, because I'm hungry for so many things, and this little seed could feed me.  

I don't want to let it drop, I don't want to wait and see what might grow.  

What if the seed dies and nothing happens?  

What if I'm left hungry, with not even that one seed left any more?

Texas bluebonnet, photo: Andy Bruner

Texas bluebonnet, photo: Andy Bruner

This past weekend, I went to Albuquerque for a conference at the Center for Action and Contemplation, where Richard Rohr is the founder.  Father Richard, who's the author of one of my favorite books, Falling Upward, was speaking alongside Paul Young, the author of another favorite book of mine, The Shack.

I had pretty decent expectations of the conference, and I was not disappointed.

I cried so many tears and wrote so many notes, that no doubt I'll be processing for days and weeks to come.  

The very last note I wrote, the final word from Paul Young was this:

"When you deal with fear, there are only two options: control or trust."

Which seems like a pretty good thought to think during Easter week, when considering how we might try to follow Jesus.

The reason Paul Young could say at the end of the conference, here are your two options, and we didn't all get up and run out of the room saying "what a jerk!" is that the whole conference was about the Trinity and how the Trinity is not "two guys and a bird" but a circle-dance of Love, the constant infilling and outpouring of Love among the three persons of the Trinity, and how their great dance of Love includes you and me and all of Creation.  

So when we let things fall, they don't fall into nothingness--even though it may seem so at the time.

Instead, everything falls into Love.

Indian paintbrush, photo: Andy Bruner

Indian paintbrush, photo: Andy Bruner

So whatever the seed is:

the admiration we want others to feel for us

a marriage that's been broken by abuse, neglect, or abandonment

a religious tradition that no longer nourishes our spiritual selves

our perfectionism, our performance, our control.

We can release that little seed,

let it fall into Love,

and trust that the act of outpouring is simply a prelude to infilling.

We don't know what comes next.

We just release.

No guarantees.

Except the only guarantee that truly matters:

Love.

And that one thing is, always and forever,

the anchor for our souls,

firm and secure,

and the fertile soil

for a new crop of beauty for ashes.

So we come into Holy Week with open hands,

letting all the little seeds

fall

fully

freely

into Love.

"Everything that passes away is reborn into the reality of God."  Richard Rohr

Wildflowers near Granbury, Texas, photo: Andy Bruner

Wildflowers near Granbury, Texas, photo: Andy Bruner

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when church says, "I love you, but..."

Back in 2013, The Barna Group decided to study the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites.  

They didn't look at the question of whether church people are perfect or not, because that answer is already known.  (Spoiler alert: you won't find perfection under any steeple, anywhere.)

Instead, Barna put together a poll that examined the attributes of Jesus against the attributes of the Pharisees and tried it out on self-identified Christians.

It turned out, according to Barna, 14% of Christians were like Jesus in actions and attitudes (e.g., God is for everyone, every person has God-given value), while the largest group, 51%, were caught up in self-righteous actions and attitudes like the Pharisees (e.g., I like to point out wrong doctrine and theology, the most important thing is following God's rules).

Rather than offering the unconditional Love of Jesus, Pharisees have a list of requirements that must be met before acceptability is achieved.

The attitudes and actions of Jesus can be summed up in this way: "I love you."

This is rest for our souls.

The attitudes and actions of the Pharisees add one fatal word: "I love you, BUT."

This is an exhausting eternity of trying to measure up.

San Antonio Mission Trail, photo: Andy Bruner

San Antonio Mission Trail, photo: Andy Bruner

So you're probably thinking about your church at this point.

Is it a Jesus-church, or a Pharisee-church?

I'm guessing that if you go there on a regular basis and don't completely hate it, then it probably feels fairly loving toward you, and restful to your soul.

Here's the thing, though.  

I have a feeling that most of my readers are like me: straight, white, and cis-gender.  If that's you, like it is me, the evangelical church in America was created just for us.  (If we'd happened to be male as well, we'd have that extra cherry on the sundae.)  

Lucky, lucky us.  

But what does church offer to the less-priviledged?

