Archives for April 2010

taking up your cross

Matthew 16:21-23: From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them in they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

Immediately after Peter gets renamed as Jesus’ main support system, right after Peter steps up and allows Jesus to figure out who he is we have this interaction. Peter goes from being “the rock” to being “Satan and a stumbling block”. What’s the reason for the quick turnaround? What happened here?

Jesus starts to talk about what is to come. He starts to tell his disciples about this road that they are on, heading toward Jerusalem. He tells them what will happen to him once he arrives in Jerusalem. Hearing that Jesus is going to be tortured and killed is alarming for Peter and he protests. “God forbid it Lord!” It’s a strong statement but one that we can understand. If someone that we loved told us that they were going to undergo painful treatment and death we would protest as well. God forbid this happen to you! So Peter responds in a way that makes sense, but Jesus’ reaction is quite vicious. He calls Peter “Satan”. What’s the deal? Why would he use such harsh language toward a friend who is just trying to be helpful?

I think Jesus knew that in order to become who he needed to be, he had to face the pain of Jerusalem and death. There was no escaping it. But that didn’t mean that he was excited about it. Who wants to endure pain and death, even if it means resurrection? It would certainly be easier to avoid all of the pain. For Jesus to hear a friend trying to talk him out of what was to come was too hard. Jesus knew that this was going to be a hard path. He needed people to support him on it, not try to talk him out of it. So in that moment he yells at Peter, calls him a stumbling block. He was trying to get Peter to understand that his words weren’t helpful, in fact, even though he was trying to be supportive in reality this kind of support was more discouraging than helpful.  Jesus was telling him that he was missing the point and that his mind was on human things instead of divine. Jesus knew that the pain, while horrific, was going to bring about a better future. It was something he needed to do.

Then Jesus goes into some of the most oft quoted verses in the Bible, the ones about taking up your cross and denying yourself. I think these verses are incredibly misused.  And I need to spend a bit of time here answering a question that I’m sure to get by doing this theology series: Why the emphasis on crucifixion? Isn’t this glorification of suffering? I think these are important questions. Any time you start to talk about the crucifixion you step into dangerous territory; you can glorify the use of horrific things by saying that they brought about good things; you can say to someone who is suffering, well this is just your cross to bear and one day you’ll be resurrected. This is an unacceptable use of the cross. Let me say in no uncertain terms; suffering is not to be glorified, especially when someone is being made to suffer at the hands of someone else. That isn’t cause for celebration, that is cause for outrage. It is oppression and abuse, plain and simple. To tell someone that they must endure their situation as “bearing a cross” is bad theology. That is not at all what I am trying to do with this series and I need to be very clear about that.

When we tell someone to deny themselves, what are we saying? What is Jesus trying to say here? I think he was saying that sometimes in order to change our lives we need to be willing to give things up; we cannot stay where we are. And that can be really scary even if we are leaving a bad situation. Even if the things we will gain because of this life change will be so much better it can still be scary to embark on a new journey. There may be uncertainty and fear. And this, I think is the power of the cross and resurrection; we can’t stay on the cross. We can’t stay with the pain and suffering (and I’ll talk about this more in depth later but I think it’s important to say it briefly now). This isn’t about glorifying the cross, but about realizing that we often do experience pain on the way to resurrection. We don’t glorify the pain, but we don’t ignore its presence either.  This is a point we will revisit later.

In my transition my partner and friends wanted to protect me from pain. It’s a natural response. They wanted me to be safe and whole and healthy. While none of them tried to prevent my transition, I’m sure that they wondered why I had to do this. They didn’t want to see me in pain. They wanted to make things as easy for me as possible.  I didn’t want to suffer either. I worried about what would happen to me if I transitioned. I was petrified I wouldn’t be able to find a job. I worried that I would never be able to be in ministry. I worried that I wouldn’t pass as male. I worried that I would be assaulted. All very real fears. But to hear someone tell me, “God forbid these things happen” wasn’t helpful. To hear someone say, “No, it won’t be like that. You’ll be fine” was harder than to have someone say, “You know what, it might be like that, but I’ll be here for you no matter what.”

I knew that there would be pain ahead and to be honest there was a part of me that wished I could just skip the path to Jerusalem, go right to the resurrection. I wished that I could skip the pain of the cross, but I knew that I couldn’t. That in order to be resurrected I needed to face whatever was next.

I needed to be willing to give some things up in my life in order to move. That was the hardest part of my decision to transition; wondering what I would have to give up. I wondered if my mother would be able to accept me or if she would forbid me from seeing my younger siblings. I very much feared losing my family. I wondered if my partner would be able to accept my transition. I wondered if I would be able to fulfill my call to ministry. These were questions that only I could answer. Eventually I got to the point where I knew that in order for me to live I had to be willing to lose all of those things. I knew that if I didn’t transition that my life would be hollow and unhappy. I knew that I would be stuck on the cross. In order to move toward resurrection I had to be willing to deny myself. I had to be willing to move from a place of “safety” (even though, honestly, that safety wasn’t really safe for my soul).  If I had tried to “save” the life I was living, I would have lost my soul. It was only by being willing to face the cross that I could save my soul, and in turn my body as well.

