The War on Women – Francisco Herrera

Linda Thomas at CTS eventA common maxim in our country is that before you can change, you have to acknowledge that there is a problem. In this week’s post, as part of Women’s History Month, return author Francisco Herrera speaks honestly and vulnerably about the moment that he realized that he personally wasn’t doing enough to fight sexism and gender discrimination and abuse. Centered on a very brief history of the study and treatment of trauma, he goes on to explain how easily even the most supposedly-sympathetic men in the church often don’t realize the ways in which they take too-lightly the stories of sexism and gender-based abuse, and then calls all men – starting with himself – to repent. Read, comment, and share.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor –“We Talk. We Listen.”


cover_article_84712_en_US.pngI write this post wanting to communicate with other men as we enter the last week of Women’s History Month.  I pen these words hoping to honor women and to be rigorously honest, if not confessional, by saying something that may be jolting to many:

I never would have thought that I was the kind of man to be inattentive to the troubles that women experience because of their gender.

Never.

Having been raised by a single mother, coming from a family that had been near-irreparably torn apart by a father who violently constrained the lives of his children and abused his daughters, as someone whose adolescence has been scarred by the lashes of abuse from one of his mother’s boyfriends, and as a queer Latino who has spent much of his life either fighting against or being a victim of destructive expectations of masculinity – I thought that I had truly internalized the unavoidable truth that the women of the world need regular support and acknowledgement of the gender-harassment that they experience, and that I myself would be ever at the ready to provide such support and acknowledgement.

51feqltiR4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

All of this changed back in December of this past year when a respected pastor, knowing some of the history that I mentioned earlier in this post, recommended that I read a book called Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Lewis Herman, MD. Having herself come from a difficult family life, this pastor had a feeling that the book would help me understand myself better, as the book had been very beneficial to her as well.

41ea081ea13a9ef53dd5ca65f573ddd6.jpg
A late 19th century drawing of one of the “stages” of an attack of hysteria.

It was a truly engrossing read – but for as long as I live I will never forget that introductory chapter. Presenting an abbreviated history of the development of trauma studies, it identified the first shoots of the discipline as being in the study of ‘hysteria’ in the late 19th century – the illness given its name from the Greek word for uterus hystera, because it was first believed to be a condition only suffered by women. Described as a condition of “ungovernable emotional excess,” and despite being laden with the patriarchal assumptions of the age, the study of hysteria was still vital and ground-breaking because it was the first serious, clinical attempt by scientists to take seriously the emotional and physical suffering of women and to create scientific treatment to address it.

8182904290_1fb23938fc_z.jpg
A soldier during World War II suffering an attack of shell-shock.

Though the study of hysteria would eventually fall out of fashion by the early 20th century, in the wake of World War I – with the thousands of returning combat veterans suffering under a strange new psychological illness known simply as ‘shell-shock’ – physicians searching for precedent in the medical record quickly found clinical research into hysteria their only point of previous reference. Just as hysterical women had exhibited heightened fear, vigilance, and were in a constant state of distress that could not be easily explained nor remedied, so similarly were thousands and thousands of men who returned to their homes after having spent months and years under the pall of sudden death at the hands of bombs and machine-guns – and the doctors seeking to treat these fractured former soldiers found the earlier research into hysteria to be the only useful theoretical/clinical basis as they sought to treat these who had been horrifically warped by combat.

And then at last, nearing the end of this introductory chapter, I read the following sentence – which immediately seared itself into my brain:

“Combat and rape, the public and private forms of organized social violence, are primarily experiences of adolescence and early adult life… Rape and combat might thus be considered complementary social rites of initiation into the coercive violence at the foundation of adult society.”  Judith Herman, MD. Trauma and Recovery.

