Faith

Transgender Faith

This sermon was delivered at First Unitarian Society in Newton, MA, on February 21, 2016. 

I want to start by telling you a story. This story comes from one of my spiritual mentors, the fabulous Kate Bornstein, and it is her version—a queer and transgender version—of the story of Adam and Eve. Here’s how it goes:

Once upon a time, God was bored. God needed a project. So God created a world! And God created Lilith, but she was a little too much to handle so God sent her on her way and created Adam and Eve. And God made them a garden and told them, “Everything you need is here. Go anywhere you please, do anything you want, be happy and fulfilled.”

“Oh—there’s just one little thing,” God said. “All I ask is that you not eat the pretty looking apples on that gnarly looking tree over there. Okay?”

Well before you know it a serpent showed up and seduced Eve into eating an apple. And Eve in turn convinced Adam to take a bite. And as the story goes, they were instantly aware of their nakedness and were ashamed.

God realized what had happened and came to see them. But God wasn’t mad. God was profoundly sad. And I’ll tell you why. The reason God had wanted Eve and Adam to not eat from that tree was because it was the tree of good and evil. As soon as they ate from it, they were aware of the binary of good and evil, and they were seduced by it. Continue reading

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The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart

This joint sermon was delivered at Arlington Street Church in Boston, MA, on August 3, 2014.

You can listen to an audio recording here (in my opinion, the audio recording is much better than the written word—I swear! We’re more charming in person).

Teo

We aren’t taught in this culture to be openhearted. There’s no lesson. And I came to openheartedness as central to my spiritual practice the hard way. Whether it was the violence I was growing up with, the shame and the struggle around being queer and being gender nonconforming, whether it was being 28 years old and being diagnosed with AIDS at a time before medication was available.

Every turn I came to in life there was a reason for me to armor up. There was a reason for me to not let anyone near me. Because the outside world was telling me that if I wanted to stay protected I needed to curl in a ball. The last thing I ever needed to do was leave myself vulnerable. But at the same time that the world was telling me that, there was always this soft, loving voice of the beloved telling me that that was not for me. That I was meant to be openhearted regardless of the information I was getting from the outside world. Continue reading

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Dear Liberal Religious White People: Stop Using #AllLivesMatter

I have seen and heard a lot of white liberal religious people saying All Lives Matter as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it causes my heart and my soul pain.

From a spiritual place, All Lives Matter says that we need to emphasize our same-ness instead of our difference. In the context of a political moment that seeks to call attention to and rectify state violence against black people, All Lives Matter is a colorblind approach and stance. Among other things, All Lives Matter says that deep down we are all the same, so differences shouldn’t matter. It says that calling attention to difference is wrong. This is a problem. Continue reading

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Liberation: Why “Equality” Isn’t Enough

This sermon was delivered at First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA, on April 13, 2014.

I want to come out to you about something, and that’s this: I am not an advocate for equality.

That might sound a bit odd, and it is a bit odd, because it’s not that I don’t think all beings are equally divine and have equal worth and dignity. And I can assure you that I don’t think there should be undercastes and overclasses of people in this culture and in this world.

But I am not an advocate for equality. I am not an advocate for the way that we have come to talk about equality, the way that the United States mainstream culture has started to define equality.

On June 26, 2013, a sea of red equal signs took over social media like a tide. Do you remember that? Those equal signs, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, this country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender political lobbying organization, have become strategically synonymous with the concept of LGBT equality. And on June 26, as the Supreme Court was ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, the message was clear: marriage equality equals LGBT equality.

But what is this equality? Continue reading

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Why are We Trying to be Multicultural?

Alex

Today begins a month-long spiritual journey on the topic of love and justice, led by the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. For the next thirty days I will be joining hundreds of people in reflecting and sharing about how love and justice and faith intertwine in my life and in the world.

Today we are invited to reflect on the question: Why are we trying to be multicultural?

The slightly different question I regularly ask myself and strive to live out in the world is: “How can I most honor the inherent multiculturalism of life itself?” The question “Why are we trying to be multicultural?” makes me think about the way I have been taught about culture: that there is one best, most normal, “default” way to be that everyone either fits into or is striving to fit into. That there is a need to “try to be multicultural” by changing things up and forcibly diversifying this default monoculture, instead of what is, to me, actually called for: stripping away the glasses that we have been given, through which everything appears in black and white, and seeing once again what we once saw and knew—the brilliant colors of life, more colors than we remembered were possible.  Continue reading

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What Being Sober for Exactly Half My Life has Taught Me

Teo

On Thursday January 2nd I passed the milestone of being in recovery for half my life: 23 of my 46 years. I have now been sober three times longer than I drank. Along the way I have learned a great many things (often the hard way). Here is what is coming forward at the moment, but is by no means a complete list.