What does church offer to people who are not straight, white, male, and cis-gender?

Does church offer rest to the souls of the LGBTQ community?

Or does church say, "I love you, BUT you need to be straight/act straight before you can be a part of our community?"

Does church offer rest to the souls of people of color?

Or does church say, "I love you, BUT y'all need to forgive. Stop being so angry. Stop being so sensitive. Let's just all be reconciled and move on."

Does church offer rest to the souls of women?

Or does church say, "I love you, BUT you have to stay with your abusive/porn-addicted/neglectful husband, and why were you speaking anyway?  We do not allow a woman to speak."

Does church offer rest to the souls of the gender non-conforming?

Or does church say there's really only one right way to live out biblical manhood and biblical womanhood, and it just happens to look exactly like Father Knows Best crossed with tonight's UFC rage-fight?

Does the church offer rest to the souls of the neurodiverse?  What about those who deal with chronic mental illness?

Is church anything like Jesus to the marginalized and suffering?

Or is church more like the Pharisees: "We love you, BUT you need to meet our standards?"

The Embracing Cross, The Vatican, photo: Andy Bruner

The Embracing Cross, The Vatican, photo: Andy Bruner

A few months ago, I started reading The Fourth Gospel, by John Shelby Spong.  I've talked before about how Spong revolutionized my view of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Spong showed me that the disciples of Jesus, these old Jewish guys, stopped defending their racial turf, their religious turf, their gender turf.  They just opened the doors and let everybody in.

And it didn't just stop with the woman at the well.  They kept breaking the rules.  

The dietary laws: gone.  

The circumcision laws: gone.  

The temple regulations: gone. 

Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law, and this is what fulfillment of the law looks like: GONE.

IT IS FINISHED.

Jesus' followers got it.

I don't think we get it quite so much.

I think this is why 51% of us end up testing out as Pharisees instead of Jesus-followers.

We know this is true: it is so easy to follow a list of rules that says, "I love you, BUT... " 

This is also true:  it is so hard and scary to follow the Love that opens its arms completely and simply says, "I love you" without condition.

To truly follow Love, we give up control.  

We give up on outcomes.  

We stop being Right, even if the Bible clearly says.

We honor the free will of others.

We allow God to be God, because we are not.

We acknowledge that Love is at work in the lives of others, just as it is in ours.

We simply trust that Love is Enough for all of us.

As we approach the end of Lent, and the beginning of Easter, let us all consider:

What would be different,

in our churches,

in our lives,

this year,

if we all

followed the way of Jesus

out of the tomb of the law,

into the new life of grace and rest

for every, single weary soul?

I think that would be a miracle, all over again, the same kind of miracle that Jesus made in the lives of a bunch of old Jewish guys who somehow (I was blind but now I see) found that a Samaritan woman was someone to be celebrated as an equal.

If Jesus could make that kind of miracle for those guys, back in the day, he can surely do that for us, too.

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the transformative truth: Love

A while back, one of my friends told me that my blog is "very tightly focused."  She meant that in a good way, I think, but it struck me strangely because I feel like I'm all over the place, honestly.

I wander here, I wander there, and the last three years especially have been a season of deconstruction and then new growth, spiritually speaking.

But the more I think about what my friend said, the more it seems true.  For all my meandering and blundering around, Love is the north star of my life.

That has been true for years.  And the more I walk on, the more true it becomes.

San Antonio Mission Trail, photo: Andy Bruner

San Antonio Mission Trail, photo: Andy Bruner

The transformative truth of Love works itself out in so many practical ways, when I let it. 

Love is my identity, so I can let go of what other people think of me.

Love is Enough for everyone, so I don't have to worry about being everybody's supply. I can have healthy boundaries.  I can let other people do their work with Love, just like I do mine.

Love holds me safe, so no matter what happens, I can let go of control and Rest.

Nothing separates me from Love, so I don't have to worry about perfection, performance, people-pleasing.

Love is the anchor for my soul, the hope I have, the truth that lets me change and grow.

