I have a new friend I met online. She is a transgender woman who ministers to other trans people out of her pain, out of what she calls the brutality of her existence. The church has made her existence brutal. Christians have made her existence brutal. The world is not a kind place for transgender people, especially not trans women. Especially not trans women who are followers of Jesus.
The grace and beauty and love with which she leads is extraordinary, though she is real and authentic about the pain of it all. As I read a private message from her describing the brutality of her life — and yes, I use that word over and over because it is the word she used, and it is a powerful word, and a word with which I have no real association, whatever my daily complaints might be — I was tempted. Tempted to offer platitudes, to place on the altar of friendship the Instagram-worthy, meme-like meaningless sayings. Things like, “God’s light gets in through our broken parts,” or something stupidly inane like that.
And I confessed this to her — that I wanted to say that. I’m about to head into my second semester of supervised ministry and, the other day, as I was speaking to my mentor about me and ministry, and as I was lamenting the fact that I basically suck at it because people, she said yes, one of the temptations of the job is to feel this pressure to always know what to say. As if they teach that in seminary. A whole class on What To Say When Life Sucks 101.
But they don’t teach anything like that at all.
And so here I am in all my awkwardness, all my not-knowing-what-to-say-when-someone-is-being-all-human-in-front-of-me-ness, all my uncomfortable wordless platitudes, the stupid sayings that thankfully never find voice on my better, smarter days. And all I’m left with is being.
As I’ve said here before, going to seminary is basically like taking your faith and smashing it on the ground, shattering it into a million little pieces. Then, as you sort through all the shards, you realize some of them just don’t fit anymore. Some of them never actually made sense in the first place. Some of them got shoved in there arbitrarily by some old guy with power who claimed authority, but really he was just trying to figure it all out like the rest of us, and like the rest of us, he missed a whole lot.
Ideas like Atonement theory and eternal damnation — these things don’t make sense to me anymore. In fact, they never really did. I was just trying to shove these ill-fitting pieces of pottery into my jar of faith, and I decided not to pay attention to the fact that not only did they not fit, but they were pretty awful looking, too.
Awful like child sacrifice, brutal like a child spurned by her parents for her sexual identity. Awful like being damned to hell just for being born human.
When I started to think about it, I realized that the God I have experience with, this Jesus who I hold so dear, who I feel so close to, who is so sweet to me — I realized that dear God, I am still so in love with this Jesus. But who is He to me, if not a child sacrificed for my sin of being?
I wholly believe that Jesus was God. There’s a whole book I could write about this — and I will someday (after I finish the one I’m working on now). But I believe Jesus was God who came just to be. With us.
Jesus came to teach us so many things about who God is and who we are, and one of the most beautiful, simplest lessons is that God is a God of being. God is, was, and always will be. The ground of being, the heights of our souls, God is all encompassing, everywhere, all around us, with us.
Now, when I think of beautiful Jesus — Jesus, who was so blood and guts, so visceral, so very real and here and present with us — I am in awe of the love it takes to just be. To put on some proverbial skin and just come be. To eat food with us, to drink wine, to walk with sandy feet down the road, to taste the salt of sweat and sea. To be God in skin, and show us what is possible — this is what Jesus came for.
And we killed him for it.
If I believed in Hell, it would be for killing Jesus. But even this is not God. God is stubborn like that. God says, Fine, if you will not take me with skin, I will give you Myself in Spirit. And I will be with you always.
God says, still, I Am.
I Am being.
I Am being. With you.
Until the end of the time.