Resisting the Killing Tides

Easter 04-12-2020            Passover, 4th day, year 5780 of the Jewish Calendar
Confirmed, known Covid-19 Deaths in the US:  20,473                                 (MSNBC)

Day 1,177 of the current occupancy of the People’s House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Trauma: the complicated, multidimensional psychodynamic, physiological, emotional,
cognitive, and/or spiritual responses to experience—or series of experiences—of
directly, or indirectly, disturbing and/or dislocating events, conditions, or disasters
that are perceived as threatening or destructive to the integrity or survival of
oneself or others.

Compassionate Regard: the emotional and intellectual capacity for viewing the integrity, or wholeness, of another person’s life as being as precious and as vital as one’s own.
(author’s definitions)

rock wall

Sheltering-in-place. Physical distancing.
Nightly news, known death tolls; confirmed cases.
Isolation. Dread. Anxiety. The search for simple intermittent joys.
To buy medicine—eggs and milk, perhaps—or, remain in relative safety?
To have the choice. Or to have the choice made prior, even, to contemplation, because there is no money. Insecurities upon fragile insecurities.
Red bud trees, irises, cone flowers. Dogwoods planted in city parks. Visible. Birdsong. Silent sidewalks. Breeze-blown leaves in trees. Flutterings of wings. Audible as the new quiet deepens.
Somewhere, music in the air.
Phone calls. Texts. Face Time. Live-streams. Longing.
Losses. Sorrows. And gratitudes. Echoes of laughter.
The markings of days. Days, the barely distinguishable markings of weeks.
Nightmares. Troubled sleep. Too much sleep.
The markings of nights. Nights, the markings of time filled with uncertainty.
… __ …

Long before there was a novel virus, well before Covid-19, we—the collective people of the US—have been suffering another continuous, multivalent ailment: a multiplicative malady of social ills. We are plagued by a legion of dis-eases.

Decades-long stagnation of wages. Decreasing availability of jobs. A disproportionate access to resources, increasingly inadequate to the means of a life lived with even a modicum of thriving. Inequity in healthcare, housing, education, and general opportunities for a meaningful, productive life. The pervasive sense of being unseen, ill-regarded, and dismissed by others, especially those charged with the care and administration of our policies, systems, and social structures. Increasingly pervasive social unrest. A rise in conflicts around race, nationality, sex, gender, sexuality, class and religion. Changes in climate. Seemingly unending wars and military conflicts. Increasing levels of incarceration. All while corporations flourish, the obscenely rich get richer, and the rest of us are pacing ourselves ragged on the running-wheels that keep the gears moving on the very same machines that are failing to serve us.

Many of us have seen these ills with a particularly troubling set of perspectives. The unwelcome rise of racism, scuttling out from underground activity after lying-in-wait in the corners and back-allies of our culture, freed now, to answer the call sounded by white supremacist kin folk in places of standing. Emboldened isolationist nationalism lifted to the fervor of religion. The elevation of old, over-fed and over-empowered, white men, once again, to the status of kings and lords—accompanied and attended by supportive women of standing and hosts of others.

Hate, vilification, and judgmentalism the new love of god and country. Imperialistic, predatory capitalism the true god. Truth is lies. Reality is not what is seen, what is heard, what is known. Reality is the shadowy chaos of untruths, propaganda, daily revisionism. Commodification and exploitation of bodies, women, workers, land, and all manner of resources, culled and consigned in service to the lords of luxury-lust, rights-to-comfort, and entitlements. The erection of every possible kind of walls, marginalities, and exclusions made the natural laws, policies, and ideologies of the land. The continual classification of expendable people and natural resources masquerading as national policy. The daily lifting of new hymns to the god-king, the chants of clearly defined us and not-us. The primacy of the presumed self-made individual as the pinnacle of creation. Anti-queer, anti-trans sentiment and policies. Division, the new unity. All this and so much more, the daily utilization of various iterations of separatism, divisiveness, and refined, perfected disenfranchisements as the new means of occupier-colonizer regime change.

Many of us have experienced these conditions as the unmistakable rise of contemporary fascism. That is, many among us recognize our current conditions as the unchecked progression of an already toxic, aristocratic colonialism to a troubling, but—barring intervention—predictable end:
the gradual movement to readiness for, and acceptance of, an increasingly autocratic, ultra-nationalistic, authoritarian, crony leadership, characterized by suppression of opposition, elevation of ruler narratives as governing doctrine, elevation of service to the leader as supreme display of patriotism, international isolationism, classism and social division as means for maintaining power. This regime is also an androcentric, white supremacist, cisgender, heteronormative system. And it thrives within the empire of Christendom.

Still others have experienced these past 1,177 days as the long-awaited answer to their perceptions and experiences of the pre-existing social maladies which, in their view, necessitated the coming of a modern-day, decidedly American king who will set things right—returning us all to the “good old days” when things made sense, were predictable, and secure.

Others among us have experienced this counting of days as a natural—though, perhaps, unsettling—temporary vacillation in the ever-swinging pendulum of a two-party system. Insulating protections of relative privileges, positions, affluences, and comforts serve to create a sort-of sighing acceptance amid hope for better days. As such, the more glaring examples of underlying racism, misogyny, vehement intolerance of anyone not-us, and the moral bankruptcy of elected leaders, corporations, and random regular everyday folks have presented a cumulative, disorienting shock. For some, a horror.

There are other experiences as well. As surely as there as many ways to experience being a person as there are now, ever have been, or ever will be people, there are multiple experiences of these long days within a diverse, spiraling strata of human experience.

The point is this: wherever we find ourselves amid a diversity of locations and experiences, however we view and interpret the conditions of our lives in this society, we the people of these increasingly un-united states have been—and are still—experiencing various levels of trauma. For many among us, the traumas of the past 1,177 days are cumulative, compounded by—and compounding—other existentially dislocating experiences. And this pandemic virus, and all that comes with it, consists of yet another existentially threatening set of conditions piled onto an existing pile of diversely-experienced, trauma-inducing mess.

Throughout these seemingly endless days of occupation, I have been generally holding myself together, amid my own trauma-reactivations and co-occurring novel experiences, by clinging to hope that the grossly obvious incongruence between our daily realities and any measure of a sane, kind, and humane coexistence will not only move into a wider and wider social awareness, but will move us to begin some kind of collective desire for something different. Something toward which, and for which, we will—at last—come together and begin working. I still hold onto this hope.

Yet, even as we bear witness to stunning images of human compassion—even as we receive the gifts of music from front porches, living rooms, and empty street corners; the celebrations of healthcare workers, EMTs, police, fire-fighters, and other essential workers; the live-stream reading of stories; the creative on-line gathers of people of faith; the deliveries of meals and groceries, assistance to neighbors, and more—we are also witnesses to less helpful, less noble behaviors.

We witness friends and family policing the thoughts, speech and behaviors of others. We see people we thought we knew silencing views other than their own. We experience angry intolerance and disregard around us. We witness people calling out and insulting others for holding different opinions or for, worse, God-forbid, “just not getting it.” We see people cutting others out of their lives, not because they have harmed them (response to harm is a whole other issue) but because they have dared to be different, to think for themselves, to speak from their own personal experience. Sometimes, we are the person unfortunate enough to not meet someone else’s view of who we ought to be and how we ought to think. Other times, perhaps, that behavior we witness is our own. Perhaps, the most troubling thing is that most of us in this oddly collected society are good people with good intentions. Yet, amid all the hopeful images and gestures, there is the presence of a predictable—barring intentional intervention—recapitulation of the very behaviors that are troubling and traumatizing us.

In simple terms: if we go into a room with a host of people who have an illness, amid a small number of people who are healthy, we are more likely to catch the illness than to catch the wellness.

And, when a set of unhealthy, inhumane behaviors—symptoms of a kind of social virus—have been normalized by repetition, imitation by others, and a diminishing of contrasting behaviors, the more difficult it becomes to be aware of when we are reproducing the very attitudes, gestures, and behaviors we are responding to and hoping to counteract. This is especially true when normalization of the abnormal, elevation of the most base and demeaning instincts, and glorification of all that is hateful, abusive, and disregarding of others is repeated over a period of days, weeks, and years. It is almost impossible to continually avoid committing the same, all in a vehement effort to do the opposite.

Doing the opposite of harm in harm-inducing everyday circumstances requires an intentional—sometimes large—exertion of will. It takes thoughtful effort to resist the tide of toxic normativity. I know because I, too, have found myself struggling to resist the pull of the killing tide.

But I have also begun to wonder if the underlying nature of the problem is not, also, revealing an overarching path to possible solutions.

To begin, I in no way mean to over-simplify the profoundly huge, twisted, and thorny intersecting causalities of the socio-political realities writ large and towering among us. All of that is a tangled mess for another time (perhaps for other voices among us). I am referring, here, to tensions in between our patterns of relating in communities and our hopes for moving toward something different—something more reflective of our shared humanity; something that might lead us toward moving forward more together and less divided.

           It seems to me that we are suffering from a great forgetting.
Through decades of conditioning and assimilation, we have, first, forgotten that the vast majority of us—by location in a culture built on colonization and imperialism—are living in, enduring, and processing varying and diversely experienced levels, degrees, and expressions of continuous trauma. For many among us, the trauma is generational. This particular forgetting is old and culturally transmitted—again, in various and diversely experienced ways.

Forgetting this, we have assimilated into forgetting how to be in healthy, boundaried, mutually beneficial relationship with one another. Even with people we believe to be “like us,” let alone with persons we believe are not like us. There is a host of tangled reasons for this as well. It is possible this forgetting, too, is old, lingering; transmitted. It is also possible this collective forgetting, in practice, is a huge factor in creating the conditions that got us where we are now.

Especially, we have forgotten how to listen to one another; how to speak with each other, in response—rather than reaction—to one another; how to regard one another as individuated human beings. We have forgotten how to see our differences as particularities manifesting an underlying natural and good diversity and to value that diversity as something essential, pointing to a larger, wider, all-encompassing, all-embracing shared humanity.

Said another way: we have forgotten to value the wholeness of another person, and their life, as being inherently as precious as our own—without the fragile need for their personhood to mirror our own; without the relationship-vexing expectation that they go about thinking, doing, and being just like us. And more, to be curious about and interested in one another.

Recovery of our individual and collective memory of these realities, like resisting the tidal draw to our baser instincts, requires intentional effort and cultivation. I am deeply aware of this truth. However, I also believe that recovering these memories is necessary for our individual and collective survival—precisely because it is a way toward recovery of the defining feature of our shared humanity: the capacity for compassionate regard—for coming to see the life of every single person around us as carrying the same inherent dignity, importance, and preciousness as our own. Recapturing this, we might remember what has been taken from us: the ancient, lingering memory that we, each of us, belong to something much bigger than us, made whole only by the presence and contribution of each and every one of us.

Then, we just might recognize we are in this huge humanity-boat together, but we are not all on the same deck and the weight is not evenly distributed. Preventing it from capsizing, and drowning us all, is dependent upon our understanding, finally—and from hereafter—that maintaining an uneven boat puts us all at risk. Moreover, the fact that we are different, not all the same, is not a failure of social systems or a problem to be corrected, but the source of our greatest collective strength—we all have particular abilities, gifts, talents, resiliencies, and perspectives needful to saving our collective lives.  

           We have an opportunity to remember and, in so doing, re-member ourselves.
We’ve had the opportunity before—in fact, all along our collective history. So far, the unfettered rise of a deadly social virus hasn’t snapped us fully awake and jogged our dulled memory. Perhaps the presence of a biological virus of pandemic proportions will.

Maybe, just maybe, sheltering our bodies will give us space to remember, not only who we are, but who we hope to be.

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Learning to Pray

In the beginning was the word, and every word a world;
every letter, the stuff of which a garden, a stream, a person
comes into being. With words entire worlds are made; with words,
and word-made things, Holy Utterance teaches us to pray.

Not the letters nor the words make a prayer, but the essence bursting
forth like entire fields of dandelion seeds—all hope and sorrow, joy
and dreaming, rising up on spoken breezes, returning to the One Breath,
breathing all that is.

Warm and crackling, like the embers
of creation, may we be ignited to pray
transformation like the damp, fecund earth, longing to be tilled and turned,
fruit-bearing ground—that flowers leave our lips, calling into chorus
a choir of chirping crickets, humming katydids, birdsong, and rustling leaves.
Together, may we join in singing forest-making, sea-shaping
songs—awakening, dancing, and circling round, calling up growing grasses,
wandering streams, and hillsides brimming full with swimming and flying,
swarming and hopping, crawling and burrowing things, and all that is,
now, is refreshed and renewed.

Gathered in, sheltered, opened and released,
like hummingbirds from tiny, high-nested eggs, may we word
belongingness into brave, unfettered acts of living-on against all that harms
thriving—not only for our own sake, but for those beside and behind us,
reaching out and in and casting wider and wider, until all are nested—

in this garden, renewing; may we begin to pray
in such a way that beginning teaches us to make beginning our way, wording,
breath upon breath, the stuff of which a living prayer is made communal,
harmonious—chanted, sung, laughed and sighed together, moment by moment,
into a collective utterance of ever-evolving Sacred-seeking movements;

and when we cry out, together or alone, in our need and in our receiving,
breathing all that is, our cries will be but a longing whisper.

author’s note:
Some sentiments here were inspired by Nahman of Bratzlav and Meshulem Heller.

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How I Set Out to “Follow” Jesus… and Found My Way to Shul

“Sometimes, one must look into the ashes to find a solitary spark.” Dov Ber of Mazeritch
“Torah is not education, it is transformation.” Rebbitzen Dena Weinberg


So, you may have gathered from the title of this piece that what I will say here is a little more personal than usual. It could be said I’m coming out, again, in a different way.

       I want to share a few things about my own spiritual path, how I view that, and where I am, currently, on the journey — and, to me, it is that: a journey, a path, one where the seeking leads the way and everything along the way is an essential part of the going. I am also beginning from a certain set of assumptions. 

       The first assumption is: that to be a person, a human being, is to be spiritual. However, I do not conceive of “spirituality” as meaning something to do with religiosity. Said another way, being spiritual is less about some otherworldly supernatural state of being, attempting to follow the rules of a particular deity, and more about what it is to be a person in a corporeal, temporal world. 
       I arrive at this position through blending theories of human embodiedness and psycho-dynamics with a somewhat nuanced perspective embedded in two Hebrew words. The first is the Hebrew word Ruach, which means “wind,” and thus, spirit, essence, as well as breath. Through this, I frame the idea of “spirit” as the essence of a being, a being’s living, breathing, essential selfhood. The second Hebrew word is related to this and is, Nefesh: meaning, that which breathes, the breathing substance of a being; therefore, nefesh means: a living, breathing being; soul; life; person; as well as, and equally, desires, appetites, emotions, and passions, depending on context. The term also applies to other creatures; I add even plants and trees; because they “breathe” they are also possessive of a spiritual nature. (In my raising and heritage, that makes sense to me.)
      Therefore, to be a human being is to be a breath-filled, embodied being of living essence, endowed with personhood, appetites, desires, emotions, and passions: a being-ness of body and essence; of spirit-selfhood, breath, and earthly physicality. Psycho-dynamically, we could frame this being-ness as identity: a subjective sense of self that, somehow, both pre-exists, comes into fuller beingness, and is made manifest, shaped and affected by bodiedness — predispositions, experiences, perceptions, appetites, inclinations — and the continuous encounters of self with an interconnected, interdependent world of being-ness. Thus, simply, but profoundly, spirituality is a state of humanality; a state of being. It is characterized, I propose, by continuous, interrelated states of being in longing — for everything from sustenance and shelter, to meaning and purpose, connection, intimacy, belonging, and, especially, the freedom, space, and means to discern and express a congruent sense of self. For some, but surely not all, this includes a desire for connection with some sense of holy otherness.  
       The point is, spirituality exists outside of religious contexts, rooted in the reality of human beings as persons of being-ness, blood, breath, and essential selfhood characterized by various states of being-in-longing — to be regarded, to have and express some sense of self, place, purpose, meaning in life, and freedom to be and become a self in some measure of relationship with others seeking to do the same. The “spiritual” path is, really, a path to selfhood, to personal fullness of humanality. Religious experience may, or may not be, part of that.
       The other primary assumption I make is this: embarking on a growth journey of any kind necessitates following the path where it leads, going where the growing self leads us — even, and especially, when the journey leads us to unexpected, unplanned, perhaps even unimagined, places. This is so because real growth seems to always lead to unexpected, unplanned places.

       That said, throughout my life, I have felt the presence of some Wholly-Holy Otherness, an abiding, sustaining force-presence: the voice in my head gently urging me to hold on until morning; the strange sense of being held when everything in me wanted only to stop being; the oddly external, yet intrinsic ability to get up — the persistence of something within me but more, finding a way to keep going, not completely alone, somehow tethered to something beyond myself, yet part of me and everything else in the cosmos. My understanding of this force-presence was, and continues to be, framed in the teachings I received from my Scottish-Indigenous grandmother — the Great Something who abides and sustains; the G-dhead of irises, black-capped chickadees, rocks and streams, earth and sky; the Creator who accompanies and comforts, who acts in and through us, nature, things unseen and forces not-yet-understood. This, the benevolent Otherness beyond yet within us, shot through everything, is the ever-creating, Many-Named One, abiding everywhere; the G-d who teaches us how to conduct ourselves, how to love, and how to thrive and suffer together by placing us into relationship with each other in the natural world. The means available to me for seeking relational understanding of this G-d were, of course, creation, other persons, and the world of Christendom. 

