Transgender Lives Matter


Earlier today I watched a documentary called Southern Comfort, which Wikipedia describes as “a 2001 documentary film about the final year in the life of Robert Eads, a female-to-male transsexual. Eads, diagnosed with ovarian cancer, was turned down for treatment by a dozen doctors out of fear that treating such a patient would hurt their reputations. By the time Eads received treatment, the cancer was too advanced to save his life.”

Transgender, in case you’re unfamiliar with a working definition is knowing you were born into the wrong gender, that mentally you know you were meant to be born a male where your anatomy makes you biologically a female, and you know you were meant to be a born a female where your anatomy makes you biologically a male. Transgender is the T in the acronym LGBTQ, and I (as many people can attest to) believe the transgender face a lot of discrimination from within the LGBTQ community as well as from the rest of society.
How so you might ask? Discrimination within the work place, an ill-informed population as to what being transgender entails, violence, if incarcerated they might be put in the wrong prison (matching them with their biological gender, but not the one that reflects their being transgender), a lack of acceptance by friends and family which may lead them to choosing to complete suicide (rest in peace Leelah Alcorn), amongst other things.

I am an ally to the LGBTQ community, and my awareness to what affects the Transgender community was heightened as I watched Southern Comfort, especially when one of the partners of one of the guys made this comment as to why she was fearful to be recorded for the documentary; “I’m just afraid of someone coming in here and destroying everything we have and harming us because they think it’s the right thing to do in the name of God, in the name of God for Heaven’s sake.” ‪ – Southern Comfort (Documentary: 2001)
As a follower of Christ, I was (and still am) utterly mortified by the fear of the woman for things that might be done against because people’s perception that “it’s the right thing to do in the name of God.” Pardon my language, but what the fuck? Someone is fearful for what might happen in the name of GOD?!? That certainly doesn’t ring of anything Godlike or even, Christlike, my heart goes out to this fear that is ever present in the hearts of men and women.

As if the oppression against those who are Transgender individuals wasn’t enough there are those who get perverse kicks from doing things against them because (and we’ve all heard it before in some shape or form) “God told me / us to do it” which frankly is one of the biggest cop-outs and excuses out there. Grow the heck up and stop using God as a scapegoat for why you harm yourself or your fellow human being, an individual who is made in the image of God.

Life is short and sacred enough to see the value in all, to respect and the humanity and Imago Dei-ness found in everyone. All lives matter, Transgender lives matter as well, and we as individuals and as communities and as nations should do what we can to preserve life and not take it away, refurbish and rehabilitate it, and not discard it. To my LGBTQ brothers and sisters I am your ally and will keep fighting for your rights! Life would not be the same without you, hold on my brothers and sisters, hold on.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Social Awareness and Social Justice, my experience at a Church of the Brethren

A couple of months ago I went to church at a Church of the Brethren, a denomination I knew that was known for conscientious objectors and being very verbal when it came to issues of social awareness and social justice. The Sunday I went to was no different as the church shooting in Charleston was brought up and discussed at length (which I for one think is a good thing). It was very encouraging to hearing this issue brought up as well as police shootings of recent brought up in church, as I think that these are issues that people face all too often and I think that the church should foster discussion about this more often. The church does already, but I think more is required, and not just by pastors but by the congregation as well.

The congregation was multi-generational; it was encouraging to see kids with their parents and grandparents coming together to worship God together. When it came to worship music it was very hymn based, and I enjoyed that because I don’t worship in a setting where we don’t sing hymns. I tend to fall in the middle when it comes to contemporary worship music and hymns, I like a good deal of them and appreciate the sentiment expressed.

After church I struck up a conversation with one of the parishioners. He shared with me what being a follower of Christ meant to him as well as what being aligned with the Church of the Brethren church. He had been a member of the church for a long time, and for him faith kept him following Christ but also the memories tied up in attending that church for so long. All the while he had a nostalgic look upon his face and I gathered that with the stories he shared with me.

I was also encouraged by their posture in reading the Bible, that for the most part they read the Bible seriously but not altogether literally. Marcus J. Borg’s Reading The Bible Again for The First Time comes to mind when followers of Christ choose to do this, and I for one agree it must be done in this fashion.

I too can say one of the reasons that keeps me coming back to The Orchard every weekend is the memories I have associated with it and yet I realize that it’s not a bad reason to go but I realize it shouldn’t be the only reason I go. Yet we all go through seasons of life, and sometimes a church works for a while and there are times where your best bet is to leave on good terms and find something else (not necessarily better in all occasions).

Overall it was a good time communing with the people who attended the Church of the Brethren. I appreciate followers of Christ who exemplify the beatitude of “blessed are the peacemakers” because it is one of several things I want to align myself with and practice in my faith system of a Red Letter Christ-centric Universalist. I want to have a hand in Tikkum Olam / Healing The World, and it starts with my individual efforts that ripple outward rather than inward.

