My reply to a newspaper column

 

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Port Hope, where I served as pastor from 2001 to 2014, is in Huron County, Michigan. The Huron Daily Tribune, out of the county seat of Bad Axe, is the local, daily newspaper. I check it online every day for news and, especially, deaths.

On January 6, the Tribune printed this column—
http://www.michigansthumb.com/news/article/Things-I-thought-I-d-never-see-12478254.php
—in which the author reflected on various things she thought she would never see. In the column, among the things she thought she would never see was “Have people deciding for themselves if they want to be male or female. Hmmm, I always thought God did that. I guess I just don’t understand it. God forgive me.”

I did not see the column; a friend made me aware of it. I located it on the Tribune’s Facebook page, where I posted the following.  I was not able to isolate their Facebook post of this so, if you go to their Facebook page, you have to scroll to January 6.

https://www.facebook.com/HuronDailyTribune/?ref=br_rs

My intention, as with everything I write, was to enlighten and educate.

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Traci, I write regarding your item #5: “Have people deciding for themselves if they want to be male or female. Hmmm, I always thought God did that. I guess I just don’t understand it. God forgive me.”

Traci, please know that this is far too serious an issue for such a short comment, which, for folks like me, feels flippant, even if that was not your intent. We, who suffer gender dysphoria, including we who have transitioned, never wanted to be in this terrible situation, suffering this confounding malady which is so misunderstood, in which so many judge us as some instantly and unfairly judge books by their covers, which leaves many of us torn from families and fired from jobs and out on the street, and in which 41% of us will attempt suicide.

Yes, God made humans male and female. Before Adam fell into sin, there would be no problem. But, after the fall into sin, human beings have suffered every possible malady, disease, ailment, and so on, including ill effects to our sexual being, which attack our self-identity.

There are many intersex conditions—those of the genitals, of the chromosomes, and of the hormones. People, like me, who suffer one of them, often experience a fierce internal battle, which is exacerbated by the way so many in the world speak and act toward us. We typically feel as if we have two people living inside of us, because we have both male and female components to our being, or we simply feel as though our body and brain is a complete sex and gender mismatch. When we have been brought up as one sex and gender, the natural thing is to work to conform to that sex and gender, not to freak out anyone by telling them we experience life so much differently. This creates excruciating internal tension. Because many of us live in families which are openly anti anything that does not match their worldview, killing ourselves comes to feel like a viable option. (If you do not know of Leelah Alcorn, her short life is highly informative.)

Not only do we suffer suicidal thoughts, the fear of losing our sanity is not an uncommon visitor. From 2013, when I still lived in Port Hope, until I began transitioning in 2015, I thought that, at any time, I was going to lose my mind.

We strive to figure out how to be healthy so that we might live productive lives with some measure of comfort. For many of us, transitioning provides that. Now in my third year, it has helped me tremendously.

Huron County is not exempt from this. I lived there for thirteen years and, because I went public and blog about this I have heard from many back home. Indeed, I wrote about those who don’t understand: https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/i-dont-understand/

In Huron County, you have folks who either battle gender dysphoria or who have transitioned. Their families are also profoundly affected. Some have reached out to me. It never helps to make statements which only serve to get those who agree with you to say, “Right on! That’ll teach ‘em!” while those who suffer only have their battle for understanding made worse.

Please know that I do not assume that you meant to harm anyone. I wrote this to inform you, to help you where you have admitted that you don’t understand. Perhaps, you know someone who is transgender, maybe even a family member, and this has created a stir for you. I understand the challenge, having been through every twist and turn with my family and friends, and with my Christian brothers and sisters.

In the spirit of Christ, we would have compassion for all. We would refrain from simplistic comments regarding complex issues. We would be mindful of the least of our brothers and sisters. We would listen and learn and love, even if we might never agree.

I wish you well. I hold Huron County dear in my heart.

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My most unusual baptism

With my turning sixty this year, I have been posting on Facebook what I hope are interesting things from my life.  Generally, they are fairly short bits.  The piece which follows is longer and, because it is, and because of its nature, I found it worthy to place on my blog.

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I did not keep track of how many baptisms I performed during my eighteen years of ministry. My best guess is that it was around one hundred. Using that as my number, 99% of them were done the usual, Lutheran way, in church, at the baptismal font.

One was not in church. No baptismal font was in view. But we had water at our disposal when Roland nodded his head that, yes, he wanted to be baptized.

Roland was known by all as Slim—and, I kid you not, his slimmer twin brother was called Fat—was in his seventies, had suffered a stroke, and found himself in a nursing home. His sister, Ann, was one of my congregation’s faithful members and, with her husband, Barney, a woman with whom I was very close.

Ann called me, concerned for her brother. Slim had never become a Christian. He’d never been baptized. Would I visit him?

Gladly!

A day or two later, I found Slim in his room. He was unable to speak much, but for basic communication. I can’t recall whether Ann met me in his room the first time. She likely did. I told Slim why I was there and of his sister’s concern. He reacted positively. Because of his stroke, I sort of had him cornered, but if he were not interested in my being there I would not have forced myself on him.

I asked if I might speak to him of the Christian faith. He nodded. That first day, I explained the very basics. A week or two later, I returned to cover some more. On my third visit, Ann and Barney planned to be there, along with Slim’s wife, Helen.

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I wonder how many hundreds of times I visited this place.

We were visiting in one of the day rooms at Huron County Medical Care Facility, next door to the hospital in the curiously named town of Bad Axe. (The tale goes that, back in the day, to mark a crossroads, someone stuck a broken axe into a tree. When the spot turned into the town, what else would anyone name it but Bad Axe?)

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See?  I wasn’t kidding!

I had covered the vital aspects of the faith. I now rehearsed them with Slim so that I might ask him if he believed, if he recognized his sinfulness and His need for the Lord Jesus. Finally, I asked Slim if he wanted to be baptized.

To each question, Slim nodded in the affirmative. Ann beamed.

We were in need of water.

I spied a sink across the room. I said, “I’ve never done a baptism like this, but that spigot is just the right height so that, if we back up Slim’s wheelchair to it and have him tip his head back, I can baptize him right here. I know that it might not seem very holy, but because the Lord will work His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Word and the water, it will be just as holy as any baptism.”

Smiles abounded, so I went into action.

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It was a tap like this which provided the perfect flow of water for our unique baptism.

We got Slim backed up, lined up, and head back. Turning on the water so that I had a gentle flow, I dipped my hand into it and poured the water onto Slim, first speaking his proper full name, and then the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father (splash of water on his forehead, and of the Son (splash), and of the Holy Spirit (splash). Amen.”

That was in the spring of 2004. The next Christmas Eve, Slim fell asleep in Jesus.

At the funeral home in Kinde, I officiated Slim’s funeral, burying him as a Christian as if he’d been one his entire life, and joyously telling all of his family and friends the fun and happy story of how Ann took action on her brother’s behalf, and how Slim had been washed in Christ in a most unusual way.

Over the ten more years I was in Port Hope, on occasion Ann and I would reminisce about those days. Always with smiles on our faces. Always with joy in our hearts.