Anyone who thinks the answers to the conundrum of the human condition are simple, straightforward, clear, and easy should read Margaret Philbrick’s touching account of confronting her brother’s transition from male to female at Christianity Today.

Philbrick writes movingly of her brother’s revealing to her the secret of his gender-identity struggle and then admits, in the face of his revelation,

I felt the tectonic plates of my heart shift, jarred by a combination of compassion and questions. How could he live like this and why? What happened? When did it start? What would I call him now?

But the real sadness comes for Margaret not so much in the pain of her brother’s story as in his reaction to her compassionate open response. He asks immediately,

“Aren’t you going to judge me?”

Margaret goes on to articulate one of the deep challenges faced by Christians today,

My heart ached with the hurt of my faith being misunderstood and the recognition that the prevailing view of Christians as judgers remains strong, even within the minds of those closest to us.

We in the church need to understand just how deeply this perception of us as “judgers” permeates the world. We are seen as arrogant, opinionated, narrow-minded, judgmental, and bigoted. At times we have deserved all these descriptions. So Margaret suggests a different path.

In the place of judgement, confronted with a complex life reality that she cannot understand and finds it difficult to relate to, Margaret recommends the practice of

deep listening, which calls for an inclination of the ear to understand that which is beyond our grasp.

Nothing could be more healing than “deep listening.” “Deep listening” acknowledges the complexities and confusion that are a real part of real peoples’ lives. Life is vastly complex. There are so many twists and turns in the road that we do not understand and are ill-equipped to explain.

Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century wrote,

It is characteristic of divinity to be incomprehensible: this must also be true of the image.

We do not need to be frightened by the mysteries of life. We do not need to make everyone conform to our vision of how life ought to unfold simply so we can feel safe in the face of incomprehensible circumstances that we find threatening and confusing.

Margaret Philbrick draws inspiration from another Gregory of the early church, Gregory of Nazianzus who challenged his readers asking,

Is it not God who asks you now in your turn to show yourself generous above all other creatures and for the sake of all other creatures? Because we have received from him so many wonderful gifts, will we not be ashamed to refuse him this one thing only, our generosity? Though he is God and Lord, he is not afraid to be known as our Father. Shall we for our part repudiate those who are our kith and kin?

“Deep listening” and “generosity” may not fill the pews of our churches. But they could go a long way to rehabilitating the image of the church in the minds of those who have felt ostracized and judged by the attitudes and judgments they have so often encountered from those who consider themselves followers of Jesus.

Our “kith and kin” do not always look just like us. They do not always behave in ways we might feel are acceptable or proper. But they remain our “kith and kin” and our only call as followers of Jesus is to extend to them the love and acceptance that we receive from the God who welcomes us with a grace and love we do not deserve.