When my mind is full of anxiety and what-if's, Love is the still, quiet center, and every episode of monkey-mind becomes an opportunity to return to Love.

When evil, injustice and oppression rise up, Love is the way of resistance and rescue.

When my clients are upset and afraid, depressed and discouraged, Love speaks truth and life, comfort and care.

When Pharisees want to pile on burdens and blame, Love offers rest for my soul.

Whatever the question, Love always turns out to be the answer.

Recently at church, we've been singing "Speak, O Lord" each week as a prayer before the sermon.

Week after week, singing "Speak, O Lord, til your church is built, and the earth is filled with your glory" I started to wonder: what if the prayer of this song is being answered in my life?

What if Love is speaking and moving and building the church and filling the earth with glory, way outside of the rules I grew up in?

What if I'm getting to be part of that work of Love?

What if the goal is this:  to be so full of Love that there is no space for anything else.  

And then, maybe each of us being so full of Love fills the earth with God's glory.

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my journey to LGBTQ affirmation

My journey to LGBTQ affirmation began long before I really knew or cared much, honestly, about the lives of LGBTQ people.  

(Affirmation for me simply means that I accept the gender identity and sexual orientation of LGBTQ people just like I accept straight people: no need to change identity or orientation in order to be an acceptable, regular person to hang out with.)

The LGBTQ community was just not on my radar.  Never had been.  I had no reason to consider that it ever would be.

Which just goes to show, once again, that all the best things happen to me by accident.

And all my gratitude grows out of a recognition of my total inability to be control, and yet to receive freely and fully, all the gifts of Love.

Forth Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Forth Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

I grew up with a magic-wand view of Christianity.  The stories that stuck with me were the ones of miraculous change: the person who was a drug addict, a prostitute, a terrible sinner.  The person who "met Christ" and suddenly had no desire for drugs or promiscuity or stealing.  

In fact, some of us who grew up good tended to feel ashamed of ourselves for not having a great testimony to share around the campfire.

On the other hand, there was all the punishment--The Wrath of God--that we avoided by being good.  I personally wasn't willing to be bad enough to have a good testimony.  

Of course, I had been saved by grace just like the other sinners.

All the good things I did were done out of holiness, and not, say, out of any desire to avoid punishment.  Or, God forbid, the need to earn God's love.

Of course not.

So I became a missionary and I was so damn good that I gave myself a nervous breakdown in the process.

And slowly, slowly, slowly learned to see that goodness doesn't buy anything.  

Goodness isn't a magic shield against the pain and sorrow of life.  

Goodness isn't a way to avoid God's wrath.  

Goodness isn't a way to buy God's Love.

Love just IS.  And LOVE IS for all of us.  

That's what Jesus came to show us: Love is for us all.

Love is even for the religious people like me, when I could let go of religion and fall into Love.

(Much more of that story here, in my memoir, As Soon As I Fell.)

So, with my personal goodness dead, and Love growing inside like a little bulb out of the winter ground, I went off to get my masters degree in counseling.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

At this point, I vaguely knew what “the Bible clearly says about homosexuality” and I knew that there were people in ex-gay ministries who said they would help clients pray the gay away.  

I attended a Southern Baptist university for my master’s in counseling, and we had ex-gay promoters who came to campus and told us that their system worked.  

This was good to hear.  

I felt comforted that I'd be able to refer any clients to this wonderful ministry which would help them.

About this time, a dear friend came out to me.  As that friend spoke those words to me, I knew without a doubt that "gay is choice" was not true.  Having watched my friend suffer over many years, I knew that this suffering was not by choice.  But I didn’t know where else to look for ideas, and neither did my friend. 

So the narrative of "gay is a choice" was dead, but I was holding out hope for "pray the gay away."  I wanted my friend's suffering to stop.  Maybe my friend hadn’t found the right ministry.  Maybe this local ministry really was finding success, as they claimed.

Then, as I began to work with clients, two things happened.

First, I worked with a client who presented with severe depression, and who had been involved in an ex-gay ministry: the exact ministry that came and spoke at my university, the ministry that told us how successful their methods were

My client was devoted to the ministry, deeply interested in changing to a straight orientation, and still gay, after nearly a decade of work

This did not look like the advertised success to me.  In fact, it looked a lot like the experience my friend had endured.  

I still didn't know where else to look for answers.  Maybe this local ex-gay group wasn't doing it right either.  

That, however, was starting to look like a disturbing trend.

Then, Exodus International, the Titanic flagship of Christian ex-gay therapy, closed their doors, confessing that their methods had never worked.  In fact, 90% of their clients were still gay.  Many had made straight marriages, but they were now honest enough to say that they still had same-sex orientation. In one of the most courageous moves I've ever seen a Christian ministry make, they apologized to the LGBTQ community for the harm they had caused. 

When Exodus shut down, that was a paradigm-shifting moment for me. I realized then that I had been working with clients and living alongside friends who represented the 90%:  still gay despite their best desires and efforts, and deeply harmed by attempts at “reparative therapy.” 

I knew I had to find a better, more truthful way forward.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the years since.

THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE SHOWS:  BABY, YOU WERE BORN THIS WAY

In direct contrast to the narrative I heard in the conservative Christian world, there is NO peer-reviewed science to support the idea that sexual orientation is a choice.  There is NO peer-reviewed evidence to show that sexual orientation is the result of abuse or bad parenting. 

In fact, the reputable evidence is exactly the opposite:  sexual orientation is programmed before birth.

You can read a summary of many relevant research articles here at Joani Lea Jack's website.  If you do click over, plan to stay a while and read a bunch more.  You'll want to hear what a Christian pediatrician has to say about all things LGBTQ.  Her article, Unfolding Miracles of Human Sexuality, is one I've shared so many times that if you type "un" into my search bar, it comes right up.  No thinking Christian should ignore what she has to say.  

ACCEPTING OUR LGBTQ KIDS IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24.  At this already vulnerable time of life, LGBTQ youth are figuring out that they are different, that they’re part of just 4% of the population, a population that’s regularly been characterized as an abomination and blamed for everything from the decline of Christian marriage to Hurricane Katrina. 

LGBTQ adolescents are FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide than their peers.   Even more disturbing is the fact that LGBTQ youth from highly rejecting families are EIGHT TIMES more likely to attempt suicide.

For example, after the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in the summer of 2015, the LDS Church in Utah clarified that, regardless of the SCOTUS ruling, the LDS church would not solemnize same-sex marriages.  In the two months following the LDS announcement, 32 LDS LGBTQ youth committed suicide.  

Every therapist knows that hopelessness is one of the greatest indicators of risk for suicide.  When your church says you won't be accepted as you are, hopelessness follows.  And so does a greatly increased risk of suicide.

By contrast,

“family acceptance in adolescence is associated with young adult positive health outcomes (self-esteem, social support, and general health) and is protective for negative health outcomes (depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts).”  Source 

It is also worth noting that family rejection has been shown to increase sexual risk-taking.  Just in case any Christian parents are interested in that part of the picture.

Want to save your child’s life and help them make safer sexual choices?

Accept them as they are.

Love them unconditionally. 

Which means: competely without condition.

Just like I found, so many years ago, that God already loved me.

When God loves me unconditionally, how could I not extend that same Love to others?

More importantly:

How could I, as an ethical therapist,

  • promote "reparative therapy" when it had been so thoroughly and publically debunked?
  • ignore the medical evidence for the biological links to sexual orientation?
  • ignore the links between rejection and suicidality in the adolescent LGBTQ population?

The answer was, I couldn't.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

You'll notice that in my journey toward LGBTQ acceptance, I haven't mentioned the Bible at all. 

That's because I was born into Christianity and grew up in it, and over the years, I've become fairly cynical about the church's ability to use Bible verses to validate its persecution of other people.  I'm always aware that "what the Bible clearly says" may or may not be exactly as clear as we think.

Slavery, segregation, and white supremacy, for example.  All supported by the majority of churches in America at some point, with Bible verses in support.  Abolitionists struggled to gain support in the churches specifically because there was so much evidence for "what the Bible clearly says."  Slave owners had the "theological advantage."