Discussion questions:

*Have there been people in your life who, in the process of trying to be helpful, said things that were hurtful?

*Have there been times when you knew that in order to be fully whole you would have to give up something? What did you have to give up?

*Have there been moments where, in order to save your soul, you had to do something that felt risky or unsafe?

it starts here

You know how sometimes when you’re in a group of friends and you start to tell a story, one friend interrupts and says, “but wait, you gotta tell them this first! The story won’t make sense without this part!”? Well, that happens in theology as well. I started this story with the transfiguration and a friend said to me, “that’s not where the story starts! You gotta tell them about this part first!” and she was right. So we backtrack a bit. It’s the chapter right before the transfiguration. Two things happen in this chapter that are really important. The first is here:

Matthew 16:13-20: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Jesus decides to test the waters a bit with his disciples. He asks them what people are saying about him; how are people seeing him? What are the rumors going around? The disciples answer with a bunch of different things they have heard. Then Jesus pushes a little harder, “but who do you think I am?” It’s a personal question. I wonder what he was thinking when he asked it; if he was prepared for their answers. What prompted him to be wondering what his disciples were thinking of him? And it’s Peter who answers with the answer that Jesus was hoping for, the answer that speaks to the truth of his identity. Jesus responds with effusive praise and even gives Peter his new name. In this moment Jesus is recognizing that Peter gets it and because Peter gets it Jesus puts his hope on Peter being his rock, on being the support that Jesus will need to get through whatever is to come.

Maybe this is the moment when Jesus started to believe the truth about himself. The moment when he realizes that people are asking questions about him that he wasn’t able to articulate about himself. And in asking these questions he seems to get a bit of strength for what is to come. But at the same time, here is the demand for his disciples not to tell anyone. He’s not ready for people to know who he really is. He needs to keep it just between them for a while.

There was a joke told by a lesbian comedian Elvira Kurt. She said that the way coming out goes is that everyone else knows, then you know, then your parents know. She said that many people come out and their friends say, “FINALLY! We’ve been waiting for you to figure it out!” Sometimes we need permission to admit the truth to ourselves. When we can test the waters and know that we have the support of friends it allows us to figure things out for ourselves. It allows us to take the first steps on our journey.

There were definitely moments like this in the beginning of my journey. I asked my friends what other people thought of me; I asked them how I was being perceived. What do I look like? Do people think I’m male? What about you? Who am I? What is my identity? I remember telling people my truth and having them be like, of course, that makes so much sense. I thought that I had been hiding it all so well.

It was my partner who first asked me, “Do you think you might be trans?” The first chink in the armor I had constructed for myself to keep my feelings about my gender at bay. I needed someone else to echo the truth I knew about myself. I needed to test the waters a bit before I was ready to tell the world. I needed to see if my friends and partner would support me if I was honest about who I really was. It was my partner’s question that enabled me to begin to ask questions of myself. I was able to do the research that I needed to do. I was able to start experimenting with elements of transition; seeing if I felt more comfortable binding my chest or packing with a prosthetic.

In turn we rename the people who support us; we call them our rock or our biggest fan. We say that they are the ones who are to credit for what comes next. They are the ones that gave us the courage to live into our identity. Jesus says that Peter will be the rock upon which he builds his church. In that moment Jesus is depending on Peter to give him the courage that he needs.

I wasn’t necessarily ready for the world to know, but this was still an important part of my journey. This was the beginning. Even more than my coming out, this was the event that started me on the road to Jerusalem.

discussion questions:

*Has anyone ever asked you a question that allowed you to speak a truth you didn’t even realize was true?

*In your own coming out (whether as queer, transgender, Christian, or any of the other moments we all need to come out about) what were the things that gave you courage to begin your journey?

