Too Much Is Not Enough

Too Much Is Not Enough

by: Callan Williams


You know what’s a sin?

People who think they can look at someone and tell if they are a sinner. In the end, that judgment is up to God and God alone.

All we mortals can do is to determine who is dangerous to the social order. Sometimes that’s easy — we know that people who have murdered others are dangerous and need to be dealt with — and sometimes that’s very hard. Are homosexual people dangerous to the social order? Should they be “dealt with?”

It’s one thing looking at someone’s actions against another to determine who is dangerous. People who physically harm others without consent or people who take property without informed consent should be looked at for danger. That’s what a trial does — uses a set of laws to determine who is guilty and how they should be punished.

It’s another thing altogether when we look at someone’s character to determine if they are dangerous, but that’s what so many people do. We look at another to make the most common judgment people make: Where is this person too much, and where are they not enough?

Think about it. “Too much” and “not enough” is the basis of most judgments that humans make. “Well, they are just too rude, too dramatic, too quiet, too rich. They need to be more civil, more appropriate, more vocal, more humble.”

“Too much” and “not enough” is the where we set the bounds of community. “To be one of us, you can’t be too much this or not enough that, so you better change to meet our expectations or be shunned and shamed.” It doesn’t matter if the community believes in fundamentalist Christian values or radical activist values, the judgment is always the same: “How is this person too much, how are they not enough?”

The arrogance of that judgment, though, is when you decide that people who are “too much” or “not enough” for your tastes are sinners. This has always been the tool of religious repression, be it the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Crusaders who rode into Jerusalem. “They are not enough like me, too much like who I choose to hate, so they are sinners, and my God gives me the right to smite them.”

The laws of the country are not meant to punish sin. The laws of this country are not even meant to enforce morality. They are meant to maintain social order, nothing more, nothing less. For many believers who want the world to be more like what they wish it to be, this seems like a bad idea. After all, shouldn’t we be shaping morality though every means possible? It seems like a bad idea, of course, until they see a country where laws are designed to enforce morality and punish sin, and people like them are being prosecuted and persecuted for their own choices. Some don’t get this lesson. They think their beliefs are the only right ones, and as long as people like them make the choices, everything will be OK. We can only hope they figure out that whoever is in power there has the same belief. Conservatives who say “Get the government out of my bedroom, and get it into theirs,” are not conservatives at all, they are moralists plain and simple.

This is not to say that morality is not required in a democracy. In fact, morality is at the heart of democracy, even more than laws. Laws are only the backstop to catch those people who have harmed others, not the rules for appropriate behavior. If laws are the only controls, what you have is a police state and not a democracy, and that is something few of us want.

Can you look at someone and judge whether they are a sinner? You may be able to judge that they have participated in acts you think are sinful, but they may consider that you have participated in acts they think are sinful, maybe even according to their reading of the same scripture. Poly-cotton blends may just be unholy, you know. You can’t however determine they are a sinner — only God holds that privilege.

What you can determine is how they challenge social order; either the order that exists now, the status quo, or the order that you wish would exist. This idea, for example, is at the heart of political correctness, where people who speak in a way that contradicts some abstract ideals are deemed sinners, and are then exposed to the shunning and shaming of the group in order to get them back into line.

For those of us, though, who honor the call of our creator, who are reborn in every moment, we know that the most challenging thing we face is when people judge us as “too much,” or judge us as “not enough.” That pressure to be small and appropriate rather than real, honest and the servant of an empowering God can be stifling. It is, I suspect what Chesterton meant when he said, “The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

To move beyond the fear that we will be “too much” or “not enough,” and be shamed and shunned because of that, we have to drop our judgments about others who we may have felt are “too much” or “not enough.” We don’t get the luxury of asking people not to judge us, and then expect the right to judge others.

To be willing to withhold judgment on “too much/too little” means being willing to step away from group mores and group pressure and be willing to accept people as individuals, each with their own calling. It means judging people on the simple criteria if what they say and what they do is in harmony. The righteous person is one who’s public and private lives are in accord, beyond hypocrisy and twisted thinking which violates the golden rule by assuming one rule for me and one for others. She stands for what she stands for.

