The Gender Spectrum: A Workshop, A Blogpost, A Poem

“Sexuality is who you go to bed with.

Gender identity is who you to bed as.”

So sayeth the authors of The GENDER Book at a workshop I attended last night.

two of the three authors of the GENDER book

two of the three authors of the GENDER book

In the summer and fall of 2010, there was an unprecedented rash of suicide deaths of gender-variant youths in this country. Yes, there are higher rates of self-injury and death by suicide by young people who identify on the GLBTQ continuum, but to my (limited) knowledge, it was not clear why so many in such a short period of time. For whatever reasons, this concentration of unnecessary deaths could not be explained away by increased media attention.

It was devastating. It was heart-breaking. It was a call to action.

Though there were already organizations and individuals trying to address the problem of increased vulnerability to violence, bullying, homelessness, and economic scarcity, new responses to that call emerged. One was Dan Savage’s widely-heralded It Gets Better Project (which has its detractors, too, because sometimes, it doesn’t get better, or sometimes, it get more better for gay white men than for trans* people of color).

The workshop took place in the main chapel at my seminary.  Yes: in the chapel of a seminary. This is holy work.

As clergy and clergy-to-be in liberal religious traditions, as people of faith and conscience, we are called to understand how gender and sexuality and sexual orientation and identity function (on their own and at their various intersections, as well as with intersections of other important cultural markers, like class and race).

We are called to engage folks in compassionate conversations, wherever they or we are on the gender continuum.

We are called expand our personal and denominational horizons in the realm of human sexuality.

We are called, over and over, to learn the lingo, which shifts and changes like the fluid topic it is trying to describe.

  • Just what is “genderqueer”?
  • What does it mean when someone uses the word “cisgender”?
  • What happened to the word “trans*” when they started putting that asterisk at the end?

When my mother gave birth to me, the doctor said, “It’s a girl!” All my life, I have felt this was true. This means that the label “cisgender female” describes me – in fact, itFB Cis Female’s the one I chose when Facebook changed their options from male/female to a long list (over 50!) options.

This isn’t true for all people – the genitalia with which they were born on the outside may not be how they experience themselves on the inside.

I had already learned that like sexual orientation, gender identity exists not on a either/or system (he/she) but on a continuum. I know this to be true based on my experience of sexual orientation as a bisexual person in the world, so it makes sense to me that gender exists outside the binary system. The folks at the GENDER book call it the “gender spectrum:”

A continuum ranging from the extremely masculine to the extremely feminine, including also the infinite number of gendered states in between. More inclusive, but not exhaustive of all gender possibilities.

genderbooks ovalCreated by three awesome individuals, the illustrations are cool, the information is timely, the content is based on real lives sharing their lived experience with all of us so that we might be more likely to embody Beloved Community. I recommend this book. Take a look here.  There is even a 6-page version that one can print out and share widely as an educational and awareness tool.

And if you don’t have a satisfactory answer to the questions above, here and here and here and here are some places you might be able to find more information.

On a final note, while the fine folks at the GENDER book were writing and drawing and trouble-making, my response to that horrendous spate of suicides was the poem below. It’s not nearly as cool, but it’s my contribution to that tragic moment in history:

Let the Foul Harpies Starve

The Harpies, feeding then upon its leaves,
Do pain create, and for the pain an outlet.
(H.W. Longfellow’s translation of
Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto XIII)

Harpies in the infernal wood, from Inferno XIII, by Gustave Doré, 1861 (public domain)

Harpies in the infernal wood, from Inferno XIII, by Gustave Doré, 1861 (public domain)

May their incessant
appetite remain unsated,
let them be sickened
at first taste,
let their feet catch fire
should they try to land
on the hearth
of your branches.

Let them find
sustenance elsewhere.
Perhaps among those
who damned you
without ever meeting you,
who taunted you
from afar and
to your face,
those who denounced you
before you were even born.

This knotting and twisting
we inflicted upon you
in this worldly hell,
forced within narrow confines
of who should love whom,
may it have ended the moment
you took your own life.

May you find the friends,
the allies, even the foes,
who know your true light,
and reflect it,
bright, shining,

May you find
not only the peace,
we could somehow
not afford you,
not only the justice
we denied you,
but the loving lover
meant just for you,
meant to make you
laugh ‘til you cry
and when you are crying,
make you laugh belly-busting
hiccupping guffaws.

May you find that lover
meant to hold you,
to embrace the all of you,
the whole of you,
and most assuredly,
the queer of you.

Posted in OWL, Standing on the Side of Love, Unitarian Universalism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance: Reclaiming Genesis

November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  This blog post, some of my best Biblical scholarship, is dedicated to this day.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgender people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence. (Gwendolyn Ann Smith)

Let’s go back to the very beginning.  A very good place to start…

genesis-bibleWell, let’s go back to A beginning, not necessarily the beginning.

In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Then God created a bunch of other things, waters separated from waters, vegetation, night and day, a whole bunch of things.  In the second chapter of Genesis, likely written by a different source than the first chapter, God eventually creates human beings, first a man, then a woman from the man’s rib.

But in that first chapter of Genesis, the creation story is told differently

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind (ha’adam) in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Well, the Bible wasn’t written in English, so we have to rely on various English translations, like this one, from The New Revised Standard Version Bible (chapter one, verses 26 and 27).  What is interesting about this is when this translation says “humankind” they are trying to use inclusive language because it was written in 1989.  In contrast, the RSV, which was written in 1901, uses the word, “man.”

In Hebrew, the phrase that is being translated is actually “ha’adam.”  God created the adam.    This might call to mind the Bible’s version of the first man, conveniently named Adam.  But ha’adam let’s us know we aren’t dealing with a proper noun.

Guess what the word for soil or earth is in Hebrew?  Adamah.  Earth.  Soil.  So the being that God created was not so much, or very much at all, man; that being was earthling: adam comes from adamah.  It was adam who was made in God’s image, in God’s likeness.  You following me?  Adamah means earth.  Adam was the being God made in God’s likeness, so if adam comes from adamah, it means God first made an earthling.

Okay, here’s the next step: it’s the next line in that section from Genesis:

 male and female he [God] created them

Only after God created adam, who was in God’s image, did God then create male and female.  Two-step process.  First there was a divine genderless or gender-full earthling, created by God in God’s own divine image.  Then there were two gendered people, male and female, man and woman, Adam and Eve.

Still with me?  Know where I’m going?  It’s kinda like there’s three (at least three) options here.  There’s male.  There’s female.  And there’s both. Or neither.  And if we follow the “logic” of this particular creation story, the closer we are to embodying both, or neither, the closer we are to God.  To the Divine Source.

And not to confuse things, but…

…if we look to the other story in Genesis about the emergence of man and woman – that one with the woman coming from the rib of the man that we feminists love so much – something interesting comes into view. I have my Hebrew Bible professor, Uriah Kim, to thank for helping me tease this out so that I do not mislead you in our little foray into Biblical scholarship.

In that second story, when man and woman separately emerge, the Hebrew words for each of these categories is different than the ones in the first story. Rather than adam, once there are two people, it is ‘ish for man and ‘ishah for woman. Professor Kim suggests that where as in the first story, they are male and female, therefore biological or sexual identity categories. In the second version, these are gender, or culturally constructed categories.

I bring this to you not to give you a headache, but to suggest that even this ancient text written millennia ago, there was an understanding that sexual identity is not the same thing as gender identity.

Personally, I don’t need the Christian or Hebrew Scriptures to affirm this truth.  I know that my trans* friends, colleagues, and fellow humans are just as righteous as anyone else and that their presence in my life enriches my own. But I sure do want to do a damn fine happy dance (on the side of Love) when it does: the Bible actually tells us it is not perversion when gender and sexual identity are not the same.


I am even going to go a step further: that when we behold and embrace someone whose gender is something other that straight-up male or straight-up female, it might even be something more than not-perversion, but, according to this interpretation of Biblical text so therefore theologically-based, divine.


And let the people say: Amen.

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Doom & the Berlin Wall

I will tell anyone who will listen: I am a doom-sayer. I regularly predict the doomiest outcome.

My children have suffered under the yoke of my predilections. It has led to lots of safety precautions they found over-the-top and learning how money works much earlier than most of their peers. (And maybe I let my very young daughter watch Holocaust movies much earlier than any other parent I know…she doesn’t seem scarred.)

When I lead workshops, I sometimes encourage people to speak their fears – the worst case scenarios – out loud. This does not usually go over well; typically, people need coaxing. I do this not to scare people, though I think it might have this effect.

I am not trying to feed the negativity. In fact, it’s the opposite: I do it to bring such negativity out of the shadows of our psyches, with the intention of diluting its power.

Though I would like to say that this approach is based in both psychological and spiritual wisdom (it is), it is also deeply rooted in childhood experiences and family dynamics. I get that.

This afternoon I was walking in the woods with a new friend. I ended up describing myself as a doom-sayer. When people are just getting to know me, they are surprised by this because I smile, often exhibit a calm demeanor, and can be kind.

So I offered this example:

When I was living in West Berlin, I was obsessed with the graffiti there. It was an easy obsession: all over, there was smart, creative, political graffiti. This was true of the whole country, but especially in West Berlin and especially in the immigrant quarter, Kreuzberg, where I lived.

The summer I lived and worked there, a national census, the first in awhile, was scheduled and there was outrage. Graffiti all over warned municipal officials of a populist backlash against any attempts to count the citizenry. I wrote about

this is not the photo I took, but it is a photo of the same part of the Wall of which I write

this is not the photo I took, but it is a photo of the same part of the Wall of which I write

it here.

One day, while walking around the city, I took a photograph of art on the Wall. It said, “The Wall Will Fall, Dreams Become Reality.” I remember vividly taking this picture with patronizing thoughts running in my head. Isn’t that quaint? How they are keeping their hopes up? I mean, it’s just not going to happen. Certainly, not in our lifetimes.

Yeah, that was 1987. The Wall fell just over two years later. What did I know?

This is the lesson I learn from this. I might be right. I might be wrong. My certainty is no predictor.

For which I am deeply thankful.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So much doom has happened in the intervening years.

And so much light. So much love. So much possibility. So much hope.

I am reminded of the passionate words of the late Howard Zinn:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

I am so thankful I was wrong. May I be wrong again. Over and over. May I be wrong in all the other ways I predict doom, both personal and planetary. May my lessons in humility point towards many marvelous victories to come.

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Mirror, Mirror: Cultural Misappropriation Bites Me in the Ass (Part II)

halloween-candy-aisleI know, Halloween is past, its candy on discount in the center aisle of the CVS as Christmas goodies line the shelves. All Saints/All Souls Day worship is behind us. Dia de los Muertos is laid to rest until next year.

In class, we have been discussing cultural misappropriation in worship.  Since we understand our Unitarian Universalist faith as post-Christian, we explicitly take as our sources of holy inspiration elements that are rooted in many of the world’s faith traditions.  Yes, we can integrate a ritual or a piece of music or some other element from another religion/culture, but if we are going to do so with integrity, it behooves us to do so by borrowing (or sharing), not appropriating or misappropriating.

Slide1This had been a source of curiosity for me particularly the week at the end of October. Many UU congregations held worship services inspired by Dia de los Muertos.   Where might such an inclusion of this Mexican/Latin@ ritual in UU worship locate itself on the continuum of borrowing-to-misappropriation?

I read a compelling post by Aya de Leon in which the author asks why white people are okay with borrowing Latin@ spirituality or culture, but not with compassionate immigration reform or the browning of America:

This year, as midterm elections near and “immigration reform” gets bandied about on the lips of politicians, urban young white voters will wear skull faces and watch puppets with dancing skeleton bones, and party and drink and celebrate. But those same revelers will not think for a single second of deaths of Latin@s trying to cross a militarized border to escape from the deaths caused by NAFTA and CAFTA and US foreign policy and drug policies and dirty wars in Mexico and Central America.

I have lurked and learned from conversations on social media among UU ministers as they try to figure out how to do this with integrity — keeping it on the borrowing side of the continuum.  I feel myself outside of this process, reflecting as an oumirror-clipart-Picture-143-271x300tsider, trying to demonstrate compassionate curiosity as I learn.

Then I think: how about holding the mirror up to myself?  (Just like in my last post.)  Duh.

A few Sundays ago, I was responsible for the pastoral prayer. I chose to base the prayer in  a beautiful poem by Bee Lake.  I was drawn by the theology reflected in the poem — that we come from and return to “Forever Oneness.”  It is a powerful piece.  I wanted to share it with the congregation, whom I knew would find it evocative.

It is only now, in the midst of this frame around cultural borrrowing and misappropriation, I am now noticing *myself* in the mirror.  I found this poem online (which should have been my first clue that something could go awry).  SHIT-WHITE-GIRLS-SAY-2It was attributed to someone named Bee Lake who was described an Aboriginal poet.  I loved the imagery and the theology and thought, sure, not that I know much, but it seems to exude Aboriginal. Whatever that means.

Can you tell that I am not Aboriginal?  It hurts to hear myself think these thoughts, but think them I did.

What I didn’t think about was what it meant for me to use her work.  I saw it as an act of appreciation, which is how I intended it.  How many times have I said and written, intention is good, but we must also pay attention to impact.

There is a list, developed by the 2003 UUA Cultural (Mis) Appropriations Ad Hoc Committee, Judith Frediani, Chair, to help UUs (and others) reflect on this.  The list is a series of questions which fall under the categories of Motivation, Goals, Context, Preparation, Relationship, Identity, Adaptation, and Language.  Some examples of questions (there are too many to list here, but you can get the whole list here) are

  • Why am I doing this?  What is my motivation?
  • What are the controversies/sensitivities surrounding this material?
  • Have I asked people from the culture for feedback/critical review of my plans? The history?
  • Why this particular cultural material or event?
  • Am I in relationship with people from this culture?
  • How does it help UUs be religious?
  • If it’s an adaptation of words or ritual, who has the right to adapt?  Who will be insulted/offended by this adaptation?

I began to wonder where my choice fit on the continuum.

I do not have an authentic relationship to this poet or her community and I know only the tiniest bit about Aboriginal culture, history, and spirituality.  Since I didn’t educate myself beforehand, I’m thinking I should have — at the very least, found out more about the poet herself.  Since I didn’t, I wonder if I can encourage myself to do so now.  Not as penance, but to broaden my horizons.563544_496780670347365_137994949_n

So in writing this post, I took on that additional responsibility.  It seemed the least I could do.  I can’t believe what I found.

Turns out that Bee Lake is a fictional character, created by a white American woman named Marlo Morgan, who spent four months in Austrailia and wrote a book:

[Marlo Morgan's] book, Mutant Message Down Under is now the world’s most widely read book about Australian Aborigines. It has been translated into more than 20 languages and sold tens of millions of copies world wide.

Morgan claims to have been contacted by a tribe who carry the last remaining essence of humanity, uncorrupted by civilisation. They kidnapped her and took her with them through the desert, where she learned their spiritual secrets, mastered their culture, mastered life in the desert, and ultimately was chosen to bring this message to the world.

Despite being exposed repeat[ed]ly as a liar and a fraud, and despite trenchant and unanimous opposition from Aborigines themselves, Morgan continues to promote her deeply racist and damaging lies to a world wide audience.

More about this damaging hoax can be read here.  And here. And here.  According to Wikipedia,

In 1996 a group of Aboriginal elders, seriously disturbed by the book’s implications, received a grant to travel to the States and confront Marlo Morgan about her book and to try to prevent a Hollywoodisation of it. She admitted publicly that she had faked it but this received little publicity in the USA. The Aboriginal people are angry that this book continues to be promoted and sold widely because it gives a false picture of their traditional culture and of their current political and social status. This is regarded as damaging to their struggle for survival.

My apologies to those Aboriginal communities hurt by that author, whose damaging work I propagated further.  My actions were lazy.  I will try not to do so in the future.

Here I am: hoping to learn some humility here.  Hoping not to do this or something like this again. Hoping to learn something from this and pass on whatever wisdom emerges.


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Mirror, Mirror: Learning Humility (Part I)

Kitten_and_partial_reflection_in_mirrorNot that long ago, I was sitting in an early morning committee meeting, one of my first in my official capacity as an intern minister.  I wanted them to know that I value them.  I wanted to show them I have valuable skills and insights to offer them.   I wanted them to know that I see them.

As I listened to this meeting, there came a time when I had a contribution to make.  I spoke, attempting to demonstrate that I could see them.  Literally.

I reflected back to them that even though there are some travel mugs with coffee at our early morning meeting, there are also so-called disposable cups made of styrofoam in the hands of those present.  It was meant as both a concrete example and as a metaphor to help them make connections to some of the work at hand.

There is a continuum of behavior that may or may not reflect people’s stated aspirations (in this case, to live more lightly on the earth).  We are humans.  It is part of our essence to have a gap between our actions and our ideals.  I qualified my observation: no judgment attached.  I meant it to be compassionate and non-judgmental, but I think I still somehow set myself apart.

I finished my brief observation.  I ceded the meeting space to others in the room.  My eyes looked downward, likely out of habit, that micro-disengagement before coming back up to listen to the next communication offering.cup

The gaze of my eyes, however, became ensnared and did not rise neutrally.  Instead, my eyes rose in embarrassment.  Perhaps even mild mortification.  Below, at my feet, was a coffee cup.  The one that I had bought at the local cafe to hold my take-out caffeine-infusion.  It is not a styrofoam cup, but is still disposable and its cover: plastic.

What does the Bible say?

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7b, NRSV)

mirror-clipart-Picture-143-271x300Since I’m not the biggest fan of the inherent violence in this passage, I am choosing a different metaphor: how about I raise the mirror to myself, before I raise it to others?

Not that I need to be perfect before I open my mouth and share with others what I see, but it just might help reflect a more accurate and more inclusive image.

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Bidden or Unbidden: God in the House?

God keeps popping up at my house.

Which is a little strange given that we are a couple of Buddhists.

buddha1buddha1It started this summer, while I was interning as a hospital chaplain, part of the process to form me as a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Now, to be a UU minister, I do not have to claim Jesus as my personal savior.  Though the title, “minister” sounds exclusively Christian, it is not.  Though some individual UU people or congregations might identify as Christian, and our historical roots are Protestant, many individuals and congregations donor identity as Christian and the denomination as a whole can be legitimately called, “post-Christian.”

So I don’t have to have a close and personal relationship with Jesus.  And I do not even have to affirm a belief in God.  Or god.

This is especially convenient, since, as I inferred earlier, the strongest influence on my spiritual practices and theological bent, are strains of Western Buddhism – and though there may be nothing precluding god there, there’s also not a lot of attention to the Divine.

Yet ever since I spent three months hanging out with the critically ill, the dying and the dead, and with the newly grieving, god keeps creeping into conversations between me and my partner.

At first, it was stories about my chaplain intern peers, most of whom have personal connections to god.  “God” was an easy word for them to say, a powerful presence to evoke, and often a source of comfort and guidance.  While honoring and respecting their theologies so very different from my own, I struggled honestly and explicitly with what that meant or could mean for me.

I didn’t think I would become a god- believer.  Truthfully, I just don’t think I’m built that way.  But I did wonder what I might be able to glean for myself from their faith and their experience of the Holy.

It turns out, and I knew this before embarking on my chaplaincy experience, I may not know God (or god), but I am a big fan of the Holy.

Or the Transcendent.  Or Sacred Glue.  Or That Which Is Greater Than Ourselves.  There are lots of names which point in the general direction that can never be fully named.

One of the ways I struggled with the implied notion of god was around Divine Intentionality.  One of the most favored expressions among my peers was, “the right chaplain always shows up.”  This is very comforting when you are a total newbie and about to enter the ICU to sit with a family whose only son is on life support; or when you are the one carrying the beeper for the whole hospital, answering all the calls for trauma emergencies; or that same beeper will wake you in the middle of the night to hold the angry/anguished family after their daughter/sister just died of a drug overdose.

“The right chaplain” implies — falsely promises — that if you aren’t ready, then you won’t be called.  And it means — again, sometimes falsely promises — that if the beeper goes off, despite your trepidation, you must be ready.  Divine Intentionality says so.

So everyone glommed onto this adage and its inherent wisdom, offering it as a pep talk at the start of a 24-hour on-call shift.  Everyone, except me.

I was, it will be no surprise to those who know me, the skeptic in the group.  I would inconveniently ask, “What about all the Spanish- speaking patients who number too many for the one Spanish-speaking staff chaplain? Are they getting the right chaplain – which would either be someone whose Spanish was mediocre or was assisted by an interpreter or got no chaplain at all?”

My own experience of learning at the expense of patients is an indicator that it might have been the right experience for me, but surely not for them (who got an ill-informed intern who was all thumbs).

So this idea that god ensures that each patient gets the right chaplain every time seems far-fetched, at the very least, and self-serving at its worst.

So, with my skepticism fully I hand, my partner and I, unconsciously, yet with a holier-than-thou tone, began to attribute all our good luck to god.

God meant for us to find the most opulent AirBnB option on all of Cape Ann at a bargain price.

God meant for you to leave me the last Klondike bar in the freezer.

God needs you (definitely not me) to take out the trash.

It was our way not of embracing this problematic notion, and not embracing god as well, but resisting them both.  It was clever and embarrassingly arrogant.

A decade or so ago, when I still claimed the title of atheist proudly, I was looking through a catalog; in it, there was a wall plaque I found compelling.  I couldn’t tell you why I was drawn to it, but lucky for me, I didn’t resist.  I bought one for myself and one as a gift for a friend. It hangs in my bedroom.  On it is inscribed, in Latin, the words from the headstone of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung:
bidden-or-unbidden-God-is-presentIt translates as
Strange thing for an atheist on a social worker’s salary to spend her precious funds on, but, as they say, god works in mysterious ways.

Returning to the present day, I am noticing a shift in my voice, and perhaps even in my partner’s.  (Well, not in my partner’s.  That’s just projection.)  Just a bit.  Not a full out transformation.  When we make our clever jokes about god’s presence in our lives, the mock and the snark seems to be dissipating.  I can only speak for myself, but there seems to be more of an open question than an outright dismissal; a “who knows” rather than  a straight-up defensive posture.

The word isn’t so charged as it was before, leaving room for god to be something other than limb-ridden and narrow, a god who saves parking places for lucky bastards while allowing free-lance journalists to be beheaded.

(I know, I know, you god-believers want to chime in now about Human Will.  About the presence of evil.  But to my mind and heart, if it is god’s will that one person survive a car crash, then it’s god’s will to let a child starve.  You can’t have it both ways.  If god is truly Love -with a capital L – then it’s a kind of love that is fierce, awesome, devastating, and profoundly ugly…as well as redemptive, generative, merciful, and mysterious.)

I don’t know where this having god as an additional housemate is going to lead.  Not too long ago, I apparently referenced god in the course of a casual conversation with a UU friend.  I didn’t notice, but she did (pleasantly so, I think).  So I guess god is showing up not just in conversations at home, but elsewhere in my life.  Maybe it will serve this purpose, so aptly described by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar, in her book, Fluent in Faith: A Unitarian Universalist Embrace of Religious Language:

“We need God language to awaken the imagination; to point, not to name; to help us to move beyond material realities to the meanings of life and of love, to the truth that there is more of beauty and care I this world than we can comprehend or capture I our scientific explanations.”

When I have an opinion on the subject, I tend to side with those who advise that if you look, you can find god anywhere and everywhere.  And if not god, then That Which Is Holy.  Or traces and echoes and lingerings of it.  Most certainly one can look upward, but also be sure to look all around, as well as inside and in the eyes of another.

And maybe, just maybe, if you are having a particularly hard time of it, you should come over to my house.  Who knows who or what you just might find there.

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A Game of Chess: The New Jim Crow Over & Over (Part II)

As I have written about in Part I, I am currently “reading” (listening as I drive) to Michelle Alexander’s amazing book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This book was chosen several years ago as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s CommonRead – where the whole denomination is encouraged to read a common book in order to encourage a common conversation.

From reading this book, I am learning about various everyday non-criminal activities that were made criminal by vagrancy laws and applied primarily to African Americans. Such a “mischief.” Or “insulting gestures.”

This is serious stuff, for as we know, such twisted law results in torture and murder, as the killing of Emmett Till – who supposedly whistled at a white woman, though that is in dispute – is a horrendous example.


Another activity made illegal during the “Southern Redemption” era was for Blacks and whites to play chess together.


When I heard this, I was like

wtf Then I remembered what I learned in my Hebrew and Christian Scriptures classes.

In reading Black Liberation Theology and Feminist Liberation Theology, we read in the story between the official lines of the Bible (or the law or history). If someone is making a law about something – for example, if Paul is saying that women shouldn’t speak in church like in 1 Corinthians 14: 34-36:

(As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.[a] 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

– it means is that somebody is already doing it. And more than likely, more than one somebody.

Women were speaking in church (and some men got all upset and felt threatened and so Paul, probably one of them, caved – because Jesus included women, so that was all on Paul, not on Jesus). And rightfully so.

African Americans and whites were playing chess together, or else there was no need to make a law against it.  So, when you think about it, it was probably a subversive act, happening at a time when the powers that be needed not only for there to be a racial divide, but for it to be wide and hostile.

You can be competitive when you are playing chess together, but it’s hard to be hostile.

StNicholas1 playing-chess-in-central-park.jpg.pagespeed.ce.YGFkmMoq7ASo, let’s be sure we keep playing chess together, okay?


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