Hearing Voices

FeaturedHearing Voices

March 26, 2003.  A day I won’t ever forget.  The day my deepest darkest secrets came to light in a very public way.  The day I shared that my family wasn’t perfect.  And that I experience same-sex attraction. 

In January of that year I had been asked to speak in chapel at Abilene Christian University, chapel being a daily time of praise and worship for students and faculty in  Moody Coliseum.  Attendance is required for students, so the place was packed with around 5,000 people.  

I knew that it was time.  Time to share my own experience and open a conversation that was long overdue.  

But I was scared to death.  Scared of how people would react – after all, I was still fairly new to the ACU faculty.  How would my colleagues respond, but more importantly, how would my students respond to me?  Would they drop my class?  Would people treat me differently?  

My fears ranged from rational to totally irrational, sometimes imagining the most negative responses.  Physical violence.  Verbal violence. 

Or worse, being left alone.    

Friends supported me.  They left their jobs that morning and came to be with me.  A friend came from out of state to sit on the rostrum with me and lead the opening prayer.  My dearest friend and his wife drove three hours to sit on the front row beside my parents. 

And at 11 a.m. nine years ago today, I stood on a stage in front of all those people and shared that I experience same-sex attraction.  That while I consider my sexuality a part of who I am, it’s not all that I am. That I view same-sex attraction as a struggle, something that God didn’t intend for my life. 

Since I said that, I’ve talked to a lot of people who experience same-sex attraction – some who identify as gay or lesbian and have reconciled Christianity and homosexuality, some who view it as one of the struggles in their lives, and some who have lost their faith in a loving God.  Sadly, most of the people I’ve encountered have felt isolated and alone in wrestling with these questions – without anywhere safe to be open and honest about what they were experiencing.  

I’m so very thankful for the opportunity to share my story, but I know that it doesn’t resonate with everyone.  Some don’t agree with my perspective.  But whatever your perspective, it’s important to feel like you’ve been heard. 

To be given a voice.

Read the zine here.

About a month ago some current and former students from Abilene Christian University published an online magazine called “Voiceless,” presenting four different perspectives on the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality.  The zine gave a voice to some who felt they hadn’t had a safe place. 

Other stories are out there waiting to be given a voice.

So it’s important that we listen to each other, whether our views are similar, or polar opposites.  It’s that whole idea of ‘seeking first to understand, rather than to be understood.’

And by the way, nobody dropped my class.

 

Quick to Listen

FeaturedQuick to Listen

I’m a talker. 

They say I said my first words at nine months, saying “Hi!” to strangers in the grocery store. 

I gave my first speech at the age of nine and many might say that I haven’t shut up since. 

I’ve spent a lot of my time talking rather than listening. 

And yet the people I love most have been the people who listen to me. 

Those are the people I find myself wanting to go back to, to share whatever’s on my heart.  And the great irony of that is that the more they genuinely listen to me, the more I care about them – about what they think, about what’s important to them, about what they think of me. 

I’m trying to change. 

To become a better listener. 

Maybe that’s what’s needed in conversations about Christianity and homosexuality. 

When people tell me about experiences they’ve had with loved ones admitting that they’re gay, or expressing an attraction to their own sex, they usually want to tell me  what they said to the person in response. 

Every now and then I’ll hear a thoughtful response, like “what’s that experience been like for you?” or “when did you first realize there was something different about you?” and “was that difficult?” 

Or maybe their response was like my friend from high school who sat across the table from me, with tears streaming down her face, who said, “oh Sally, I wish that I had known – how hard that must have been for you, feeling all alone.” 

She sat there and listened.  For a couple of hours.  And then we left the restaurant and she took me to her house for the rest of the day.  We played with her little girl and her dog.  We went to the store and bought groceries.  We laughed as we cooked in her kitchen together, and when her husband came home we all ate dinner together. 

Then we got up and went to church.  Because, you see, it was a Wednesday night and that’s what we’d always done growing up.  

And nothing had changed between us.  

Many of my friends who identify as gay, as well as my friends who view same-sex attraction as a struggle, express the same disappointment in how people respond to them.  Rather than listening empathetically – rather than feeling with my friends in that moment of sharing a deep part of themselves that’s often terrifying – sometimes we feel the need to turn the conversation to our own personal beliefs about the morality of homosexuality.

To let them know exactly what we think. 

As if the person who experiences same-sex attraction would instantly, upon hearing this new information, realize the error of his or her ways and “not do that anymore.” 

As if this was new information. 

A big part of me understands where they’re coming from.  Because I, too, was raised to stand up for what I believed.  To not let an opportunity pass.  Especially if I believed the person was involved in something contrary to what God wanted for them.

But here’s the deal.  I may not be at a place to receive that.  And if you really believe that you need to share something with me that’s that important, it’s essential that you consider where I am emotionally to be able to process that information.  Because you see, at the point in time that I come to tell you this, I’ve obviously given it a lot of thought.  I’ve probably wrestled with it for a long time by now on my own – all by myself – because I’m not sure what you’re going to think.  I’m not sure of how you’re going to receive me, so it’s scary for me to even come to you in the first place.  So when I do come and tell you this, all of those thoughts and emotions are going on inside me, even if I say that I’ve come to terms with this being who I am, or if I say to myself that I don’t care how you respond.  Because on some level, I still do care.  Otherwise I wouldn’t want to have this conversation with you. 

So what do I need from you in that moment?

Reassurance…

. . . that you aren’t going away.

. . . that you still love me.

. . . that our relationship isn’t suddenly going to be strained and awkward.

What I’m learning now is that as much as I like to talk, and say what really makes me feel better about the situation, what I have to say will never be as powerful as the gift of listening.

Of simply letting those difficult conversations grow out of relationship. Over time.

Of holding my tongue and waiting to say what I think.  Until I’m askedIf I’m asked. 

And even then, is it always essential to say what I think? 

I think sometimes we feel pressured at both ends of the spectrum on this issue to pick sides – to draw lines in the sand.  To put our opinion out there, to say what we believe to be truth, without giving thought to the person standing in front of us.  Or goading someone into expressing his or her thoughts, when really all we want is an excuse to cut the person off.  

And then we can claim that they rejected us. 

The Pharisees asked Jesus to do the same thing with the woman caught in adultery. Surely there was no denying this woman’s guilt, for she had clearly violated the Law.

And yet Jesus drew no line in the sand that day.

Instead, he drew a circle that includes all of us. 

That’s why he invited Zaccheus down out of the tree that day. 

It’s why my friend Julie took me home with her that Wednesday.

And oh, what conversations we ended up having around her table. 

 

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters:

You must all be quick to listen,

 slow to speak,

and slow to get angry.”

 James 1:19, NLT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Things We Learn at Eight

FeaturedThe Things We Learn at Eight

The first time I ever heard anybody say anything about homosexuality I was probably seven or eight years old. 

It was the most beautiful wedding I’d ever seen.  Granted, at that age I hadn’t been to too many weddings yet, but it left an indelible picture in my head.  Maybe it was because I was so young and impressionable, but maybe it just really was that beautiful.

Oversized white candles with garland glowing in every stained glass window of the church we attended.  White satin bows with greenery attached to every pew.  The only lighting in the whole place, during the whole ceremony, was from candlelight and it was spectacular.

But maybe I also remember that wedding because of what happened afterward.

Within just a few months, the groom left the bride for a reason nobody wanted to talk about.

It was still rare for anyone to divorce in those days – the late 1960s – but even more rare for the marriage to split because one of the couple was homosexual.

I don’t know that I actually remember any of the grown-ups I overheard talking about it actually use the term, ‘homosexual,’ but somehow I knew.

I pieced together that ‘the boy liked boys’ and so he didn’t want to be married anymore.

I watched the faces of the people who talked about him – about what he had done to the bride.  Nobody ever mentioned trying to talk to him.  Reaching out to him.  To find out what was going on with him.  I didn’t hear anything positive or hopeful or helpful in connection with him.

Maybe someone did respond like that, but the conversations I overheard didn’t mention that.

Like lots of children, I was listening and observing when nobody realized I was.

And I was learning, even then, how we respond to people.

I learned that if you find yourself in a spot like that guy, you’d better not tell a soul.

Because you don’t want people talking about you like I heard people talking about him.

I learned that ‘a boy who liked boys like he was supposed to like a girl,’ well, that was about the worst thing you could do.

Nobody ever said that to me, per se. But that’s the clear message I got.

And being a child, I never brought it up on my own.  Because I saw the looks,  the discomfort in their bodies, I heard the strain in adult voices whenever the subject was broached.

But what if I’d heard something different when I was eight years old?

What if the conversations I’d overheard involved reaching out to this brother – realizing the state of pain and confusion he must have been in for a lifetime – and realizing how difficult it was for him to try to walk this out on his own.

I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if that’s what I’d heard.

So how do we create an environment in which children grow up hearing a more Christ-like response to homosexuality?

Here’s a start –

   1.  Change the way we talk about someone who experiences same-sex     attraction.

             In casual conversation with other adults, where children may very well be listening.

            In intentional conversation with your children.  Parents can share their beliefs about the morality of homosexuality without turning it into this shameful topic which leaves the impression that this is the “worst thing that could possibly happen.”

             The language we use is powerful. And our nonverbal communication – facial expressions, body language, tone of voice – often conveys more than our words.  But our silence is deafening.  Avoiding conversation sends as powerful a message as the slurs and jokes most of us have come to recognize as hurtful.  Our silence forces kids to internally process all the misinformation they receive about same-sex attraction from the sources that will talk about it, very early, before they have the capacity to truly understand what’s happening.  It’s no wonder, then, that many of us end up with the mistaken beliefs we have about our sexuality.  Something that God never intended for us.

  2.  Be willing to listen to other people’s experience, ideas      and beliefs.  Even if they differ from yours.  Especially if they differ from yours.

            Let your kids see you do that.  Let them see an open mind that’s not threatened by listening to opposing viewpoints.  Yes, do so in developmentally appropriate increments, but it goes a long way (particularly with teens) to let them see your willingness to give others a voice, a chance to be heard.

             When I was growing up I had friends who were never allowed to visit their friends’ churches – for fear that they would be swayed from their own beliefs.  I’m thankful that my parents didn’t believe that and always permitted me to attend church with my friends who went to other churches.  It caused me to think more critically – to really weigh the reasons why I believed what I believed – and it solidified those beliefs more deeply.

 That’s enough for now – what would you add to the list?