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

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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Is Advent Waiting on Us?

We are moving through the days of Advent—anticipating the coming of the Anointed One. This, in fact, is what Messiah means—from the Hebrew, “mashiach,” which arises from the practice of anointing kings with oil. From this, we are given the Greek translation-word, Christ: anointed one. In Christian tradition, we generally assimilate this, assuming we comprehend it. At advent, we await the coming-again, the return of the anointed, the Light born into our world—a force, itself, fragmented into smaller and smaller isolated flickers in a world that seems to grow increasingly darker. A world, we could say, where there is less and less lighted room at the inn.

Yet each year, we wait, looking for the advent of this hoped-for thing. We attend services, read familiar scriptures, sing songs we know by heart, and perhaps, walk with lighter, hopeful steps. Then, on Christmas morning, we fall into the frenzy of gift getting and giving, eating and fellowshipping, and retire amid piles of crumpled paper, gift bags and new things to put away. We may, indeed, have loved a little more deeply, felt a little closer to some sense of Holy Abiding, been a little more grateful and more prayerful. Too often, however, the nebulous, hoped-for shift in our individual—and certainly, our collective—spiritual disposition remains hoped-for. We are less changed than grateful for the few days off, less transformed than weary, less inspired than merely hopeful we will simply have what we need to return to the real world and manage the daily movement of our lives.

Maybe because of our ever more troubling times, maybe because of my own growing awareness of longing for spiritual deepening…or maybe, simply, because another year has passed and I’m not getting any younger, I find myself more and more curious about this season in our faith. I look for something known, yet vaguely, something I may have missed or over-looked, like the woman in Luke searching for the lost coin. I search and wonder for myself, but also for us as trans/LGBQI people—people for whom, also, there is no room at the inn.

Traditionally, Christian faith teaches us to wait in the dark times for some future divine intervention: the long-awaited second coming of our Savior, the One who will deliver all of us displaced, disregarded, and down-trodden from travail and oppression. Honestly, this has always perplexed me, mostly because it is so inconsistent with what Jesus seems to have been teaching, by parable and demonstration.
The Jesus of the gospels was not one who waited. Jesus was a doer. Jesus, this Jew from Nazareth, claimed to discern and follow The Way God calls us to, and said repeatedly, “follow me”—an instruction to do as he was doing. Jesus demonstrated how to live the spirit of the Torah: a way to co-create God’s hoped-for world by doing the things that will achieve it. These are things, it seems, the church writ large—not to mention, our culture—has yet to figure out how to do. If it had, there would no longer be folks for whom there is no place at the inn, let alone at the table. Somehow, this follow-me, in the practice of faith, came to be about beliefs and creeds and waiting on the Anointed One: the one who has already come.

This One clearly understood himself to be anointed in the context of his time: a person chosen, designated in some way, and appointed to lead. I’m drawn to pondering Jesus’ use of the word we translate as salvation—a word, since, oddly associated with this far-off, yet-to-come intervention on which we wait; a word concerned, long now, with the state of our eternal souls rather than the state of our world. The Hebrew word for salvation, yeshuah, comes from the root, yasha, which means to be or to make wide. Danger and evil are narrow spaces—places where circumstances are closing-in; where enemies are surrounding; where things are tight. In this context, yasha also means victory. Thus, the Meshiach is the one who creates victory in the narrow place, who saves us from trouble, and delivers us safely into a wide space.
The thing that most gets my attention is a thing we know, at least vaguely, but lose sight of, like the woman with the lost coin: that a man who was himself in the narrow space, for whom there was no room, is the very one who acts, demonstrating a way to salvation in the crushing circumstances of the world.

Perhaps, it’s possible, that real salvation comes, not from some waited-for divine intervention into a far-off future, but in the here-and-now inspiration that moves us to act for our own deliverance. Maybe this is the point of the follow-me. If so, then the waited-for return of the Anointed One has already come, time and again, across time and place, and we were so distracted by looking and waiting, we missed it. If so, then it just might be that we are the anointed one, returned among us, everywhere. Perhaps, if we dared to follow the way of Jesus and do as Jesus did, we would find ourselves delivered, miraculously, into the wide space in our hearts where God truly lives and intervenes.
If so, it may just be the awaited advent is waiting on us.

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The Problem of Sexual Misconduct and the Ignobility of Privilege

“When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated
emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights
of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.”
Frederick Douglass

As many of us are, I have been paying curious attention to the growing list of prominent men who are being called out for sexual misconduct and are now resigning, either willingly or under duress, as a response to their unacceptable behavior.
There is no question in my mind that these men—for their own sakes and for ours—vitally need consequences for their behavior; more, however, they need to be held accountable for a deeper recognition of the problem that leads to amends—to meaningful change, not only in themselves, but in our culture. The insidious truth is this: their behavior and the underlying ethos that creates the objectification, commodification, and exploitation of women’s embodied selves are not anomalous; these behaviors are normative aspects of our history, our current culture, our institutions and social systems. These are not merely a few bad apples; they are perpetrators of a behavior more common than we admit.

The reality is that we have made only symbolic, patriarchally permissive, and contextualized progress from the days of antiquity when women were, legally and culturally, property. While advances have been made legally and socially regarding access to resources, position, and particular privileges, women are, symbolically and practically, still the property of a colonizing system of privileging—which is to say, women are still property of enculturated maleness. There is and always has been, philosophically and practically, a direct relationship between the colonization of land and the colonization of bodies. This is so, first, by designation of gender—across culture and history—and, then, by designation of the other social inventions of race, class, sex and sexuality, ability, education, etc.

