Archives for July 2012

Ask the AR: What’s the deal with Christian condemnation of Trans* People

Time for another installment of "Ask the Anarchist Reverend"! As always, feel free to email, tweet, or leave a comment to ask your own question.

What is different about the reasons Christianity uses to condemn trans folks than GLB folks?

Thank you for asking this question. It really annoys me when people talk about the "clobber passages" about LGBT people and then only talk about the ones that deal with being LGB. There are different issues at play here.

First, I want to recommend the book “Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith” by Justin Tanis. His is the absolute BEST 101 book about trans* issues and the church. He covers what I’m about to outline in much more depth.

There are two major differences between Christian condemnation of GLB people and trans* folks (even though, honestly, the whole community is often lumped together and these distinctions aren’t made).

* There are the different “clobber passages” (7 against GLB folks, 1 against trans* folks)

There is only one passage that seems to point to displeasure with transgender people, and it has to do with clothing. Deutoronomy 22:5: Women must not wear men’s clothes, and men must not wear women’s clothes. Everyone who does such things is detestable to the Lord your God. (CEB) This passage is found in the purity codes. One could make the argument that in these times the lines between "men's" and "women's" clothing is blurred to be pretty much meaningless. One could also make the argument that as a transgender man it would be against my nature to wear women's clothing and so therefore I am abiding by the command. One could also say that whatever gender you are, wearing clothing makes that clothing belong to your gender (hence a man who chooses to wear a skirt is wearing men's clothing because he is a man). You can do a lot with this one passage.

* There is also the difference between identity and behaviour. Now this gets a little dicey: I don’t mean to say that GLB identity is simply about behaviour (because it’s not) but in the narrative of Christian anti-gay rhetoric that’s what it comes down to. One could technically be GLB and not sinful so long as one didn’t act, sexually, on their feelings (so the story goes). For trans* folks it’s not about sexual behaviour but about intrinsic gender identity.

This line does get blurred a bit when Christian folks deny the gender identity of a trans* person and then accuse them of same gender sexual behaviour. (For instance if I, as a transgender man, had a relationship with a woman a Christian might say that I am in a lesbian relationship.)

So that’s a basic overview of the condemning passage.

But really, is this conversation helpful? If someone has an issue with trans* people, is my explanation of the ONE verse that seems to condemn transgender people really going to change their mind? I think not. Especially since we have been debating those seven clobber passages about GLB people for at least 30 years now and the debate is still just as heated.

Here's what I think debating these passages does allow: It allows us to stay at a 101 level. It allows us to get caught in semantics and definitions of Greek and Hebrew words and allows us to continue to deny that we are talking about actual people with actual feelings and actual lives. It allows us to never move past this defensive posture of sin and apologetics. And so we prooftext and argue and accuse and waffle. We bring out people who can debate both sides. We try to build bridges between different communities. This isn't a helpful conversation.

As my friend Brian says we queer folks don't have time for cheap theology. And this proof texting is cheap theology at it's worst. If you want to know what these passages say, read Justin's book and then let's move on.

Instead here’s what I think is a helpful conversation: As we read throughout Scripture there is a large number of affirming passages for trans* and gender non-conforming people. We find righteous women warriors, a wonderful passage in Isaiah about Eunuchs being given a name and a family, Jesus’ words of affirmation towards Eunuchs, the man carrying a jar of water in the Passion narrative, the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, and much more. There is ample evidence that people who don’t conform to gender norms are not only accepted but celebrated throughout the Scriptures.

There is also a lot of room to read trans* experiences into Scripture. You can see the work I’ve done with this by reading my trans* Passion narrative.

Check out Peterson Toscano’s “Transfigurations” to see even more gender rebels throughout Scripture.

(ps: my mini-rant in the middle of this post is not aimed at the person who asked this question, instead it is aimed at all of the folks who keep this conversation in the 101 realm and refuse to allow it to move from there. It is all of the speakers who continue to travel around debating "clobber passages" from any stage that will have them. It is the people who refuse to do their own research and who want queer folks to explain it to them "just one more time" (for thirty years). It's time to move on.)

Progressive Vs. Liberal

In the past couple of years or so I have heard more and more people call themselves "progressive". And in the last year it's ramped up even more, especially in light of all of the conversations about which church/structure/denomination/etc. is currently said to be dying.

Some folks say that we should use progressive instead of liberal. That Liberal is a more academic term and it speaks to book knowledge. Progressive is somehow more embodied as action not just knowledge.

I think progressive is a mess. No one really knows what it means. People use it in all sorts of ways. I have heard people refer to themselves as progressive and yet not affirm the full humanity of queer people.

The way I see it progressive is still a definition against what you are not. "Well, we're more progressive than the fundamentalists, so let's call ourselves "progressive" even though we don't believe gay people should be able to get married." This is a problem. It has watered down the word so much that it can mean whatever you want it mean. It's useless.

In the midst of the string of articles around the liberal church dying (mostly because the Episcopal church allowed an optional blessing for same gender marriage), there was a great quote by Ross Douthat where he quoted one of my professors from Union. He said "What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence. As the liberal Protestant scholar Gary Dorrien has pointed out, the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God ... the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”"

And that's it right there. We cannot define "progressive" by what it is not. We can no longer afford to define ourselves in the negative. Why are we Christians? What do we have to offer to the world? What does it mean to be a Christian? What does a Christian look like? These are the vital questions that we need to answer.

I am convinced that we are suffering an identity crisis in the "liberal" or "progressive" church. We have continued to define ourselves by what we are not without being able to articulate what we are. And we have ceased having a specific and unique reason for calling ourselves Christians. Anyone who knows me know that I am not about Christian superiority, but I do think we have a unique language in Christianity. Christianity is different than other religions (or no religion). This isn't about supremacy, but about specificity. We have tried so hard to not be offensive that we have lost our reason for existing.

I want to take some time to sketch out some of the reasons I am continue to identify with the Christian story over the next couple of weeks and to lay out some of the things that I see as necessary for moving forward.

People want something more than a place that says "be nice and do good". We need more than just an explanation of what we are not. What do we have to offer?

Sometimes Ministry Feels Like Failure

Sometimes ministry feels like failure. It feels like all of the things you didn’t get done. All of the ways you could or should have done better. It looks like the people who didn’t show up to your event instead of the ones who did. It looks like the email you didn’t answer fast enough instead of the 100 you answered right as they came in. It’s messy and sometimes ugly.

Sometimes ministry is wearing an alb backwards or tripping walking up the chancel steps. It’s forgetting the words or stumbling over someone’s name.

This year has felt a lot like failure. The church start worked and then it didn’t and then it stalled. Other ventures didn’t get enough people or attention. I have wondered sometimes what to do next, how to move forward. I have even wondered if moving forward was worth it. Maybe I should look for something else to do with my time. Maybe I’m not cut out for this kind of work.

Sometimes that’s just the way it is. But then you get up. You keep going. You learn from your mistakes and you realize that sometimes it isn’t failure it’s growth. Sometimes you’re figuring out what doesn’t work so you can get to what does. And you hang on to that. And you trust that God can work even through your goofs.

Sometimes ministry feels like failure. And sometimes that’s okay.


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Guidelines for Questions

I've been working on some guidelines to help allies think through questions that are okay to ask. Here's what I've come up with and I would love folks' thoughts (this is trans* specific language but I would hope that it could be more broadly applicable):

I would put questions into two camps:

1: Questions about issues trans* people face. I think these questions are important and help people to be a better ally. I can talk about job discrimination, access to medical care, etc.

2: Questions about the specific medical process. Unless you are planning to either date me, sleep with me, or transition yourself you probably don't need to ask someone these questions. (also, can you google it? If so, that's probably the best place to start.) It is most often the questions about medical processes, surgeries, and my body that I find the most invasive and othering.

And I have three rules:
1: Do I need to know this in order to effectively work in solidarity with people? (ask the question)
2: Am I asking this simply because I am curious? (don't ask the question)
3: Can I find this information out somewhere else (google, book, blog)?

What do you think? Are there more guidelines you'd add? Things you don't agree with? Let's hear it!

Ask the AR: Resources for Parents of Trans* Kids

Today’s Ask The Anarchist Reverend question is: What resources are out there for parents of transgender kids? And what tips would you give a parent to help them be sensitive to the needs of potentially trans* kids?

We’ve got two questions here but they both deal with kids so I decided to tackle both. I want to state up front: I’m not a parent. I am answering this question with resources I have read, things I’ve heard from other parents of trans* kids, and from what I wish my own experience had been growing up.

I would LOVE it if folks with other resources, information, and personal experience would weigh in in the comments. If you want to stay anonymous you can email me (anarchistreverend at gmail) and I will post your response for you.

I want to answer the second question first. Again, this is what would have made things easier for me as a kid.

