“Cut It Down” February 28, 2016; MCC Windsor
A contemporary reading:
“I realize it’s a state of emergency for trans women and trans feminine folk of colour, and I am dedicated to raising awareness to the plight of my sisters and siblings, yet I also know that the intense focus on the publicizing of murder, violence, death and victimhood becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the young women I share space with. I’ve borne witness to young women and girls nonchalantly telling me that they’re not going to make it to 30 (a benchmark I just surpassed) so they’re going to “get their life” at all costs. This “get my life” mentality breeds an urgency in my younger sisters, pushing them to live a hard and fast life with little protections and resources, with little care or regard.
I believe that the constant messaging of inevitable violence is chipping away at my sisters and siblings, and in my efforts as a writer and storyteller, I aim to strike a balance and amplify not just our struggles but our triumphs to show that we, poor-raised trans women of colour, are active agents in our survival rather than mere inactive objects of exile and extinguish.”
---Janet Mock, trans* woman of colour, writer, and activist
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Eternal One your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek God while God may be found;
call on God while God is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Holy One, who will have mercy on them,
and to our God, who will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Holy One.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the gardener replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Will you pray with and for me? Loving Friend, Gracious God, open our hearts as we hear and speak today; may all our words, spoken and silent, open ways for us to recognise your truth for us. In all your names, amen.
How is your Lent journey progressing, my friends? Are you allowing these questions to percolate in your mind and spirit during the week? Do you find yourself with more questions then answers? I hope so--and if so, join the club!
Last week, we talked about exclusion--where have we felt excluded, where have we excluded others, and why. A lot of it is fear, isn't it? Fear of the other, fear of mockery, of oppression and harassment. Here's another result of fear--denying our true selves.
Janet Mock calls this fear "getting my life;" young trans women of colour living life as fully as they can in the moment, because they know the odds and the statistics are against them; they fear not living their lives as they truly are. I don't have the exact numbers, but the majority of trans* people who are killed--murdered because of their gender identity--are women of colour. The highest rate of hate murders across the board are trans* women of colour. Sometimes it is because the only work they can find is sex work--which claims a lot of cis women's lives too. I heard an amazing statistic this weekend--something like 75% of trans* individuals have post-high school education, a college or university degree, and yet the median yearly income for the trans* community is $15,000. Those are Canadian figures, by the way.
So, given the dismal outlook, it is not really surprising that these women seek to grab whatever goodness they can find, and live in the moment with that goodness, however fleeting it may be. Who knows when or even if there will be another good time--better enjoy life when you can. Carpe diem! Seize the day, indeed!And who can blame them?
But the answer is not to go to the other extreme, either--to hide in the closet--and there are all kinds of closets, not only LGBT closets. The gifted artist who decides to settle for a job as a graphic artist for a local government, because it is a steady assured income; the spouse who downplays their achievements so their partner doesn't feel insecure; the writer who sticks to safe work like blogs and local news, rather than daring to write the novel bubbling up in them. None of these choices is inherently bad or wrong--there are a lot of good reasons for someone to choose a steady or safe job over the uncertainties of the free market of the art world; and of course you want to be sensitive to your partner's needs. But these become harmful choices when they are made out of fear, because they deny the God-given gifts each of us bears.
It seems to me that the ideal is a balance somewhere in between these two extremes. If we can recognise the good that is all around us, and accept it, then even if our lives are not all we desire, we can be content. If we are living out our gifts, then we will be nourished and can share our gifts with others. Like the fig tree, if our roots are dug and we are fertilized, we will bear much fruit.
Sadly, when we do not or cannot, live out all of who we are, then we are, again like the fig tree, cut down. It is not through any fault of ours, really--we have not been fed, we have been taught to be fearful and to hide what is good and best in us for some reason. Or we have learned that life is not lasting and so we try to grab whatever good we can, while we can.
I don't mean that we should live by the motto "Everything in moderation," either. Both ascetic denial of the self and wild Dionysian release are needed at various times in our lives--there is no shame in either, in and of themselves.
Perhaps what I am trying to get at here is best described by the term "mindfulness." Decisions made consciously, with full awareness of making them and of all the influences on us, are mindful decisions. It can be very easy to simply drift along and allow circumstances or other people to make decisions for us. But that rarely leads to the full expression of who God intends us to be. How could it, when that is known only by you and God? The best intentions and love of friends, family, partners, mentors, colleagues--they are no substitute for that deep calling within you, to the work God has for you, and only you. That doesn't mean their advice and insights aren't useful--they are, and may be confirmations of what you feel, which can support you, or denials of it--which, of course, are much harder.
And mindfulness implies self-knowledge, an honest assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses. That knowledge allows us insight into why we make the decisions we do, and what might be our options in a particular situation--being aware of making those choices, and making them in full awareness of who we are.
Lent, then, is--or can be-- a time of mindfulness, of examining our motives, knowing where and how we are in the world, and why. That inner reflection, if we act on it, is made manifest in our actions in the world.
Don't live only for today--there is another day in store for you, and another and another--if you will only reach out and take it. But, neither should you hide the gift that is you away from the world. You were born with purpose; find or rediscover that part of you that waits to be revealed in all its beauty and grace. Give that gift to the world, with purpose and meaning, mindfully, with God's grace.
In the many names of the one loving God, amen.