After I read this I put the book down and stared out of a window for about 10 minutes as a terrible realization sink into me. Saying that there is a “war on women” is not just a dramatic and effective metaphor for constant abuse that women suffer every day – it is a scientifically established fact.  And in that moment, I had to confront the fact that, as sympathetic as I thought that I was, I had still always thought that ‘the war on women’ was just a metaphor. An accurate one, a fitting one, a true one – but still a metaphor.

And consequently, my witness on behalf of the suffering of all women was woefully incomplete.

Again:

The war on women is not a metaphor.

The war on women is a scientifically established fact.

To be a woman alive in today’s society is to be under constant attack.

To be a woman in today’s society is to risk post-traumatic stress that is essentially indistinguishable from the shell-shock experienced by men who have been in prolonged combat – and this constant state of potential violence is part of the very foundations of our country. 

And, therefore, anyone who not only doubts this but actively works to try to dissimulate this fact is guilty of crimes against women.

Be-Silent-Not.jpg

But even in this simple juxtaposition there is a dreadful irony – the irony is that despite the fact that research into the suffering of women unquestionably aided the development of treatments for male combat veterans, similarly broad acceptance of women’s sexual trauma is as elusive as ever. And what’s more, women who speak openly and boldly of the harassment they have suffered are still regular prey to the mockery and militant  gas-lighting of wicked men and complicit women.

Hence, ignoring or mocking a trans woman who has been beaten and violated is the psychological equivalent of telling the sole survivor of a wartime ambush that their pain isn’t really as bad as they say it is – and that they are likely making up the whole story for the sake of getting attention.

And this is horrifying.

And this is what many women – transgender, cisgender, and ambi/agender – must go through every day.

I had originally planned to compliment the observations in this post with stories from Scripture, testimonies from survivors of sexual trauma, even excerpts of anonymous testimony from candidates for ordination among the mainline denominations in the United States – but I decided against it. For I, too, had long been aware of such stories and thought that I had been able to make at least a faint of understanding and genuine empathy. But that one little sentence from Herman’s book proved me terribly wrong.

So instead of that, I am going to end with a prayer – and I am asking the men who read this, specifically, to add this prayer to their devotionals during the remaining days of Lent. We can change, yes, and God will aid us in our change.

But first we must atone.

All of us.

depression.jpg
Image courtesy of aboutislam.net/spirituality/on-repentance-and-hope.

Dear God…

In this season of Lent, once again, you call us to repent – both of those things that we have done and those things that we have left undone. As men who benefit from this very unearned privilege, we beg you to pardon us for our willful sightless-ness to the constant and unyielding suffering of all of the women around us. As we look to the cross and the sufferings of Jesus – remind us that the physical and emotional terror of the cross is something that many women live, day in and day out, from the time of their birth until they return to their final rest in you. Fill our hearts with anger and courage to stamp out sexism and gender-based violence wherever we witness it – whether it manifest in word or in bloody deed. And if we ever choose to belittle and ignore the testimony of the suffering and pain of women, may our tongues stick to the roof of our mouths and our consciences be troubled so that they may know no peace. It is a terror and a shame the ways that men, since time immemorial, have aided and abetted this nightmare, and we need your help to stop it. Please help us, for we have failed. Please help us, we beseech you.

In the most precious name of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Amen.


16387422_10154054051765213_6455367828101312019_nBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and travels the country as one of the central leaders of #decolonizeLutheranism.

Gender, Pleasure, and God – Rev. Lura Groen

ThomasLinda sittingIn many, many Christian circles enjoyment is suspect and “pleasure” is a dirty word. This quandary even more problematic when you’re a woman (let alone any other gender-oppressed group), as society is often perpetually finding ways to force itself upon everything in your life – let alone your sense of pleasure. In response to this, Rev. Lura Groen provides a rather eloquent and affirmation that bodily pleasures are part of what it means to be created by God – and by extension are holy. It makes a wonderful addition to this months entries and we hope you enjoy it. Read, comment, and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


Like an apple tree among the wild trees,
so is my lover among the young men.
In his shade I take pleasure in sitting,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
He has brought me to the house of wine;
his banner raised over me is love.