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Communal, Interracial, Intergenerational, my experience at a 7th Day Adventist Church

On Father’s Day weekend I went to the local 7th Day Adventist Church, and based on their interpretation of the Bible they meet on Saturdays not Sundays.

Upon entering I quickly got a feeling akin to family reunion, that these individuals having not seen each other for a week (perhaps more) were so glad to be in each others presence. I introduced myself to the greeter and shortly thereafter I made my way into the sanctuary.

It was crowded in a way that wasn’t unnerving, so I found myself midway between the front and the back, and I took time to get acquainted with my surroundings. There were a diverse group; inter-generational as well as interracial, and when it comes down to it I like being in churches such as that. It was also encouraging to observe that there was diversity in those who read the Bible, made announcements, etc.

The service started off with some hymns that I personally didn’t know, but out of respect (and definitely a love for hymns) I stood and was present to it all. After a few songs I bore witness to and partook in a corporate church exercise I had never done before; kneeling in prayer together from where we all happened to be seated beside our portion of prayer. I’ve prayed on kneelers in Catholic and Episcopalian churches, but this was kneeling in the most basic of terms.

Shortly after this the pastor gave his message about living in the end times, and how they, the 7th Day Adventist Church were The Remnant. That in following God by way of following the different doctrines and beliefs, they were going to be the ones who remained when it all went down. He also spoke about things going on in the world at large and the world around us, how there was conflict between Secular culture and Christian culture, and more to the point, the culture of the 7th Day Adventists. He touched briefly on ways other denominations did things that weren’t in line with what God wanted, in particularly Pope Francis and consequently the Roman Catholic denomination, all the while pointing out that this further proved we were living in the end times.

After the service I was invited to attend their potluck lunch, but since I was fasting because of Ramadan I just sat across the table from the pastor and we talked as he ate. It was enjoyable to talk to him and pick his mind, he found out I was involved in youth ministry and that I was in the Behavioral Health field and so he picked my mind as well. It was good to have a sincere and intellectual discussion about life and faith and everything in between, he furthered the sense of  it feeling like a family reunion in my mind. After lunch I took some time to talk to the people around me about what being a 7th Day Adventist meant to them, a lot of them referenced the view of being The Remnant, which is a part of Adventist doctrine and theology. One man was very talkative about his faith and what it meant to him, and I was greatly encouraged by the length and breadth of our discussion, especially because it never came across as preachy, rote rhetoric, or mere head knowledge, he did what he could to take his views as a 7th Day Adventist and practice them out in daily living. That is a kind of belief I can completely relate to.

Overall it was a worthwhile time spent amongst 7th Day Adventists. It was good to engage God in a new-to-me environment and to pick the minds of the pastor as well as members of the congregation. The Adventists I encountered were very charitable with their time and hospitable with what they had, the nature of the “Acts of the Church” as found in the Bible seems to be very alive and well amongst them and I gather that it wasn’t for show, that this is truly how they connect faith with living on a daily basis and not solely on Saturdays. And for me that has always been what keeps faith alive, application not mere memorization.

~Nathanael~

Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism 101: An Open-handed System of Faith

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My views aren’t solely my own, I am not the only Red Letter Christ-centric Universalist out there, but on this blog/platform I speak for myself and myself alone.

My beliefs that I hold are held in open hands. I operate from a nuanced stance of an open-handed system of faith. If you’re in community with me in real life you will probably hear before or during my time of unpacking Red Letter Christ-centric Universalism “I might be wrong” because what I have learned and gleaned from others, what I have found out on my own, has to be put up for examination; I am not above reproach nor do I turn it away, it’s why when it comes to my faith system I very well could be wrong and so that’s why my faith is open-handed.

Disclaimer: I don’t consider my years spent as an Evangelical to be years wasted, for they served as the building blocks of what I know and hold in an open hand these days. They were never a stepping stone, that is, I was never in one place looking to hop off to the next place and then on to the next and so on. They gave me the tools and the basis for what I believe in now, and I look back upon those years fondly and I send them my light and love.
I am not devoid of having self-identified Evangelicals friends and family members, and if anything I have much love for them. Do I cut them down for their views? Absolutely not! It works for them in this season of life, and something shifts in their lives and their belief system, I will be there with them all the while, in solidarity and fidelity.

***

I grew up in a Christian home, was homeschooled, went to church on Sundays and youth group and/or AWANA on Wednesdays. And what I learned in the time in each of those settings was a “you have to know what you believe.” And with that in mind I learned all the songs, learned a lot of Bible verses, had answers to questions or sought out answers if none were given in a timely fashion. I learned a lot, I grew to know a lot, I had a lot of faith, and I also had a lot of beliefs, but so much of it was whittled down to either orthodoxy (right beliefs) or orthopraxis (right practices).
It’s why there was a slight discord amongst me (WASP-in-training) and my Catholic friends. Because I held the Truth with a capital T, they weren’t Christian they were Catholic, and subsequently they didn’t have it right and that’s what it’s all about…right?
I thought it was, and given my microcosm Evangelical-centric universe, I was led to believe that I was as well. But what shifted me, and subsequently shifted my views, was one big thing: relationships.

