Carvaggio's "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas"

A Sermon: “Doubt Thomas”

I gave this sermon on April 12, 2015 at First Church Cambridge. It’s now May. I’ll be honest: I completely forgot to post it. Forgive me? I sure hope so…

John 20:19-31
20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Trigger Warning: Some discussion of sexual assault. Continue reading “A Sermon: “Doubt Thomas””

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Divine Loneliness: An Excerpt from my Journal

I read my journals after I finish writing on their last pages before putting them away. This journal was particularly heavyhearted. It spans the beginning of a grief process to a hospitalization. This entry was written in the throes of an existentialist faith crisis that I’m still wading through. Needless to say, it’s dark. Though dark, it speaks to something that I’m finding to be true about how I experience God and the world. It’s not polished.  It is the stream of consciousness brought out through journaling. I’ve done little to change the format so it reads as strangely as it spilled from my head to the page. I hope it sparks something in you, dear reader, whatever that something is. Here we go: Continue reading “Divine Loneliness: An Excerpt from my Journal”

Out of the Deepest Depths: A Coming Out Story

Let him who would move the world first move himself”

-Socrates

One terrifying day in March of 2009, I kicked open my closet door and staggered out gasping for breath.  It was overwhelming.  I had uttered the words “I’m a transman” to the seminary I was planning to attend.  The next day I made two phone calls.  One to my brother in our hometown and one to my friend J who lived across campus.  They were two very different calls.  I asked my brother how he felt about having a little brother to which he said, “Yeah ok.”  That was about the best I could expect.  I knew he would be great about it.  He’s always had my back.  The call with J went something like “OHMYGOSHI’MFREAKINGOUT! CAN WE MEET UP RIGHT NOW??” J was a little puzzled, but agreed to meet me later in the day.

I remember the two of us lying on a grassy hill.  I turned to them (used as a gender-neutral pronoun; still one person) and asked if it gets easier.  They thought for a second, head cocked to the side with one raised eyebrow.  Finally, they settled on a one word response: “Sometimes.”  I didn’t know what that meant, and I don’t remember how they proceeded to explain.  I was spinning and a little nauseas from my day of new birth.  I needed to take a nap.

I came out as trans the same year that I decided to start down my path to ministry.  I conflate these two things.  As I grew deeper into my faith, I realized that I had to confront the deep, dark thing that kept me from connecting with people and with God.  It was the thing that made me feel depressed enough to want to try to take my life over and over. It was what tormented me through school, up until I found myself amidst a group of people who played with gender like it was something they performed. I felt God pushing me to tread those waters, always with a hand on my shoulder.  So I did.  I started to play and found my Self under a sea of flannel and fake facial hair.  The day I asked my friends to change how they address me was the day I can honestly say that I felt the presence of God, all terror, wonder, awe, and love.

Today in 2013, I understand the answer that my friend gave me upon that hill.  The main trans* narrative wants people to think that all of our problems are solved the day the we emerge from our closets.  This may be true for some people, but it wasn’t true for me.  This large step gave me the courage to confront the other things in myself that made me so depressed.  From this door, I could see the host of other doors that remained unopened.  With new found confidence in both God and myself, I started exploring.  Today, I can say that I don’t constantly want to tear off my skin.  That’s not to say that I don’t have bad days.  I have days where I want to throw things at people for the all the racist and transphobic things they say.  Most days, though, I feel ready to take the world head on.  I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I have made the decision to be out.  A lot of guys do not, which is okay. I choose to be out because I know that my transness isn’t visible otherwise, though it marks my existence on this earth.  For me, it’s important to lift up all of the lenses with which I view the world to say that I exist despite my struggles.  I exist even though there is so much telling me to my face that I don’t.  I exist, and that is subversive, if I tell my story.

Here are some pieces of it.

Happy National Coming Out Day.

Intentional Healing Through God

“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all you mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these”

Gospel of Mark 12:29-31, NRSV

This is possibly my favorite passage in the Bible.  I love it because it sums the whole of the Christian mission into a few succinct lines that speak to the heart.  The first passage is pretty straight forward: love God with every fiber of your physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual self.  God is the one through whom all things happen.  I don’t mean this in a dualistic sort of way, where God is responsible for only the “good” things, thus leaving the rest to whichever name for evil you want to conjure.  I mean all things.  Of course, “all things” means something different to a cynic than it does to an optimist.  That’s not to sat that those are the only two kinds of people; those are just two examples.

I’m learning to be an optimist.  Since I started walking deeper into faith a few years ago, I find it difficult for me to justify my cynicism.  Each day I wake up, and notice that the sky is a different shade of blue or grey than it was the previous day, or that the leaves grow slightly more yellow as the season progresses.  These things are beautiful, and the plight of the world cannot take away from me the natural beauty of it. That said, I’m still learning and I have hard days too.

For me, the meat of this passage rests in the simplicity of “love your neighbor as yourself.”  I love this because it’s so simple, and often repeated, but one of the hardest things in the world to do: Love your neighbor as yourself.  This command is two-fold.  Love your neighbor and love yourself.   Why? Because both you and your neighbor are worthy of the love of God.  Period.

I’m learning to be an optimist by learning to love myself through the love of God.  Tonight, I tapped into the deepest places in my muscle memory where I store some of my worst memories.  As I sat holding my shoulders and crying the hardest I ever may have in my life, the things that ran through my head were the times in my life when I thought that God had abandoned me.  I remembered “good friends” in high school telling me that I couldn’t be a Christian unless I turned my back on myself.  Flashes of people telling me that they worried for my soul because I didn’t know the grace of God even though I was sure in my heart of hearts that God was rooting for me.  In those days, I was depressed, suicidal, and lonely.  These were themes that would repeat themselves up until I decided to medically transition (not to say that medical transition is for everyone who is trans* identified, just my experience).

These days, the muscles in my shoulders are tight from carrying all the weight of those years.  Tonight, I imagined all of it melting away and coming out of me as I held my hands to my shoulder.  It did in the form of tears.  They were tears of hurt, yes, but past hurts that needed to be washed away in a sea of healing.  I am trying to heal myself.  I think it is working.  Since I’ve relocated, I’ve been able to feel in my body where anxiety happens.  I am cognizant of my triggers and actively working through them in all the manifestations of my spirit.  I’m happy.  Adjustment is hard.  It always has been for me, but I know that the difficulty will make me stronger.  So now, I grow into the happy person that I’ve always wanted to be.  I can safely say that I love myself in that I am committed to keeping myself healthy so that I can be the best me possible.  Loving God has helped me to love myself.  Each day that I love myself a little more, I love God that much more.  It’s a cyclical relationship in which I am happy to take part.  Love is a journey.  I’m in it, going through it, fighting for it, and, often fighting with it.  Above all, I’m intentional about it.  I can’t go in to it hoping that I will maybe change someday.  I work for it so that I change every day.

Each day, I get a little stronger.  Each day, I get a little more me.  It’s–seriously–the best feeling in the world.