Sustain me with raisin cakes,
strengthen me with apples,
for I’m weak with love!

His left arm is beneath my head,
his right embraces me.

(Song of Solomon 2: 3-6)

where_garden_eden_wide.jpg

God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,[b]
male and female God created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good.

(Genesis 1: 27-30)

_______________

Pleasure is good and holy and given to us by God.  Bodily pleasure, sexual and non sexual, food pleasure, touch pleasure, laughter and singing pleasure, they’re given to us.  

By God. 

And women, it’s given to US too.  Anyone who experiences gender oppression, (femme men, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people, transgender men, etc) it’s given to us too.  Sometimes we forget.  Sometimes we affirm, theoretically, that pleasure is good, but forget to give it to our own bodies, feel guilty when we do, or judge the ways in which we do or don’t receive pleasure.

This isn’t surprising, because it’s how the world teaches us to think. The world teaches us that men get to joke about how much they love to eat bacon, but we don’t.  The world teaches us that sex is about the pleasure of the (presumed heterosexual, cisgender) man.  The world teaches us that comfortable clothing isn’t for us, that looking professional means having an uncomfortable body. We walk through the world bombarded by messages telling us that our bodies deserve to be starved, pinched, and hated.

df09699bf61d302ed9d19d3b3427aab8.jpg

But those messages are wrong, those messages are ungodly, those messages are demonic.  They are wrong when they come from the outside world, and then they are wrong when they make their homes inside our own heads, telling us we don’t deserve pleasure.

Other times the world commands us to have pleasure in ways we don’t want: the cool woman eats like a man, the desirable woman wants sex whenever her partner wants it, and the woman to emulate is always living life extravagantly.  This is a twisted way of telling us that even our own pleasure is for other people, not for us.  And it is another lie.  (Because the Song of Solomon also says “Don’t rouse, don’t arouse love, until it desires.”) Your pleasure is for you, and you feel it when and how and only when and how you want to.

And yes, of course there are caveats.  We don’t get to have pleasure in ways that harm someone else, or use pleasure for power over someone else, or break promises we’ve made, or live only for pleasure. 

But let’s be honest. 

Most of us aren’t doing that.

s-44e502049a552cffcfe9afc45b2f25ccced246d0
The Lovers – Rene Magritte, 1928.

We’re so busy caring for others that we feel guilty when we get enough sleep, think it’s luxurious to eat a healthy, delicious meal, and experience it as a radical position that our sexual pleasure is as important as our partners’.  Those caveats about enjoying pleasure have been used against us in ways they haven’t been used against gender conforming men, as a way to prevent us from having pleasure that is seen as theirs to have. We have been held to higher standards based on gender oppression, and therefore these standards have become weapons. We have been taught to deny ourselves in gendered ways, and therefore in unjust and ungodly ways.

God gave us good food to eat. Maybe for you that’s bacon, but maybe its apples and raisin cakes. God loves it when food tastes good to us, gave us bodies that crave and taste buds that celebrate.   Yes, we have choices about the healthiest things to eat, and sometimes that choice means limiting certain pleasure, but that doesn’t make the pleasure bad.  The pleasure we get from eating good food is holy, and given to us by God.

God gave us bodies, and called them supremely good.  God created our bodies such that touching people we love gives us pleasure: snuggling babies, hugging a good friend, or kissing our lovers.  Yes, we need to take care to touch in ways that respect consent and the boundaries of all involved, and that honor the differences in how people like to be touched or not, but that doesn’t make the pleasure bad. The pleasure we get from touching each other (or our own bodies!) is holy, and given to us by God.

yurt_dinner_altai.jpg

Pleasure from food is good and holy, pleasure from our bodies is good and holy, but also, if you don’t get pleasure from these things, for whatever reason, and get bodily pleasure from something else, that is good and holy too. 

