Posted in Identity

Shapeshifter

Alex

I am a shapeshifter without ever changing form. I am straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender. I am wife, son, boyfriend, best friend, partner.

Look at me and in your eyes I become whatever life has taught you to associate with a being that looks, moves, sounds like me. I become a reflection of your culture, your comfort zone. Register the things about me that fit the labels you’ve applied to me and don’t notice the rest. Fill in the blanks of my story and my self with facts from the card catalog of your experience, all neatly sorted and logically applied.

Look at me. Who am I at an airport, on a dance floor, in a church choir, on a sports field, in my parents’ house? I am a shapeshifter without ever changing form—all that changes is the gaze that considers me, as I blend into the world as you know it.

Until I don’t.

Until I’m a dyke whose boyfriend just arrived. Until I’m a teenager who just handed you an ID that is not the slightest bit fake. Until I’m a woman who you just saw go into the men’s room. Until I’m a trans not-quite-man who just brought an intention to become pregnant someday into the conversation. Until I’m the son who just produced a wallet to buy the shirt dad helped pick out.

Until I shift my shape right in front of your eyes. I become a shapeshifter without even changing gazes, as your mind works to re-figure me. Who am I then? Something else you recognize, or someone uncategorizable?

Look at me. I am not the story your mind creates about me. Your gaze does not define me. I am self-made, self-defined, and divinely inspired. And neither of us is limited by your imagination or mine. We are bigger than that, part of a shapeshifting universal spirit.

So look at me. And then let’s welcome the surprises we find in each other’s true selves and histories. We are both shapeshifters.

Posted in Faith, Identity, Social justice

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 “Religion is Not a Dirty Word”

Posted in Activism, Faith, Identity

On Marriage

Alex

When I was 17 years old I got married to my dear friend Chris. I don’t remember who proposed to whom or even what inspired us to have a ceremony, but I remember the service well. It was held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, GA, which is where at least twenty of us had set up camp, our sleeping bags covering the floor, after our pilgrimage to protest the School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

The ceremony was conducted fully in pirate-speak, officiated by our friend Duncan, who I was convinced was endowed with the power to do so by virtue of claiming to have once been a captain of a ship. Whether or not his credentials were legit is rendered moot by the fact that we were not in international waters at the time, not to mention the detail that we were both minors. But we had a flower girl, who somehow rustled up some baby’s breath, and there was even someone who objected to our union on purely fraudulent terms just to add some drama.

My love for Chris was something that I couldn’t seem to explain in words anyone could understand. Ours was a fierce, intimate, platonic love. Our marriage gave us a way to express in no uncertain terms that we would always love each other, that we were committed to the friendship we had for life. The rings we made each other out of beads and pipe cleaners gave me something solid to remind me that my real world existed outside my high school building, that the dominant teenage culture wasn’t my home and there was something more and real in my life.

Continue reading “On Marriage”

Posted in Faith

Invitation to a Multi-faith Playground

Teo

So many of us bristle at the language from someone else’s religious, spiritual or humanist tradition. Perhaps we bristle because we believe that our path is the True Path. Perhaps we bristle because we have been hurt in religious spaces—those words a trigger of past trauma.

I had the blessing and the challenge of participating in a multi-faith service this morning. I was asked to bring some of my tradition forward, as were others. I knew that some of what I was to hear would not be language I have always experienced as friendly just as I knew that what I would say would feel the same for someone else.

As I meditated and breathed into the experience, an image came to me. A playground filled with children. Not the playground of my childhood where some belonged and others were alone or worse bullied. This was a playground where I could see and imagine the sounds of childlike joy. The giggling. The singing. The squeals of glee. Some children were in large groups. Some in pairs. Some on their own. All with the same joy.

What if this was a religious/ spiritual/ humanist/ atheist playground? What if another’s joy was infectious? Continue reading “Invitation to a Multi-faith Playground”

Posted in Activism, Compassion, Faith

“An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon

Alex

I was invited to deliver a service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, and it was remarkable to be asked not only because it’s an honor to receive such an invitation but also because for the last two weeks I’d been completely ensconced in King’s writing. Once upon a time I worked for Beacon Press, and I still do the odd freelance job for them. A few years ago Beacon became the exclusive publisher of King’s books and future collections of his work, and for a couple of these new collections, I’ve proofed and checked the manuscripts against previous versions to ensure accuracy. It’s pretty incredible to do this—sometimes I’m using the original transcriptions of his sermons, and once in a while I encounter King’s own handwriting in the margins.

For the last few weeks I’ve been working on Beacon’s latest King project—an anthology of King’s words for high school students. “I Have a Dream” is in there, and “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and a careful selection of other pieces that really show the breadth and depth of his vision. So here I am ensconced in his work, and reading bits out loud to Teo every night, and hearing King’s words resounding all around me, and I get invited to deliver a chapel service in honor of MLK Day and share some of this magic with others. I couldn’t say no to that.

Whenever I am blessed with the opportunity to read or listen to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I never fail to reflect on what a tiny sliver of his vision has been handed down through popular culture in this country—how little of him lives on through mass media, textbooks, and bank holidays. And what is resonating with me right now more than anything else is his vision and grounding and message of nonviolence, which was so central to everything he did and everything he preached. It was central because it was tied to his theology and his faith. King’s full vision of nonviolence as a spiritual way of life is one of the biggest things that is pretty much missing from the way we talk about him and learn about the civil rights movement and honor his legacy in this country. Continue reading ““An Experiment in Love”: An MLK Day Sermon”

Posted in Activism, Identity

On Equality

Alex

A few weeks ago in Phoenix I heard a passionate plea for LGBT equality and it stuck in my craw, left me bursting with frustration at the definition of equality that formed the unspoken, unquestioned bedrock of the plea: an underlying presumption that equality could and would be attained through particular legal changes.

The prophetic voice in my heart shouted that any movement that focuses on the pursuit of rights and equality through the legal system leaves behind all of the people who do not have equal access to that system and its protections—those people who live on the margins, the undocumented, incarcerated, homeless, children and youth, disabled, economically dispossessed. Those who are criminalized and oppressed by the criminal legal system itself.

I thought to myself: Are we so quick to forget our history? That long history we’ve had of criminalization and oppression by the criminal legal system because of our gender expressions or the gender of the people we love and partner with? It’s only recently that some of us have begun to be able to access the legal system and its protections. Not all of us have access. Many of us are still criminalized and oppressed by the system. For those who are, employment non-discrimination legislation will do little to alleviate the struggle. Hate crimes legislation will only exacerbate the struggle. And extending the charmed circle of those who can get legally married will ultimately fall short of equality. Continue reading “On Equality”