*Who have been the Peter’s in your life? In what way?

why jesus?

one of the things that i do in my work at church is working with confirmation students. this sunday we will confirm a whole bunch of them. my job this week was to read through their “statement of faith” papers and craft a choral reading out of it to present to the congregation on sunday (there are too many of them to have them read their entire papers; the service would be three hours long!) there are some real gems in the papers of these students; things that made me laugh, things that made me tear up, things that made me think. reading the things that they wrote about jesus, though, caused me to pause. most of them think he was an interesting teacher, maybe a political radical, a few say the son of God, a couple called him a con artist or a prankster and the majority said that he doesn’t really have anything to do with their lives now. and here i am, writing a theology that centers around jesus. i spend so much of my time thinking about jesus and the very real implications that his example has on my life. and i wonder where the disconnect is? are we failing in explaining jesus to these kids? (probably) but even more than that can jesus be redeemed?

people like to trot jesus out to affirm whatever stance they are currently taking; jesus is a republican or a democrat; he’s for the war or against it; jesus is a politcal radical. and in a lot of ways i’m sure it looks like i am doing the same thing. how does this theology that i am writing play to people who aren’t into jesus? who don’t come from the christian tradition?

by the same token, what does this theology say to people who aren’t transgender? in my mind, this theology is for everyone. it’s for people who aren’t into jesus, people who aren’t transgender, people who aren’t necessarily religious even. so why the emphasis on jesus? well, because that’s the tradition i was raised into. it’s the tradition who’s language i speak. it’s the tradition that i need to grapple with and figure out. it’s the tradition that for so long condemned me and which i need to reclaim. for me, it has to be about jesus.

i also feel that the passion narrative is so evocative. it stirs up so many emotions in people, but more than that it’s full of drama; betrayal, weeping, mothers and friends, death and resurrection. it’s the human story writ large and that’s what i’m trying to convey through this piece of theology. i hope that the more i write the more clear things will become. but i felt the need to take this moment to clarify; this theology isn’t just about jesus and it’s not just about being trans. it’s about what happens when we have to confront the pain in our lives and live again. it’s about what happens when friends betray us because we’re trying to be true to ourselves. it’s about trying to become whole in a fractured world. for me, jesus is a window into possible ways to do that and my transition has been a very real and concrete way that i have seen myself experience resurrection.

i might try posting some discussion questions after each of my posts. i’m not sure if that’s cheesy or helpful, so we’ll give it a try and see what happens. i do encourage discussion, feedback, etc. feel free to leave comments or to contact me directly. i want to hear what you’re thinking. maybe it’s too early for you to share, but i hope that eventually we can have a lively dialogue going on here.

as an aside

(part one is here:

Matthew 20:17-19: While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘See we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucifies; and on the third day he will be raised.’

After the transfiguration, it seems to be a common refrain that Jesus takes some or all of his disciples aside and has the above conversation with them. Over and over he reminds them of what is to come. He tries to warn them about what faces him (and by extension all of them) in Jerusalem.  There isn’t a lot of commentary in the text as to why Jesus felt the need to reiterate this point frequently. Maybe he was trying to prepare them for the unknown future. Maybe he was trying to get himself ready to face what he knew was coming. Maybe he felt the need to keep reminding them because it seemed like they kept forgetting everything he had told them. As life went on as normal; traveling, preaching, healing, it might have seemed as if the things Jesus had been telling them were a long way off, or maybe that they weren’t going to happen at all. So he kept reminding them.

In the beginning of my journey towards transition (and in the early stages of transition itself) I felt like a broken record. I was constantly telling my friends what it was like to be transgender. I kept explaining the process that I would have to go through; the steps it took to see a therapist, to get on hormone replacement therapy, to get surgery. I had to explain how I was planning on getting my documents changed. I kept having to remind people, that yes, I was male even if I didn’t quite look like it yet, and they needed to respect me by using male pronouns. It felt like a constant battle. It was a daily reminder of what I was going through, and it was a daily struggle to keep reminding others what was happening.

Looking back part of me wonders why I felt the need to constantly be reminding people of my transgender status. Was it for my own comfort or for their knowledge? I know at the time I was just about bursting with realizing this new truth about myself. It seemed like I had lived in silence for so long that now I had to restrain myself from screaming from the rooftops that I was trans. There was also a part of me that, once I had finally admitted to myself that I really was male, that I couldn’t hear someone refer to me with female pronouns for one more second. So I reminded people.

At the same time it was easy for people to forget what I was going through. It was easy for them to slip back into using female pronouns. Had I changed my name, I’m sure they would have forgotten to use my new name. And so there was a sense that I needed to be explaining to people how they could be a support to me. I had to explain what it meant to be an ally. Especially in those early moments where I was in the part of transition where the effects aren’t so visible. They couldn’t see me changing, but it was still important for them to respect that internally I was changing.

There was also a part of me that needed to talk about the changes that would occur in my life once I began my medical transition. I needed to talk about the challenges I would face. I needed to talk about how my body would change. I needed to show my friends photos of other people who had transitioned. In this was I was both preparing them for what my body would go through while I also prepared myself.

It was a messy and uncertain time, but we all kept walking that path to Jerusalem as best we could. I kept reminding and they kept patiently listening, even though none of us really understood what was to come.

the transfiguration

Matthew 17: 1-9:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

This is Jesus’ big “coming out” moment. This is the moment when he reveals to his disciples the truth of who he is; the reality of his core identity. He is letting them in on his most personal truth. He only takes the people he trusts the most with him to the mountain. This isn’t the time to tell everyone his truth, he doesn’t announce it to the crowds, he tells his best friends; the ones he trusts to stand by him no matter what.