        For most of my life, I performed all manner of intellectual, theoretical, and psychological gymnastics trying to adapt to and understand the inherently self-contradicting, often troubling faith of Christianity. I’ve struggled, in and out of the church, to make sense of the striking differences between Jesus’ teachings, which I value, and the tenets of Christianity. All this, of course, was complicated by the facts of my queerness, gender identity and gender expression. Most of my experience with the church was complicated at best, harmful, damaging and abusive, at worst. These early experiences influenced my already-forming, justice-oriented inner advocate. Still, while Christians and the faith, itself, harmed me and drove me away, that teacher from Nazareth remained. And the voice of grandma’s G-d kept talking me through the loneliness-drenched dark nights, no matter how much alcohol and self-destruction I employed.
       For more than 30-odd years, certain recovery practices framed a sense of G-d and a practice that worked for me: prayer as a means of growth and revelation; reckoning thought, word and deed; a way of discerning wisdom, insight, and courage rather than expecting G-d to do for me what I must learn to do for myself; a grounded way of being in relationship with Spirit-Otherness, myself and other people. I applied these principles to seeking to follow Jesus. Still, no matter I tried, I kept bumping against things that just didn’t work for me and which seemed contrary to what we are told Jesus actually taught. Fall-redemption, substitutionary atonement doctrines. Resurrection. Or the conflict between a “follow me” real-world, social gospel supplanted with professions of belief, assuring a personal, sin-redeeming ticket to heaven. The more I studied Jesus, the less I could understand how the religion of Jesus — his Judaism — became a religion about Jesus. I determined I just wasn’t a very good Christian. Still, I kept trying because I dig Jesus. Then, to achieve more training for addressing queer justice by effectively challenging religious institutionalism, I decided to pursue theological education. Though it was often troubling and re-traumatizing, it sharpened my craft. I found and followed a little brambled trail leading to a wider path. 

        For over six years, now, I have been studying Hebrew, Torah (and all that includes), Jewish theology, and Jewish history through Jewish theologians, thinkers, and historians, rather than Christian scholars. This study has given me better understanding of how Jesus the Jew was intentionally transfigured and transcripted into Jesus the Christ. Continuing study confirms, daily, that my sense of the Jewish, justice-seeking, Prophet-quoting, street-teaching, Torah-doing, empire-resisting, status-quo-rejecting, homeless traveler, Jesus, is far removed from the Christian Christ and from Christendom, itself. I continue to deepen understanding of the means by which a grassroots, collective-building, anti-empire, colonizer-resisting religious movement had to be squashed and, then, transformed into a sin-salvation-centric, master-slave-modeled, personal-savior religion: one which became the religion of the colonizer-empire. I continue to understand, more deeply, the workings of power and authority, the formation of Christianity, and the evolution of the faith, theologies and philosophies of Judaism. Subsequently, I am (and I am becoming) a better, more critically adept inter-textual religious scholar. 

       Interestingly, I appreciate Jesus even more, now, because I understand his teachings through his own religion. Theological education taught me how to more properly read Jesus through Judaism, rather than reading Judaism through Jesus (as Christianity generally teaches). Seeking to follow Jesus, in practice rather than creed, led me to a journey of understanding why I suck at being a Christian.
       I make a stumbling, frustrated, questioning Christian because, at heart — perhaps by nature and development — I am a Jew. Through this ongoing process of study, self-discovery, and personal practice, I am finding a sense of place I never imagined in the living Hebrew texts, in Judaism and all its humanality, and more, in the Great Oneness at the heart of all my seeking.
       I am not saying it is bad theology, unevolved, or somehow wrong for others to be Christian. I am simply saying that, on my personal journey, I have found a place where I belong: a place where longing and seeking, questioning, even wrestling and contending, with Oneness meet; where the individual and the community meet as a differentiated collective, and the journey to Sinai is a cyclical path of longing, wandering, learning and returning. Judaism fits me.
       In measuring and honoring cycles of sacred time; agricultural practices; rituals regarding food, prayer, study and discussion as expressions of prayer, praise and thanksgiving, I find resonant connections with the Celtic-Indigenous, earth-based life-way passed on to me, stored in teachings from my elders, memories, and perhaps, my own DNA. In the way of Jewish prayer, in the practice of kavanah, in the rhythms of lightness and darkness and Jewish worship, I sense and settle into the care of the abiding Oneness which has accompanied, held and sustained me, always. In the practice of Shabbat, the lighting of candles, the melody and rhythm of chanted prayers, I find the gentle whisper of Shekinah, rising into a joyous, dancing, coming home. In the act of placing the kippa on my head, I am reminded Shekinah dwells above and within me, even as I grow in learning to put my feet on the earth, each morning, and lift my face to the sustaining sun. In the study and practice of Torah, in inquiry, d’rash, and interpretation, I find El Olam (Everlasting G-d) who teaches, guides, and inspires through ethical conscience, instincts, experience, relationality, and intellect; in Torah I find the teachings, human stories, questions, problems and insights that inspire and enliven a justice-seeking, peaceful warrior’s weary heart.
So, this is my coming-out confession of sorts.
      Long ago, I set out striving to follow Jesus, seeking a life-way to walk, to grow in selfhood, willing to go wherever the growing self might lead. I set out searching and, unexpectedly, wandered into a distant homeland and, along the way, found a Temple, and within it, an earth-bound, community-rooted, ethical justice-oriented, life-way toward growth in communal beingness (we might say, spiritual growth) that resonates with my self-understanding, experience, and world view.
      In practical terms: as I engage conversion, I will be relinquishing my authorized standing as ordained clergy. This in no way nulls or voids my theological education, nor does it mean I can no longer teach, speak to congregations, or consult and work with faith groups working toward fuller acceptance of trans, gender non-conforming and LGBQ persons (even as I continue to work with secular groups). The work remains. In fact, the more I study, the more competent and well-versed I become in this work. I am still available and will continue to be available to do this work: seeking a just-peace for all of us through deeper appreciation of human beingness, gender, sex, sexuality, and the dominant intersecting, systemic forces of oppression intended to keep us divided.
  

 

  

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A Dream of a Holy Economics

(Normally, I don’t post sermon texts, but some have asked for this one. From this morning, July 1, 2018; 1 Kings 17. Seems word gets round. So, here it is.)

So, lately, I’ve been thinking about this idea, G-d the economist. Thought-provoking things emerge around these words—economy, household, guidance, principles, interactions, exchanges—images arise, comparisons, other stories, pages and pages of scripture come to mind; all of it leading to the verge of something: something surely glorious and hope-filled, though perhaps also troubling. But it is a “something” I seem to see only partly, straining, squinting, sure what is there is something worth sharing, but more than a little afraid my vision is inadequate.
Maybe, I can’t see the whole thing clearly for the same reasons our ancestors struggled to see it—for the same reasons that I suspect, really, we all struggle to see it: we’ve been flung so far east of it for so long, we no longer know, fully, what it looks like. Perhaps, it’s just too big, so it only comes to any of us in fragments—hoped-for, prayerful things, strung throughout time and history, joined by tender threads of holy Self-disclosure, human events, prophets, would-be messiahs, and even old-school justice-seeking, Marxist queer theorists like me. Could be, I’m just short-sighted. Nonetheless, I confess, what I have are fragments.

In one fragment: this Elijah text, leads me deeper into images of G-d as the Guiding Organizer of the Household, Cosmos; the One who acts through interactions and exchanges, guiding us to principles, activities, values and behaviors that carry within them not merely blueprints of G-d’s vision, but everything needful to it and on which it is made: the brick and mortar; gardens and farmlands; valleys, plains and mountains; the fishes and the creeping and crawling things; winged creatures; fruit trees and shade trees; rivers, streams, lakes and oceans; and even and especially, us, the dreamers and the workers:
the very creature-people to whom G-d has entrusted a divinely-dreamed and hoped for earthly household.
These images glimmer in and around the details. After leading him to prophesy the coming drought to the worst assimilationist, exploitative king in the people’s memory, the word of G-d guided Eliyahu (Elijah) to the wadi Cherith, saying: you will drink from the wadi and I have appointed the ravens to nourish and sustain you there.

