When Kindness Raises its Head

In seminary, we learned that people are often angry with, or have other issues with their pastor, we had to expect that people with daddy issues would probably have an issue with their pastor, people who were hurting could take it out on their pastor and be overly critical and/or defensive. One of the interesting thoughts regarding this that I still remember today, is that while as a pastor’s family we were supposed to listen to the endless concerns and criticisms, we were to remember that whatever they were saying was often more about them than it was about us. It was information, just information about that person.

I’ve been reminded of that principal once again as I’ve read the commentary my latest series has produced. Sometimes the angry comments baffle me. (You can see what I am talking about here where this story was linked on Yahoo along with a misleading and inaccurate title) (This is also a great example of comments that I will not publish! : ) Yes, some readers seem to jump at the chance to leave a commentary of crude jokes, but are there really so many people that get angry purely because we exist? I think there may be a bit more to it.

Many people seem to read a story as they would Aesop’s fables. Looking for “the moral of the story”, and trying to figure out how this applies to their life. I’ve seen this approach used in reading the bible, instead of reading the bible as information, people begin to try and find the point, the moral, the “should” that applies to their lives, and we end up with warnings against gluttony lest we turn out like poor Esau who cared more about food than his birthright.

I think that many may be tempted to read our story in that way, seeing it as a prescription of sorts. Or maybe description of how a struggle like ours can best be handled. But is there really one right way? If my spouse happened to be overwhelmingly attracted to men, or if I were actually completely straight, and we had decided to split amicably would that somehow be a “bad” ending? No. I don’t think so. Every story and every person is different. Saying that every couple in which one partner is transgender must stay together through transition would be presumptive and sad. Our story is not better than anyone else’s, our story is not how it is “supposed” to turn out. It’s just our story.

And this appears to be how most of you read our story. You were willing to hear me out, and think about it instead of feeling like the story was a projection onto you somehow. You were able to recognize the real dilemmas and questions that came with this journey, even if you feel you would have answered those questions differently. You were willing to see the reasons we made the choices we did. You were able to take our story as information, about something you may not even have known that much about. And here at my blog, even when you did not affirm our conclusions, you chose kindness.

One of the comments on the final post of the series struck me as an accurate observation of what happened here:

“I have a slightly different take on everything I’ve read here than that which I’ve seen from other posters leaving comments.

I agree with the vast majority – your story is amazing. It is full of hope and love and moments of perfect beauty, and I enjoyed reading every line.

But what I find even more striking and comment worthy are, in fact, the comments that have been left for you.

I am an agnostic bisexual woman happily married for 10 years this coming Friday to a bisexual man. So yes, very LGBTQ-friendly here. I’ve been advocating for LGBTQ equality since I attended my first Pride parade in Chicago when I was 14. I’ll be 41 later this month. In that time, I’ve had countless negative experiences with individuals who identify as ‘religious.’ Those experiences can turn the brightest heart black and heavy after a while… and on more than one occasion I’ve found my own thoughts towards those who identify as religious to be in complete conflict with everything else I believe and hold true.

But I have to say to you, and especially to your commentators – sitting here reading these comments has done more to heal my own prejudices against “people of faith” than anything else ever has. I see people walking the talk I believe Jesus exemplified. I hear the loving grace in their words and their intentions. I see faith that is rooted in love, not dogma or doctrine or the dictates of man on behalf of a god created in THEIR image.

I find it humbling. I find it uplifting. I find it gives me hope. And I find it beautiful.

Thank you for creating a space where I could see and experience that… and thank you to the commentators for sharing their light in support of you and your beloved spouse and children.

I wish you all love and joy… and above all, peace.”

It’s a simple idea, being respectful to oneself and others,
treating others as you would wish yourself to be treated.
But I believe it is revolutionary.
Every person who chooses kindness makes a little difference in the world, and if every act of kindness has the power to make this life more livable, than we can change the world by being kind,
one reaction at a time.

Kindness-  by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness is
You must lose things,
Feel the future dissolve in a moment
Like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
What you counted and carefully saved,
All this must go so you know
How desolate the landscape can be
Between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
Thinking the bus will never stop,
The passengers eating maize and chicken
Will stare out of the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
You must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
Lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
How he too was someone
Who journeyed through the night with plans
And the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it tell your voice
Catches the thread of all sorrows
And you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
Only kindness that ties your shoes
And sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
Only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say.
It is I you have been looking for,
And then goes with you everywhere
Like a shadow or a friend.

  • http://womenforallseasons.blogspot.com/ November

    Love this! Genuineness and kindness can totally rock people's worlds in a good way.

    Thank you again for sharing you story!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Melissa, what did you have for breakfast this morning? How many diapers have you changed in the last week? With the odd fluctuations in weather and temperature, have you dealt with colds in your family recently? How is your job going? Do your muscles ache with the heavy lifting required? Are you on the fast track for management now, seeing that you have a brilliant mind? How is your marriage? Did you get a smooch this morning? When do you think will be the last time you buy a box of baby wipes? Have you considered making soup lately? What do you do with snow shovels when you're not using them?

    My point? People put so much stock in pigeonholing human beings into certain groups by their own artificial sorting ideas that they miss the real you. The real you and the real yours is a hell of a lot more important to me than anything else. And if "they" would open their minds, they would see it as well.

    We have only one life to live. It is short, unless they cure death by the time we are supposed to die. Living and loving is a better way to spend that life than hating and judging.