* Listen to your child.
* Don’t force them into clothing that they hate. Going shopping for clothing was always a major battle in my household. I always wanted to shop in the boys’ section and was rarely allowed to.
* Don’t force your child to buy toys or games that are gender specific. Allow them to pick out the things they are interested in.
* Make sure they have access to books about trans* and/or gender non-conforming people. There are tons of age specific books.
* If you feel like they need or want to see a therapist make sure to find one that is well versed in dealing with trans* kids. Same thing for your pediatrician.

I know that parents sometimes worry about this being a phase, but I think you can tell the difference between a phase and an ongoing situation. Also, I think it’s important to know that medical treatments rarely start before a child is 8 or older. And those treatments (hormone blockers) are completely reversible. All of this to say, that you have the time you need to both honor your child’s wishes while making sure they are well taken care of and making the right decisions.

There are different steps, I think, when dealing with older youth (junior high and above) as those youth will be able to tell you more clearly what’s going on in their heads and hearts and bodies.

Here is a list of resources:

This is the first place I refer folks to. A great network of support.

This link contains links to several websites and books.

The http://www.genderspectrum.org/child-family/resources site includes this page for families.

http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=3089992&page=1#.UAstNDHLyPc

This is a list of a bunch of books from a variety of age groups that feature gender non-conforming or trans* characters.

There are also quite a few books on my resource page that might be helpful or of interest.

The Art of Transliness has this list.

What else have I missed? What books do you love and recommend? What other websites are helpful? What have been your experiences? What do you wish your parents had known or done when you were a child/teenager?

@genderfamily suggested:

The Gender Odyssey conference
Gender Diversity's Family Support Page


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Speakeasy Book Review: Viral Jesus

This is a review of the book “Viral Jesus” by Ross Rohde. I got this book as a part of the Speakeasy book review program. This book is about what it takes to have a “viral” Christianity, meaning a Christianity that spreads as fast and as easily as the germs of a common cold.

Let me state this up front: I believe in church planting. I think much of the way the institutional church is run is bogus. I think if the church is to survive we are going to have to change the way we do things. This book claims to be about making that happen, but I couldn’t disagree more with the author’s conclusions.

Also, this book is SUPER repetitive. If we were to take out all of the duplicate sentences it would be about 50 pages shorter. And all of the duplicate sentences go something like this, “just listen to Jesus.”

The basic premise is that Christianity used to be a viral religion: spread quickly and easily and that it isn’t anymore because we institutionalized our churches. In order to be viral again we need to de-institutionalize our churches and go back to the way it was in the early church. I COULD get on board with that, except his description of the early church strikes me as pretty bogus.

Look, the early church spread because those people actually did shit that mattered! They buried poor people, they eliminated hierarchy, they refused to worship the empire, they took in children that had been abandoned. The author reduces it to believing in Jesus and making sure you don’t swear anymore. It’s all about getting more and more people to pray a little prayer and be good.

He talks a lot about the Christian “pledge of allegiance” being Jesus is Lord but he doesn’t talk at all about how political that was. It was just about saying Jesus is Lord and we should try to get more people to believe in him, it was saying Jesus is Lord and the Emperor isn’t. Which was treason. This wasn’t a theological statement, it was a political one.

Here are some points I wrote while reading. I had to stop after a bit because the book was just too aggravating to document.

• I’m only in the introduction and already the theology is atrocious. I’ve written before about why I think Satan is too easy. This is another one of those books that blames bad things on Satan and believe that everyone has Jesus whispering EXACTLY what to do and when into their ear at all times if they would just listen hard enough.

• “The early church lived out “Jesus is Lord”… The gospel is no longer spreading like a wildfire through the western world. And it is precisely because we don’t really understand how to live Jesus as Lord and within His new covenant agreement with us. We may agree with these two truths as correct doctrines; but we live something far different. In place of living these truths, we have human planning; ministry as business; and human leadership, techniques, methods, and strategic principles.” (page xvi) He states this new covenant stuff over and over again but never actually fleshes out what any of it means. Honestly, I finished the book and I have NO IDEA what he thinks a Christian looks like other than that they don’t swear and are a nice person. Oh, and they tell lots of other people about Jesus.

• I can already tell this author is going to come to VERY different conclusions about what it means to have Christianity go viral. Every once in a while he says something great but then he backs off.

• On page 11 he talks about the passage in 1 Peter 3:15 where Christians are told to always be ready to give an answer but totally depoliticizes it.