In this moment Jesus is filling them in on what’s to come. He’s letting them know that the way he has been living is going to have to change and his friends don’t really get it. They are on board with his dual identity, but they want him to stay there. They want to build a shelter and keep him in one place.  They’ve seen this amazing sight; Jesus transforms before them giving them a glimpse of what is to come and instead of really grasping it, they want to keep him (and themselves safe). And can we really blame them? This is the guy they have given up their lives to follow, they have entrusted themselves to his care and now he’s changing the game. It’s no wonder they want to build him a shelter and keep him in one place. It’s safer than the alternative.

The other interesting part of this passage is Jesus’ order to not tell anyone about what they’ve seen until after he has been raised from the dead. I’m sure the request seemed strange to them. They still didn’t really grasp the path they were all on. They didn’t really understand what Jesus was going to do and what was going to happen to him. And while Jesus had a clearer vision of what was to come I’m sure that he wondered if people would think he was crazy if he told them everything. He must have wondered if they would say he was just looking for attention or trying to be something he wasn’t. It would have made sense for him to want to keep this information hidden. What if all of this doesn’t work out? What if I can’t become the person I know I am? Maybe it would be easier if no one knew about this until I am sure that it’s all going to work out like I think it is. And so he asks his friends to stay quiet about it. To not let anyone in on what’s going to happen. Let’s just see how this plays out and then we’ll tell the others.

The parallels to coming out as a trans person are all over this passage. Growing up trans, I always had the sense that something wasn’t quite right. Something in me wasn’t like all of my friends. There was more to my identity than I was able to express to other people. I lived in this duality for years before realizing that I could change it. It took even longer before I had the courage to let other people in to my struggle. I didn’t take my friends up to a mountain, but I did have conversations with them one on one or in small groups to let them know about who I was really was. I was letting them in on my journey, letting them know that some things were going to change. I was hoping they would be willing to walk with me on the path.

I started out with telling just a few of my closest friends and my partner. They supported my identity. They knew I needed to continue on my journey even though at the time none of us really knew what that meant.  Even in the midst of the support, though, there were some who wanted to build the shelter and keep me the same.  Whether it was out of fear for my safety and health or fear of what would change about the person they loved, the impact was the same. We love you, but we wish you didn’t have to do this. We support you, but we wish you would just stay put. You’ve lived this long in this body, can’t you just stick it out? Can’t you just come to terms with who you are?

But that’s the thing; I was coming to terms with who I was. And the reality is that I needed to transfigure myself. And if the people in my life were going really know me, then they needed to see me transfigured. They needed to come down off of the mountain with me and walk the hard road to Jerusalem.

Once you’ve revealed your truth there is a part of you that wants the people you’ve told to keep it a secret. In those beginning stages as I pursued therapy and hormone treatments I wondered if I would change my mind or if my therapist would be willing to write the letter. I wondered if my blood tests would come back okay or if my doctor would write the prescription. What if it didn’t work out? Then I would have told the world and I would have failed. So I wanted to keep it a secret. I didn’t want to do all of the larger coming out I would have to do, not right away. Let’s just see how it all goes for now, then we’ll worry about telling the world.

Not knowing what comes next Jesus’ closest friends do leave the mountain with him. And they do stay by his side as he journeys into the unknown future. They walk that path together and they are all changed because of it.

copyright 2010 stlk

introduction to a trans theology of the cross

i finally sat down and started writing what i hope will eventually be my comprehensive trans theology. it’s going to be a long process as i both research the biblical passages i am basing it on and as i search my own life for how the biblical story interacts with my story.

when i first was reevaluating my theology; progressing from fundamentalist to more liberal, one of the first things that i stopped wanting to deal with was the crucifixion. i was uncomfortable with a theology of atonement, uncomfortable with the glorification of suffering that i saw in so much of conservative theology. i remember being really upset by “the passion of the christ” and feeling like the glorification of death was something that i couldn’t accept.

while i still hate that movie, i have been amazed at how my transition has brought me back to the story of the crucifixion. it started with the story of doubting thomas and his fascination with Jesus’ scars. as someone who lives with scars, i was moved by Jesus’ and Thomas’ interactions post resurrection. could i be that gentle with someone asking to touch my scars? should i be that gentle? the more i thought about the passion narratives in the gospels, the more i saw the parallels to my own transition story.

the journey of Jesus to jerusalem rings with so much truth. it’s filled with pain but also with joy

that is the journey i am hoping to take with you all on this blog. the journey to jerusalem. the journey to crucifixion and then on to resurrection.

i’ll see you at the transfiguration.