Why I specify LGBT friendly on my counseling profile

Once I knew I would be working as a counselor in a Christian counseling center at my pastor husband’s new church, in a new town where we knew no one, I immediately started crafting an online counseling profile in my head. What identity did I want to present to others? And how would I make clear to prospective clients who I am and what I stand for?

I do play therapy; I got my degree from a seminary; I’m psychodynamically trained; I have a heart for the spiritually wounded, questioners, and leavers of the faith. These are all true. But there was something else I needed to convey.

The line that kept standing out in my mind was LGBT friendly. This was a message I felt passionate about.

Now, this may not seem very significant. I’m licensed by the state of Ohio and I follow the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, which specifies I cannot discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc etc. I was educated in the importance of this. But a counselor being obligated to not discriminate is a far cry from a counselor being comfortable with and even welcoming diversity across the sexuality spectrum. Furthermore, I know that people too often associate Christianity across the board with a very narrow (and often judgmental) view of what is acceptable sexual practice. Many Christians still think you cannot be a Christian if you accept gay people being gay.

I know this all too well. You see, I grew up in a tradition that believes same-sex relations are an absolute sin. My evangelical / fundamentalist (I differ from Merriam-Webster in describing the jump to fundamentalism as not only interpreting your holy book in a strict, literal way, but actively denouncing and viewing with fear and suspicion the outside world. But that’s a post for another day!) upbringing taught me that the Bible (and therefore God) viewed homosexuality as an abomination. It even went so far as to believe that there is such thing as “the gay agenda” whose sole quest is to bring the world down into debauchery and moral decay. “Conversion therapy” was viewed as a legitimate and effective treatment for gay people to help guide them into a heterosexual way of life.

Of course, for people who find themselves experiencing same-sex attractions, whether in small degrees or in totality, this can lead to buckets of guilt, shame, and even self-loathing or self-hatred. That, or they have to find a way to make a quick exit from this theology, but it’s hard to leave such baggage behind. 

The path I took to get to where I am from where I was is far too long for this post (but stay tuned for another post in the future, about how to honor Christianity, the Bible, and non-heterosexual relationships at the same time). I have moved so far from that now that it might be easy to think such views are fading from society. In many ways, they are, if we look at the media and newly elected representatives as measuring sticks. But we all know those are far from genuine representations of the beliefs many people across the country hold. The Liturgists gathering that I just attended this month reminds me that there are still so many people – especially Christians – who are wrestling with the question of sexuality and God’s view on their own or others’ sexual orientations.

I was always aware that specifying “LBGT friendly” (and I could have added other letters) is a calculated risk. The pro obviously being that I am being true to myself and my practice, and communicating what may be desperately needed information to people who want a safe place to explore questions around sexuality, or who just want to be accepted for who they are already comfortable being.

The risk being that I am writing my statement on a website I am making for the whole counseling center, not just my own web page. I hope the others are comfortable with it, but I didn’t ask. I also might scare off some people who read the website and decide it’s not “Christian enough” for them (even though I am the only who specifies this). Or, perhaps a parent of a questioning, curious, or just open youth will not allow their child to see a counselor who might affirm their stance. (This, by the way, is not merely a hypothetical situation; it’s just not everyone reads our website thoroughly).

Some of you who come from traditions like mine understand the tension of such an action. I am sure there is at least one church in our small town alone that is being actively divided over the issue of sexuality and what is “acceptable” in Christian doctrine. I love our church’s website and how it describes doctrinal stances, but I am also keenly aware there is nothing on there about sexual orientation. It’s a big, divisive issue to take on, especially in a public setting. It’s easier to not talk about. Many Christians who would be affirming are quiet about it. I think this is even more the case in small towns, though I am still trying to figure this whole small town culture thing out. 🙂

So, I have decided to not be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” but rather to be out of the closet about what I stand for. This is especially important in the context of a Christian counseling practice, where others might easily assume things about my beliefs. I have decided if I have the welcoming light of love, acceptance, grace, and affirmation to share, then I should not hide it under any bushels, but let it shine so all can see. One little way I can do this, in my little role as one of the counselors at a Christian counseling center, is to specify “LGBT friendly.” Because I want everyone to know there is more than one way to be a Christian. And that God’s love is already for everyone and God loves us exactly the way we were made.

Just to be clear: All are welcome. 
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using our voices

I don’t know about you, but this has felt like a rough week.

Honestly, the last two years have been disheartening (to put it mildly) and soul-crushing (if my feelings speak for themselves), in a way I wouldn’t have guessed political situations could make me feel. There is so much hate, distrust, and lying in our national space that it feels like evil will take us over. The news still tends to infuriate me, but recently, I’ve found myself slipping more often into feelings of despair.

I went on a short, silent retreat this week. It was a wonderful chance to read, write, meditate, and take long walks in the forest. I know I am lucky I get to do such things. My fears about myself still crept up on me (does my voice matter? What meaning will I make of my life? Who do I think I am, anyway, trying to claim a space with my words?). But I moved forward, pushing back the fears, being present, and putting down words anyway.

Then we left the camp and had the news on the radio as we drove home. Real life hit me like a ton of bricks. A president trying to incite fear about Middle Eastern terrorists hiding among people who are trying to take refuge from an unsafe environment in Central America. Tax cuts promised that can’t be passed before election day, but truth doesn’t matter anyway so say what you will. And then, all week long, bombs that don’t detonate arriving to prominent liberals around the country. I don’t need to give you details – you already know them.

What kind of world are we living in?

What can I do?

What can we do?