And, so it was, G-d did for Elijah, a particular individual person, the very same that G-d did for the entire Hebrew people after the liberation from Egypt. This time, however, mana and quail did not simply fall from the heavens to the ground. For Eliyahu, Holy Provider charged the ravens, there, to bring him bread and meat in the morning and, again, bread and meat in the evening.

Elijah’s story, like dusty prayer beads, is woven with the desert stones of Moses and the Hebrew people, the liberation and the wilderness, Mt. Sinai and Torah, prophets and peace-dreamers, all tied and strung together, stretching all the way back even to Edenthe earthly cosmic economy, the first Household of G-d, organized around a just, equitable, communal, and cooperative economy: the one our ancestors lost sight of in a trajectory of body-bound temporal frailties, fears and self-preservations we seem destined to be governed by.

Here, in guiding interaction reminiscent of the garden, God acts through creation, itself, to sustain Elijahfrom the wadi to the attendant ravens. In this fragment thread affirming the essentiality of diversity, our traveling prophet was fed, not by majestic beautiful birds like eagles or even doves but was nourished and cared for by nobody’s-favorite, wandering, omnivorous scavengers. Tishbite Elijah’s survival was charged to these creatures who have learned a little something about relying on creation to survive; ravens are one of the most ancient, adaptive and intelligent species of birds. They can, and do, live in any environment and adapt to even the harshest of conditions. Like Eliyahu, they are Toshav: sojourners, outsider residents, strangers of a sort.
And, even as the ravens brought him food, Elijah was assured sustaining water until the stream finally evaporated. This is, in fact, what wadis do. Wadi is an Arabic word for the bed or valley of a stream, often spring-fed and subject to changing water levels. These seasonal water sources disappear in dry times and flow again when the rains return. In the household of the wadi Cherith, water was a precious cyclical resource sufficient to preserve Elijah as he hid himself from the king.
In G-d’s household economy, it seems, no element of creation—be it seasonal wadi, grain for bread, or plot of ground to grow it—is expendable. No member of creation is too small, too weak, too unlikely, or too strange to participate in the good of G-d’s household.
Another thready fragment reveals: a dried, waterless wadi leads to life-giving interactions and exchanges between Elijah and the widow as she gathered sticks outside the gates of the city, preparing to make a final meal for herself and her son. Destitute, out of resources, she was on her own. In the household of Zarepheth, she was a widowed mother and a stranger—toshav, a resident outsider. There were no involved others, no extended community, no guiding principles of communal economics concerned with caring for her and her son. Yet, here, the piece-by-piece telling breathes a mournful hallelujah: she, who has nothing, trusts that somehow there will be enough… or at least, the three of them will perish together, not alone. Knowing the wadi would run dry, Holy Guidance could have organized anyone to give Eliyahu sanctuary, yet a widow—one of the very people Elijah’s message calls the elite economy-holders accountable to—is the one to attend him. And, so it was, in the divine economy of care, there was enough. The nearly-empty bowl of flour and jar of oil become a bounty. In another story, later, it will be a few fishes and scraps of bread that make a bounty.

Doubtless, for these three, bread would have been enough, yet in G-d’s economy, providence expands, spreads, rises up like sourdough. And trust, in defiance of all reason, assured Elijah was there to heal her son when he took ill. A synergy of mutual need saved them all. In G-d’s household economy, it seems, interdependence governs and every particular, individual person is worth feeding, sheltering and saving—no matter who they are, what their circumstances, or where they come from.
Following the fragments, it occurs to me, this story creates its own rather rabbinical social commentary: Widows become destitute, children become sick and strangers need the sanctuary of other strangers because the socio-political conditions at work in economies of the elite are, in fact, widow-makers, orphan-makers, outsider-makers, stranger-makers, and…clearly, prophet-makers. Perhaps, the story implies: if G-d’s household were to be a living thing in the human world, if G-d’s economy were the organizing economy at work in our lives, there would be no starving widows and children, no resident aliens, no strangers, no outcast least-of-these, no left-behind and forgotten wanderers, and no need for prophets seeking sanctuary. The prophecy Eliyahu came to deliver lives in the circumstances of its own telling.

These beaded allegory strands weave, in my thinking, an almost satirical reality: that, as long as it remains the stranger who sustains and nurtures the stranger, there will always be a stranger-class; as long as it continues to be the forgotten who care for the forgotten, there will always be a forgotten class. As long as it is those who are left out of the household of valued humanity who are willing to risk what little they have—often only life and limb—to care for, accompany, and work for the left-out and left-behind: as long as it remains that we continue to value and preserve a society based on systems of privileging, contrived hegemonic norms, exploitation and exclusionary economics, we will remain a people lost and wandering, flung  far east of Eden—let alone, Jordan—and less and less able to remember who we are, where we come from, and who our Creator hopes we will become.
Another piece of busted-bead glistens, obvious, in the dusty story landscape of ironies told through the lives of Elijah, the widow and her son: a story that embodies the very conditions the prophet is called to name, the consequences suffered in the household of humanity when the people have lost the way. Yet, it seems to be what the people do.

From Eden onward, the people—all of us—fail to keep the way. Human memory, it seems, is short and fragile. Yet, the memory of G-d is long, adaptive and tirelessly imaginative. Unfailingly, holy remembering sends prophet after prophet to guide the people back to Torah—to a whole testament of holy economics, rooted in eternal principles of compassion, justice and peace that stand apart from and in direct contrast to the worldly, short-sighted, status quo economics of human UN-imagining.

All these fragile fragments, strung together, seem to trail off to the same desert place: the birth place of the One-G-d, the dusty places where bushes burn holy fire and people wander led by smoky clouds, the ground where all the prophets speak in different ways the same remembering, the hillsides where Jesus reframes the Torah, the ground where all the fragments get woven into something grand and seemingly unending. And an idea came to me:
perhaps, this is the point.

The household of G-d really is too big for any single one of us to see it, entire. It’s a household built on G-d’s relational, communal, and cooperative image and likeness. It takes all of us, each and every one of us, to look for it, see it, and become invested in it. The whole of scripture and history tells us this: all these stories, events, persons and proclamations, even our own as well, are essential, necessary; all both bead and prayer in a braided and unbroken holy self-disclosure-remembering, threading us endlessly, stretching back and weaving forward from G-d’s dreamed of Eden economy to this very day…and the hope that we can learn, together, to see and follow the threads. Perhaps, all we have are fragment stories precisely because without them, even and especially the broken and battered ones, there is no holy household.
These are the fragment glimpses of it I see.

So, it seems, all we have are fragments perhaps because it is particular, individual fragments that make the household whole. Maybe this is so in a divinely-dreamed, longing hope we will remember it’s up to us, collectively, cooperatively, to string them all together.

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Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes

“What we are now witnessing is the death of compassion, a repudiation of our obligations to the most vulnerable, the death of the social and a dishonorable discharge from the obligations of a democracy.”  Henry A. Giroux
(https://truthout.org/articles/henry-a-giroux-the-nightmare-of-neoliberal-fascism/)

I’ve been thinking lately of the old recovery adage: nothing changes if nothing changes.

Though its been over 30 years since Audre Lorde prophesied the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house (Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, 1984), the movement for a just, equitable society continues: a large, lumbering conglomerate creature, stuffed to the water-starved gills with organizations and leaders hell-bent on using every tool from the master’s box, tightly gripped in one hand, while extending the other to shake hands with the master’s gate-keepers. This, despite the cries—and the deaths—of the people. And, so it is; the empire grows bigger and stronger and fatter on the diseased fruits of its own planting, while the dream of a just peace flops and flounders, gasping for breath on the littered beach of the common good.
It’s a seemingly ageless quest, one made across time and cultures. We are living, now, in the consequences of the unresolved foundations of this country—a thing, itself, born in the self-serving trespasses of men of power bent on colonization, exploitation, profit and unearned comfort. Since that time, the overarching question has remained the same: will the high, spirit-uplifting principles of a humanity created equal in value and endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ever be both accessible and applied to all of us, or will these needful endowments remain the commodities of a self-preserving, self-appointed, greed-stricken and morally bankrupt elite?
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
Still, struggling in the long narrows of a worldly birth canal, the dream of justice persists. It persists, ironically, because nothing changes if nothing changes.

Yet, the truth is, while the substance of the thing—the combined disenfranchising, marginalizing, resource-hoarding, hate-stirring, person-devaluing ideologies that oppresses us—doesn’t change, the form, functions, and force of it do change. A maple tree does not become a blueberry bush. It does however, without hindrance, grow.
And, so it has been. Over time, the collective forces of capitalized colonialism have grown more height and more branches. Fed by a divisionist hegemonic fertilizer (otherwise known as empire excrement) passing as a universalist, attainable American Freedom, disparity gaps widen. Branches grow and block the sun. A leafy narrative justifying the unfettered exploitation of the many for the prospering of the privileged few becomes assimilated as the way of life in the forest. The disease hidden on the underside of the shiny leaves spreads. And everyone wants the fruit of the tree—no matter the cost.