Further, through systems of patriarchal permissiveness, there is a direct qualitative and quantitative correlation between a woman’s freedom of movement and position and her alignment with white, European, androcentric patriarchy. Said more pointedly, white women are afforded more liberty of movement and access to resources than are women of color; cis-gender women are afforded more freedom and access than are women who are otherwise-women. Women educated in white European educational systems are awarded more position and access than those who are not. And, always, women who by voice and action support and perpetuate the views and values of the self-appointed elite are rewarded with even greater access, position, and freedom of movement. (i.e.: remember Anita Bryant and the Save the Children Campaign) Always, however, regardless of allotted freedom of movement, voice, and access, a woman’s body suffers the status of property. The underlying, culturally transmitted belief—one which is deeply dualistic and reductionist—is that a woman’s body is still fair game on the daily hunting ground of self-absorbed males seeking power and dominion: the ego-consoling, masculinity-affirming acts of conquest, made all the more intoxicating when the object is another person and the act is physically gratifying.
From rape-culture college campuses to domestic relations, from corporate offices to doctor’s offices, from street corners to clergy offices and confessionals, from casting couches to ordinary job interviews—however subconsciously or unspoken—from back rooms to the Oval Office, the personhood of a woman is reduced to her body. Women are still colonized, on the landscapes of their bodies, by those who wish to occupy them.
Given this reality, it is not difficult, at all, to see how readily this belief system—rooted in the core belief of male primacy—morphs and twists into the colonization of other bodies.

And, this, this belief system—so embedded in historical culture as to be, simultaneously,  subconsciously assimilated and, culturally and institutionally, consciously transmitted—is both the core problem and the very thing that is protected by the mere removal of a handful of sacrificial men unfortunate enough to be named by women who, fed-up and sick and tired, find their voices. These men, and all others who have sexually mistreated, exploited, and demeaned women, do indeed need to be called out, held accountable, and served up a healthy dose of consequences. But this idea of consequences must involve and employ more than the mere admission of guilt. The pronouncement of guilt, alone, is not enough to create transformative change in an individual person. It certainly is not enough to generate social change.

Wise feminist poet, essayist, activist and warrior, Audre Lorde, reminded us of this truth some time ago when she asserted: “guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness” (Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches).

The deeper, more real problem is that we live a culture that privileges. Period. Moreover, we have accepted this—both actively and passively—as normative, as the way things are and must be. And, historically, culturally, and psycho-spiritually, we have done this—as human beings—to our own detriment. Privileging, by nature, exists upon the exploitation and exclusion of others. The consequences are not only to the un-privileged, the exploited and the excluded—though theirs is palpable, observable and measurable; the consequences are to the privileged, as well, who are prevented from a fuller, more meaningful and purposeful realization of selfhood and belonging. The privileged suffer an aimlessness of selfhood and dislocation of shared humanity that no amount of position, resources and addiction-to-more can cure.  Human relationality, to be fully realized, meaningfully, necessitates the status of equal value.
As long as we tolerate—and thus, continue to foster—a culture of privileging, we will continue to tolerate and foster a culture of androcentrism, gender polarity, and biological essentialism. This means, we will never achieve a society in which all of us live in liberty of fear and exploitation and are free to become and be fully who we are. No meaningful human potentiality is achieved, fully, unless the potentiality of each person is afforded liberty of possibility. Fundamental to this is the sovereignty of bodies. As long as we tolerate and foster systems of privileging, we will never achieve the noble status of our shared humanity.

So, what of these men (and those, no doubt, soon to follow)? What is the nature of the nobility Douglass spoke of achieving?

Clearly, all this is complex. And I am in no way doing the fullness of it justice here. But it does seem equally clear that mere admissions of guilt and the loss of some position are not sufficient. We know, in fact, that in a culture that iconicizes elite members of our ruling class and celebrates their endless parades of public performance, if a largely symbolic punishment of their sins is the culmination of their consequences, we will soon see them lifted into celebrity as the “fallen men” who now give speeches and write books and profit from their sins. (i.e.: remember Bill Clinton; or worse, Jerry Falwell, or Jim Bakker…need I go on?)
What is required of them, and their countless peers, is a meaningful and measurable movement toward amends. It is necessary that they take responsibility for doing the hard, personal, inward work of conversion. When I use the word conversion, I am speaking of the elemental process of being changed from one condition—one state of being, position, or set of beliefs—to another condition or state of being. The internal condition of these men needs be transformed in a such a way that they are no longer the same persons as they once were and, having been fundamentally changed, they no longer move and have their being in the world as they did before they were converted. Such conversion is evidenced by:
~ a practical and significant understanding of the nature of their beliefs and behavior;
~ acceptance of personal responsibility for having chosen, actively, to think and behavior as they did, by habit and matter of course;
~ and a commitment not only to refraining from doing it again, but to deeper personal awareness and insight regarding what it means for them to develop, be guided by, and foster a real and present respect for the personhood of women, for women’s bodies and personal sovereignty, for the dignity of all persons, and for the inherent right to live free from fear of domination, exploitation and abuse.
Further, this conversion will be meaningful and measurable by their willingness to go forth changed and participate actively—and without monetary compensation—in the education of others, in the diligent and continuous work for change.

We cannot allow the continuation of changelessness. The nobility Douglass refers to is that of living into and acting upon the humane disposition of our shared humanity that can only be found in compassionate, relational, interdependent, egalitarian community with other humans. Every act that brings us closer to the day when such a humane disposition is the way of things affords us of glimpses of our noble potentiality.



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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.


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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.

Posted in Trans-Politic: Political Musings, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment