Sermon: Exile, Adversity, and Reconciliation

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There
is a painting called Mary Consoles Eve by Sr. Grace Remington of the
Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance
. It has a golden-yellow
background, and foliage of what looks like pear or quince branches from both
bottom corners up to form an arch above the two women, who are both shown in
profile. Eve is on the left, nude but with extremely long hair draped about her
body, holding what looks like an apple to her breast with her right hand. Her
left hand is outstretched to touch Mary’s very pregnant belly, and Eve’s gaze
is fixed on this belly. A serpent coils around Eve’s left calf and right ankle,
which is positioned ahead of her left.

Mary,
dressed in a white robe and blue veil, stretches out her right hand to touch
the side of Eve’s face, looking directly at the other woman. Mary’s left hand
grasps Eve’s right on her belly. The serpent’s head is upside-down, under
Mary’s left foot. While the look on Eve’s sorrowful face seems to say, “I’m so
sorry I put you in this situation,” the calm look on Mary’s face seems to say,
“Don’t worry: it will be alright in the end.”

The
reading from Genesis today details what happened after Eve shared the forbidden
fruit with Adam, fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Life and Death. Adam
blamed Eve, who in turn blamed the serpent: Satan. All three of them are face
consequences for their actions (Carr, 2010, pp 15-16). In Psalm 130, God is
addressed as if far away, as if to lament the distance created as a result of
two disobedient mortals, one possessed snake, and the sins of the psalmist
themself (Clifford, 2010, p. 880). And then we come to Paul and Second
Corinthians. Now I’ll admit it: I struggle with Paul. A lot of his writings
just rub me the wrong way. Here, he says that enduring suffering and adversity
brings us closer to God (Wan, 2010, p. 2030). Finally we have Mark, who tells
that overcoming adversity brings us new life. I would add to that, it brings us
to a new lifestyle as well, as we live in the New Community born of
Christ’s guidance (Horsley, 2010, pp. 1797-99).

During
my short time at seminary, I quickly earned the reputation for being an
adversarial theologian. But almost more importantly, I’m a practical
theologian. I look at these readings and wonder how they can be applied to our
lives in these current times. The themes seem to be exile, suffering adversity,
and reconciliation.

So,
when have we been exiled? When have we exiled others? What might be some
examples?

  • Cissexism (transphobia) and heterosexism (homophobia, lesbiphobia, biphobia, queerphobia, and the like)
  • Racism and colonization
  • Misogyny and ageism
  • Classism and ableism

These
things are all ways in which we have been exiled and have even exiled others.
These aren’t necessarily done against us as punishment for some transgressions,
though.

That
said, we’ve certainly heard that we often make our own exiles worse through the
things we do and say. I’ve been told by living openly as a transgender person,
as a person who is queer, as a person whose religious practice—I’m a
Christo-Pagan—is less than pure, that I make my own exile possible, even
aggravating it by not changing who and what I am. If we respond to our
oppressors with any tone of voice than what the Pagans call “perfect love and
perfect trust,” we’re told we make our exiles worse. We here things like, “So
much for the tolerant left.”

We’re
told that suffering builds character. My personal joke in response to this bit
of problemetic theology is, “Well, I’ve gotten this far in life without
character. Why would I need it now?” Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I
learned that suffering was the way to joy. That might not have been exactly
what they were teaching, but it’s what I learned. The more suffering we
endured, the more God was with us. This was said to be true because we were supposed
to pray when we faced adversity. This praying, this asking for help would bring
us closer to God. Or, so the theory goes.

But
as I said, I’m a practical theologian. What does this mean? I know we’re not
supposed to answer a question with a question, but an answer might be: “When
might we ask for help among those around us?” We are the Body of Christ here on
Earth. When we turn for help to those around us we encounter Christ in them,
and when others turn to us for help they encounter Christ in us.

There
might be times when we feel that we’ve cut ourselves off from God. The psalmist
reminds us that God’s love is steadfast. Paul reminds us there is help in
Christ. We are the Body of Christ on Earth, and Christ is part of the godhead.
Let’s call out to each other in our times of exile, and answer the cries for
help from others in their exiles. Doing so is practical theology. To paraphrase
the prophets Lennon and McCartney, “[We] get by with a little help from [our]
friends.”

And
I think back to the painting Mary Consoles Eve. It’s a work of art that
ties today’s readings together. Eve seems guilt-ridden for having been
instrumental in what many Christians call the Fall. She hasn’t necessarily
asked for Mary’s comfort, but she’s getting it anyway. And Mary, answering the
call to be the mother of Jesus, is instrumental in defeating Satan and undoing
the Fall. Between these two women and from these two women, we experience the
help and power and community that is the Body of Christ, both in the receiving
and the giving. Eve attempts to offer some measure of comfort to Mary with her
apologetic gesture, and Mary offers consolation to Eve in return. Both women
know they will suffer because of the Fall, and they reach out to each other
knowing that the New Community will be born of them, too. This is practical
theology.