It is a holy thing, a spiritual thing, to enjoy the gifts given to us by God, and give thanks to God for them.   And so, I make a modest proposal for Women’s History Month: explore pleasure for your body as a spiritual discipline.  If that makes us a little uncomfortable to think about, it might be exactly because we have been taught that pleasure isn’t for us.  But you still get to pick: the pleasures, and only the pleasures, that your body likes, that you want to enjoy, that you consent to.

I know Women’s History Month falls in Lent this year, as it often does.  And that we aren’t encouraged to embrace pleasure during Lent.  Perhaps you might decide you’ve been living Lent too many seasons of the year, and might skip it this time.  Or perhaps you might decide right now that we are encouraged to feast for the 50 days of Easter, (longer than the 40 days of Lent!) and that celebrating God-given bodily pleasures is your way of celebrating God’s love, God’s triumph over sin and death and judgment.

Pleasure and gender-page-001.jpg

Dear sisters, dear siblings, God gave us our bodies, and created them to feel pleasure.  You’re allowed to feel it when and how and in which ways you desire.

Thanks be to God. 

Amen.

(Thanks to Dr. Irina Greenman for editing assistance)


16195119_10154258760571662_4424052491010862736_n.jpgRev. Lura N. Groen attended St. John’s College in Annapolis MD, studying the Great Books Program.  Prior to seminary, Pastor Lura was a two-year member of Lutheran Volunteer Corps, serving as a case manager to homeless people in Baltimore, MD and Washington D.C.  Lura continued her social service work as an employment coach before attending seminary at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and was admitted to the clergy roster of the ELCA in 2010. Currently based in Cumberland, MD with her husband Jess and pit-bull – Clara – she is also blogs at luragroen.blogspot.comand is a chaplain for #decolonizeLutheranism.

What it’s All About – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC

ThomasLinda sittingEvery so often the Church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, ##decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about,  anyway?”

I get this a lot.

My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not Children of God.

Juan Diego.jpg

Because if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…

 “You’re not a real Lutheran.” “You black people may clap in church, but not us!” “That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”

…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.

Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader who is LGBTQ and you hear…

ELM-LOGO.jpg

 “How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?” “They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!” “We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”

…at some point you start to believe the lies and the Devil rubs his hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.

And women pastors and seminarians? Pshaw…

“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.” “Your husband approves?!” “You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.” “What does your husband think?”

CvgrKpFXEAIDUMs.jpg
@TrybalPastor, aka Rev. Kwame Pitts, welcoming in a capacity crowd of 203 people.

So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United Sates, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.

And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.

All day long.

We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.

Then there were stories.

My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.

CvYUCy-WcAEkHtj.jpg
Because everyone has to pee.

And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folkx had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.

cvauiebw8aaw3vx
“I did not feel like preaching in an alb.” Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.

But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.

And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.

So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.

All day long.

And it was glorious.

And that’s what we’re all about.


red-fire

Before coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005, completing his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012. Since beginning his Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC)  in Fall of 2013, he has also been developing his skills as a seminary instructor, both at LSTC and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. And when he isn’t doing any of those things, polymath and scatterbrain that he is, Francisco likes to write worship and devotional music, blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com, tweets at @PolyglotEvangel, and relishes in his duties as the Convener of #decolonizeLutheranism.

 

Re-Naming God and Smashing Idols – Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student at LSTC

Linda Thomas at CTS eventHave you ever heard a grown man squeal? That’s precisely what happened when I asked this week’s writer, Francisco Herrera – the blog manager for “We Talk. We Listen” – to write a piece on theological language and gender. Though he mostly writes about race and power in the church, he also has a keen interest in sexuality, gender and power and it shows. And through his humor, he leaves us all with a jolting reminder that, if we don’t open ourselves to myriad ways of talking about God, then we can very well sacrifice others on the idols of our own theological complacency. Take a peek and share!

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


My first serious object lesson in adventurous theological language happened about four years ago when I had to prepare a Bible study for a class. The professor gave us four Biblical excerpts from which to choose – two safe (from John 3 and John 5) and two risky (Ephesians and The Song of Songs) and left it up to us to decide.

The first presenter, who we will name “Emily,” chose the snippet from Song of Songs, and had us start the exercise by reading this juicy bit to ourselves:

Listen! My beloved! Look! Here he comes,leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice. My beloved spoke and said to me,“Arise, my darling,my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”  

(Song of Songs 2 : 8-13)

I+am+my+beloved's+and+my+beloved+is+mine.jpg

“When we read Scripture,” she began, “we tend to understand it through three basic hermeneutical lenses.” At this point she started writing on the board. “It is either God speaking to us, Jesus speaking to us, or people speaking to each other.” She paused for effect and then looked calmly but determinedly back at the class. “So my question is this…

“If this excerpt from the Song of Songs is God speaking to us, what does it say about God?”

DSCN9443
Woman and Flowers – Marc Chagall

The responses from the other students were sweet and anodyne. God loves us. God cares for us. God wants to be with us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Riled up, but leery and afraid to start trouble, I did my best just to sit and keep quiet. Emily wasn’t having it, though. And likely intuiting my impatience, she soon keened her green eyes and elvish grin hard upon me and asked:

“So Francisco…what do you think?”

Duly summoned, and with the knowingest grin easing across my face, I steadied myself and replied:

“God is a woman… who loves us, who desires us, who wants to make love to us, who longs for us in a perfumed garden, eagerly waiting to give herself to us with passion and abandon.”

And as I spoke, seduced by my own imagination, there I was – languishing in some highland orchard, hiding myself among the apple and peach blossoms – oiling my skin, lining my eyes with kohl, waiting for my Lord to come so that that he could delight in me, and I could delight in him.

tumblr_m4pda2yY5p1r0y25wo1_1280.pngThough utterly predictable, the group freak-out that ensued was truly one for the books:

“Well, I don’t think it is right for you to sexualize women like that.”

“But I don’t know how you could say that, there aren’t even any masculine pronouns here.”

“But appealing to that base kind of imagery is something completely unbefitting of a pastor.”

And my favorite question/accusation?

“I don’t know how you could have possibly come up an answer like that anyway…”

To which I grinned and, calmly gesturing at Emily, retorted: “Well, I’m simply following her paradigm.” Emily was maybe a bit too discreet to look me in the eye that moment, but I could still plainly see that the ends of her grin were stretched back on her face tight enough to lick her ears. It may have been problematic to think of myself as a highly-aroused, female concubine- but oh my was it ever fun and revealing!

smiley-clipart-dTroEbpT9.png

And yes, I was being provocative, at least for this crowd, but I believed my insolence towards the class honest and just. Despite the shocking nature of what I said, in truth, my comment was actually a classic example of biblical literalism. If this excerpt is God speaking to us, well then, God is a woman who wants to have sex with us – apples and turtledoves and young stags and all. No imagination necessary. What’s more, these soon-to-be-pastors’ well worn theological tropes – though socially acceptable – completely drained this holy Scripture of its unquenchable fire and, well, butchered its song. But what really took my breath away was how quickly students moved to hush me – scandalized by the idea that God could possibly be a sexually active woman.

Mary_Blessed_Mother.jpg

Had I talked about her in more socially acceptable tones – as if God were a woman like a statue of the Virgin Mary: flawless, impassible, and white-washed – I doubt they would’ve protested. Suggesting that God could be like a woman with passions and desires on the other hand, like pretty much all of the women that I have ever known, was just too much.

No one wanted to explore my ideas, extrapolate or even humor me condescendingly. They just blindly contradicted my musings and tried their best to move on. It chilled me to the bone – conscious or no – to realize that my own peers were committing a kind of theological idolatry. Their understanding of the relationship between sex and gender and God was so upset by my insolence that their basic response was to try to shut me up. Looking back in hindsight, feminist liberation theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid would have called my interpretation a classic example of indecent theology; speaking unapologetically about gender, sex, power, and God in such a way that it exposes the hypocritical violence inherent in so much respectable “church talk,” even (and sometimes especially) progressive theological God-Talk.

