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Posts tagged ‘covenant’

Reflection: On Being podcast with Joy Ladin

Image result for civil conversations

For the last few months, I have been involved with the Civil Conversations project in partnership with Interfaith Philadelphia. The main idea behind this is to create safe spaces where people can learn about and discuss important and controversial social issues related to identity and living, not avoiding conflict but seeking understanding.

Image result for a year of civil conversations

I’ve been fortunate to participate in these events in Philly, including topics such as Race & Faith, Religion & the Media, and Challenges to Religious Liberty Today. On May 8th, I will be co-hosting a Civil Conversations event on LGBT+ Identity and Spirituality. If you happen to be in the Philly area, you may sign up to attend HERE.

I also encourage you to check out the various podcasts on Krista Tippett’s site, On Being. One such episode features Joy Ladin and is entitled: Transgender Amid Orthodoxy: I Am Who I Will Be.

Joy Ladin is the Gottesman Professor of English at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University in New York, an author of seven collections of poetry, and currently writing I am What I Will Be: Reading God and the Torah from a Transgender Perspective. Six years ago, Joy transitioned from male to female identity. She became the first openly transgender professor at an Orthodox Jewish institution.

In her conversation with Krista, Joy shared that throughout her life her body didn’t match her soul. As she spoke, I couldn’t help but be enlightened by how her story helps all of us reflect on how gender shapes the ongoing journey of being “at home” in ourselves.

I found it particularly poignant what Joy shared about the convergence of her Jewish identity with that of her gender identity and expression. For example, she connected gender identity with the Torah—specifically that God is portrayed as a genderless character [though male pronouns are often used], and God doesn’t have a body. As a child, Joy also had male pronouns and didn’t feel like she had a body. That profound spiritual connection was a comfort for her.

Further, Joy discussed the concept of covenant in Jewish spirituality and practice, and how some view her transition from male to female identity as a break in covenant. What particularly caught my attention was Joy’s wise conclusion that most people who call her transition “selfish” or “immoral” are not really referring to a breaking of covenant between God and humanity or a type of moral construct. Instead, they view Joy’s physical, birth gender [male] as a promise to them—that Joy was that gender, consistent with the visible body. And that gender covenant, Joy stated, was a promise she couldn’t keep because the man she was presenting herself as was not who she felt she truly was. She went on to share that she continues to break this “gender covenant” even after transition, because though she may now appear “female” to most people, she still has an X and a Y chromosome. So that covenant is still not fulfilled.

In the end, Joy defines gender covenant as a promise about who you are. That is not bound to binaries or appearances.  

Towards the conclusion of the podcast, Joy expressed her gratitude for those people in her life who can see and embrace her humanness without the normality of gender. They respond to her with love, compassion, and honest questioning even without the outward binaries that we so often base our labeling of someone as “human.” This is one of the major insights and pieces of wisdom I glean from Joy’s journey, as well as the wisdom of my transitioning or recently transitioned transgender friends and colleagues. We don’t have to be binary or normal or “same” to be human. We can be seen, accepted, recognized, and loved without the labels and so-called norms.

And since “On Being” is a podcast about identity, it’s only fitting that Joy closed with these words: “Becoming is always going to be a greater proportion than being.”

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The Three Ps, Every Day

John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15     Inclusive Bible

Note: Paraclete can be translated: one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate

When the Paraclete comes, the Spirit of Truth who comes from Abba God, whom I myself will send from my Abba—she will bear witness on my behalf. You too must bear witness, for you’ve been with me from the beginning. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you. Now I am going to the one who sent me–yet not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ You’re sad of heart because I tell you this.

Still, I must tell you the truth: it is much better for you if I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send her to you. When she comes, she will prove the world wrong about sin, about justice and about judgment: About sin—in that they refuse to believe in me; about justice—because I go to Abba God and you will see me no more; about judgment—for the ruler of this world has been condemned.

I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear to hear it now.

When the Spirit of Truth comes, she will guide you into all truth. She won’t speak on her own initiative; rather, she’ll speak only what she hears, and she’ll announce to you things that are yet to come. In doing this, the Spirit will give glory to me, for she will take what is mine and reveal it to you. Everything that Abba God has belongs to me. This is why I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and reveal it to you.

graduation_capsGraduations are upon us.

