Messy Redemption, Practical Resurrection and the Space Between Everything

by - 8:27 PM

A few nights ago I spoke at a wonderful little micro-church that a friend of mine attends. She is transgender as well and wanted me to speak at her church, so she introduced me to her minister and we had agreed on a date for me to speak. I was to teach on Transgender Spirituality, a subject dear to my heart and I was very much looking forward to it.  
Well as things worked out, the first time we tried to hold the event it snowed and so the date was pushed back until this past Sunday, Palm Sunday.

And this small fact, the small fact of a Big Day, would through a series of events, doubts, and stresses eventually culminate in what I can only describe as one of the most meaningful messes of my life.

I grew up in the Church. I was front row and center pew for every service, I was the stereotypical Pastor’s Kid and a very precocious little girl. I preached my first sermon at 6 years old to a bunch of kids in the nursery, and started teaching Children’s Church at 12. To me church was home. It was where I and my few friends hung out. I got a key to my church before I got my first car key. When something went wrong, that was where I went to sort it out. I can still describe to you the scent of the burnt orange padded pews in the Menominee Church of God. This was home.

But let me tell you something about my home. Home was also where I learned I was disgusting. Home was where I learned that I was an “Abomination”. Home was the place that left me when I dared to speak the Truth of my existence. Home was a noose around my neck and the teachings a millstone tied to it. Home was hatred trussed up in a wedding dress, marching down the aisle to “Just as I am”.

I left Home, but not before it made sure I knew I wasn’t wanted.

Now you may think I am being too general, laying the cause of so much pain at the foot of the Church. You may say, “The Church is made up of People, and they are the ones who hurt you”. And you would be correct. In all honesty I left the church of my childhood 13 years ago and I don’t know exactly how they would have handled my transition. Though I doubt it would be well.

But it wasn’t this church alone, no, you see I didn’t just grow up in the Fundamentalist Church. I stayed there. I ministered there. I became a part of the edifice of my own torment. A kinder gentler version, maybe, but a version all the same. I was part of the hate, and I walked her down the aisle many times, giving her away to one unsuspecting soul after another. I am complicit. And my conscience bore that still.

This was what I brought to my podium this Sunday. I had not set foot behind a pulpit since my transition, not in a ministerial capacity. While I could fill that space comfortably as an activist or a poet, as a minister the weight of my past was crushing. I was a mess. And so it was fitting that there, before friends and strangers of intimate acquaintance I spoke of being broken. I spoke of Emptiness.

This past sunday I touched on the doctrine of Creation that was formulated by Isaac Luria, now considered the Father of modern Kabbalah. In his teachings he described a very different process of creation than one we usually think of as being a traditional Jewish narrative. In his version of creation, all things begin in a state of complete oneness with G-d. G-d, then wishing to begin the act of creation must inhale and form a void within herself to allow space for the universe. This withdrawal is called TzimTzum. It is in this womb of G-d that all matter is brought into being. G-d creates vessels to be filled with G-d’s own light and that light is then poured into the vessel’s. Much to their surprise however G-d finds that when the vessel’s are filled with the pure light of G-d, they cannot withstand the strain and so creation begins as a shattered and broken reality. This shattering is called Tohu. It is from this place that we all begin.

Palm Sunday is a time of strange duality within the Christian Church. On Palm Sunday we remember the heralding of Jesus as messiah during his Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem. At the same time we are preparing for mourning, as we know that this joyful procession is in reality a line of black sedans headed to an execution. Palm Sunday is the most dementedly ironic celebration in the church’s calendar. It is a stolid denial of the coming week amidst the most anticipated event in our year. Palm Sunday is crazy. It is also an amazing picture of how we live.

The simple fact of the matter is, that whether or not Luria is correct, we all do start out broken. And one way or the other, we all try to deny it. We may not throw a parade or put on a triumphal procession but we do put on a smile and try to pretend that nothing has changed, that nothing is out of place. Some of us do it all our lives for our families, friends or even just ourselves. Some of us do it behind a podium.

After Palm Sunday there are a four other Holy Days in the following week, each celebrating an important event, The Last Supper, The Crucifixion, The Burial, and the Resurrection. You would think amid all that, nothing would be glossed over, nothing would be lost. But I think there is something lost, something we don’t talk about, maybe because it’s just an awful subject. Between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion there is something that happens which in my opinion is the most important event in the week. The Emptying.

The most sacred portion of Holy Week is the part we all miss.

Matthew 26

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[a] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.

And here it is. Here is the turning point of our story. If you read the events of the last week of the life of Christ you may notice that from here on out, he remains all but silent. He seems for the most part unperturbed by the realities of what is in front of him and goes to his death with no objections. This, this is the real work of redemption. It isn’t the cross. That was our doing. No the work that Christ did was here, at what became known as “the rock of agony”. It was here that Jesus emptied himself of his desires and chose to become a symbol, a sacrifice, and the hope of redemption. Christian Theologians call this emptying Kenosis. It is an act of being so emptied of self, that one has room for the totality of God. To Christians this was the turning point of the story of Mankind, this was the most important moment in history, this was the long dark night of the soul. Once emptied, the rest was us.

Tohu is not the end of Luria’s teachings. I couldn’t hope to touch on all of them in one article. But what I will comment on, is the opposite number of Tohu, which is called Tikkun.
Tikkun is the repairing of the vessels. Tikkun is what happens once the shattering is complete, once the clay pots of human lives have been bled dry of the sacred, of the holy, of divinity. It is here we begin to see what must happen in our lives to allow the divinity back in. In this I disagree with Luria. Luria believes that we must gather the divinity from amidst the shards, through obedience to the Law and good works or Mitvot. But I, as a Christian, see things a bit differently. I believe that we must rebuild the Humanity that was shattered, I believe that the divinity is in the shards, I believe that what once was broken can be made whole again. And, I believe that if we can enter our own TzimTzum, our own withdrawal, our own emptying, we can make room for the divinity that is already there.

You see as useful as this idea is. I do not believe that God has distanced herself from us. I believe the womb of the world is bathed in the light of his love. I believe that creation isn’t finished. I believe that resurrection is the eventual result of Kenosis. I believe in an empty tomb.

Now you may find yourself wondering what that has to do with being Transgender. Why would this be the subject of a talk on Transgender Spirituality?
But that might be the easiest question I have dealt with in this whole article. Because Trans people come into life with a deep understanding that something is broken, something is injured, that life is not quite what it should be. And since this brokenness is at their most basic concept of who they are, it cannot be ignored. Not without extreme peril. This is what we live in, Trans people are deeply familiar with the darkest portion of our inner worlds. The worlds most people are terrified of traversing are our daily commute.

And it doesn’t end there, we know what it is to be vilified, we know what it is to be cursed and cast out. We have special words for the dark night of the soul and we draw comics of it like it’s a pet or a nuisance visitor. We know what being empty is and what it takes to live truthfully. But I’m afraid that many of us never make it to our resurrection. We reach our Crucifixion and we stay there. We hang there. Not because we have to, but because we don’t know there is anything left afterwards. Nothing but a tomb. And that is where I find myself too. Somewhere between a Cross and a Tomb. Burying the shame and letting the guilt and regret go. It isn’t easy work. And I won’t say that Redemption isn’t messy or that Resurrection isn’t scary. They are. And you may never be all the way done. But please hear me when I say, Hope and Life and Joy are coming, and they look like an Empty Tomb.

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