And at that point I could truly appreciate how shocking and vital it was to speak of God not only as “not male,” but in brave and shocking ways, indecent ways – because doing so exposes the hidden idols in our theology that so often blind us to the pain and suffering  and oppression that we initiate and/or perpetuate.

1200x-1
“Christa” – Edwina Sandys

Let’s even do a test here, now, and pay attention to yourself and see how you twitch:

Think about God as: a sexually active woman, as “daddy” (Abba), speak of Christ as “Crista”a controversial statue depicting Jesus as a nude, crucified womana woman in labor, as the plague of the first-born, as a good Samaritan. Even in literature. Think of  Shug, from Alice Walker’s epochal the Color Purple, talking about how she felt closer to God while having sex; or Nedjma’s scintillating memoir on Islamic womanhood – The Almond – where she reflects on how God loves us so much that they delight in our delight and “even watches over us while we snore.”

thealmond

Using such powerfully transgressive language for God often does a fine job of exposing destructive limitations in our theology, limitations that we have been taught, even inherited – and hence makes it easier for us to query them and, as with any idol, to smash them. And if we don’t, we run the risk of sacrificing our friends, loved-ones, colleagues, and parishioners on theologies that serve nothing but our own arrogance, convenience, or own our unholy hungers.

Plus you might even make new friends! – as Emily and I most certainly shared a quiet giggle to ourselves, leaving class together and sporting the same sly, knowing smirk.

We’d broken a few barriers that day, and hopefully, some more imagination would come from it. Some more grace might come from it, too, and maybe – just maybe – even some more love.


10426792_10152402252785213_3657317853318980302_n.jpgBefore coming to Chicago Francisco Herrera studied classical music (viola and orchestra conducting) in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri and then Geneva, Switzerland. After feeling the call to ministry at his home church in Geneva, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, he returned to the US to enter seminary in 2005 He completed his M.Div. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012 and then began Th.M./Ph.D studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Fall of 2014 – his emphasis on World Christianity and Global Mission. A polymath and a scatterbrain, when he isn’t preparing for school stuff he blogs at www.loveasrevolution.blogspot.com and Tweets at @PolyglotEvangel.

My Gender, So Far… – Rev. Andrew Tobias Nelson

ThomasLinda sittingAs our conversation on gender continues, we’re going to make a marvelous twist in the road with our next author, Andrew Nelson. From the halls of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago to Holden Village to his call in New York state, Andrew is extravagant with his energy, sincerity, and enormous heart. Since coming out as trans a little over one year ago – barely one year into his first call – Andrew has spoken openly and playfully about everything that he’s been going through. Thankfully, Rev. Nelson is now, generously and joyously,  sharing some of those thoughts with us. Gender is a thing, people, so take a peek at what Pastor Andrew has to say about it and – of course – read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