While on retreat, I brought my good friend Thomas Merton along with me in book form. Reading him inspires and challenges me. Merton was a Catholic monk and prolific writer who died in 1968. Monks take vows of poverty, submission, obedience. But Merton was also compelled to write – and write boldly. He didn’t hide his head in the sand but was acutely aware of what was happening in the world. He called out the violences and injustices of his day (think Cold War and nuclear threats, and the divisiveness both sides were partaking in). Even when the Catholic Church censored him, even when he scandalized people. And he did it all from a deeply spiritual place.

I know I’m no Thomas Merton, but if I could follow just a tiny bit in his footsteps, I would aspire to do that. To speak the truth that needs to be told. To love deeply. To live fully one’s authentic life that they are called to.

What are you called to do?

What voice were you given to speak to the world?

Our voices matter. Trust me, a lot of the time I have trouble believing this. I took my small step today and early voted. I felt grateful to still belong in a democratic republic, with a still-functional news media, and to safely cast my vote without fear of reprisal.

Voting is one way to matter – and an important one. But there are so many ways to raise our voices in support of love and all that is good in the world. It is hard to keep that faith, but if we do it together, maybe somebody will hear it, and believe that this isn’t how it has to be.

We must not stay silent. If we are privileged enough to be comfortable staying silent (i.e. if you believe yourself to be unaffected by all that is happening), but if you are also a person of faith, then let your faith be the motivator to speak. To stay silent and do nothing is to be complicit. Stand up for the vulnerable and the oppressed. Stand up for morals and values. Believe in the power of love over the darkness of hate and terror. Pray. Extend compassion to your neighbor: whether that is your family member or your fellow global citizen.

It’s easy to lose sight. Just writing this post, I am mocked by the inner voices: who cares about what you say? No one will read this! You’re not saying anything new! You’re not good enough! Do you really think you can make a difference at all?

But maybe you’ve been tormented by those voices too. Maybe sometimes, the anger and despair presses in on all sides. Maybe you feel too small and insignificant to have an impact. Maybe you’re so frustrated by the whole thing that you’ve checked out. Please come back. We need your voice, too.

Maybe if I can be brave enough to put the imperfect and the unoriginal and the vulnerable out there, you will know it’s okay to do it too. Maybe we will start to push back the darkness.

It’s hard work. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Find the beauty in the world. Remember that the sun rises every morning – regardless if we see it or not. Let yourself be nurtured by relationships. Nurture others. Find something that makes you laugh. Find something that gives you hope.

However it is that your life speaks, I hope we can believe that if we each do our part to speak the truth in our own sphere, it matters.

God, I hope it matters. Let it matter. But we will only find out by trying.

are you there, God? What do I call you?

Who is God? Or the better question may be, who do you imagine God to be?

I have a new favorite book, and luckily for me, it is required for my class, so I will most likely finish reading it. It is called Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer, by Ann and Barry Ulanov. It’s possibly the most personally impacting book I’ll read all semester. One idea I’ve been chewing on is that we all have “god-images” based on our early experiences. I know, I know: many people could rattle off a list of adjectives for what God is “supposed” to be like, or what they have been taught in church that God is like. God is merciful, God is just, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. God is good. God is loving. But what is your gut reaction, your first instinct, when you think about God? When you start to become aware of that, you can start to look your God (or perhaps I should be saying god) -image in the face and see if that’s really a true image of God.

So I started thinking. What do I really think about God?

Granted, I’m still trying to figure that out, and being in seminary sort of compounds the problem (though I was already good at compounding it before). I am theistic. I believe in a personal God who is still connected with people in their day-to-day lives. I believe God answers prayers. I don’t know why he doesn’t answer all prayers. I would like to know why, but I believe that there is an answer somewhere even if I am never given access to it, and even if the answer does not play itself out in this lifetime. These are things I must believe to try and hold the idea of suffering in this world together with the concept of a loving God who can interact with humans.

So with these nice mental ideas about God packaged up, I should be all set. But then why do my emotions betray me?

I don’t think I was spanked much as a child, but I have a clear memory of being afraid that I would get an unexpected spanking once when my dad walked by my backside. I still experience that feeling of wincing and dread sometimes when I think about God.

For instance, if things are going well for me, I rejoice but I also dread the moment that the other shoe is going to drop and my happiness will come crashing down. As if God was sitting up there plotting new ways to take away my joy.

When I pray for something, I still think I need to do something to deserve it. And I experience the feeling of “why would God want to give something to you?” Especially when I consider all the suffering in the world, where I wonder why God – whoever God is- is not giving relief and happiness to those people.

Apparently, buried beneath my beliefs that God is all good and loving, lies a belief- or a feeling- that secretly, God would really like to trip me up and see what happens. And that God either doesn’t like to or can’t remove suffering from others. The idea of that God scares me.

What do I do with these ideas about God? Does believing them in my gut really make them true?

My reading has been stirring and shaking my thoughts, with some productive ideas resulting. I would like to share:

“In prayer we must begin where we are, with the images of the divine that we project and find ourselves projecting onto the unknown… One of the first tasks in prayer is to face the process openly, to notice what images we have of God and to welcome them into our awareness.” (p. 29)

STOP PRETENDING. I really do not have it all together with my images of God. But God, whoever God is, already knows that, and God knows that my human limitations make me unable to really know God. And that somehow, that which makes me so human and limited also makes me so lovely in God’s eyes.

The beautiful thing about recognizing our projections– the images and faces that we put on God– is that in doing so, we are discovering more of our own core. There is less that separates us and the divine, because we start to see past the false images and walls between us. “Those images and names that entrap us will be loosened… [we will] bring our primary selves right up to God’s presence” (p. 33).

Wow. What an amazing idea. That by simply owning up to part of who I am, I can become closer to God.

Can I trust that if I face my questions openly and without fear, an answer may begin to emerge that I couldn’t even imagine before?

Care to join me in this? What are some of the ways that you think of God, if fear, shame, or denial did not keep you from expressing your real thoughts?