Some days we can glimpse why we were put on this earth. Yesterday was one such moving moment for me, as I led a short rite for a soul friend preparing for gender affirmation surgery. We made no extra special great fuss about this. Nor should we have to, for such signs of grace for LGBTI+ people are really very natural, if our world would but allow itself to know it. Yet it was profoundly significant in the journeys we are making at this time. For today's sea-change of understanding gender and sexuality not only brings healing and hope to specific individuals. It also offers vital hope and healing to tired aspects of our society, not least to religious groups and their members. In a profound sense it is thus sacramental: helping to reveal what has been hidden, opening up and helping to sustain fresh pathways of life and transformation. Our short rite yesterday was like that. It publicly honoured deep movements of life and spiritual wrestling which have not only been unacknowledged and unsupported, but often tragically dismissed and disastrously resisted. It also proclaimed that new life for all of us is to be found in the tender solidarity of us all, in the mystery of God's extraordinary and abundant grace and diversity. Our 'transgender' rite was just a small part of our usual Milton Anglicans Sunday parish eucharist. As such however, it was no 'hole in the wall' secret ceremony, but a truly grounded and open affirmation both of a remarkable sacred particular person and of our growing sense of what it means to re-create community and 'church' today. It felt like a renewing movement of spirit for our community, certainly for my own sense of priesthood, and a re-presentation of what it means to be differently ordered bodies together in the body of Christ. It also made us wonder why such things are not expected in the life of all spiritual communities...
I wonder how many sermons you’ve heard about eunuchs? Not many I would guess. Yet is actually quite extraordinary how many eunuchs are mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps the story from Acts of the Apostles (chapter 8 verses 26-end) might be one we do recognise. Many others however are simply passed over. Jesus for example spoke positively about eunuchs and his words are recorded in Matthew chapter 19. Very little is ever said about that and some people do not even know those verses are there. Even the story we hear today is also usually interpreted without too much attention to the specifics of the person baptised. This is all very sad. For it misses out some very powerful messages for us, for the Church, and for the world, not least those, like the Ethiopian eunuch, who are quite different kinds of people to many expected norms. It is one of those very many ‘queer’ stories in the Bible which speak of a very ‘queer’ kind of God and mission…
How often, I wonder, has a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender Christian been attacked as a religious, moral, or logical 'impossibility', 'a contradiction in terms', a living oxymoron? Pretence and deceit are certainly themes which hover around gender diverse people and discussion of our lives and sense of being. Spiritually speaking, such features are typically regarded as unhealthy. Whilst, for instance, there are some positive stories of trickery in the Bible (notably in the case of the patriarch Jacob), these are usually the sign of a wayward, scheming, selfish or misdirected person. Later transitioning religious people are thus frequently caught in certain traps as they become the more 'authentic' selves God calls them to be. On the one hand, we may be called people of pretence and deceit by those who refuse to accept the realities of our identity. On the other hand, we may be attacked for hitherto seemingly living lives that were not true or misleading. At the very same time, we may also be dealing with our own shame, guilt, and confusions about what we may have 'pretended' to be. Yet, as we are reminded in both the powerful scriptural text of 2 Corinthians 6, and a just published book Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Christians: Queer Christians, Authentic Selves (by Bronwyn Fielder & Douglas Ezzy, Bloomsbury Press 2018),, we may be 'treated as impostors but are true' (2 Cor 6.8b)...
(This post was written for the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2018 - check out others' posts here)
As I have frequently affirmed. I profoundly agree with John O'Donohue that:
once we see God as an artist, everything changes
Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become
(in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).
I also continue to hold that, at its best, the church (in the words of the great Catholic Modernist Fr.George Tyrrell) is an 'art school of divine-majesty'. In other words, as a human being, I am both a creative force myself (in the image of God the great creative) and a product of arts of living, belonging and believing which have brought me forth and shape me afresh. In particular, as a trans woman in 'transition', I am an unique art-work. So what kind of 'art-work' am I?...
Transitioning - the 'reason for the season'? Reflect on it... and rejoice...
Christmas is such a radical upsetting of so many supposed 'norms' that it really shouldn't need anyone to point out how extraordinarily 'queer' it is. Richness in poverty, light in the darkness, new life from the margins, wisdom with the outsiders, God's home among refugees: and all with such gorgeous elements as angels, a sparkling star, shiny gold, special perfume and healing oils. Above all, the core of the story is divinity transitioning into humanity, God becoming enfleshed in the evolving body of creation. After all that, what is male-female, female-male, or non-binary transition? - spiritually speaking, are they not other particular expressions of the gospel truths of incarnation, renewal and flourishing? How strange it is that some Christians have difficulty with gender diverse people! May God bless all seeking the fullness of authentic life and the transforming power of love.
(with thanks to enfleshed for the picture and inspiration)
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: