Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Big is Your God? Transgender Day of Remembrance Service, November 17, 2013; Lorraine

On November 17, MCCW commemorated Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20, 2013). One of our congregation members spoke, and here is her message.

How Big is Your God?

Transgender Day of Remembrance Service 2013

How big is your God?

If you ask most people that question they will assume that you are talking about the teaching of their religion and they might start listing the attributes of God such as:
  • Omnipotence – God is all powerful
  • Omniscience – God is all knowing
  • Omnipresence – God is everywhere

But what I want to know is how big is your God – the one who lives in your heart and mind and in whom you believe.  The atheist says that God does not exist so their God is very, very tiny (sorry ‘bout that but there really is a God).  For those we would label as “saints” or spiritual “mystics” we might say that their God is probably very big.

Now the reason I ask this question is that almost six years ago now when I began to discover the truth about myself – who I really am – I found that my God was too small.  What I had been taught and my own self-study (in line with what I had been taught of course) told me that my God could not accept me as a transgender person.  In fact I felt that I had become an “abomination” to God and that I needed to abandon my faith in order to fully discover my true self.

The problem is that when your God is too small a lot of bad things can happen.

I know that Stephen Colbert is probably seldom quoted in church but when he said in the October 2013 issue of Readers Digest:  “In God’s eyes all children are beautiful, but here on Earth we have higher standards.” it’s worth taking a second look.  Of course as a satirist his remarks are meant to be “taken with a grain of salt” and to spur us to look at what he says, chuckle, and conclude that the real truth of course is that God has the higher standard. 

Unfortunately, if your God is too small then Colbert is right and Earth’s standards trump God’s.

If your God is too small then it doesn’t take too many generations before “God’s people” try and “help” God by seeking to “clean up” the world so that the world will be a more “righteous” place and therefore God will be pleased.  For example the Newfoundland legislature just added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to its Human Rights Code and a pastor, “a Christian minister of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ” said “I believe the Christian church should be dedicated to defending the honor, dignity, value and equality of the two sexes as created in God's image, male and female, each bringing unique qualities to sexuality and relationships”.  Never mind that this has nothing to do with God’s commission for the church in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations” (that is followers of Christ) and “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands that I have given you”.  Never mind that the Bible in John 16:8 says that it is the job of God’s Spirit to “convict the world of sin and of righteousness”. 

If your God is too small you can do the job yourself and not just convict but carry out sentencing as well.  Why not!

If your God is too small then the move from trying to “stand up for God’s truth” to, as one author puts it granting “to ourselves a divine omniscience that allows nothing in life to fall outside the dominion of our knowledge”.  With this mindset it is a small simple step to the attempt to rid God’s creation of those whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity or other non-conformity that we see today.

One of the more visible and unfortunate results of this attitude is the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance which is held on November 20 each year.  This year unfortunately we remember the 238 killings of trans* people in the last year from November 20, 2012 to November 1, 2013.  (Since November 1st there have been more – last weekend (Nov 8 – 10) there was one in VA and another one just across the river in Detroit.)  We will be placing a list of names on the altar later and lighting a candle as a memorial.

Based on a US survey an estimated 3.5 percent of adults in the United States identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and an estimated 0.3 percent of adults are transgender. Therefore the assumption is that approximately 1 in 12 LGBT community members – about 8 percent of the LGBT population – identifies as trans* and yet according to a study from the Anti-Violence Project (AVP), 40% of all anti-LGBT murder victims in 2011 were transgender women.

Not only were these trans* people killed, for the most part they died badly: their deaths were brutal and savage in the degree of violence expressed by their killers.

Every year, the trans* community falls victim to countless acts of violence that are vastly underreported and frequently swept out of the media. Many, if not most, transgender murder cases go unsolved, leaving the victims and their families without closure and without due justice like Rita Hester who’s death in 1998, still unresolved, led to the beginning of the TDoR. By commemorating those on TDoR who have lost their lives simply for being themselves, we help raise awareness of the injustices that are taking place in our communities and around the world. It is more than a vigil, more than a memorial service; it is a global cry to end discrimination and violence out of ignorance and intolerance.

To quote H. Adam Ackley, Ph.D. an ordained minister, Church of Brethren; professor of theology and philosophy and author from “The Arts of Living and Dying: Spiritualities for Transgender Day of Remembrance”

“The International Transgender Day of Remembrance ….. is an occasion not only to rightly grieve and mourn our slain trans* sisters and brothers but to remind those of us who survive to celebrate and value our own continued survival on a day-to-day basis rather than surrendering to the fear and despair that this focus on transphobic  violence could kindle in us.”

Byrgen Finkelman in an article entitled “The murdered we must not forget” quotes the Babylonian Talmud: ‘Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.  And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’  He goes on to say “The loss of the human beings we remember on the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a loss that diminishes us all.”

So, having already said that I found my God to be too small, why am I here today and why do I still consider myself to be an “evangelical, fundamentalist, born again Christian”?  No, the term “Transgender Christian” is not an oxymoron!

Perhaps I had “abandoned” God but God had not abandoned me.  God continued to “show up on my radar” and I could not deny the truth of God’s existence.  So, if God exists and is truth and who I really am is also truth then logic dictates that those two things must be part of the same truth, what do I do then?  The only thing I could do was to allow God to be big enough to include me and my truth.  Trying to make my truth big enough to include God would have ended up with my God being too small.

What happens then when you let God become big enough?

1.         Your theology changes. 

I couldn’t find a better example than in an article by Morgan Guyton, Associate Pastor, Burke United Methodist Church and ally entitled “Can God Make People Who Don't Fit Into Our Boxes? The Transgender Question”:

“Nothing is a greater abuse of the Christian doctrine of humanity’s "fallen nature" than to use it as a means of dismissing other peoples' created uniqueness as a mistake. The fact of the matter is that the Bible says nothing prescriptively about what people should do when the gender that they were assigned at birth is not the gender with which they identify, or about how to distinguish the people who are “really" that way from the libertines who are "faking it." In fact, in Matthew 19:12 Jesus refers to "eunuchs who were born that way," the term "eunuch" broadly representing the ancient concept of people who don't fit in the world as regular males or females. When Christians try to turn Genesis 1:28's statement that "God created them male and female" into a prescriptive prohibition of the acknowledgment of transgender identities, it's about as reasonable as saying that astronomy is a sin because Genesis 1:14 says that stars are lights that God built into a dome in the sky. (Oh, wait! That sounds like what the church did to Galileo and Copernicus.)

The real reason that, in such Christians’ minds, transgender or other gender-nonconforming people cannot be allowed to exist is that they represent an existential threat to the conservative evangelical fetish of gender complementarity. If God created some people both male and female, then how in the world can their gender expression and/or sexual orientation be adjudicated and policed by others? The biblical prohibition on homosexuality and gender transgression becomes meaningless if we can't say for sure that everyone is either fully male or fully female, which would mean that cisgender, heterosexual Christians don't get to give themselves a gold star for being ‘normal.’

What goes on inside the bodies and minds of transgender people is a mystery whose opaqueness we simply have to accept. To presume dismissively that they are fallen creation or self-indulgent romantic libertines has nothing to do with one's fidelity to God's truth (which remains beyond our grasp on this matter).

I give God permission to create people who don't fit into my boxes. And I hope that one day there won't be any more hype about it, either from the liberals who want something to show the world that they're "open-minded” about or from the conservatives who want something to supposedly "stand up for God's truth" about. I just hope that in the future, families of trans* kids (people like Heath and Jazz) will be able to quietly make the decisions that need to be made so that their children can live in their bodies the way that the vast majority of us are privileged to live.

2.            If God is big enough to include you and your truth then you discover that you are not alone!  There are many more like yourself.

·         Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college, recently decided to fire a theology professor named Heath Adam Ackley (formerly Heather Clements) for coming out as transgender.  Ackley’s powerful witness to live in spirit and in truth will have incredible impact on at least a few people in the university because they are listening, paying more attention to who the kingdom of God really looks like, and recognizing that how they may be living their lives doesn’t represent the full measure of what it means to have a life of faith. These are at the heart of what good allies, especially allies of faith can do.

·         Ari South, whose fashion line uses her former name, Andy South, was a top three finalist on season eight of Project Runway.  In an interview with PBS in Hawaii she was asked “You mentioned that you center yourself in the word of God. How were you able to reconcile your transition with your faith, and do you have any words of encouragement for people struggling with the same issue?”

She answered “I don't mind sharing about my faith. I wish more individuals did. My walk with God is between God and I. LGBT issues are not in opposition of religion if that religion is based on the Spirit and the foundation of Love and non-judgment. I used to struggle a lot with questions of myself being deserving of God's love and time and time again, God has shown me that I am who I am because the purpose God has for my life is much greater than my own understanding. Remembering that my faith is based in an ongoing relationship with God and rooted in unconditional love, I was able to find peace with myself and my faith.

My God teaches to love all people, including enemies. God teaches to not pass judgment. I will never be perfect, but I strive to love like God. I don't have the answers that would make everyone satisfied with my explanation of my spiritual connection, but what I can offer as encouragement in finding the answers is to always ask yourself if your intent is right - If you are living in truth or hypocritically saying one thing while thinking another.

I know that God hears everything I think and everything I feel. Knowing that keeps me accountable for my actions and my actions toward others are based on what I think God would want me to do. I have gotten rid of the idea that we are deserving of an eye for an eye a long time ago. It has allowed me to accept those that oppose me and to not let them kick me as I take the high road to love on them anyway. Hopefully one day we will all learn to live in harmony with one another where our intent is based in greater good and community.”

·         Allyson Robinson, (a transwoman and) an ordained Baptist minister, spent more than a decade praying for her own resolution. She pleaded, “God make me strong enough to resist this temptation.” But nothing happened. Robinson tried to understand why God had not answered her prayers. She tried to interpret God’s silence theologically and came up with a few good Baptist options: 1. The God that she had been praying to didn’t exist; 2. God wasn’t who she thought God was. God wasn’t compassionate, and God didn’t care about her suffering; 3. God was causing this suffering for God’s own glory; 4. God was causing the suffering to keep Robinson humble. None of those explanations were satisfactory. But one day, she had a revelation. She, said, “The reason God had not fixed me was because I was not broken.”

If your God is big enough then you look at passages such as our reading from Luke 21 and instead of despair, you can sing the “Songs of Praise for Salvation” that we read in Isaiah chapter 12.  I’d like to quote it again but this time from the New Living Translation (inclusive):

In that day you will sing:
    “I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
    Now you comfort me.
2 See, God has come to save me.
    I will trust in God and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song;
    God has given me victory.”
3 With joy you will drink deeply
    from the fountain of salvation!
4 In that wonderful day you will sing:
    “Thank the Lord! Praise God’s name!
Tell the nations what God has done.
    Let them know how mighty God is!
5 Sing to the Lord, for God has done wonderful things.
    Make known God’s praise around the world.
6 Let all the people of Jerusalem shout God’s praise with joy!
    For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.”

How big is your God?