Far from the Tree: Transgendered 2-9-14

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12) “Shout for all you are worth, raise your voice like a trumpet!  Proclaim to the people their faults, tell the house of Leah and Rachel and Jacob their sins! They seek me daily, they long to know my ways, like a nation that wants to act with integrity and not ignore the Law of its God.  They ask me for laws that are just, they long for God to draw near. Yet they say, ‘Why should we fast if you never see it?  Why do penance if you never notice?’  Because when you fast, it’s business as usual, and you oppress all your workers! Because when you fast, you quarrel and fight and strike the poor with your fist!  Fasting like yours today will never make your voice heard on high! Is that the sort of fast that pleases me—a day when people humiliate themselves, hanging their heads like a reed, lying down on sackcloth and ashes?  If that what you call fasting, a day acceptable to YHWH? On the contrary!  This is the sort of fast that pleases me:  Remove the chains of injustice!  Undo the ropes of the yoke!  Let those who are oppressed go free, and break every yoke you encounter! Share your bread with those who are hungry, and shelter homeless poor people!  Clothe those who are naked, and don’t hide from the needs of your own flesh and blood! Do this, and your light will shine like the dawn—and your healing will break forth like lightning!  Your integrity will go before you, and the glory of YHWH will be your rearguard. Cry, and YHWH will answer; call, and God will say, ‘I am here’

In our series of sermons following chapters of the book Far from the Tree, we have noticed how groups of people dealing with things like deafness or Downs Syndrome sometimes are treated as though they have an illness. They sometimes ask that their condition, whatever it is, be treated as an identity rather than an illness.
Jesus it seems to me would recognize the dilemma, provide healing of some kind for whoever wants it and for the others, say to them “You are the salt of the earth! You provide spice and flavor to our lives. You are the light of the world. Be who you are called to be!” Talking about transgendered issues is probably the most controversial of all the topics in this series. But let me tell you some interesting stories about some people I know. I am changing the names of the people in my sermon to protect their privacy and the pictures we are using are not of my friends.

Matthew 5:13-20  “You are the salt of the earth.  But what if salt were to lose its flavor?  How could you restore it?  It would be fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
”You are the light of the world.  You don’t build a city on a hill, then try to hide it, do you?  You don’t light a lamp, then put it under a bushel basket, do you?  No, you set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before others so that they may see your good acts and give praise to your Abba God in heaven. “Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the Law and the prophets.  I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. The truth is, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the Law, not even the smallest part of a letter, will be done away with until it is all fulfilled. That’s why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever fulfills and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “I tell you, unless your sense of justice surpasses that of the religious scholars and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

February 9, 2014

Far from the Tree: Transgendered 

In my 20’s I had a woman-friend by the name of Tricia. I loved Tricia. We had a lot of fun together. After we were together for over a year, Tricia decided to change her name – to Casey. This was rather confusing to me. I liked Tricia. Tricia is a girl’s name. It is a feminine name. Since I liked Tricia, I liked the name. But Tricia decided it didn’t fit her image of herself as a strong, independent, self-reliant woman and she asked me to get used to calling her Casey.
Casey has a very different sound than Tricia. It sounds more like baseball players and train engineers. It is the name of a girl, but it has a more masculine feel to it. I had trouble getting used to the idea that my girlfriend was now Casey. Casey, not Tricia. Casey. It took me a week or two, but I taught myself to think about her as Casey. I liked her just as much as Casey and I wanted to use the name by which she wanted to be called.
I think of how difficult it was though, and I can’t imagine how difficult it was for my friend Joan, who lives up the street from me. I interviewed her this week and I want to tell you a bit of her story. Six years ago, Joan and her husband Gary came to us and shared their excitement about adopting a baby boy. We knew Joan from my wife Cathy’s church and we were excited for them and wanted to support them in their work at becoming adoptive parents.
We felt honored to be invited to a celebration at their house to welcome their baby to their home.  They named him Jacob. It was clear that Jacob was going to be part of a very loving family from that day of celebration. There was a good support system already in place. We didn’t stay in close touch with them as the years went by, but years later I noticed Jacob around the neighborhood with berets in his hair and later I saw him wearing a dress. Naturally I wondered what was going on, and a while later when I asked about him, Joan told me that his name was now Helena.
She told me that when Helena was 18 months old she noticed how her son gravitated toward pretty things rather than trucks. Joan had grown up as a kind of Tomboy, so she had no question that boys could like girls things as much as she liked boys things, so she was ok with letting Helena play with what she wanted to play with.
When Helena was 3 and half, she saw a “My Little Pony T-shirt” and she just had to have it. She also said she wanted to paint her nails. This is where Gary stepped in and said he had to draw the line. He said his son was not going to be ridiculed going around the neighborhood wearing a “My Little Pony T-shirt” and painted nails. Not going to happen!
So they compromised. Joan said she could have the “My Little Pony T-shirt” but she could only wear it as a nightshirt. She wore it every night and it was clearly her favorite shirt. Clothes are a big way we show who we are, and Helena kept pushing at the store for clothes that were brightly colored – scarves and shirts and dresses. When she wore those kinds of clothes out in public, other kids didn’t mind at all. But parents and grandparents sometimes got really upset.
They would ask in the park why a little boy was carrying a doll. Joan said, that Helena wasn’t the only boy at their church who liked to wear a tutu but when she was four years old someone asked what pronoun they wanted to use. When Helena lit up and said she wanted to be called “she,” they decided they needed to get some professional help.
When their counsellor met with Helena, Joan, and Gary, she said they didn’t really have a problem. They just needed to love each other and support each other and follow Helena’s lead. She said, “This is no joke. This is not a child’s cry for attention. This really is who she is.” When Helena went to kindergarden, she went as a girl.  Luckily the teachers and students are very accepting. She can use any of the girls bathrooms and she is very happy.
The interesting thing is that once they started calling her “she” she no longer felt like she had to wear dresses or pink flamboyant clothes. She looked around and saw that the other girls wear pants and she started to wear that to. It has made for an expensive wardrobe.
Joan knows that there are difficult decisions and transitions ahead, identity crises of various sorts, but they love their child and they’re ready to go with her every step of the way.
Some people look at this passage and emphasize the part where Jesus says, “I’ve come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it and they will look through the whole Bible to find something from ancient scripture to condemn this family for what they are doing. It’s important that we don’t lose track of Jesus’ continuity with Hebrew scripture, the way in which he intends to fulfill it, but that doesn’t mean we lose track of the new thing he’s trying to do.
Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” You provide flavor, variety, spice, and preservative. Whether you are deaf or disabled or transgendered, whether you are a Dwarf or have Downs Syndrome or depression, you are the salt of the earth. “You are the light of the world.” Whether you are a prodigy, alcoholic, autistic, or adopted, you are the light of the world. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. You have something unique and enlightening to offer to the world.
The rest of the world might stare or point or condemn or not understand who you are but God loves you as you are. God will provide healing for the parts that need healing and love for the parts that need loving. Flavor the earth. Enlighten us all when we are ignorant. Spice up our lives and show us how much is possible with human perseverance and divine spark!
This is God’s good news.
Amen.