It’s that time of year again when high school, postgraduate, and graduate students line up in robes with funny hats and tassels. After a painful race to the finish line of exams, papers, projects, and theses, they will sit in seats for a couple of hours listening to speakers and hearing their names called. They’ll march up to the stage and shake some faculty members’ hands; they’ll get a diploma [or in some cases an empty container, because their diploma gets mailed to them afterwards]. People will clap and take lots of pictures. Parents and grandparents will cry.

And pretty much all of the graduates will be in a state of shock and wonder.

Is it really over?

All the work, all the stress, all the challenges, experiences, and all the friendships?
Is it really over?

I remember all three of my graduations as being completely surreal. I mean, how can you really sum up years of your life in a ceremony that lasts a couple of hours? The truth is that you can’t. The robes, funny hats, tassels, diplomas, and ceremonies just don’t cut it. Yes, we mark these occasions as special, because to some extent, they are. But certainly, a graduation ceremony is no more special than any of the days or moments during the four years of high school or college. Certainly, those years are not defined by a piece of paper called a diploma. What about the relationships you forged? What about the challenges you overcame? What about all the things you learned, not just from books, but the things you learned about yourself, others, and the world?

We put so much effort into marking the occasion of graduation.
But once the hats are thrown up in the air and the parties end, what next?

Will tomorrow also be a special day with funny hats, robes, and celebration?
This is the question I would like for you to consider.

Is it possible for everyday to be a special day?

Mull over that for a moment.

And now, let’s move from funny hats to funny words, all beginning with the letter p.

Paraclete, Pentecost, and Promise anyone?

Certainly, the first two “p” words are strange.
What do they mean anyway?

Let’s start with Pentecost.

Pente is a Greek prefix for the number 5 or the number 50—depending on the context, and would have been said by Greek-speaking Jews centuries ago. Later on, in Eastern Christianity, Pentecost was designated as a festival celebrated 50 days after Resurrection Sunday.

But Pentecost as a festival did not originate in Christianity; it comes from the Jews.
It was called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew.

This festival began Saturday, May 23rd at night, and continued through Monday. People read the Torah, fast, eat special foods and specifically dairy products, and pray.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gift of the covenant—in other words, the giving of the Law [Torah] to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the first Seder meal [linked to Passover] to remember the Torah and God’s promises.

And now, what in the world is a Paraclete?
No, it’s not a pair of soccer shoes that float through the air.

parachute

Paraclete originates from ancient Latin and ancient Greek. It means mediator or advocate. But if we really want to dig into its original meaning, a Paraclete is a person—someone who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and one who literally stands with someone and intercedes on her behalf.

This is often why Paraclete is translated advocate in English Bibles. But as you can see, Paraclete is the word used in John’s Gospel, and its meaning is wider than just advocate.

And the last p word you’ve heard before, but do you really know what it means?

Promise.

promise

Certainly, there are types of promises, some of them being: vows, oaths, commitments, and even legal contracts. The type of promise that goes with the other two p words of Pentecost and Paraclete is really none of those types of promises.

It is a covenant promise.

Keep in mind that a covenant is very different than a contract, which is based on law, and often built on fear. A covenant is based on grace, and built on love.

Covenants have a growing edge; they are fluid; they don’t impose limits.
In a covenant, accountability is mutual.

And finally, covenants require community affirmations and re-affirmations.

Of all the three p words I’ve mentioned, perhaps promise is the most important one, or at least the word from which the other two flow. There is no Pentecost with promise. There is no Paraclete without promise.

You see, Western Christians are notorious for marking liturgical days [like Pentecost], putting on strange robes and funny hats, giving special speeches, and observing one day as an extra special one.

But that’s not at all what Paraclete and Promise are about.

The Paraclete, the Spirit of God, is a promised reality. The Spirit is not limited to a day, or a time, or a place, or even to a religion. The Spirit flows as it wishes, and it flows through all. And the Spirit is part of the covenant promise, for the Spirit flows with grace and fills with love.

I return to the question I asked you to consider:

Is it possible for every day to be a special day?

Consider: what if every day were Pentecost?

No waiting for some mythical “Holy Ghost” to come down, or for some second coming—no waiting. Today.

What if impatience for “better days” or anxiety over what is to come took a back seat to the realization that today, right now, there is spirit, and promise, and life?

How would that change our living?
Our decision making?
Our treatment of others?

The Spirit–She is already here—proving us wrong when we say that there are only certain days that are special, only certain times when we can be filled with compassion, understanding, and joy. She is here today, standing beside us in times of need and standing up for that which is right. She is in us and around us, and so every day is an opportunity for us to change, to discover ourselves, to find wisdom, to listen, to learn, and to love.

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