Let Us Have Gender Freedom . . . and God Sees that It Is Good

The announcement that the Trump Administration is considering fundamental changes in federal regulations to enforce strict binary gender norms for all Americans is distressing, demeaning, ugly, to say the least. However, it occurs to me that this may be a good time to reflect theologically about gender; can those of us who oppose the various attempts to control others’ bodies find guidance from biblical texts and spiritual reflection? 

I have been engaged in various small ways supporting transgender people for many years, including during my time as Pastor of MCC Richmond VA where I worked closely with an active trans community on several projects. 

Additionally, over the past several years, I have begun to identify as gender queer—still am comfortable being a man in my birth body, but clear that my understanding of that gender differs from the norm. This process began many years ago when I started wearing long, dangly earrings that many say are feminine. (see my earlier posts, “Choosing to Be Me Again” and “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). 

More recently, as the controversies swelled about bathroom and locker room usage, I began to reflect theologically about gender and specifically about the movement by many, particularly in church and government, to enforce rigid gender norms. 

The Apartheid of SexI begin from a truth I learned long ago from Martine Rothblatt in her book, The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender (1995). She writes

“There are five billion people in the world and five billion unique sexual identities. Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone.”  (xiii)

Of course, we know that skin tone and gender play powerful roles in how society is organized but her point is apt: neither makes any real difference, except as society creates and enforces, and we often reinforce, structures to keep these two aspects of ourselves in line. 

She also wrote that it is time to end the classification of people by sex, “because in truth our sex is as individualized as our fingerprints and as special as our souls (my emphasis).” (157). I hope to return to this proposal on another occasion. 

As special as our souls…………indeed. There’s where God comes in. 

The Hebrew text in Genesis 1:27 reads, “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Jewish Study Bible). Those who seek to get everybody in one or the other box, male or female, rely on this text and others to say that what God has ordered must be followed. 

Of course, there are a number of objections to be raised about these arguments. First, for me, is the reality that the Bible, in Hebrew and Christian texts, makes many claims about what God orders and commands. Some faithful people believe that every word is dictated by God, but even if you do, and I don’t, we still have to engage in interpretation to understand what the commands mean for us now. My point: We don’t actually have any assurance that the statement in Genesis 1:27 means that there are only two genders. 

Second, could it not mean that God’s creation of each human involves our being some sort of combination of both? A footnote in The Jewish Study Bible, for example, says, “Whereas the next account of human origins (Gen. 2:4b-24) speaks of God’s creation of one male from whom one female subsequently emerges, Gen. Chapter 1 seems to speak of groups of men and women created simultaneously.”

Elohim in HebrewA note in The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, points out that the Hebrew for God in this passage, Elohim, is actually a plural (literally “gods” or “powers”), but is ordinarily treated as a singular noun. “This verse and two others (Genesis 3:22 and 11:7) are notable exceptions. The ‘us’ has been explained as the majestic or imperial plural; others see it as God including the angelic host; still others, as a reflection of the more ancient polytheistic roots of the story.“ (There are times when the word is used of lesser, foreign gods, but to the best of my understanding and searching these three instances are the only times in the ancient text has God referring to God’s self as “us.”)

Might another way to read that is to see is that these groups, and God, are not as rigidly defined as we have been taught to believe? We now know, thanks to genetic studies, that many of us are not purely one or the other, that our genes are combinations of X and & Y chromosomes in varying proportions. I think of “effeminate men” and “mannish women” in this regard, Among some Native American tribal traditions, Two Spirit persons exhibit behaviors and attributes of both genders and are considered to have special spiritual powers. Is not God all of these, and more? 

However, theologically speaking, there is a larger issue at play here. When we interpret biblical texts—and that is what we always must do, interpret them because we cannot ever be absolutely certain of the intention by those who repeated these texts and eventually wrote them down—what is our standard of interpretation?