11169908_10100823349038724_481877240499284572_n.jpg
A transmasculine person writing on why gender matters…
There’s a sentence, isn’t it?
Are we ready for a conversation about genders outside the binary, genders along the spectrum, genders that are fluid, genders for which we don’t have words in English?
To put myself in a gender category is easier some days than others. Growing up with a female body (that’s called my sex, different from my gender) there were expectations for my behavior which were only partially enforced. Grandma called me ‘young lady’ when I needed to calm down, my father adjusted my posture at the piano, and of course I had to go to prom in a dress. But when it came to climbing trees and playing music or sports, I was just a kid, and being a boy or girl didn’t come into it.
When I came out as Transgender about a year and a half ago, some of my friends who have known me awhile responded by nodding and telling me I make more sense male than I do female. While this was a great affirmation to hear, it does make me wonder what in the world we mean when we perceive people as either male or female, how we behave when we meet somebody who is androgynous, and why it matters so much.
transgenderlogo
Everyone inhabits a multitude of spaces: age, gender, sexuality, class, race, mental health, physical ability, education, politics, family systems, culture, Star Trek or Star Wars… We are none of us only one thing, yet male/female seems to be one of the first things we give as primary identity. It’s already been noted that when a baby is born or expected one of the first ways we decide what gifts to get and what dreams to start dreaming is to unveil the birth sex (which we call gender, but these are not actually the same thing).
Gender plays into our power structures, culturally who is allowed to get how angry about what, who is allowed to grieve in what way, who is expected to take care of the household or be the breadwinner. Even when a heterosexual couple tries to live in an equal partnership, the pay gap and surrounding culture don’t support equality within marriage as much as reinforce unhealthy pressures for culturally gendered roles. We’re getting a little better, changing tables are gradually showing up in men’s restrooms so dad can change a diaper, Target recently stopped specific gender marketing toys for kids (though toy guns have an aisle that’s blue and dolls have an aisle that’s pink – and don’t even get me started on “Lego Friends”), and more hopeful stories are being told about folks who don’t buy into to the binary – but it’s slow going since so much of our expectations are internalized past the point of noticing them.
Gender is the water we swim in.
9621734_orig.jpg
So why do we still hold to gender? What does it matter that ‘real women have curves’ or ‘real men love Jesus’? What are ‘real’ men and women, and why do we perpetuate that conversation as though we need to prove our own validity as human people?
Can’t a ‘real’ person just be a person?
I remember an old movie I used to watch as a kid included the song “I enjoy being a girl,” which, coming from a family where sexuality was taboo and gender got all conflated with attractions and purity, was not something we ever really talked about. But then came the Disney movie Mulan and the song “I’ll make a man out of you” was both exciting because I connected with it, and problematic because it reinforced a very particular kind of masculinity. I mean, my father darns his socks and speaks quietly, but he’s no less a man for his gentle behavior.
images.png
So how do I know how to behave to convince the people around me of who I am as a transmasculine person?
Does it even matter that they see my gender?
How do I have to hold myself in public to hear ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’ (neither of which seems like I’m old enough for those labels, which speaks to cultural ageism)? (How) do I need to adjust my interactions with women and other men so as not to make anybody uncomfortable by my loud humor and big hugs, which could be received differently depending on if I’m wearing a suit or a dress? Navigating gendered space, like public bathrooms, is not something we should have to be afraid of. Yet because our brains learn categories as a way to make sense of the world around us, we need to know some basics, some boundaries, some common sense for keeping one another safe and providing for community flourishing the best we can.
Gender matters, in that we can fall back on it for generalities, for stories, for illustrations of ways of being, but it also doesn’t matter, in that there are so many ways to be male or female or both or neither, and every situation and relationship calls out different nuances, different varieties of strengths and weaknesses, as we support and connect with one another. Gender can be a game instead of a power play, it can be fun instead of rigid, but far too often machismo and homophobia relegate masculinity and femininity to small, tight spaces where there is no room to breathe or figure out who we actually are. We do not need to prove ourselves as ‘real’ men or women to celebrate and discover who we are individually and as part of God’s Beloved Community.
tumblr_m9gue7Y5qn1rb51x1o1_500.jpg
I am a transmasculine person who looks forward to playing with gender expectations, to make the space around me safer for those who don’t fit the binary, to open up conversations about getting to know one another beyond the ‘types’ of our male/female expectations.
I am a transgender man because it is the most honest way I have to present myself to the world around me.
That’s what gender is about, how we relate to and through our presentation of self and our interactions with others, how we explore and share the selves God has created us to be, how we reflect the Image of a God who is so much bigger than our labels.

1234069_10100529137486034_1394595583769889368_n.jpgAndrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”