Reflection: Lead With Love
This being the first Sunday of Lent, we tend to talk about what we’re going to “give up”; what our "fasting” is going to look like. No chocolate? No alcohol? No electronics during the evening? Or as one person said to me last week – no doing dishes?
Now of course the whole concept of giving up stuff, of fasting as a purification ritual, a spiritual experience, is not new. Fasting is a part of many spiritual practices – denying the desires of the body in order to focus on the needs of the spirit; denying oneself the pleasures of the body in order to rediscover connection with God.
During those forty days in the wilderness, we see Jesus doing just that – working out his relationship with his environment, and his place in the world of humans. Remember that he must always have been doing a dance between human and divine – and surely those temptations reveal the fundamental choices Jesus would have to make during his ministry on earth. We see him analyzing his relationship with the human parts of the world: how important are bread, food, material possessions, wealth, power – are those things important enough to maybe occasionally compromise his principles? Ignore his religious beliefs? Matthew gives us Jesus’ answer: a resounding “No!” Material possessions will never get between Jesus and God. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy here: “‘We shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” The physical pleasures and apparent necessities of the human world will never be more important than standing up for what’s right.
How tempting it must have been for Jesus, knowing that he’s the son of God, to use that connection to make a grand gesture, perform some magic, He knows, after all, that if he asks, God’s angels will make sure that he comes to no harm. As the devil says “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down." In the words of Psalm 91: ‘God will tell the angels to take care of you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Again, Jesus’ reaction to that temptation is a resounding “No”. Jesus would far rather risk “striking his foot against a stone” than gain people’s admiration and awe by compromising his values and principles.
All of these temptations - and the way in which Jesus identifies his own principles and refuses to compromise his beliefs – holds steadfastly to God's word – have led me to the next part of this reflection.
A couple of years ago, I delivered a sermon based on a book written by Amanda Jette Knox, a friend and former student of mine. In that book, entitled Love Lives Here: Thriving in a Transgender Family, Amanda describes how first her eleven year old son and later her husband came out as transgender – and how Amanda supported them both through their transitioning. Amanda and her wife renewed their wedding vows –and Amanda and her daughter have gone on many speaking tours across Canada, changing lives by demonstrating that it’s possible to live as one’s authentic self, despite the often negative perceptions of society.
Amanda, like most people of her generation, is very involved in social media. She writes a blog and she also posts on Facebook and Twitter. She posts personal little vignettes – like the first time she and her daughter went through a Dairy Queen drive-through and the server said “Here’s your order, ladies” and she and her daughter floated home on cloud nine. It was the first time that anyone had just spontaneously recognized her daughter as female! Anyway, that's the kind of thing that Amanda posts. She’s not an outspoken zealot ; she just tells her story – and tells it in a way that just arrows right to your heart.
Amanda’s decision to go public – to write her book (which became a bestseller, by the way) was her way of standing up not only for the people she loved, but also for the countless numbers of people around the world who are finding themselves in similar situations. She’s raising awareness – and encouraging youth – and adults – to realize that each one of us, inside our human exterior, in that very core of our being, is a wonderful creation of God – and no matter how many “devils” batter away at us with their negativity – this remains true.
Since the publication of her book, Amanda has continued to advocate vocally for the rights of transgender people to live their lives free from discrimination and exclusion. Unfortunately, her stand, and her refusal to compromise her principles and values, has made her a target for “trolls”: Internet slang for people who intentionally try to instigate conflict, hostility, or arguments in an online social community. A little over a year ago, she came perilously close to ending her own life, doubting her own value and fearing that she was endangering her family simply by existing. In Amanda’s own words:
My wife and I have been called child abusers and monsters who should be locked away or even killed for affirming our trans child and saying other young people should be supported, too. We’ve had our lives threatened more than once.
So that’s the downside to standing up for your beliefs – to me, a bit along the lines of being mocked, criticized, and shunned by the Pharisees, and ultimately crucified for standing up against hate and encouraging people to lead with love.
I suspect that Amanda would laugh herself silly at the thought of me drawing a parallel between her and Jesus Christ. However, if we believe that the Holy Spirit resides inside each one of us – and I do believe that –then surely it follows that one’s authentic self – one's soul – that wonderful creation of God – should be respected.
I realize that I’ve so far given you a pretty grim picture of my friend Amanda’s life post-book publication – and I can’t end this reflection on that sour note – so here’s the upside: Again, in Amanda’s words:
I live for the stories of people who’ve used our example to get to know themselves better, to come out to those they care about, to support someone who’s come out in their lives, or just to learn and be better allies. I get teary every time someone says they found hope in our story and knew they could get through the changes in their own lives.
Amanda continues to speak and advocate and blog and write about the absolute truth of love. Her second book is coming out in April. She isn’t putting together an army; recommending violent revolution; demanding money or power; she’s really just living her life out loud and being an example of leading with love. Actually, Amanda has that phrase tattooed on her right forearm : Lead with Love.
No, Amanda is not a saint. She’s not perfect – but she and her family (like many other transgender people and their allies) have done the hard, hard work of coming to terms with their own inner essences, and have done the equally hard (and expensive) transformative work necessary in order to express those essences on the outside. Amanda holds firmly, without reservation, to love as her guiding principle. I think that Jesus would be proud of Amanda. Actually, I believe that Jesus is proud of Amanda.
To me, the concept of self-analysis, of looking inward and identifying the truth; understanding that the Holy Spirit is there to support us in our true identity - that’s really the essence of the lenten season, and the core of the forty days and nights in the wilderness. Throughout those temptations, Jesus holds firmly, without reservation, to the word of God. He’s not governed by physical needs; or swayed by the opinions of others; or lured by power or influence over others.
I believe that the challenge of the Lenten season is to take time to be alone with God. If this means abstaining – or fasting – from things that would distract one from doing that – then I guess those are the things we might try to “give up for Lent”.
May you be blessed in your Lenten journey – whatever that may look like to you – and may you feel the support and encouragement of the Holy Spirit during every one of these forty days and forty nights.