Nothing is linear: not healing, not harm, nothing. Shedding damage from trauma, including addiction, has not been a process of going from point A to point B. It has been an ever-meandering route that seems to invariably circle back upon itself (often accompanied by my sentiments of “Fuck, I thought I dealt with this already!”). In early recovery everything was new and often magical; hard, but it still felt like I was getting somewhere… Then it seemed like growth came more slowly or not at all. Over the years I have found that to be the way healing unfolds. I honestly don’t know if there is a destination. What I know is that I am at home in my skin more than I thought would ever be possible. I’m wary of seeing myself as a “work in progress.” I distrust the self-help gurus who push “self-improvement.” Healing for me has come from being curious about who is actually here rather than focusing on “what I could become.” Continue reading

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From a Friend of Bat

Alex

The UUWorld’s Family Pages section is always a delightful and beautifully crafted magazine insert that offers stories and resources appropriate for children and people of all ages along a common theme. I’ve always enjoyed reading it, except on one memorable occasion. The Fall 2012 Family Pages section offered a story based on an Aesop’s Fable, entitled “Why Bat Has No Friends.”

In the story, Bat kept switching sides in a war between mammals and birds, and his lack of allegiance resulted in the other animals banishing him to the night, telling him: “Because you could not choose your friends during war, you will not have them during peace. From this day forward, you will only fly at night when everyone else sleeps. You will have no friends among the mammals or the birds.”

I’m here as a friend of Bat to set the record right. Continue reading

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Walking Faith

This reflection was originally delivered at The Sanctuary Boston worship service on April 18, 2013, three days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Teo

Take a moment and just feel whatever is holding you, whether that’s the ground, the chair…

The aim of spiritual practice is not to protect us from heartbreak—our own or another’s. It’s to provide the grounding and the renewal so that we can deliberately put ourselves in the place of heartbreak. One of the most sacred things that we are called to do as human beings is to bear witness to another’s suffering. When they cannot hold hope it’s for us to quietly hold it for them. When we can live at the edges of heartbreak and still hold on to hope then that means that our spiritual practice has purpose and passion.  Continue reading

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Choice

Alex

I want to talk about choice.

I want to talk about the fact that just because someone who is out to destroy you says you chose to be the way you are does not mean the path of best protection is to counter with “no I didn’t, it’s not a choice, I was born this way and I’ve always been this way.”

Is who I am—my sexuality, my gender—a deep and real part of me, close to my soul? Yes. Are there choices involved? Of course there are.

I have made one choice after another to feel more at ease, more vibrant, more alive. I chose to change my name. I chose to allow myself to open to the idea that I might be attracted to women. I chose to open myself to the idea that first of all genderqueer people exist, second that I might be one, and third that I might be attracted to other genderqueer folks. After all of this, I chose to remain open to the idea that I was still attracted to men and might actually like being in a relationship with one. If I hadn’t made these choices I never could have lived into my full authentic self.  Continue reading

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Religion is Not a Dirty Word

This post is the second of a two-part response to the assertion among some yogis that yoga is not a religion. Read Honoring Yoga’s Sacred Religious Roots for part one.

Teo

The second part of my struggle with the declaration that yoga is not a religion is the underlying concession of the domain of religion to the Religious Right. I am simply not willing to concede that territory.

As a philosophy professor one of the hardest things to explain to the folks I was teaching was that for us to have an actual philosophical argument, we have to agree to the terms. We have to both agree to common definitions or at least acknowledge that we don’t have a common definition. We have to have that discussion first before we can have an argument, because if we are not using common definitions, if we don’t have an understanding that by you saying this you mean this but when I say this I don’t mean that, if we don’t have that understanding, then we can’t have an argument, or a debate, or whatever language you want to use. We can have a fight, we can have a shouting match, we can have a confrontation, but we cannot have an argument. We cannot have a debate. We certainly cannot have a reasoned debate.

And in this regard I will not concede the use of the word religion to the Religious Right. I will not allow them to have sole ownership of that word. I will not release and walk away. This is not a game of tug of war where I’m willing to let go of the rope. I’m not interested in taking the rope from them. I’m not interested in claiming sole ownership of the word religion but I’m also not willing to concede sole ownership of the word religion to the Religious Right. Continue reading

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