And who can blame folks for wanting the bitter fruit?
After all, we—all of us—have been breast-fed, spoon-fed, and otherwise nearly strangled on messages that tell us the measure of our liberty is how free we are to attain what the master has, to live in his house, and grab with both hands all the tools he carries, believing that we, somehow, will use these for the good. The temptation of the disenfranchised is, always, to follow the way before us, to use the tools, strategies and systems of the oppressor under the rationale of beating him at his game, thus, righteously rebalancing socio-political power toward the good.
However, as even recent history reveals, this is never what happens. Trapped, as we are, in the natural-order myths of our colonialist capitalism; mesmerized by the messaging of neoliberalism and a culture of immediate gratification, entitled rights to comfort, and egocentric individualism increasingly devoid of communal connectedness, we are lulled—by the demands of daily life in the empire—into becoming unwitting participants in the very systems, ideologies and practices that subjugate the majority of us. We become servile to the emperor we seek to dethrone.

Though there is some truth to Lorde’s observation that the master’s tools may, properly used, sometimes allow us to temporarily beat the master at his game, we forget that failing to address the corrupt underpinnings of the rules and structures of the game ultimately leaves us like dis-empowered hoards, hanging on the pendulum trying to slow its swinging, failing to notice the sharp, heavy thing is still cutting to ribbons all those who, grasping tightly, hang on at the bottom—all this, while the pompous, misshapen, naked and over-fed emperor watches in bemused self-satisfaction.  

The truth is, our problems are no longer about party or who is fighting on what elected team; the problem is in the imperialist court, itself. As we also say in recovery communities: if it ain’t working, do something different. Usually, it’s as simple as doing the opposite of our first impulse, but most surely, we need to be willing to recognize and accept when what we are doing is not working. It seems pretty clear, now, we are all out of sometimes and temporarily.

Many of us working in various places and levels of the wider movement for just change are aware what we have been doing isn’t working at all. And, in truth, it never really has. Over the last several decades, even when we have elected presidents espousing more progressive rhetoric, those movements have not resulted in any significant change in or removal of deregulatory measures, for example, or other significant legislative measures that have been foundational to our current slide into the murky muck that gives rise to overt fascism.

Thus, the dream of the founding fathers thrives as the dream of a common good coughs, chokes, and sputters. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Yet, in this lies a certain profoundly hopeful truism: the more a thing becomes fully and insistently what it is, the more it stands out.

This has inspired some of us to more actively engage exploring the dire call to decolonize the systems, processes, and operations at the core of our wider movement for justice. The belief there will be no meaningful intersectional justice without earnest decolonization resulting in rejection of status quo strategies, elimination of privileging systems, a complete rethinking of the nature and uses of power and resistance drives to ring the bell more loudly.

At least a handful of us have been holding workshops and training seminars with various local and national LGBTQ organizations, particularly, around envisioning a process of decolonizing the movement.

In workshop after workshop, I have observed the results are the same: praise of the concepts and denial-based resistance to self-reflexive application of the principles. Resistance often sounds like this: we’re the last people who would ever colonize you all; (or) we get it; (or) you’re preaching to the choir, my friend. Unfailingly, these same voices—almost always, the straight, white, wealthier, cisgender allies—are the very voices who express the colonizing practices we are addressing: they dominate all the conversations; direct us to points of necessary compromise; and offer advice regarding tolerable, lesser oppressions, absorbable in the required incremental movement toward to a just success.

It’s no surprise when allies say such things. They don’t have much skin on the street, so to speak, let alone on the mat. But it’s not just allies who profess faith in working and compromising within our larger, socio-political systems. More and more LGBTQ leaders (of varied identities and social locations) continue to believe we can work with the master’s gatekeepers to create change within the master’s house. Again, on a practical level, who can blame them? Who wants to give up the security and comfort of a worldview that, generally, supports and offers a relative appearance of progress—even, or especially, when that mythical progress is personal?
I get it. It’s hard to see the things that make us uncomfortable. Certainly, my own life has offered me plenty of practical experience with how hard—and sometimes, painful—it is to be called to wake from the stupor that cradles us, whispering promises of safety and security in a precarious daily life. But I also know that my survival—indeed, any hope of thriving—depends on the healthy, equitable, and just survival of the whole, that my liberation is deeply and profoundly bound the to liberation of others. This is the troubling reality we all live in. And, if we accept it, give ourselves over to it, it is also the means not only of our salvation, but the hope of all who come after us.

But, if we are committed to a practical and meaningful justice, it seems evident that we will need to become willing to do the work of justice-imagining and just-action, first, within ourselves—uncovering our own biases, attachments, entitlements and fears of potential discomfort—before we can even hope to create meaningful change in our world.
If we have learned nothing else as variously located members of an oppressed collective, we ought to have learned by now that we cannot create the change we are not, ourselves, willing to be.

Perhaps, the most uncomfortable, troubling thing is knowing that nothing has really changed, in large part, because this thing we dream, the justice we seek, is a fledgling thing. It has never, really, existed, grown-up and matured. Cultures that came close were occupied, colonized, and appropriated by some form of empire. Creating the new thing will mean learning from the past and the present, imagining and re-imagining, practicing what we imagine, refining and perfecting it. It will mean doing this work together. It will require letting go of the comforting lies culturally transmitted and assimilated onto the worldview we cling to, unconsciously and consciously, as we march habitually toward the sticky, dangling fruit in the master’s orchard—the fruit that is killing us, bite by bite. Mostly, it will require being willing to change ourselves, our own individual ways of thinking, doing and being in our daily lives to create the needful change in the world.

Creating real change means waking from the dreamy stupor and interrogating the doctrinal tenets of capitalism and colonialism. It means rejecting the distracting euphoria of immediate gratification, owning and resisting our various entitlements and letting go of a right to comfort that exploitatively denies the same comfort to the many. Creating a meaningful justice means deconstructing our conditioned egocentric individualism by realizing that we, as individuals, come into being and become persons within a temporal condition of interdependence, mutually responsible, communal interconnectedness. It means disputing the lie of the self-made person. It means acknowledging the strength and defining features of our humanity lie not in our position, our relative comfort or individual successes, but in our relational nature, the exercise our compassion and concern for the most vulnerable among us, and our expression of accountability and obligation to one another.
Creating a just society means putting ourselves—our will, our imaginations, our hands and our feet—to the task of finally answering the question: will the high principles of believing in a humanity created equal in value and endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ever be both accessible and applied to all of us, or will these needful endowments remain the commodities of a self-preserving, self-appointed, greed-stricken and morally bankrupt elite?

Otherwise, nothing changes if nothing changes. And, if nothing changes, we remain servile imitators of the diseased, immoral, self-serving emperor we seek to dethrone.

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Invocation: November, 2017

There is a spirit, ancient and eternal, within and among us all,
holding us, binding us together across time and difference,
joining us in an ever-evolving web of interdependent, sacred abiding.

For this, let us be grateful.

There is a world we inhabit—beautiful, vulnerable; troubled by division,
misunderstanding, and fear; yet, there remains a lingering hope
we can repair it, perhaps transform it into something different,
something more: something compassionate and just.
We are part of this world; we are part of this hope.

For this, let us be grateful.

There is an earth, ancient too, fertile and threatened
by mistreatment and neglect, yet there is an earth,
for the time being, sustaining, still, all of us and all that grows,
swims and slithers, creeps, crawls
and flies—all that lives, abides and walks upon it.
There, too, is a sound, in breeze-blown leaves, streaming water,
cricket calls and birdsong, in the echoes of our ancestors,
whispering, “look…listen, take care,” reminding us:
We are of this earth and it is part of us.

For this, let us be grateful.

There is a people—vital and needful, invigorated
by a persistent being-ness, a particularity of personhood
in communal belonging; beautiful too, vulnerable,
and under threat; and yet: there is a people:
who daily dare resilience and some measure of thriving,
who dream, and hope, strive and contribute.
We are this people—we the living, who dare to persist.

For this, let us be grateful.

And to this, we are called:
to be a people, mindful that we are bound by an abiding relational spirit;
to be repairers of a nearly broken world and bearers of something sustaining;
to be walkers of the earth who look, listen, and respond:
to be a people who hope, who dare to persist, and who care for all the living.
To this, we are called and gathered. For this, we are reminded
to be grateful and to strive. May it be so.

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There Are Signs …

It’s that time of year when we are called to be still enough to reflect and express gratitude for all we have—even amid all that is troubling and not what we want, or perhaps, need it to be. These times we live in are, indeed, troubling and certainly not all that we want or need them to be.

And yet, the arc of human history reveals a paradoxical, but powerful truth: sometimes, our most difficult and trying times are precisely the times filled with the most promise and potential for meaningful and lasting change. It is also true that we humans, as a collective, seem to need for the call to seek transformative movement to become a nearly deafening roar so we may hear it.

In the din of revitalized racism, increased misogyny, classism, anti-LGBTQ sentiment and anti-transgender legalism; amid the cries of children and families in distress, food deserts, a planet in peril and willful capitalist neglect; in the shouts of mounting anti-immigrant nationalism—amid the droning of all the problems we face—the resounding call to measurable action is indeed roaring.
There are signs we, the people, are hearing the roaring call. There are even signs that we may be given to hope, inspired to reflect and empowered to act decisively and responsively for the world we desire.

It is hope-inducing to see eight openly transgender persons—especially transwomen and people of color—elected to positions of service at local and state levels. This we can celebrate, even as we acknowledge trans folks have always been serving in various and creative ways. It is significant that one of these persons, Danica Roem, has been elected to the House in Virginia. Yet, we also know from experience, that visibility is not necessarily (or always) a sign of acceptance—more, visibility is always fraught with risk and, often, danger. Visibility is, itself, an act of resistance; demands resilience, intelligence, and fortitude and carries responsibilities. We must remember this, even as we celebrate and hope. Our plight is not simple, nor is our ongoing intersectional work for an egalitarian justice.
It is all the nuance and complexity that makes it somewhat troubling, to me, for us to hear so many celebrating the idea that these persons have all been elected because they are transgender. I, for one, certainly hope not. I hope it is more than that.

Being allowed into spaces because we are transgender is not, itself, a meaningful or helpful goal. In fact, it simply perpetuates the ongoing trend of exoticism, exploitation, and commodifying consumerism of us—and our lives—we have endured for ages: the tension of being granted small spaces as entertaining personalities; curiosities to be consumed. Similarly, it adds to the threat. My hope—and, I think, a more meaningful goal—is that these trans persons have been accepted into these spaces, not because they are trans, but because being trans no longer excludes them. In such a case, their personhoods, gifts, talents, and contributions, as individual members of an interdependent collective, will be visible and honored. This is true, also, for all of us:
We will know we are seen and accepted as vibrant, valuable, contributive and necessary members of a diverse human community when we are given space and belonging not because we are trans, but rather, because being trans no longer excludes or prevents our being accepted and allowed to belong.

At the same time, the reality is that the movement to such a day—to a time when we are granted status as people of value, shaped and formed by our differences and our trans-ness—necessitates the presence of many among us who are willing to be exoticized and consumed, tokenized and exploited, visible and vulnerable. Given the overlapping and intersecting rings of our oppression, the closer one is to the jangling center where all those rings converge, the greater the vulnerability. And therein lies the trouble: the danger and the hope.

Sometimes, we are called to be willing to be seen as who folks think we are long enough to create an opening to be seen for who we actually are. And, isn’t this the core of all our human longing—to be seen long enough, perhaps deeply enough, for who we authentically are to be revealed in compassionate care, mutuality, and acceptance?

In my work, and in my travels, I encounter well-meaning people who too frequently ask: “can’t we all just be people?” My response is always twofold. Firstly, I too long for that day. Then, secondly, and most importantly, that day will not come as long as what defines being a person continues to be measured by the dominant narrative of a monolithic, universalized “person” of a particular socio-cultural invention.
That is to say, as long “people” are defined by being cisgender, predominantly male, heteronormative persons of white, Western European descent, with particular educations and particular economic statuses, then people who are not those “people” will continue to be “other” and be set to the margins. It is that simple.

At some point, if meaningful change is going to come, we as a culture must move from filtering through a personal experience accepted as a universal “norm” and begin to see that all of our social and cultural assumptions—and their systems—are based upon the perspectives, experiences, and goals of a small number of dominant-class persons. From there, we can begin to recognize the origins of these institutionalized assumptions and earnestly uncover the ways these narratives of human being-ness have been manipulated to privilege some and marginalize others. We need, also understand, collectively, that there are some people—very vocal and active people—who really do not want any meaningful change to occur. The truth is this is not so much about “us and them,” though on some significant levels that is true; it is more about learning that a society based upon egalitarian values is better for all of us.

Creating a society that deconstructs systems of privileging, provides for all its members, and works for the good of those who most need some measure of the good, will ultimately capture and care for all its members.  Centering the forgotten assures we are all remembered.
In fact, when our embrace captures everyone, on the farthest reaches, there are no longer margins, and we are all re-membered into a more full, actualizing, and vibrant community. We can all be people when we realize and value, in practical ways, that there as many ways to be a human being as there are now, ever have been, or ever will be human beings—and, more, when we value and care for all people by seeing and acknowledging our inherent human value, we are all made more humane. When such a day comes, then the exclusionary factors of race, gender, class, national origin, and other attributes will no longer exclude any of us because we will have done away with the need for exclusionary, marginalizing, privileging systems.

There are small, daily signs the call to collaborative and sustained response is being heard above the cries for liberation and justice. There are signs the means of making meaningful change are coming. My hope is we will be grateful for the signs—grateful enough to hear the call, feel renewed, and be increasingly inspired to work together toward a day when we are all re-membered into a new, more just, more expansive human community.

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A Different Response to the “Nashville Statement”

“Wake up, you who are in sound sleep, and slumberous people: stop hibernating, look into your deeds, repent and remember your Creator. Those who forget the truth in the vanity of time and wander in their sleep through nonsense and emptiness, which shall do no good nor save anybody, look into your souls and mend your ways and deeds, and each one of you shall forsake your errant paths and unworthy thoughts.” (Rambam)

The recent Nashville Statement, which followed 45’s ban on trans people in the military, is a fundamentalist, Evangelical last-gasp effort to unite and legitimize the Christian Right. Denouncing trans and queer folks, as well as those who love and support us, it is a particularly soul-less, anti-Torah, and anti-Christic document stuffed-full of condemnatory, self-righteous words.
Still… words matter. Hateful rhetoric harms. Impassioned vilifying language ignites fearful biases and incites multiple forms of aggression toward those targeted.
We trans and queer folks know the damage done by continuous, inescapable assaults on our very personhood. Surviving with some semblance of selfhood requires a range of skills that enable us to cope, develop systems of support, cultivate resilience and meet our daily needs. We develop creative ways to show up, make some meaning of our lives, and mentally turn down the incessant noise of negating messages.
All this, while tending the hyper-vigilance necessary to hear the proverbial twig snap behind us.
Because… the truth is, we are always in danger—some of us, more than others. Those who live without the protection of white skin, privileged access to resources, and the relative comfort of a perceived “appropriate” gender-blending presentation are in greater danger every day.

We live in a constant, droning hum of threat: to our psyches, our spirits, access to resources, the means of a daily life—and, to our flesh. We can turn down the internal volume, but we cannot turn off the nagging drone of danger. Truth is, we would perish if we did.
Any attempt to refute the Statement with counter theology might be well-intended, but serves only to pour good water out for bad. Worse, it gives credence to the very statement it proposes to refute. Still, many have chosen to make an article-by-article response to the Statement, attempting to meet proof-texting with proof-texting.

I much prefer to call the thing out for what it is.

The Nashville Statement is condemnation of personhood masquerading as biblical obedience. It is divisive, biblical gibberish and theological nonsense crafted to justify and legitimize the hate-based, self-serving agenda of soul-sick people. More, it is a morally-bankrupt doctrinal statement that squeezes, twists, and distorts scripture to fit it into a misshapen theological golem born of pre-existing bias—rather like pushing rich, earthy clay into a hideous pre-fab, plastic mold.
Bias informs their reading of scripture, not the other way around. In the same way that racism pre-exists and creates the construct of race, fragility-fueled hatred—plain and simple—begets doctrines that judge, vilify, and condemn human beings based upon their identities and self-understandings. Misogyny begets sexism which begets construction of gender binaries…which begets transphobia and homophobia.
And, of course, all of this is inherently tied to power: the amassing of resources and wealth by a self-appointed elite minority which secures its position by pitting the rest of us against each other, by whatever means necessary. The Nashville Statement is the intentional colonization and repurposing of scripture repeatedly employed to colonize land, peoples, and bodies. The “church,” writ large, has been doing this since its inception and collusion with empire.
There is little point in debating errant theology and its resulting doctrine. A mind that willing adapts to a hateful plastic mold and intentionally consents to cementing itself there cannot be reshaped. If we have learned nothing else from church history—or American history—we ought to have learned that proof-texting just leads to more proof-texting and undermines the apologist’s position as empty defense—which, of course, is what they want. I won’t be sucked into that.
My respect for scripture, and my love for those harmed, is too great.

Additionally, the Nashville Statement evidences an ancient, lingering double-speak.
Much of the content relies on select verses from the Hebrew Torah (the Five Books of Moses; what Christians call, the Pentateuch). Christianity, by definition, claims Jewish origins while judging and rejecting it. Christianity–writ large–generally, avoids a working, meaningful historical, cultural, or theological context for understanding Jewish scripture and practice. Christian thought, overall, does not have a frame of reference for more nuanced, contextualized readings of Hebrew scriptures. Nonetheless, Christian fundamentalists regularly co-opt Torah and put it on parade when it suits a pre-existing viewpoint, then reject “the law” when it does not.

For Christians to select a few verses from Leviticus (particularly) or other Hebrew texts and use them to legitimize their own doctrine is not only blatant hypocrisy, it is a flagrant, continuous anti-Semitic, re-purposed perversion of the Hebrew text. Moreover, when Christians invoke the prophets while simultaneously ignoring the heart of prophetic witness—seeking only justice, loving neighbor, and engaging social responsibility to all people, especially strangers, foreigners, and the outcast—the hypocrisy stands large.

The use of Christian texts in the Nashville Statement points to the ongoing failure to understand the religion, culture, and context of its claimed namesake, that fellow from Nazareth, Jesus. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Thus, he was called to seek the soul of the Torah, which he knew well, and to try to live it. Jesus was rooted in the heart of Torah; that heart is conduct—how we live the soul of the instruction.
For all its institutional bluster otherwise, the institutional “church” is anti-Christic. The Statement lives into a long, ugly history of embodying and proselytizing the exact opposite of everything Jesus taught—choosing instead, the conflation of “church” and empire, the death-dealing pursuit of worldly wealth and power, and the neglect and outright rejection of God’s people. The Nashville Statement is simply more of the same.
The Christian church has been on the wrong side of empire and the wrong side of history far more than it has ever been on the right side: the side of the prophets and of Jesus who followed them.

And, while I know many see me as a heretic—which I claim with pride if it means I’m recognized for refuting the sinful tradition of the imperialist church—I feel sure of this:
the Jesus we find in the gospels; the Jesus who up-ended the ways of empire; who lifted up the heart of the Torah, rooted in doing love, and lived it; the man who called us to love our neighbors and our enemies;
the Jesus who demonstrated, time and again, a preference for the outcast, the persecuted, the hungry, the sick, the marginalized;
the Jesus who did “women’s work” and fed the masses, healed the sick, tended and raised the dead, spoke to women and lifted them up, reached out to foreigners, and turned away no one;
the Jesus who called us to throw off the ways of empire, to sell all we have (rather than amass worldly wealth and power) and follow a way of living counter to the ways of the world, to divest ourselves of alignment to socio-political ways, means, and securities;
the Jesus who called us to do as he did and shake the dust off our feet when we are turned away for living counter to the ways of powerful, dominating men;
the  Jesus who accepted, cared for, and consorted with “sinners,” tax collectors, low-wage workers, sex-workers, widows and foreigners;
the same Jesus who taught the disciples the truth about eunuchs, recognizing all genders, sexes, and sexualities;
the Jesus who was, himself, marked by skin, heritage, and culture, and therefore, outcast, believed so much in his work he was willing to die for it;
this Jesus, my Jewish Jesus, weeps with us when everything he taught, demonstrated, and died for is co-opted by the very kinds of people he called out and whose ways he condemned.

So, my response to the Nashville Statement is not aimed at its crafters. I won’t give it credence by speaking to it. But, I will seek to counter it in my heart, my work…and my words.
Words matter.
To my trans, gender-expansive, gender-queer and queer siblings, I offer these words:
You are beautiful. You are valuable, necessary and wondrous manifestations of God’s imaging in a good and marvelously diverse creation. You belong. You have place. Your lives, your gifts, talents, questions, struggles, insights, and contributions—your very presence—is necessary to our ability to conceive of and understand a Creator who is vastly beyond our comprehension, transcendent yet always, somehow, near to us, present in us, and abiding among us. You make God bigger. You make us all bigger as individual images of God.
Without you, our human nature and our world, entire, is made small and enfeebled by the limited, insecure, self-centered and self-aggrandizing imaginations of small, power-mongering men. You are beautiful. You are necessary. You matter.

 

Posted in Sermons and Speeches, Trans-Politic: Political Musings | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Remembering and Imagining (Or…Looking Forward From Philadelphia)

When I was growing up in the 1960s, it was a particularly difficult time to be a child discerning a gender-identity different from one’s gender assigned at birth. In a time where everything our culture saw as normal and “just the way things are,” was being challenged—from whether war is ever just to the question of race and civil rights; from the nature and legitimacy of the “lesser sex” (women) to reproductive rights, naming only a few—those of us who questioned our gender were not well-received.

Like many of my generation, and those who went before us, I’ve spent a lifetime learning this: it takes a lifetime to become, fully, the person one has always been. The work of becoming is never one-and-done. And, ultimately, none of us does it alone.

Things are better now than they were then. But not by a lot. There is much work to be done.  This past week, I hit the road again, joining partners, colleagues and accomplices in the work at Philadelphia Trans Health Conference.

There, I found moments of the kind of world we can create, in the now, as we imagine and work for a society where we all, finally, are liberated, valued, free to be and have dignified, meaningful place in a common world. The work is difficult and slow going. Sometimes, it’s hard to hang on to the reason we do this work: the belief that we really can, together, change our troubled world.

Not every moment—or hour—was perfect. But there were moments, gifts perhaps, that rekindled my hope—a hope, lately, profoundly threatened. These moments are reminders: if we are willing to practice what we hope for, we can create and model the world we imagine, even as we work for and dream it.

The gift of collaboration:
when we mentally and emotionally commit to fostering collaborative spaces and projects;
when we set aside our fragile egos;
when we let go of the need to be the expert and embrace our unknowing;
when we set aside pent-up anger, acknowledge our fears, and embrace relational engagement;
when we place our shared vision above our personal attachments, we really can work together, learn from one another, contribute, grow, dare be changed, and create momentary revolutionary spaces. Those spaces, nurtured, can be transformed into lasting ways of being and acting in the world. Perhaps, then, moments can become hours; hours, days; days a new, just and life-giving cohabitation on a shared earth.

In these times, we don’t need more protective isolationism and fearful retreat into silos of safety and irrelevance. Now, we need visionary co-conspirators actively engaged in radical, revolutionary belief in the sanctity of all human life, love of mercy, and the doing of justice.

The gift of bravery:
            Believe it or not, bravery is contagious.
In world burning with a sweltering climate of hate, intolerance, violent aggression, and religious condemnation of trans/gender-expansive persons; in a world of heightened racism, classism, misogyny, anti-immigrant sentiments, and nationalism; it takes a fair amount of bravery just to leave the house—more, even, to do so expressing one’s gender self-understanding. It takes still more courage to gather, by the thousands, in a public building, daring to hold communities of support, learning, sharing, and change-making together. This, alone, is powerful.

But…when courageous, authentic presence is met with embracing the risky activities of listening to one another, holding dialogue, risking ourselves, and regarding disagreement and difference with grace and respect, seemingly small sparks of willingness can become flames that burn bright enough, long enough, to fight the fires of hatred with the fires of love, mercy, compassion and communal concern.
Bravery is contagious. Stand close; lean into risky, messy relational connection. Catch the fire.

The gift of remembering:
            As trans and gender-expansive persons, we live in a constancy of tensions. There are many: visibility against danger; invisibility against commodification and exploitation; isolation against tokenization; loneliness against rejection for coming out; the list goes on. Remembering, too, is set in tensions: desire to remember as part of self-understanding against things we’d rather forget; the work of remembrance in healing against those memories that are lost to us; the need of remembering our fallen while working for the living; remembering our profound resilience while striving for fuller, healthier lives that look to and imagine our future.

When we choose to come together in shared, supportive, risk-taking space, we can discover so much more than we can alone. And, we can be reminded that, ultimately, remembering is good.

Our past—personal and collective—is always with us. It shapes our present and informs our future. When we are held in community, we can remember in transformative ways. And, perhaps, we can be re-membered—put together and renewed in self-understanding; repositioned, given a sense of place and belonging, with ourselves and others.

