Monday, August 12, 2013

The Power of the Paradigm-Shifting Gospel


Which Gospel do you profess?



Do not enter signs


As Stephen, the author of the blog "Sacred Tension // A Story of Dissonance" powerfully expressed in his post today ("The Cost of Words"),
"Most Christians believe they speak eloquently and wisely on this topic (homosexuality), but as long as they fail to realize the cost of their words, they will be babbling uselessly to those who are practically dying to hear the gospel of love."
As a transexual Christian woman, I can say that when it comes to reconciling our faith to our sexuality, all of us who are LGBTQI have experienced an internalized struggle and fierce debate that would make your dogma run for the hills. 

Growing up in a time when the word “transgender” did not exist meant that I did not even have the ability to understand why I felt the way I did. As the fundamentalist Christian I grew up to be, there was only one explanation, I had a perverse bent that needed high spiritual maintenance.

This was my thorn in the flesh and it was also the one area in which Satan would have the best chance to destroy me.

To combat this threat, I used every tool in my Christian toolbox; I memorized scripture, I prayed, I cried to God, I made promises to be good, I pleaded the blood of Christ, and I told Satan to stand behind me “In the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

The turning point for me only occurred recently, in relative terms. I came to faith in Christ during the Jesus People movement of the early 70s and for forty years spiritualized my gender confusion, while at the same time hoping and praying that Jesus would eventually make me normal.

Even though my prayer for healing never materialized, my faith is what saved me in the sense that it kept me sober of mind, sparing me from self-destruction. It also paid off dividends in that I was blessed with a wife and three sons and a successful career. But the fact remained that the external appearances were only paper thin and in reality I felt more like Jesus' description of the Pharisees, white washed on the outside, but full of dead bones. 

Six years ago I came to the end of my rope. I could no longer fight the battle and I was prepared to fall on my own sword. My internalized, christianized transphobia (and homophobia) had become so intense that it kept me from seeing how God had answered my prayers to have peace about who and what I was. In summary, I was finally able to reconcile my faith to what the doctors at the gender clinic had told me eight years earlier, that I was transgender and that with their help I could enjoy a better quality of life.

My miracle was not that I was suddenly freed of gender confusion and made "normal," rather, I was able to see I lived in a time and place where there was help available to me. This was my miracle—in much the same way that anyone with a life-long medical condition may no longer be doomed to take it to the grave, thanks to modern medicine through surgical or medicinal interventions. 

This realization was possible because I saw in scripture the inclusiveness of God powerfully and beautifully demonstrated in the story told my Luke in the Book of Acts about Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Have you ever wondered why this story includes the person's sexual otherness? Could not the story have been told about this remarkable person—an official from the court of the Queen of Ethiopia—without this very personal detail? It is not out of the realms of possibility that Luke got the first hand account directly from Philip, and if we believe that all scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, what can we make of this? We need to consider the following questions if we want to learn from this amazing story:
  1. Why was it so important for Philip to point out this official was a eunuch?
  2. What was it about this person that made Philip aware of this? Was it the pitch of the voice, the person's stature, mannerism, dress/clothing? Did the eunuch out himself?
  3. Why did Luke also include this detail, was it because he happened to be a physician and this was a significant detail for him as well?
The first thing we learn about Philip is that he was a visceral and visual person. When he told Andrew about Jesus and said, "we have found the one Moses and the prophets talked about," and Andrew replied with skepticism, Philip did not enter into a debate with him. Instead he simply said, "Come and see." Every story in the Gospels that mention Philip include the verb to see in some form or another. It was to him that Jesus turned to when they SAW the multitudes approaching and asked how they were going to feed them.

Philip took a lot in through his eyes and his paradigms were shifted in the process. What did he learn from seeing Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well? Whatever it was, it explains why the angel finds him preaching and performing miracles in Samaria—he was living out the reality of the new reign, where there are no longer barriers and exclusions based on differences. Likewise, I believe he went through a paradigm shift about sexuality after Jesus talked to them about eunuchs, as recorded in Matthew 19.

These two combined stories of Philip in Samaria and his divine appointment with the Ethiopian eunuch are evidence that, for Philip, all prior barriers to God were no longer relevant. Eunuchs, as all persons with a physical defect were considered ceremonially unclean and could not participate fully in the assembly, and Samaritans were considered infidels. Yet, here is Philip who is willing and FREE to approach and include those who were previously excluded.

After his conversion, the eunuch asks Philip, "What prevents me from being baptized?" Philip's immediate response is "Nothing!" This question melts me every time I consider it and its implications. I don't believe for a minute the eunuch is so religious that he simply wants to start off following all the new rules.

Quite the opposite—what he is saying is "As a devout Jew, I have followed all the rules of the law, yet I am not an equal and I have to stand behind the fence. Even though I travelled all this way to Jerusalem, I could not participate fully and was simply a bystander. Will it be the same in this new Kingdom, will I be sidelined?" Philip's immediate willingness to baptize the eunuch is his declaration, "Nothing prevents you from being an equal!" To see anything less in this story leaves a lot of currency on the table. 

I believe this is the call to all of us who profess to follow Jesus. We must act like Philip with unabashed immediacy in proclaiming the gift of inclusion to all who society—and religion—have labeled "OTHER." To do anything else is to proclaim a different gospel.