Do we interpret in opposition to what we see around us, that is, do we insist that any new realities discovered since the texts were recorded and canonized be disregarded and/or declared the work of evil forces? Or do we seek to bring the reality in front our eyes and the texts into harmony? Do we see in the texts the promise of more wisdom or do we simply repeat the wisdom from before? Do we let creation unfold or do we insist that God created everything eons ago and nothing has changed? 

Indeed, do we let God continue to create or do we give God thanks for what God has done and then, in effect say,” Stop God, we don’t want anything new, don’t give us any new ideas, any new information?” In my view, this is idolatry, creating a false idol, calling it God, and insisting that there is nothing new in God’s universe. 

Queering ChristianityWhen human beings play God by not letting God be God we suffer. In this case, transgender, gender variant, gender queer, folks suffer. What is being considered by the Trump Administration is codifying that which was never meant to be codified, at least not by God, who is the author of change and growth every moment of every day. 

As I have written elsewhere, “We serve a God who is always messing with our all-too-human arrangements, our desire for things to be neat and tidy and easy” (See “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God, Who Is Always Up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, Shore-Goss, Bohache, Cheng, and West, eds. Praeger 2013). 

In that same essay, I quote Lisa Isherwood and the late Marcella Althaus-Reid, 

God dwells in flesh and when this happens all our myopic earth-bound ideas are subject to change; the dynamic life-force which is the divine erupts in diversity and the energy of it will not be inhibited by laws and statutes. Far from creating the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, this dynamism is always propelling us forward into new curiosities and challenges. It does not shut us off from the world; it is the world drawing us into more of ourselves as we spiral in the human/divine dance (“Queering Theology,” in The Sexual Theologian: Essays on Sex, God, and Politics, T& T Clark, 2004). 

This proposal by the administration—and supported by many in various religious groups—is anti-God. They claim they are serving God, but it is a hollow God they serve, as indeed are all our efforts to contain God in our self-justifying insistence on things remaining exactly as they were (or at least as we think they were). 

Biblical literalismWe must of course oppose it, and all like-minded efforts to limit and even eliminate human and natural diversity from the globe. It is always a tall order to stand against forces of repression and injustice, against those who refuse to see God really at work in changing us and the world. 

But we can do so knowing that God’s creation has many more than two genders. Indeed, the creation of genders is an on-going act of God because God is still creating humans.  Further,  even as we labor as faithfully and courageously as we can and as we know our own limits, God is not going away, God adapts and prods and beckons us in directions new to us (though not to God).  I say this not so much to offer comfort to those under threat from this proposal and many other efforts to limit humanity, but rather to affirm the reality that all things are, despite opposition, becoming new. 

Thanks be to God for all we have received, are receiving, will receive!

Unlock the Trap–Part 1

 

“If we- and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others- do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world” 

― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Note to the reader: This is the first installment in what I hope will become some queer theological conversation, aimed most specifically at the faith community I love, Metropolitan Community Churches, but also available and helpful to any persons or people who seek wholeness and justice for all. I begin with some story, and then in subsequent posts will move to some analysis and theology. I invite your response at any time. 

I came into Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in 2001, in my middle 50s, through MCC New York. I appreciated the racial, sexual, and gender diversity of the congregation and the focus on social justice in preaching and mission. Rev. Pat Bumgardner rarely missed, and still rarely misses, an opportunity to connect biblical readings with contemporary events and our spiritual and ethical responsibilities, including racial justice.

MetropolitanCommunityChurch New York
MCC New York

But in retrospect I realize that dialogue about white racism, privilege, and supremacy, was not part of congregational life. I don’t mean Rev. Pat and Rev. Kristen Klein-Cechittini, the pastoral leadership during my time at MCCNY, failed to preach about it (they certainly did), but rather that we did not have facilitated, ongoing, intentional conversations within the congregation.

Please understand I am not engaging in after-the-fact criticism of them or other leaders, who did and do so much to promote justice (and may have done much to promote dialogue after I left in 2003), but rather to reflect on why even progressive congregations and leaders so often fail to engage this topic, especially in sustained dialogue, that is so central to the social fabric of the United States. And I wish to hold myself accountable for my participation in this failure.