Amen,
and blessed be!

______________

Sources:

Carr,
David M. “Genesis.” In The New Oxford
Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with Apocrypha
, edited by
Michael D. Coogan, pp. 7-80. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Clifford,
Richard J. “Psalms.” In The New Oxford
Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with Apocrypha
, edited by
Michael D. Coogan, pp. 773-894. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Horsley,
Richard A. “The Gospel According to Mark.” In The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with
Apocrypha
, edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 1791-1825. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2010.

Wan,
Sze-kar. “The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians.” In The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised
Standard Edition with Apocrypha
, edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 2025-39.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

The Vine: The Paraclete and The Tetrad++

[image courtesy revjohnkc.blogspot.com]

Friday, 25 May 2018

I’m really getting a lot out of The Vine at Grace Cathedral. These Wednesday evening Masses seem to use the lectionary for the Sunday preceding. So the Gospel reading used for 23 May 2018 was the selection from John about the Advocate, which is the common translation of the Paraclete.

I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the woman who preached that evening, so I can’t name her here. I ask permission before naming folks in my blog posts anyway, and I just wasn’t thinking that far ahead when I was talking with her after the Mass. But, she had offered various definitions for Paraclete, saying that the closest English translation would probably be, “the one called to our side.” This really spoke to me.

Her sermon illustration revolved around a women’s jail ministry she’s a part of. She talked of how the women in Pod D of the San Francisco jail reacted to the idea that the Holy Spirit is usually represented by a divine feminine energy. The women were amazed and uplifted by the idea of their bodies being seen as godly, as the Paraclete could be seen as a sort of spiritual doula or midwife.

I found this odd. I’m transgender: designated male at birth and raised as a boy even though I always felt something was not quite right about this. But never in my Christian life, as a Roman Catholic child or as a Protestant adult, had I ever thought of my gendered body as being reflected in divine imagery. The idea that God made wo/man in his God’s image never really “clicked” for me regarding gendered anatomy. Apparently this is not necessarily the case for others, as evidenced by the story of these women reacting to the idea that their bodies were images of God.

The first time I ever thought that my gendered body could somehow be reflected in divinity was when I attended a ritual at PantheaCon 2013, a ritual devoted to The Tetrad. The Tetrad was a four-being deity group in which all four beings are transgender in one way or another. That group is now known as The Tetrad++ as the priest who divined them divined two more beings. Of the six beings in the Tetrad++ (Panpsyche All-soul, Panhyle All-body, Paneros All-love, Pancrates All-power, Paneris All-strife, and Panprosdexia All-acceptance) transcend gender in very specific ways. So while I can certainly understand being taken in by the idea of my gendered body being holy, I really don’t experience that in Christianity. The closests might be in “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven,” but even then that’s not so much divine as it it pledging one’s body to the divine, to me.

But, this is just one of the reasons I’m a Christo-Pagan. My soul is fed in different ways by my different faith traditions. It’s not that The Vine this past Wednesday didn’t feed me, it’s just that part of the sermon didn’t quite work. And that’s okay. We come to worship, take what we need (which isn’t necessarily the same as what we want) and leave the rest.

Amen, and Blessed Be!

Memorial Day 2.0

Normally, I try to avoid going to church around the times of national holidays such as Memorial Day. Those days can come too close to blurring the line between church and state, if not crossing that line outright.

But this year, I’m all for it.

This Memorial Day, let us lift up and remember all victims of mass shootings, particularly the nation’s schoolchildren who think of these things in terms of Not If But When. And while we’re at it, let’s up lift up the survivors of mass shootings on Veterans Day.

It’s only May, and so far more children have died at school in this country than US military personnel in actual combat zones (Snopes, Politifact).

I’ve been told that we should keep Memorial Day and Veterans Day worship services for military personnel only as, “We have the other 50 Sundays of the year to memorialize civilian victims.” Only, we don’t. There isn’t a national day of mourning or atonement for these victims. And, here in this very country, we have civilians dying in greater numbers than our military personnel.

When people join the military, they do so knowing that they will be in danger. They choose to put themselves in harm’s way for the love of their country. But, we have people in this country who are dying without choosing to accept this risk. Whether it’s children in schools or unarmed persons of color confronted by police, this country is a huge war zone. And this war zone’s dead and survivors should be recognized as such.