In society, this can often be very hard. We are asked speak for that which we don’t even try to live, to hold others to standards and expectations we ourselves cannot meet. This twists our thinking, creating closets, creating those who try to achieve standing in the community not by their own good acts but instead by attacking what they claim the be the excesses and deficits of others — where others are “too much” or “not enough.” Rather than leading by example, they enforce with fear, trying to use the power of judgment to maintain a social order that oppresses the diversity and truth across all creation.

Too much is not enough, for enough only comes when we walk in righteousness by using our sweat to reveal the truth of our creation, make transformative art of our lives by co-creating them with God. It is when we can move beyond the fear of stigma, shunning and shaming which comes from the judgment of others that we can be clear and true in our own lives and our own relationship with God.

It’s a sin when you believe that you can look at someone and tell they are a sinner — even if that someone is you. And when you judge another on anything but how they act towards others, you judge yourself, putting barriers up between you and the potential you hold.

After all, isn’t succumbing to social pressure and then not doing what you know to be right a sin?

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved

http://whosoever.org/v6i6/callan.html

 

Are You Ready For Community?

Are You Ready For Community?

by: Callan Williams


Tribes exist when people share a heritage.

Religions exist when people share belief stories.

Communities exist when people share priorities.

Through most of human history, we have lived in groups where all these three were shared — heritage, belief, and priorities. We had common ancestors, common beliefs and common goals. In fact, those common beliefs often consolidated the solidarity of our group by teaching us that we were the chosen people and others were wrong and evil, creating the unity of fear and hate.

Today, though with instant communications and almost instant transportation, it’s very rare that we feel this real connection to the tribe, the religion and the community of someone else we meet. However much we crave being included, as a member of a group, that connection seems to elude us.

Humans are mostly the same. That’s why our perception system is optimized not for seeing sameness, but for difference. It’s no good to say that someone has two legs, five fingers and one nose — that hardly communicates much. The only absolutely true statement may be “all is nothing, nothing is all,” but that hardly starts a useful conversation. Instead we learn early to identify not where we are the same, but to identify where we are different, and to assume that when we don’t see difference that none exists.

The problem with finding difference is that while it is fun and easy to pick apart the subtle differences between people, it never builds commonality. The problem with assuming sameness is that it never builds commonality either, because it substitutes comfortable projections that erase real differences and real connections.

We have trouble finding common ground when all we see is difference, and we have trouble respecting difference when all we do is project sameness.

For many of us, though, our own difference from “them” is at the basis of our belief stories. “I may not be able to tell you who I am, but I can tell you one thing: I am not like them!” We don’t create a positive identity for ourselves, based on who we know ourselves to be, but rather a negative one, based on who we know we aren’t.

When many people walk into a room, they often ask, “How are these people not like me?” which leads to the next question, “How do I have to keep myself separate from these people?”

The flip side of this approach is the projection of false sameness. We walk into a room and assume that everyone not only is like us, but that they are just like us. We wonder why they get frustrated with us, saying we aren’t listening to them, not respecting them. We get frustrated when they won’t agree with us, because they are just like us. We finally realize how different they are, we feel betrayed and deceived, and we wonder how they were allowed in this space for people just like us.

Neither of these approaches are the basis of healthy community. Community demands that we honor diversity while seeking commonality. If you project you can’t honor diversity, and if you fear or disdain, you can’t seek commonality.

I guarantee you that if you look closely enough at any human, at their tribe and belief stories and who they are in community with, you will find a good reason that you don’t want to be like them. No human tribe, no human religion, no human community and no human is perfect — they are all, as you are, human. They learn though mistakes, often very big mistakes, they cling to what makes them comfortable, they act out of fear and pain.

Can we walk into a room full of very imperfect humans committed to work to discover “What can these people teach me about finding community?” That may sound simple, but to do that we have to face our own pain and fears, we have to face our own assumptions and expectations. We look for protecting ourselves against the cuts people like them have made on us in the past, against when they try to separate from us, slicing us away and wounding our heart. We look for protecting ourselves from their attitudes and judgments, the ones that have kept us crucified all our lives.

Unfortunately, the lessons of heritage and belief are lessons that are designed to sabotage community rather than enable it. We build life myths that enforce boundaries rather than build bridges. We build walls designed to bolster a shared identity by making sure we know that we are not like “them” that we are never like “them.”

To build a community, we have to focus on the priorities we share, rather than on what divides us. To do that, we have to be able to face challenges to the lessons of belief that we have built up, have to be willing to make change in ourselves rather than just demand change in others.

For many people, who want to see communities as places for projecting common belief and behavior, rather than for common priorities, this can be very hard. They want community to be a stick to get others to conform, denying community to others they see as traitors, believing that identity politics must be the core of community, enforcing norms. It is these people who give community a bad name.

Are you ready for community? Are you ready to come with a clear positive sense of who you are, rather than needing just to declare who you aren’t? Are you ready to look for common ground rather than why others should be kept away as “them?” Are you ready to be willing to change as you see reflections of your heritage, your life, your beliefs and your priorities in the diversity of others?

Community demands intimacy, the sharing of truths. If you hold that “they” are so different that “they” will never understand your truths, or worse, if you hold that you have no need to understand the truths of another, then no matter how much you may want it and how much you may need it, you are not ready for community.

Community is, by its very existence, a transformative process. It creates connection by forging or revealing commonalities in the face of differences. When we are unwilling or unable to be transformed, to face those real differences and real commonalities, community will elude us.

Like all transformation, being in community offers us mirrors that reflect essence, an essence that may challenge who we wish to be, that may challenge the kind of world we think would be most comfortable. The one thing God never promised, though, is comfort. Only life is promised, and life is transformation, no matter how much we want to stay comfortable. It is in our discomfort that we find what is real and what is false, about our beliefs and about our soul.

Are you ready for community?

Are you ready to be open enough to others so that seeing yourself though their eyes will transform you? Or do you need to only see your own comforting projections in them, projections of sameness which erase challenge, or projections of difference which allow you to dismiss them?

To open your heart is to be open to God’s revelation, the shock of seeing oneself and knowing you are not who you wish to be but who you are. You will see where you are blocked from growth and change; see where your ego tries to keep you comfortable and defended rather than open and loving. And for most people, the scariest thing they will see is not that they are messed up and in pain, but rather that they are more powerful than is comfortable for them, more full of potential and grace.

Deep community, like any other sharing, calls us to be deeply ourselves, beyond identity props, facing the common humanity that lives in every soul.

Are you ready for community? Are you ready to move past assumptions of difference or assumptions of sameness to face other humans with an open heart? Are you ready to be open and visible, ready to see with wide and loving eyes?

Are you ready to be transformed?

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved

 

http://whosoever.org/v7i1/callan.html

Are You a Crucifixion Person or a Resurrection Person?

Are You a Crucifixion Person or a Resurrection Person?

by: Callan Williams

To die and to be reborn. It’s a powerful notion, so powerful and pervasive in human societies that there is no surprise that Christianity puts death and rebirth at the core. And it provides an easy way to take a measure of someone’s beliefs.

Are you a crucifixion person or a resurrection person? Do you believe we are born to suffer and die, with our ultimate reward coming in some other place, some other time, or are you a resurrection person, immersed in leaving behind suffering and building a new life, immersed in being reborn here and now?

The Roman church decided early that they would be a church of the crucifixion. The Gnostic gospels, proclaiming the reality of being reborn on Earth, were edited from the canon, removed from the Bible, around 300AD. The power of the church and its leadership was consolidated by this choice. By saying that divinity of the human was denied until the next life, no mere human could challenge the church, and the church could say that suffering was good for you, that your rewards would come in the afterlife.

Today, power is still consolidated by leaders who speak for crucifixion. By emphasizing suffering and victimization of the group, they disempower individuals who speak for transcendence, attempting to make them subservient to the group. To empower individuals is to invite challenge, for people reborn in a present relationship with God are not under the control of man, not subject to the demands of the group for compliance on an earthly plane. Instead, they speak for the God they know intimately, even when that voice says change is needed, that we must defy convention to be right with God.

To be a crucifixion person is to deny the possibility of bliss, passion, ecstasy and power in this world. It is to live in suffering, a suffering designed to rationalize and support the need for sacrifices in order to receive a distant ephemeral reward.

To be a resurrection person, though, is to embrace the idea that God is alive and living in everyone, reborn in every moment we reaffirm our connection with her. It is to face God everyday, a God who works though the divine callings in the hearts of each of us, teaching us where we need to be new.

This is a terrifying idea for Crucifixion people who support the status quo, believing their suffering to follow the rules of the church and community are the only true way to serve God. They need to believe that God demands suppression of the individual, sacrifice to the mores of the group. Crucifixion people see a vengeful God, one who punishes us for following the joy in our heart rather than following the tenets of the church and community. Their God enforces obedience to a set of laws rather than encouraging new creation from personal divine inspiration.

Resurrection is a very queer idea indeed. It honors those who follow their own unique connection to the Godhead by being born anew in every moment rather than honoring those who suffer the most by being crucified in every moment. It honors creation, both the creation of a creative connection with the universe, and the creation of a creator who made an incredibly diverse and beautiful world. To be a resurrection person we must celebrate the queer and unique beauty in every person, for it is impossible to embrace our own resurrection unless we embrace the resurrection of others, resurrection not beyond the reality of pain and conflict, but beyond the belief in suffering and fear.

Resurrection comes with a kind of responsibility that doesn’t come with crucifixion. To be a crucifixion person, we just have to follow the rules, be a good follower in the congregation. To be a resurrection person, though, we have to follow our heart, even when it puts us in conflict with those who want to maintain the status quo.

To be a resurrection person, we have to be an individual and a leader. Resurrection means that we are an active agent of God, playing our part in creation, and not just one of the group, believing that meek obedience will bring some kind of reward in a better place, or worse, that strong enforcement of social norms is following the call of God.

Resurrection requires a commitment to make this world a better place, more like heaven, rather than believing that this place is meant to be where people suffer and die for the glory of a distant God who is only truly known to church leaders.

Resurrection demands an active romance with the possible, rather than just an infatuation with the flat symbols of devotion.

Joseph Campbell is clear – the hero’s journey has always been a journey of death and rebirth, of crucifixion and resurrection. To be a resurrection person is to be a hero, to be one who is willing to endure death to become new. The only way to be a resurrection person is to be willing to let parts of us die so we may be reborn, and those are most often the parts that have given us comfort. For many, belief in the validity of suffering is at the heart of their comfort. A belief in suffering as central releases personal responsibility and puts the onus on those who refuse to suffer as God demands. This gives those who have chosen suffering the power to lash out at people who refuse to suffer like they do as the ones who cause all evil.

Resurrection people may seem to mock the price crucifixion people choose to pay to be right with God, but resurrection people do pay a high price – the price of being crucified daily by the crucifixion people who want to inflict the lesson of obedience and suffering. As Buddha said, though, loss is inevitable but suffering is optional. It is those who endure loss and pain without succumbing to suffering who make this world more like heaven, it is those who transcend pain and loss who have the power to make change.

Are you a crucifixion person or a resurrection person? Which would you like to be, reborn in every moment, or pinned to a cross for the rest of your mortal life? Are you willing to pay the price for whichever choice you make?

They are hard questions to answer. While crucifixion people will tell us that the lesson of Easter is that we can be reborn in a new life after we die if we sufficiently suffer the cross here, Easter reminds me of one thing: Jesus was a resurrection person, unwilling to succumb to social pressure to play along against what he knew to be true and right, willing to die to be reborn more in the image of God.

As I wrote on the talisman I gave Rachel Pollack on her bat mitzvah, which followed her bar mitzvah by 40 years:

“She is who is
reborn in every moment
will truly know
the glory of G-D.”

Callan Williams is a power-femme drag-mom trans-theologian who finds it very hard to practice what she preaches. Quaint selections of her past writing can be found at http://callan.transpractice.com

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved

http://whosoever.org/v6i5/callan.html

Ordaining Challenges

Ordaining Challenges

by: Callan Williams


Is religion about the smells and bells, the elements of the ritual?

We have all heard the story about Talulah Bankhead going to mass with Cardinal Spellman. As the procession passed her, the cardinal in his vestments with a censer, she is reputed to have said, “Love the drag, Franny, but your purse is on fire.”

Why is the ritual so important? Why is there such a history of clerical garb? It’s not because clothes and symbol aren’t important. It is because somehow, art allows us to reveal the potent and magical which dwells within us on the outside. Those vestments reveal a very deep, atavistic resonance to symbols of connection, of transcendence.

Being true to our creator is manifesting the gifts she gave us in the world, showing them on the outside.

I, like most transgendered people, knew before the age of 5 that I wasn’t simply who people expected me to me by dint of my genitals. I knew. I knew.

Society, though, needed to tell me that what I knew was wrong. What do you do when your religion tells you that you are a sin? I knew this was true, because it wasn’t my behavior that was at issue — it is my nature.

I had to face the issue of sin everyday. Which was the bigger sin — to violate human rules of propriety and comfort, or to deny the truth of my creation?

The answer had to come.

James Green, a man born female, was at an American Psychiatric Association conference. One of the doctors walked by the booth and wanted to know what IFGE was about. He chose to talk to the short bearded man, rather than one of the large, husky women.

James told him it was about transgender, transsexuals.

He replied “I don’t need that. I don’t believe that God makes mistakes.”

James smiled and said, “Neither do I.”

At some point, I had to believe that I am not a mistake, not an illness, not a dysphoria, but a child of God. I had to find a creation myth that didn’t make me a sin, something to be fixed — or destroyed — but that allowed me to walk in pride, believing that I held a bit of God within me.

That came when I heard anthropologist Anne Bolin, who has studied gynemimetic shamans — women born male — say “In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.”

In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity. The moment I heard that line, I knew it was my personal mission statement — to be how God made me and remind people of how spirit connects all things.

I had to learn that I come from a long line of people who were born to cross worlds, who kept connection in focus. The spirit is the place where worlds collide and worlds connect, even the eternal masculine and the eternal feminine.

This is hard to live. The liminal is the doorway between worlds, the opening in walls where spirits can touch. To be the door is to be the embodied reminder that God connects all.

It is good to be the door — but being the door also means that people will slam you, try to lock you, and to do everything that they can to keep you shut. Open doors are useful, yes, but many are more comfortable when a door is tightly shut, keeping out the barbarians — the people we don’t want to have to see ourselves and see our God in.

I believe that the greatest gift we can give is opening our heart and playing the role God put there — even if society says “I don’t need you, I only need what I want, go away.”

This is the challenge of an open door. It doesn’t bring what we think we want, it brings challenges to our own self-knowledge, challenges to our own faith, challenges to open our own hearts.

These challenges are why many in our churches have set themselves up not as doors, opening and welcoming, but as doorkeepers, suspicious and defensive. They see their challenge not as living in faith, being open and embracing, but to be defenders of the faith, militant and beady eyed.

A few weeks ago, I had a pastor look me straight at me and say, “My church needs an open gay person, but my congregation is not ready for someone like you. They couldn’t handle you.”

She had set herself up as a closed door, defending the weak people inside from what they couldn’t handle.

That’s a real challenge of being queer — not the people who confront us, but the people who decide that while they are OK with us, other people won’t be, so they have to defend their organization — their church — from people like me. “Well, I’d love to have you, but the children wouldn’t understand, or we would lose membership, or. . .”

You have transpeople in your churches now — or at least you have had them. They just fear showing their nature, because they know you fear them. You fear their passion, fear how they affect the kids, fear they affect how other people see you — you queer lover!

Being true to our creator is showing the gifts she gave us on the outside. Being true to our creator is embracing the gifts of others, especially when they challenge us to transcend fear and live in love.

Can you support people who scare you — and who you are scared of being seen next to, because they might draw some attacks?

I paint my face, wear the vestments of my calling. By doing that, I open the space for others to cross the line of fear that they cannot face, cannot reveal the divine in them. I open the space for art.

Art is where we take our God given gifts, shape them with our own sweat and act in the spirit inside — a spirit that is not just placid and earnest, but also dramatic, pretty and forward.

I know now that it was pre-ordained that I do this, to be who I am. I have worked hard to find what I can give to a culture which too often believes that people are their bodies and not their spirits, that the shape of our genitals is more important than the shape of our hearts.

Now, my challenge is having that ordination, and the work I have done to give of spirit to be respected and ordained by you.

Can you find a way to be a door, and accept the gifts God has placed in my heart? Or do you feel the need to close tight, keeping something you don’t know you want or need, something — and someone — who feels dangerous because they cross walls away from those you have decided cannot handle the power of spirit in others?

Can you handle the danger of embracing the connection that threads though us all — even across boundaries that seem as firm as the line between men and women?

Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved

http://whosoever.org/v6i6/challenges.html