Relationships have the capacity to unravel or provide ground to reexamine what we think / what we believe and I for one think that’s a great thing. In my own life I think the unraveling / reexamining first occurred when I was attending community college. I was involved with a diversity group, Circles Of Understanding, and while there weren’t a lot of us in attendance we all did collectively come from different backgrounds.

I remember clearly the day we decided to discuss religion as a group, and instead of making it a “this is what I believe” discussion we brought up stereotypes other people think about our religions. I pointed out that people might assume that I am bigoted and prone to bash people over the head with the Bible. One of my peers brought up the issues she faced as a Muslim in a post-911 world, and how people assumed the worst, as if she had an explosive vest strapped to her chest with the intention to blow others up. Because we put out there what we experienced and what people thought they knew about us, putting out a bit of vulnerability to others, it led to a friendship that still exists to this day.

***

I have many stories about encounters with others that have shifted and broadened my thoughts about life and faith and everything in between. I know some people operate under the premise that you have to lock down what you think and believe when it comes to matters of faith, and honestly I think that’s what leads to extremism in any faith system, because you do not allow room for anything to upset your way of thinking, and consequently your way of living. Faith should be open to critique, to questioning, and also to doubting.
I know my views aren’t solely my own, and I know others may have a difficult time stepping out in faith as to broadening their views on faith and God, but to those of you who find yourself at a crossroads with all this I find that it is ultimately worth it to do so. The bottom won’t fall out, the sky won’t crash, you might find yourself in new circles and new communities, but through it all God is there and present. There’s no need to build up stronger walls when your faith is challenged, just let go and enjoy the ride!

~Nathanael~

Church Incognito; Intellectual, Communal, Missional, my experience at a Lutheran Church

On the Saturday night before Mother’s Day I was talking to my friend about my Church Incognito project. I was still undecided as to where I’d be going to church on Sunday and he invited me to St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church, as he and his brother and his mother and grandmother would be there! I love my friend so it was an easy sell.

Upon arriving to St. Olaf’s I arrived almost at the same time my friend and his family did! So it was great to finally meet them! As we walked in we were all greeted warmly by the ushers as well as our mutual friends who also attend the church.

As I entered the sanctuary I scanned for familiar faces as well as to get an idea of who attends St. Olaf’s, and it was encouraging to see a diversity of older individuals and their families as well as younger families, and there were even multi-generational families represented. I am always encouraged by the latter because it’s something I would like to do someday, that is, go to church with my kids and my kids children. There’s something beautiful to it and I am pleased to see it happening in real life.

As the service started I was encouraged by the pastor making it known that he wanted St. Olaf’s Lutheran Church to be “intentionally making this place a place of welcome”. There was the passing of the peace, there was re-greeting some friends, and then it was time to sing hymns and reading Bible verses corporately.
Having grown up in the church for nearly my entire life long term memory has served me well. I enjoy singing hymns, especially as one voice within a church. There weren’t any “new” ones so I was able to find the cadence with the congregation and sing along. Even reading the Bible out loud and in community is one of my favorites as well, especially when it comes to reading what’s attributed to the doings and beings and sayings of Jesus. The power that comes with unity when it comes to serve God and serve others is hard for me to put into words, but for every instance I am able to worship God in the context of church I am ever grateful.

The service was good, Mother’s Day was the theme and so the message was along the lines of why God made moms. It was systematic in nature with bullet points:
1. Moms FEEL with us.
2. Moms PROTECT us.
3. Moms SACRIFICE with us.
4. Moms CREATE a home for us.
5. Moms MOTIVATE us.
How do we respond?
How can we honor our moms?
1. We OBEY them.
2. We BLESS them.
3. We TAKE CARE of them and lastly…
4. CHOCOLATE!

All very good, and Bible verses supported these points. And after a few more hymns, church was over! I was invited by friend’s mother to spend mother’s day with them but I already had mother’s day plans of my own so I politely declined.

Overall it was a worthwhile time spent at St. Olaf’s. It was good to see old friends and some new, and to finally connect with some people I knew solely on Facebook at first. I love Lutherans, they’re for the most part an intellectual group of people and I for one appreciate people who have smarts that they utilize in a communal-missional sense. Lutherans have that in spades, and while I might not align myself denominationally I have no qualms with those who do provided they recognize their identity in Christ first and foremost. Hearing about faith is one thing, but I am ever pleased to see it in action, and Lutherans for the most part have that down.

~Nathanael~