But my friends, when we know better, we do better.  

And we repent of our misinterpretation of the Bible accordingly.

(Or we fight a civil war and continue in racist behaviors for another century or two. Whatever.)

A bunch of people have written good books on how to know better and do better when it comes to the LGBTQ community and the Bible (those six whole verses).  Here's a short list.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

So that's about where I was when our son came out to us in February 2014. 

And I cannot begin to express how grateful I was that I had already begun to walk the journey toward LGBTQ affirmation when our son told us his story.

Because of the suffering my clients and my friends had shared, we were ready as a family to say, "We love you.  We are with you."

The three years since have been quite a journey.

Since my son was courageous enough to be out, I figured I needed to be also.  Coming out LGBTQ affirming has had some negative consequences.

I've been told that I'm going to hell, which is a chance I'm willing to take.  

I've been told that I'm a heretic.  Me and Copernicus, we're buds.

I've been told that my problem is that I don't preach the wrath of God enough.  I'm too accepting.  I love too much.

I take that particular criticism as the greatest compliment of my life.

WRITE IT ON MY TOMBSTONE:

SHE LOVED TOO MUCH.

Being out has been overwhelmingly positive, though.

I've connected to a whole secret world of Christian parents who love and support their LGBTQ kids.

I've discovered community resources and activists who are doing amazing good in the world.

I've been inspired by the huge community of gay Christians here in Dallas, friends who have taken us in and showed us the joy in the way, including the amazing and wonderful Cathedral of Hope, where Love pours down like rain in seasons of darkness and despair.

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Fort Worth Botanical Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

And so, here we are, in a place I never planned to visit, much less come to live my life.

But I am so endlessly grateful that Love brought me here, to the family and the friends who make Life the best gift of all.

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transfiguration sunday

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  

Matthew 17:1-7, The Message

Oklahoma Redbud  (photo: Andy Bruner)

Oklahoma Redbud  (photo: Andy Bruner)

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday, and the gospel reading was this passage from Matthew.

Isn't it weird that when Jesus shone like the sun and his clothing was as white as the light and when Moses and Elijah showed up and started talking with Jesus, nobody turned a hair?

Peter just said, "This is cool that we're all here together.  Let's build a camp and stay."

The thing that freaked the disciples out was the voice from heaven saying, "This is my son, listen to him."

My religious tradition taught me that Jesus was trying, throughout his time with his disciples, to tell them that he had come to start something new.  

And I wonder if here at the transfiguration, the fear comes with the new.

I wonder if Peter was hoping to contain Jesus to the old religious patterns. 

Glory shows up, here on a mountain--we've seen that before.  We know what that is.

Moses met glory on a mountain,  Elijah met with glory on a mountain.  

Let's build a shelter, let's contain the glory in this one place, like we've always done.  

We could set up rules and regulations, we could make it be the way it's always been.

But the Voice interrupts:  "This is my Son.  Follow him."

And that news and that instruction was terrifying to those dedicated to The Way Things Are.

Because Jesus was doing things like healing on the Sabbath and saying things like, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you."  And generally making the religious people want to kill him.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a nice, safe thing if you can contain it, keep it on a mountain, push it far away.

"Somewhere in outer space, God has prepared a place," as we used to sing in Sunday School.

But if the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and if we're supposed to follow Jesus into the muck and the mire of everyday life?

I think that's the challenge that scared the disciples so badly.

They weren't being called to sit on the mountain and drink in the glory forever and ever amen.

They were being asked to follow Jesus off the mountain.

And I think they knew what that meant.

They would be called to heal and to speak and to make the religious people want to kill them, too.

So how did they ever get off that mountain?

Jesus came and touched them. 

“Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Oklahoma Redbud, a couple of weeks later (photo: Andy Bruner)

Oklahoma Redbud, a couple of weeks later (photo: Andy Bruner)

I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm being called to the same work that the disciples were so afraid to do:

Follow Jesus off the mountain.

To heal, and to speak life and Love to those who need it.