When I came to MCCNY I had completed a Ph.D. in Theology at Disrupting white supremacy from withinUnion Theological Seminary in the City of New York. My doctoral work and dissertation were focused on the theological value, beauty and power of darkness, especially in the writings of James Baldwin and Audre Lord. I had learned a lot about white supremacy, privilege and racism, and was actively engaged with two other colleagues in theology and ethics on a book of essays, Disrupting White Supremacy from Within: White People on What We Need To Do.

But I did not apply any of that to my life in the church, even when I became the Director of Adult Christian Education.

In 2003, I was elected pastor of MCC Richmond, Virginia. The city proper has a very significant African-American population, approximately 60% in 2000. The suburban counties around Richmond were far more white, 20% non-white, or even less depending on the jurisdiction.

Among other things, the Search Committee and Board charged me with diversifying the congregation. When I arrived there was one person of color, an Afro-Caribbean woman, in regular attendance.

MCC Richmond exterior
MCC Richmond

I included racial analysis in my sermons, made a vow to myself to include each week a quotation by, or reference to, a person of color, and I laid plans for observing Kwanzaa right after Christmas. That first year, all but one of the readers in that service were people of European descent.  One young African American man who had started coming with his white husband shared in the readings. We put kente cloth on the communion table.

I do not know if those steps, which I continued for the remainder of my time as pastor, had anything to do with slowly rising African American attendance at worship and the gradual inclusion of African American members in leadership. What I believe jump started that trend more than anything was that several transgender African American women, some would say “divas,” started attending church.

Their presence was visible—they did not shy away from being very much noticed. When one, who was widely known as a performer in the community, was murdered and I was asked by her mother to offer the eulogy and our church to host what became a standing room only funeral, there was a noticeable uptick in attendance and involvement. The death was tragic and awful, but it did open some doors for others.

I prevailed on some of our white leadership to join me for the post-funeral repast in the neighborhood, usually avoided by white people as an unfriendly and dangerous area, where she had lived and been shot. That opened the eyes of some of them—they discovered that these neighbors were good people and that they need not be so fearful.

Those changes did not necessarily alter the reality that most white members did not socialize outside church events with Black people, or have close African American friends. In fact, a reality I discovered during my candidacy to become pastor—namely that white people danced at one gay club and Black people at another, and the white people did not even know the name or location of the other venue—continued to be the norm until I left the pastorate in 2013.  There were individual exceptions, but they were few.

Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union Unversity

I knew the name and location of that club (although I do not remember it now) but I never visited it, never even asked any parishioners or others about it. I decided at one point to seek connection with African American clergy but after a couple of less than satisfactory forays I did not persist. I did try to build some connection with the dean and faculty of the seminary at Virginia Union University, an historically Black institution.  But I did not put much energy into it, mostly attending an event from time to time. And other than members and leaders of the church, I did not seek out African American friends.

What I am hoping to discern and convey in this personal history are the dynamics at work in me, in the congregation, and possibly in those in the African American community to whom I reached out. I do this not merely as an historical enterprise but also as a way to better understand how white supremacy/racism/privilege worked, and works yet, in my life–so I can live now in ways that diminish their power.  As a queer theologian, I think stories, actual lived experiences and bodies, are vehicles for creating understanding and change.

As Baldwin said elsewhere, “White people are trapped in a history they do not understand.” It is possible that my story here may also help other white people in the MCC movement, and in other contexts, to examine their own stories and unpack the dynamics at work in them—in order for all of us to do more concrete, effective work to overcome the power of white supremacy, to dismantle the trap, in our church and our world.

In my next post here, I will offer some reflection on this history, sharing what I see as some of the underlying power and privilege dynamics at work. In the meantime, I invite you to ponder these observations and to reflect on your own stories—as part of beginning to understand the history in which we are trapped and to learn how to break free of it and change ourselves and the world.

Choosing to Be Me Again

Robin Oct 20 2015
Wearing earrings to my first Open Mic Poetry Reading at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt, October 20 2015

My life has undergone a wonderful shift, reclaiming a piece of my personal identity I gave up five years ago: I am wearing earrings again.

I don’t remember exactly when I started wearing earrings–one in each ear, usually somewhat long and dangly–but it was some time in the early to mid-90s. Nor do I remember exactly what prompted me to have my ears pierced, but it was probably because it had been the custom for many gay men to wear one earring in the left ear. I thought then, as I do now, that I like both my ears and would not favor one over the other.

I do remember finding a pair of long, dangling rainbow earrings at a flea market in Brooklyn and buying them, and finding great pleasure in wearing them. They were my first (other than boring studs and rings). Sadly, I have lost them.

But I have many other pairs. I kept them when I stopped wearing them in 2010, thinking I might resume the custom later.

Why did I stop?

Robin with earrings
Pastoring with earrings before 2010

Leaders in the congregation where I served as pastor told me that although they supported my habit, they also believed it cost us members. Not wanting to hurt the church, I took off my earrings. I remember well how many in the group applauded when I did this; a few others did not. They told me they were unhappy that I given in to these opinions.

The truth is that the number of visitors to the church did not increase nor did our rate of new member retention improve.

What caused me to return to this practice?

Some of my earrings, on a holder created by my daughters 20+ years ago
Some of my earrings, on a holder created by my daughters 20+ years ago

First, I have been missing the joy I felt in choosing earrings each day, and looking for new ones, too. I also felt I had lost a part of myself.

But what pushed me at this time was participating in a online symposium for my denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches (see October 16, 2015 “What’s Sex Got to Do with It?”), “Who Are We, Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.” As I listened to presentations and prepared my own remarks for a panel on healing queer bodies and healing the Body of Christ, I realized I had been living in denial. I denied my own sense of self by removing the earrings, and I had become disconnected from the me who is gender queer.

http://academicnudes19thcentury.blogspot.com/
http://academicnudes19thcentury.blogspot.com/

I am male-bodied and glad of it. I like having and using a penis and other aspects of male embodiment. I am gay and glad of that, too. I like other penises, and other aspects of male embodiment in men generally (and my husband’s in particular!). But I have my own ways of expressing those truths, and one way is by decorating myself in ways that honor my own particularities. Those decorations include earrings (and wearing colorful socks that match or accent the rest of my clothes, and using scarves and various other items of clothing).

Those practices have caused people to ask me if I am transgender. I have to say “No” even as I honor my trans siblings as they explore, express and live their truths. I am glad to be on the gender continuum with them, as a gender queer.

And there is one other aspect. As I age, my relationship with sex has changed. I no longer take it for granted. My body requires more attention, to be healthy, of course, but also to be sexy and sexually active. For reasons I do not fully understand, earrings help me feel more sexual and desirable, even to experience more desire. I do hope someday to wear only earrings at a nude or clothing optional beach (just have to be careful not to lose them!).

And then there is one more very important thing: I really want to undermine the rigid gender binary (for more on this, see “Why Do Watches Have Gender?”). This is the spiritual and political activist in me. I seek to undermine any system that undercuts the souls of God’s people in all our wondrous, divinely-inspired and created, variety.

So, the earrings are back!

I’m back!

What’s Sex Got to Do with It?

imageI am ordained clergy in a Christian denomination, Metropolitan Community Churches, that exists because of sex.

Thus, it may not seem unusual that we are having a three-day virtual symposium entitled, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit.”

And yet, this is the first such planned, intentional conversation ever in our mostly Protestant global denomination that arose in Los Angeles 47 years ago to serve the spiritual needs of lesbian and gay Christians.

Rev. Elder Troy D.Perry
Rev. Elder Troy D.Perry

In 1968, when Rev. Troy Perry issued the invitation in The Advocate for people to come to his home for the first service, people were regularly arrested for having same-sex sex and for dressing “against” their gender (butch lesbians, femme gay men, transexuals, e.g.), and many attempted suicide in the face of losing family and jobs. Troy himself was not arrested, but he did attempt suicide. And in his autobiographical account of the founding, tells of going with many others to bring friends and lovers home from jail. One such incident sparked the call in his heart to start a new church. Twelve people showed up on October 6, and things started rolling.

imageThat’s why I say we started because of sex. Sex is at our center as a gathered faith community. If men were not having sex with men and women with women, we would not exist. Just in case you are wondering, we still are having sex.

imageBut the truth is that in many, if not most, of our churches, you would not know it. We don’t talk about it much. We’re just like the rest of the Church, in denial.

One reason we keep quiet about sex is that we have tried hard to be accepted by the larger religious establishment. That has worked, somewhat, but we are still barred from membership in the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches, too.

imageAnother reason is that many of our people are still fighting internalized homophobia and shame. LGBT folks are not exempt from the various forms of body shame that infect so many people, and we all have to cope with the same air of negativity and judgment about same-sex love that everyone else has had to breathe.

imageThose factors are undergirded by the general sex phobia of Christianity. Why our larger faith is this way seems strange–Jesus is not recorded as saying anything negative about sex (or even same-sex sex), and even cares for several people who are sexually active (remember the woman accused of adultery?).

In the first two sessions yesterday, the first day, we heard some of our history in the U.S. and some of the challenges we face in other parts of the world today. We also delved into approaches to “deconstructing heteronormativity” (sadly I missed most of this session).

imageAnd in the third session, about 30 of us conducted a moderated, open discussion of the question, “How do we bring sex to church?”

Implicit in that question is that it is desirable to bring sex to church. I surely agree.

imageBut that is not by far what many Christians, in MCC and in other groups, ordained or lay, would say. And for many who would agree, it would be to be sure that people only had sex in marriage and for many of them only for the purposes of procreation. And they would not think that a group of LGBT folks ought to be bringing our perverted sexual lives anywhere near church.

imageSo the first line dividing many (I hope all in MCC are on this side): sex is good. The second might be that there should be more of it. But even before that would be the reality that God is the author of sexuality and that God’s design is rich and varied and not under the control of self-appointed, or even biblically anointed, sex police.

Could this be your church?
Could this be your church?

This symposium is touching on all this, and more, and pushing boundaries all over the place, and is the most exciting religious/theological event I have attended in a long time.

Such is the power of sex. Thank God!

[Note: this last picture, taken at the renowned Opera House in Sydney, Australia, is too white for my taste–I want my church to be far more diverse–but I had a hard time finding a picture of a large group of naked people. And it is pretty cool anyway–all those wondrously naked bodies simply enjoying being alive! If you click on it, you can appreciate the diversity of bodies.]

The “Naked Saint”–A Model for the “Protestant” Pope

Pope Francis is doing something radical in the Roman Catholic Church: he is encouraging people to have conversations about formerly taboo topics.

Pope Francis thumbs upBy and large, the media focuses on what he says–and what he might be thinking–e.g., will he support same-sex marriage (unlikely any time soon) or change church teaching about divorce or abortion (also unlikely)–rather than what seems to me to be the most important thing he is doing, namely engaging laity to think for themselves. He may be the most Protestant Pope we have ever had!

Of course, theological and ecclesial conservatives are alarmed. They see “confusion” where before there was order.

I have long believed there are two kinds of models for church. They are in some ways polar opposites of each other, and all churches fall somewhere along the continuum between the two ends.

rules must followOne is the church as an ideological institution in which the church, and its leadership, promulgate and enforce doctrines and behaviors. I call this the Rule Church. The other is is church as a gathering place for people who want to receive and share the unfolding truth and love of God. I call this the Free Church. You probably can tell my bias.

feeding-5000
Feeding the 5,000–a model for the Free Church?

No church in existence, or in history, is precisely one or the other. Rule Churches include gatherings of people which at least look somewhat like the Free Church. And the Free Churches have rules and people to enforce, or at least articulate, them.

Right now, the Rule Church known as the Roman Catholic Church is being challenged, not just by lay people and a few unruly dissident priests. Now it is the Pope himself (so far, it must always be a “him”) who is raising questions about the rules and their enforcement (and sometimes the enforcers).

Pope Francis blessing bikers
Pope Francis blessing a group of Harley Davidson bikers

One response to this untidiness is to invoke the historic doctrines, or rules, of the church, and to remind the Pope, and others who support him, that “The pope does not have the power to change teaching [or] doctrine.” That is the voice of Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Wisconsin-born prelate recently demoted by Pope Francis.

St. Francis renouncing worldly goods by Giotti Di Bondone
St. Francis renouncing worldly goods by Giotti Di Bondone

Francis. The name is a clue. This is the saint who gave up worldly wealth and power, stripped off all his stylish clothes and became a Christian ascetic. He got along with those in high authority but at the same time he built the order he founded the way he wanted. He did not seek high office, never becoming a priest. He lived by a few rules, and told others in the order to do so as well. Mostly, they focused on serving the poor and outcast.

In his emphasis on humility and service and love, as well as his willingness to break with authority and custom when it denies life to others, St. Francis seems to me to be the most Jesus-like of all the saints.

Unlike many of his critics, Pope Francis seems to believe the rules exist to serve the people. Perhaps he, like his saintly forebearer, is less interested in power and rules and more interested in service and love.

That sounds a lot like Jesus to me.

Jesus of the Umbilical Cord

Too often, we who are Christians have taken the life out of our religion. Our traditions become relics, almost bloodless, empty of connection with how people, we, actually live (and how the people in the stories on which the traditions are based actually lived, too).

Of course, this varies by culture and particular religious traditions. For example, Three Kings Day, or the Feast of the Epiphany, does not get much notice in many western Christian circles–but in Hispanic or Latino/a cultures and churches, January 6 is a really big deal.

We Three KingsDespite the song that celebrates the “Twelve Days of Christmas”–omnipresent in every store for at least six weeks prior to December 25–most people are surprised that, according to the liturgical calendar, Christmas actually lasts twelve days.

Surely, they think, the last day of Christmas is the day, or maybe two days, after Christmas Day when people rush to the malls for bargains and/or to return or exchange gift items. Truly, Christmas has become a secular holiday for most, and a much-needed boost to consumer spending. For most, Christmas begins when the shopping season begins, and ends with Christmas dinner or a day or two of post-holiday shopping. In the church, Christmas Day is the beginning not the ending. Or at least, it is supposed to be.

And, much of the time, when there is attention to Epiphany, it is the magi who are most noticed, even though they came to see the infant. Of course, the infant is the center of the story. Infants usually are.

The infant. Do we really believe he was a baby? He is usually pictured soundly sleeping, or at least resting quietly–“no crying he makes,” says the carol we sing each year. What kind of baby is that? Is that a real baby? Three Wiser women

And what about his parents and the situation they were in? The stable and the manger-crib always look so tidy, as if Housekeeping had just come by and gotten everything in order.

Several pictures that I have seen over the past couple of weeks have reminded me that despite the sweet carols we sing, and the adorable pageants that youth offer in many churches, this was not an easy time for Mary (any one who has given birth or even been present as someone else is doing so knows it is incredibly hard, painful work), and even Joseph and Jesus, too.

And the magi–whether there were three or 103, the biblical record does not say, despite the tradition–seem an odd group, bringing treasure and worship, even though they were not Jewish, let alone Christian(!).

So, pictured to the right is a humorous attempt to make the story a bit more real–the Three Wiser Women arriving to provide more homely, practical gifts needed by the parents of every newborn.

The Christ Child St_Martin-in-the-Fields sculpture by Michael ChapmanAnd pictured here are two views of a sculpture at the entrance to St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Anglican Church), Trafalgar Square, London, by Michael Chapman. In one, we see the whole sculpture from a side view. The sculptor has chiseled the phrase “In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh and lived among us” from chapter one of John’s Gospel around the stone (visible is “In the beginning” on the right, and “lived among us” on the left).

The second shows the top of the sculpture, with the baby Jesus looking different from most portrayals. First, he has baby boy genitals. We don’t often see Jesus this way. And even more startling is the umbilical cord still attached.

The Christ Child St Martin in the Field close up

When I saw this, at a Jazz Vespers service at the Gayton Kirk (Presbyterian Church) in Richmond’s West End, I was deeply moved. Here is a “real baby,” vulnerable like babies are–not wrapped in swaddling clothes with angels singing and shepherds and worldly wise men praying–given a prominent place among the high and important buildings (including the towering monument to Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar) in this historic section of one of the world’s major cities.

Yes, he is carved out of stone–the sculpture can appear as a tombstone, so perhaps the artist seeks to  remind us of what happens later–but I can actually hear a baby cry, and know that he will pee and poop, and that when the cord is cut there will be blood as there always is during birth.

This baby became a real man, the most perfect and wise and powerful man of whom I have ever known, and for me, as for so many other believers, he lives among us still. Seeing him this way, and seeing the women above, reminds me that just as the baby was a human being so was the full-grown man.

He is the Lord to me, but he is Lord with whom I can enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, and shoot the breeze, as well as Lord from whom I can continually learn how to be fully human, that is, how to live the fullness of the divine origins we share, as children created in the image of God.

God Is Not the One Who Needs to Show Up

For years, I prayed for God to be present in my life. Now, I pray for me to be present in my life, and thus to be present with God.

Why? God never left. I am the one who fails to show up.

As a Christians, I have prayers asking Jesus to come. Jesus does not need to come. Jesus, like God, is already here. So, I no longer prayer for Jesus to show up.

Or the Holy Spirit. It always used to bother me, asking the Holy Spirit to come. I figured that for sure the Holy Spirit was already here, having been taught that HS is everywhere.

Julian of NorwichSo, now I meditate for 30 minutes each morning, seeking to connect with God who is already connected with me. My job is to make it mutual.

I follow the ancient formula of Julian of Norwich (right), one cool lady mystic in England (1342-1416). She said that we need to Await, Allow, Accept, Attend.

Her instruction about Await and even the others may seem to contradict what I am saying, because she suggests we Await the presence of God. But her teaching is that we are to await the Presence, not as we expect it or want it, but the way God wants to be present. So as I meditate it offer my intention to await whatever gift(s) God has for me today.

But even before I do that, I have added my own “A” or ‘A’s”: before I await, I am Awake, Alert, and Alive to God’s presence.

Await allow accept attendSo, Robin of Richmond, far from being a mystic, stumbles along most mornings, seeking to be present with God in this way:

Awake/Alert/Alive to God’s Presence

Await God’s presence and gifts in whatever way God wants to share them;

Allow God to enter in where God already is, and allow God’s gifts to touch, inspire, and transform me this day’

Accept whatever Presence and gifts God has for me (and all that God has already shared with me);

Attend to what God has given me by using and sharing the gifts and God’s presence to heal me and others and contribute to the healing of the world, to grow in faith, to be a faithful witness for omnipresence of God in the universe.

It is not easy to sit for 30 minutes in silence, with candles lighted and a prayer shawl draped on my shoulders. I can sit pretty still (only seeking now and again to straighten my posture) but my mind goes many places. I let it go, and as best I can I come back to the center of my meditation, back to God really. Sometimes, I silently or quietly say “God” or “Jesus” or whatever “A” I am on as a way of bringing me back.

between God and the human there is no between Julian of NorwichI can say that even when I wander a lot, and may not even feel very centered, my day is always richer. Even if my side of the connection is weak, the desire and attempt to connect makes a difference. Just showing up to try makes a difference.

It is amazing how fast the 30 minutes goes, once I let myself be present.

It is, after all, about Presence. God’s and mine, together. Things in my life always go better with God.