• Pg 15 basically says that established churches don’t have the Spirit because they do have an order of worship. He comes back to this point a lot throughout the book. Apparently if there is any order of worship set up before the service there will be NO movement of the Spirit. The only way the Spirit can move is if we do things like the author says.

* He does say some good things about money: How if you depend on the church to pay your bills then you are beholden to keeping the church happy. I appreciate those reminders.

This is pretty much Neil Cole’s “Organic Church” book all over again. Feels almost verbatim.

If you’ve read any organic, simple, house church book you’ve already read this book. This one falls a bit more on the Pentecostal/Charismatic side. There is a lot of talk about how if you aren’t experiencing miracles and direct to your heart knowledge from God than you aren’t really living in the Spirit.

I believe that the church needs a revolution. I believe that we could be a viral movement again. But I think that will happen not because we get people to pray a little prayer and stop swearing. Instead it will be because we stop saying the American pledge of allegiance. We stop bowing down to capitalism, we stop demonizing queer folks and women, we stop fighting the culture wars. Instead this revolution will happen when we take care of poor people, live in community, show love for one another and for the world. When we revamp our neighborhoods, when we take care of orphans and widows, when we adopt kids, when we actually live a life of Good News instead of just talking about it.

Christianity isn’t about some prayer you pray. It’s not about going to church on Sunday. It’s about changed lives. But not changed in the “no swearing, no drinking, no sex” kind of way. Changed in the fundamental shift of where our allegiance lies: Our allegiance is to God and each other. And in this day and age, following the way of Jesus still looks like treason, not the shallow shit in this book.

Book Review: Church Outside The Walls

This is a review of "Church Outside The Walls" by Raj Samuel. I received a free copy of this book as part of the Speakeasy review program. In exchange for the book I was asked to provide a review and here it is:

This is a short (117 pages) ebook about the nature of the church. The book can be summed up in one sentence: Every single institution is doing it wrong but me.

Really. He spends 100 pages talking about why every institution in existence is unbiblical and a waste of time. Then he recaps everything he said for four pages. And then, FINALLY, he offers some suggestions about what the church should look like for four pages.

It's not even that I totally disagreed with what he said: I do think that Christianity has become too institutionalized, I think he brought up some really great thoughts about what we spend our money on (the institution) and what we should be spending money on (supporting people in need), but just the sheer length of the critique was a bit much. He also seems to think that the Holy Spirit (which, side note, he only uses male pronouns for) can't move in institutions.

Look, I am no lover of institutions, but I think it's pretty damn arrogant to say where the Holy Spirit can and can't move. I think the Spirit can move anywhere she damn well pleases.

I agree that the church should be more about unity and being the body of Christ. I agree that we spend a lot of money on aging buildings and paying for professional clergy when we should be spending money on those who need it. I agree that the way we do church isn't really working. But I don't think this book is going to lead the way forward at all.

Resurrection

My alarm goes off and I groan. I have never been a morning person. My mom used to have to wake me up for afternoon kindergarten. But I drag myself out of bed, head to the shower. Then I sit on a pillow in front of my small altar. It has candles on it and a hand carved bowl that was given to me by a former parishioner when I got married to my ex-wife. In the bowl is a wooden “clinging cross” given to me by a former customer at the bar where I bartended my way through seminary. I pray Lauds using the Benedictine breviary.

After prayer I put on my clergy shirt. I don’t have to worry about putting on a binder anymore, which is something I am still so, so thankful for. I head out the door to get on the bus that will take me to the church where I work. I think about what my life was like before this and I thank God that I am in a different place now.

It’s been 4 ½ years since I got my first shot of testosterone. I still do my shots weekly, but the anxiety over the needles is gone now. I still get excited about doing my shots, but it’s less of an event and more a way of saying “yes” to myself and my life.

I remember the terror I felt as I thought about transitioning. I worried about what it would cost me. I knew there was a chance it might cost me my family and my marriage. I worried that it would mean I would never find a church to ordain me and that I would never find a church to hire me.

And now it’s been 4 ½ years. My life is unrecognizable now from what it was then. I have entered into a future that I couldn’t even have dreamt of.

It is so, so beautiful.

The pain of transition has mostly faded, like the scars on my chest, to a light pink instead of an angry red. I have dealt with the pain of my divorce but recovered a self-confidence that I didn’t know was possible. I have faced down my fears and come out so much stronger. There is a church that has given me employment and a denomination that has granted me ordination. There is a future in ministry that I am excited about. I have the (complicated) love of my family.

I move through the world in a body that feels like home for the first time.

The most unexpected gift I have received from all of this is that I have rediscovered my faith. I have rediscovered a way to encounter the Divine that is both intellectual and emotional.

This is what resurrection feels like: The terror of night that gives way to the joy of the morning. Faded scars and so much joy. New life and new love. Peace. Overall, so much peace.

Thanks be to God.


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A Facebook Dilemma

Let’s talk about Facebook. Particularly as religious leaders and/or as trans* folks.

A couple things to get out of the way:
• I do know how to use my privacy settings and to use lists. I utilize them both very thoroughly.
• I also have read and agree with the whole idea of being transparent on Facebook and not just having a “religious persona”. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Here are the current issues I am facing (and I feel like they are probably issues faced by other folks as well):

I have one personal facebook page. On this page I have friended certain family members, people from my high school (very conservative) youth group, people from my (very conservative) college, people from the church I currently work at, various friends from all over the place, youth from the church I work at, and people from my new religious life as a NAOCC deacon.

I also have an anarchist reverend page where I pretty much post questions, interesting new stories, and links to stuff I am writing on the blog. It’s a place where I can interact with people more casually.

But here’s what happens: Some folks tag me or post on my wall photos from pre-transition. I have privacy settings set up to help with that, but it’s still annoying. Other folks post links to articles I might find interesting about trans* issues. I am mostly out, but I don’t necessarily want the youth I work with to be concerned with my trans* identity.

Many of the people I am connected with from either high school or college would be horrified by both my trans* status (which, whatever) AND by my newfound Catholicism. I also don’t feel the need to get into religious or political debates on Facebook because, well, who has the time or the energy?

So what’s the issue? I feel like I can’t really use Facebook effectively. On the one hand there really is nothing I have to hide, on the other I feel like posting certain things honestly would be seen as inflammatory to people from my past. I don’t think these folks’ minds will be changed and I don’t want to argue about it. I also don’t want to be pegged even more as the “radical liberal” and have word get back to my family (who still goes to the church I grew up in) and have to have awkward religious and political conversations with them. I would like to be able to stay in touch with these folks to reminisce, see photos of their kids, and hear what they are up to.

I don’t like the idea of having a “religious” account and profile. For one I don’t want to spend more time trying to manage another account on Facebook. It also seems like I have something to hide as a religious leader. I also have two facets of my “religious life”: One, the church I work for, and two, my life as a Deacon and a church planter. These spheres don’t necessarily mix.

I also don’t like the idea of having a “page” set up. Pages make it hard to interact with folks on a more personal level. I can’t leave comments on their page, I can’t friend people, etc.

I feel like this has led to me having a presence on Facebook that feel shallow and fragmented and I hate to have any part of my life feeling that way. I feel like I can’t make my profile picture photos from my ordination because that will invite too many questions and because once you make something your profile photo than your security settings no longer work on it.

All of this is incredibly frustrating and leads to my barely using Facebook. Maybe that wouldn’t be an issue except that Facebook is a powerful tool to reach out to and interact with folks. It’s a good way for me to keep up with people from the past that I wouldn’t get to interact with otherwise and a way for me to keep the youth I work with updated on what’s happening.

I’m not sure how to navigate this (or even if it can be navigated given the limitations of Facebook’s rules, etc.).

How do you use Facebook? Are there larger questions I should be asking? How do you navigate the personal/professional split? Let’s talk about this!


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My Ordination

It's hard to put into words what my ordination into the diaconate of the North American Old Catholic Church means to me. There was a time when I wasn't sure that I was going to make it through any ordination process because of the cost, my trans* status, and my theology. And then along came the Old Catholics. We met on Twitter and it felt right from the start. And now here I am.

And I don't really have the words to say what all of this has meant to me. Maybe I don't need words. Instead I'll offer these photos and a video of the ordination as I continue to struggle to express my gratitude and awe over all of this.

Up first is a photo album of the event. These are casual photos taken by friends. Still waiting on the professional photos.

I had to split the ordination itself into several parts. The first couple videos are the processional and the actual ordination, the next several are the celebration of the Eucharist.

Processional:

ordination to the diaconate processional from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Part One:

ordination to the diaconate part 1 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Part Two:

ordination to the diaconate part 2 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Part Three:

ordination to the diaconate part 3 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Part Four:

ordination to the diaconate part 4 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.


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