Honestly, it scares me, too.  

I don't mind healing and speaking, but I don't like pissing people off.  

I want people to like me and praise me and say I'm awesome.

But I have found that loving the least of these is just as offensive today as it was in the time of Jesus, and I think it's because of this:

When we live out the Kingdom of Heaven within us, when we walk to the margin, when we seat ourselves with the suffering, we demonstrate that Love is not something that can be hoarded for sale by the religous elite.

Transfiguring Love is not contained to a mountain top or to prophets of old.

Transfiguring Love is not the property of Pastor John and the Second Fifth Billionth Main Street Church of Our Lady of Ten Thousand Literal Inerrantist Rules. 

Transfiguring Love is, instead, a free gift to all.

Transfiguring Love lies within each of us, ready to share.

And that sharing will come at a cost.

We are called to follow Jesus where Love goes, laying down our lives for one another.

I, for one, would be so much more comfy up on the mountain.

To follow Jesus?

That is scary stuff.

And in my experience,

the only thing that gets me off the mountain is

Love touching me,

telling me not to be afraid,

and most of all,

Love filling my whole field of vision,

so that I see

no one

except Jesus.

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creating a dream

This weekend, our sweet son Matt married his lovely best friend, Amy.

The groom was handsome, the bride was beautiful, the venue was architecturally amazing, the flowers were fabulous.  Family and friends gathered to celebrate and share.

Most of all, it was one of those times in life where, as a parent, you stand still for just a moment and see what Love has created.

IMAG0868.jpg

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I adore my children.  

I distinctly remember falling in love with each of them as infants, looking into their precious tiny faces and being overcome with gratitude for the gift of being their mom.

Then there were all the years when they were just so cute and hilarious, constantly discovering, and teaching me to see the world fresh again through their eyes.  

Years of being present for all the little moments, attending to the minutes--happy and sad, anxious and angry, excited and bored--that build hours and days and weeks and years and a life.

And then adolescence rolled in.  Thirteen years of it, we had in our house.  Years when we learned to let go, to coach instead of control, to support their differentiation, to accept their choices even when we were terrified, to celebrate their truths rather than our own, to breathe and breathe and breathe, and to keep hoping no matter what that we would, indeed, one day, get through it together.

And now today they stand together, supporting one another, being adults together, walking out into a future that one day we will not share, but that they will continue to create and enjoy with one another.

After the wedding, we came home and watched Planet Earth: Seasonal Forests.  We did this after Libby's wedding five years ago, too, so I guess it counts as a tradition now.  We have our Christmas pickle, and we have deciduous forests.

If you haven't watched Seasonal Forests lately, it's a lot about trees.  The largest living organism on earth is a tree.  Also the oldest living organism on earth is a tree, a tree that's been alive for 5,000 years.  A tree that was already 3,000 years old when Christ was born.

Seasonal Forests is also about the plants and animals that live among the trees:  baby birds that leap jump out of the nest, and spring flowers that pop open and melt away, and the leaves that grow and change and fall, all of the living things filling the earth with timeless beauty.

Monday after the wedding was my birthday.  I took a nap, read a book, and Andy made dinner, so it was a 5-star day in my opinion.  

During dinner, we listened to Xavier Rudd, an Australian reggae artist that our youngest got us into just recently.  We listened all the way through the two albums he has on Spotify, and at the very end, there was this beautiful song called Creating a Dream.

As The Princess Bride so famously says, true love is a dream within a dream.  

And that seemed particularly true this weekend.  

There's the great big dream of the cosmos, of planet Earth in all its beauty and wonder, and then there's the dream of our tiny little lives inside it.  

Which, to each of us, is the best and most beautiful dream of all: unique, intricate, miraculous.

My dream for my darling children is that they will

grow past us,

move on,

do better,

learn from our mistakes,

go farther in and higher up,

dive deeper into Love and joy,

unfold more mystery,

live into the timeless beauty that Love gifts to us,

all joined together,

all part of each other,

in the mystic sweet communion

of Love's great dream for us all.

And, knowing them, I believe that they will.

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