Psychotic Prayers

Monday, 14 May 2018

I have mild psychosis, though there is debate between my psychiatrist and psychologist about this. For the time being, psychosis seems to be the best word to use.

From what I understand, I experience secondary delusions. Lately, I’ve been able to tell when they’re happening. I don’t know if it’s the medications, the therapy sessions, applying the depression management class lessons broadly, or some combination of those three, but I’m able to stop them after they start instead of letting them run their course.

But they still happen multiple times a day, and I’m getting sick of them. I find myself having conversations with people who aren’t there, running through scenarios that haven’t happened or aren’t happening, preparing for fears that could be unwarranted. I can feel the tension building in my body, and I can’t allow them to go on. Yes, I can stop them after they’ve started. But, I’d much rather prevent them from happening. I’m trying to schedule an appointment with my doctor(s) about this, but I feel I can try to address this from multiple points of view.

What gods, angels, dæmons, saints, or similar do some of you turn to for mental health support? For instance, Dymphna and Romanus of Condat are patron saints of the mad or mentally ill. Buer is considered to be a healing dæmon in general. Lucifer, the Light-bringer, is said to bring knowledge and truth.

Does anyone have any recommended rituals or prayers you offer to help keep delusions and the like at bay?

Pride Month Preaching!

I’m going to be a guest preacher at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Berkeley on Sunday, 10 June 2018! And for the month of June, all preachers will be queer and/or trans!

I’ve got a decent start on my sermon. It won’t wow people, but I don’t think I’m that kind of preacher anyway. But, I’m so honored that Rev. Este Gardner, Good Shepherd’s vicar, asked me to preach!

Beyoncé Mass at Grace Cathedral

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On Wednesday, 25 April 2018, The Vine at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco held a Beyoncé Mass. I took a short lunch that day at work in order to get to the cathedral in time. A good thing, too, as the doors for this Mass didn’t open until 6pm, and there was a long line out the door and around the cathedral’s courtyard.

Being partially disabled and already in a good deal of pain when I arrived just before 6pm, I entered from the lower level to take the elevator up to the sanctuary. There, I was directed to the line. At this point, I’d wished I’d brought my wheelchair. But if I had, the accessibility would’ve been even worse. The walkway in front of the cathedral’s main doors would not have been wide enough for me to roll pass the crowd to the end of the line. I passed numerous cathedral staff as I limped, leaning on my cane, to the end of the line. None of them asked if needed any accommodation. It was only after I’d been standing in line for about ten minutes that another person in line offered to ask the staff to let me wait inside on a seat. At that point the doors were opening anyway, so I declined her offer and thanked her.

I mention this because the sign describing the Mass indicated it was for the “forgotten and marginalized.” Well, it seems in this case the cathedral staff forgot to take into consideration accessibility and disabled persons.

It was a powerful and engergetic worship experience. And, the marginalization of trans/gender-diverse persons was addressed in some of the prayers. At other times, there was still mention of “men and women” or “sisters and brothers,” and that was a little disappointing. Even the blog post about this Mass starts with, “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.” It’s a common phrase in Christianity that is probably intended to be inclusive, but falls a bit short.

But really, those were the only two things that felt a little alienating and for me they were rather minor. I have a great interest in pop-culture spirituality and finding ways to make Christianity in particular and religion in general even more relevant in the present. And this Mass did just that. I’m sure I would’ve gotten more out of the Mass if I’d been more familiar with Beyoncé’s work. That said, I can see why which songs were chosen for the Mass in general as well as where in the Mass they were used.

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The “Calling Out” part of the Mass was used to call out to God those social sins that we need to be free from, the chorus from the song Freedom was used in between each sin called out. Again, I was happy that “transphobia and cissexism” were amoung the bondages from which we needed to be freed. The one that surprised me was when being made free of the “bondage of privilege” was called out. Being transgender, queer, mentally ill, and somewhat disabled I didn’t quite understand this. I watched various forms of privilege disappear as I came out and transitioned as as my health declines. Privilege, to me, doesn’t seem like a form of bondage. I’m going to have to investigate this idea.

I was moved to tears when reciting the Womanist Lord’s Prayer:

Our Mother,
who is in heaven and within us,
we call upon your names.
Your wisdom come.
You will be done,
In all the spaces in which You dwell.
Give us each day
sustenance an perseverance.
Remind us of our limits as
we give grace to the limits of others.
Separate us from the temptation of empire,
But deliver us into community.
For you are the dwelling place within us
the empowerment around us
and the celebration among us
now and for ever.

This language framed the Lord’s Prayer in ways I’d never encountered before. So while the music didn’t speak to me as much as it would have to others, the theology certainly moved me.