Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Trans-ness of God

Every year as I prepare for Transfiguration Sunday I remember a couple of conversations that I had with then 3-year-old Naomi about the identity of God.  At the time, she told me she didn't like God because God is a boy.  But also that when she pictured God, she imagined a cloud.  I still sigh at how insidious the notion of maleness is to God's identity that even when you grow up in a home and attend a church that's pretty intentional about being neutral with names and pronouns, you get the picture that God is a "boy."  

I think of those conversations because they happened right around this time of year - Transfiguration Sunday - and because of how the vision of God as a cloud was so surprisingly right on the nose to the story of God's appearance to Jesus and the disciples, though Naomi had not heard the story before.  She came up with that on her own.

A decade ago, I explained God to Naomi as both boy and girl.  In my evolving understanding of gender I think I would shake the binary or either or and now say God is all and neither.  Or at least try to be a little more expansive. No one's gender needs to be one or the other and can even change.  Theresa Thorn does a great job of explaining the gender identity and fluidity in her picture book for children called It Feels Good To Be Yourself.  I wish I'd had her book when my child was making determinations about gender categories.

The Transfiguration is perfect story in which to dwell on the trans-ness of the Divine.  Not only does Jesus transfigure to a different and mysterious and brilliant form (maybe his true form?), even in his ministry writ large, he transgresses gender norms.  He is a tender healer, compassionate companion.  He is very close with women who are not his family members.  And in the Transfiguration story God's appearance is as a-gender light and cloud.

Not too long ago I prefaced a sermon by saying that I'd be using 'they/them' pronouns for God throughout.  Even though it still takes some practice, I feel pretty comfortable with using they and them as gender-neutral pronouns for people. But I am for some reason still having trouble in my own head with they and them for God.  Even though it makes so much sense biblically and theologically (God is one but also three, God's names imply an identity that is many-gendered and multi-faceted, God identifies themself as 'we' in Genesis 1).  I am chagrined to say that as much as I try to be intentional when I speak, 'He' still rolls off my brain more easily.

This passage calls on me - and all of us - to be trans-formed, transfigured, trans-aware.  Calls on me to be more active in the way I engage conversations about gender and pronouns for people and for God, so that we aren't left with the impression, by cultural default that God is a "boy". The transfiguration story is an opening.  Jesus' disciples are opened to a vision of the Divine.  Our eyes can be opened too.  Our image of the Divine surely informs our image of people, who are the carriers and reflection of God themself.

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