    Love you, kid.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06775910241014928435 Sierra

    That is such an interesting way of looking at readership – thanks for giving us something to chew on! I think you're absolutely right – many people read our stories looking for the moral. The only moral I want people to take away is that patriarchy is bad, heh.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle Hughes

    I agree that comments really do say a lot about this blog you've created and nurtured here. You have definitely provided an avenue for me to learn about something I don't know much about.

    In reading your story, I do have some questions that I so long to ask you…but I keep thinking about them because I want to make sure I ask them in such a way that I get an answer moreso than a reaction (if that makes sense). I really respect you after getting to know you for the past almost-3 years since we found each other's blogs and the last thing I would ever want to do is offend you with a question or comment I have.

    I'm sure you know me well enough to make sense of the rambling of this comment. :) I would imagine when I finally gather my thoughts and questions, I will e-mail you. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15454965172669677301 Bethany

    I'm blown away by the comments you've gotten over your story as well. They give me so much hope that one day if my precious little girls turn out to have unconventional sexual orientations, they will find friendship and acceptance and unconditional love as well.

  • http://grace-filled.net jen

    To Rae (the person who left the comment you referenced):

    If I as a Christian say that "God is love" and then act in an unloving manner, I make a liar out of myself and the God I serve. Whether or not I agree with Melissa and her Hunnie has absolutely nothing to do with her worth as a person and I pray that there would be people who could show you the love that Melissa has from her readers here.

    And Melissa, you continually amaze me. I'm proud of how you stood by your Hunnie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10882606147795083729 rbarenblat

    I love that poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. I've run across it three times in recent days; perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something? :-)

    Anyway. Thank you, again, for sharing your story and your kindness.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06410682651072046347 TwisterB

    I too waver on my belief in god. I was raised athiest, but at some point I learned about Jesus and I believe in him the way someone "believes in you". I have faith in him, that is, as a person who did good things and had a good message that I can put my faith in.

    If I am to believe in a god it would be the jewish god: genderless, incomprehensible and unknowable, who created everything and is a part of everything. But I really dig Jesus.

    Because I believe in the message of Jesus, it is so shocking to me when people confuse their own personal outrage with being a christian. I'm queer, and I try to have compassion for people who are uncomfortable/homophobic because they come from a different background than me so it is unfair for me to compare them to me. In time I think things will change, but a great impediment to that change is people going around saying you will go to hell if you associate with homosexuals.

    Melissa, I know you and your wife? (is that her preferred title?) have had a traumatic religious upbringing, and that there are many reasons for you to be disillusioned with the church, but if you WANTED to sit in a church on sundays, and have a religious community to belong to, I'm sure you could find one. I know you just moved away from Canada but the United church where I grew up was not just queer accepting but a champion for the LGBT community in our area.

    I grew up atheist so I don't know what it is like to lose faith, but faith now seems like it is a security blanket.

  • Joolz

    IC put it better than I ever could – just live your life and be happy. I believe he also said that he "didn't care" about your sexual orientation, or your hunnie's – neither do I. Just be happy and bring up your kids the best you can (and it will be wrong – because there is absolutely no way of getting it right :))

  • Calah

    I hadn't read your blog in a while so I was just busy catching up. Wow! BTW, I saw the pictures you posted…you are both gorgeous = )

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    There is no way I am going to answer all those questions. But we love you guys too. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    I agree with that moral, wouldn't mind if people got some of that out of my writing too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Thank you for taking time to consider how to ask your questions, I would love to chat about them when you are ready. I'm glad we found each others blogs. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    It gives me hope too!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Thank you Calah! I'm sure the pictures were a bit surprising if you hadn't been keeping up lately! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    It has been interesting how many people seem to feel that being a christian and queer are incompatible. It has been nice to check out an affirming congregation jus to experience otherwise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03117752360285429048 Jessica

    Melissa, I may have shared this with you already, but I have on my blog a resource guide to Christianity and homosexuality, where you'll find a whole slew of articles, videos, films, books, and organizations of Christians who would stand by your side and affirm your relationship with your spouse. You may find them useful for sharing with others as well. And of course, please suggest anything I should add as well!

  • Anonymous

    Your story is fascinating and I don't quite know what to make of it. I can't find a moral to put to it except this one:

    You were a pastor and pastor's wife. You loved God, tried to serve Him, and were there serving a whole community of people. I hate the way the church disowns everything that doesn't fit with the narrative they decided to claim. If someone was a Christian and becomes an atheist, they were never a true Christian. If someone decides to live in a homosexual relationship, they must never have been true Christians. If someone leaves the church because the wounds inflicted by the church are too deep, then that person is the chaff and the church is the wheat. If someone commits suicide they must have lost their faith; they were never a 'true' Christian.

    My favourite part of your story is where you say that you did everything all the evangelical books on marriage told you to do – you tried to find your husband's deepest heart and what he wanted most, yet it was so different from what they told you it would be.

    The 'moral' I take home from your story is that the church should always own, always embrace the people among them who are the anomalies and the challenges instead of blaming them and making excuses for why Christianity (or "Christianity"?) didn't work out for them.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    I don't know if this is interesting to you or if it applies but have you checked the clergy project? Lately there's being a lot of posts in the Friendly Atheist about collecting new funds for them ad today I saw this:

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Melissa

    Thanks Paula, I'll check it out.