And, finally, the gift of imagining:
            All our work for change, to my mind, is the work of imagining. So also, the work of healing; the work of community-building; the work of relationship-building.
Essentially, simply being trans is about imagining. We dare to live in the raw material of our bodies and lives, look deeply, sense and feel our way, and imagine bursting forth into the selfhood already present within us—then, we dare to make that personhood manifest. When we come together, opening the flood gates on all our vision-crafting, we can envision a way forward that leaves no one behind. That leaves no one unseen, un-cared for, un-imagined.

All these gifts of gathering came together for me in one poignant, amazing event.

Every year at the conference, there is a track for kids and adolescents. Many are trans in some sense of emerging self-understanding; some, the children of trans folks. They range in ages, races, ethnicities, family configurations, and personalities. This, alone, is a powerful thing.

In the afternoon of the last day, I was taking stroll through the vendor tables. Suddenly, there was the sound of noise-makers, laughing, and all manner of merry-making. People began clapping and cheering. I turned around to see what was going on.
There, marching through the hallway, was a parade of children—glorious, gender-expansive, beautiful children, accompanied by youth and adults who had been working with them. They waved rainbow and trans pride flags. Some were wearing rainbow tutus or hats. As they marched through the conference center hallways, everyone stopped, took notice, and celebrated them.

A joyful, affirming roar of clapping and cheers filled the building.

I watched them pass, remembering my own troubled becoming, aware of the gaps in my own memory. I breathed in their imagining made marvelous among us. For a moment, I imagined a world full of these children, perhaps growing to raise their own children, affirming them to be whoever is bursting forth within them. I envisioned what it must be like to be one of those children—to receive the collaborative gifts of those working with and caring for them, to receive being seen and celebrated by hundreds of trans and gender-diverse folks, queer folks, and allies. I reveled in their bravery. I remembered those whose courage and persistence brought us all to such a day. With the clapping of my hands, the cheers I shouted, I gave thanks.

Through trailing tears, and an uncharacteristically broad smile, I gave thanks for those children. As they moved into another hallway, met by more cheers and clapping, I gratefully wiped my eyes, and I noticed I was not alone.

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Deflection Politics: Tried and True Tactics

(Or…the Soothing Sound of Katydids)

It is evening here, in North Carolina, where House Bill 2 (the first of the “bathroom” bills) once loomed heavily, casting a storm of attention over our lives and giving the shelter of darkness to vigilantism and public policing of rest rooms all around us. Now, we live in the aftermath of the Bill’s year-long reign before the quasi-repeal, it’s protracted moratorium, and the reality that the damage was already done.

Repeal or no repeal, we gender-expansive folks had already been tossed onto the unholy alter of deflection politics and set ablaze, like a ritual bonfire before a sacrifice, drawing attention to our lives and inciting a special brand of hate-induced hysteria. Whereas, before HB2, trans and gender-diverse folks had lived in the relative safety of an equally troubling and problematic invisibility, large numbers of fearful people were suddenly all-too aware of us, empowered with false “education” about the danger we pose the “women and children” of decent people, and all frightened, unblinking eyes were watching anyone who looked like they might be trans…whatever that really looks like. Because there was, in the quasi-repeal, no acknowledgement of wrong-doing on the part of North Carolina law makers and there was no effort to correct the harmful misinformation invoked against us, the repeal-that-isn’t might as well never have happened. People who, for years, had been in public rest rooms with us and never knew it, people who had passed us, unaware, on city sidewalks and in shopping malls—people who sat next to us in movie theaters or, even more scandalous, in church pews—were, ever-after, turning a searching and suspicious eye to the person whose gender expression struck them as somehow off, somehow gender-transgressive.

The damage was done. The deflection from other pressing and important, though related, concerns stymying a just society was achieved. Issues of ruling-class power-mongering like the drawing of voting district lines, Medicaid expansion, living wage initiatives, and all manner of issues related to the lives and needs of the people at large were cast to the shadows of collective awareness as a huge, glaring light was cast on us and our unruly audacity to express our own gender self-understanding. It is no accident that HB2 was cast in the dark of night, in back office conversations and drafts, and approved the next day during a period of sustained political outcry (through the Forward Together movement) in response to the very issues that HB2 was crafted to divert.
This was, in fact, exactly the point.

The employment of deflection politics serves, at the least and immediately, two significant functions for the preservation of power. First and foremost, such tactics serve to increase negative public opinion toward a group of persons who are already outcast subjects of direct socio-political marginalization, fear, and hate-based discrimination. Thus, the already stigmatized become even more stigmatized; the already despised become more widely despised. The primary byproduct of deflection tactics is the creation of greater divisiveness among the populace, who are already competing for increasingly limited resources, and production of a measured unlikelihood that the people will unite against the governing elite. Consequently, emotional, verbal, and physical violence against such persons increases as the fear and hatred increase—if a few more of these persons meet with a bad end, it is no great loss, so the sentiment goes. To be clear, deflection politics begin with a pre-existing bias—or outright hatred—against a particular group and then pours accelerant on the existing, but low-burning fire.

The second intended function is that of diverting attention away from the other business as usual on the part of the governing body by creating an emotionally charged frenzy of fear, public panic, and outraged aggression in the general masses and an equal and opposing defensive, survival-based response in the targeted group. With a sufficient amount of distraction, the governing elite can engage all manner of other policy-making, legislation, and empire-building to preserve, increase, and promote their power. Deflection is an effective tool. And it has been employed by the powerful since the dawn of empire-building. In this country, deflection and scapegoating have been the tools of the powerful since the Crown began sending the poor, the unwanted, the low and expendable over here to build the colonies on indentured “contract” long before there were any Articles of Confederation, let alone a Constitution. The creation of increasingly creative deflection and scapegoating paradigms has kept people in divisive competition around a long list of contrived factors: gender, class, race, religion, ability, to name only the primary structural “isms” out of which all the other isms arise.
These are the continuing sins of our white European, cis-gender male, Christian predecessors.

It is nightfall, now. The summer sun has finally set on the day that He-Who-Is-Not-My-President utilized his primary method of enacting policy—Twitter—to announce his wish to reinstate the ban on transgender persons serving, “in any capacity,” in the armed forces. This, as we all watch with varying measures of anxiety, the evolving progression of yet another rest room Bill in Texas (SB 3).
The fire on the unholy alter flares.

The immediate and somewhat frenzied reactions to 45’s anti-trans tweet only serve to show how effective the tactics of deflection politics really are. My ability to pay attention to it all has worn as thin as the increasingly less humid evening air. The ether is practically sizzling with reactionary panic as if yet another in a long list of hate-speak tweets from our want-to-be emperor actually changes existing policy. It does not. Any change on the policy regarding transgender service in the military requires a decision from the Department of Defense. All the buzz is focused around this moment of distracting hate-speak. The deflection is working.
More than a potential to affect policy, 45’s tweet raises a greater kind of harm.

We gender-expansive folks, at various levels of experience, live in a rather constant state of inescapable exposure to all manner of negating, soul-wounding messaging. The effects of these messages on both our individual sense of self and our ability to cope are cumulative. Additionally, negative messages to our gender self-understanding are compounded when our lived experience intersects with other marginalized factors such as race, ability, or religious identity. When particularly harmful language (reminiscent of early American colonization) such as, “burden,” “tremendous disruption,” is spewed out into the public consciousness, followed by a call to “ban” these persons, it carries a certain emphasis. More, it invites others to follow suit.
The fires smolder on. Not unlike the southern, summer humidity that sticks the heat of the day to tender skin.

I wonder if our collective outrage might be more appropriately centered around the deeply problematic Presidential use of Twitter to spout derogatory, hate-instilling, and factless language that fans the flames of pre-existing bias against transgender and gender-diverse persons—or, for that matter, any other group. More pointedly, might it be worth our earnest analysis of why, collectively, we acquiesce to this behavior and, from there, vision-crafting a movement toward correction? Our collective, functional tolerance of this man’s continuous use of aggressively mean-spirited, hateful, and intentionally divisive language is a deplorable abdication of our own responsibility as citizens of the world, as well as our insidious participation in an ongoing oppression of ourselves and our fellow humans. These concerns, for me, are essential elements of conceiving ways to move resistance into purposeful action and action to meaningful, sustainable change—the ponderings that keep me up at night these sticky, summer nights.
In the meantime, this night, the air is finally cooler and the screened porch is an old friend, calling me to quieter reflection. The katydids are singing, accompanied by crickets. And, lulled by night-songs, my thoughts turn to other things: like, the marvel of how soothing it is to listen, deeply, to the rhythmic, harmoniously layered, pulsing drone of katydids, given subtle texture by the resonate crickets. There is no silence like this silence.
The questions will keep. And, in the lush absence of hate-speak, I’m reminded tomorrow is another day.

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