by Reverend David Weekley
The most significant recent change in my life was the decision to leave local church ministry and Portland, Oregon to return to Boston University School of Theology and Boston, Massachusetts. This decision affected not only me, but my spouse, family, friends and community as well. It was a decision that involved selling most of our possessions, uprooting ourselves from community ties encompassing more than two decades, leaving our grown children thousands of miles away on the west coast, and relinquishing both current employment and hopes of future employment in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In actuality, it likely includes letting go of all possibility to continue my ministry of more than thirty years in The United Methodist Church. This decision was not made lightly. After publicly disclosing my history as a transgender man I struggled for three years to continue local church ministry and provide leadership and education for my denomination concerning the authenticity and spiritual experiences of many transgender persons of faith. Despite verbal support promised by many people, actions by my bishop, district superintendents, several colleagues, and some members of the congregations I served proved otherwise. One of the most painful personal truths I learned through this process is exactly how deep, and often subconscious trans-phobia actually is in our culture. I still believe some of those who hurt and abused me and my family do not accept as true that they did so. Fortunately trust in myself and work with a good therapist helped me discern and determine that moving away from an abusive situation was the healthy choice. This is how this particular transition in my life began. I realize it is not yet complete.
Consultant and presents a clear framework related to change in his book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.” He convincingly argues that change is not what creates problems, hardship or failure; it is the transition process leading to concrete change and new beginnings that can produce negative results. In his text Bridges outlines a three-phase process through which people and organizations move as they respond to change and move into new situations. The stages of this process are:
- Ending, losing and letting go. In this phase the task of naming losses, letting go of an old identity, and recognizing something is ending is critical.
- The neutral zone. This is an uncomfortable but potentially creative stage. It is an “in-between” time in which the old is gone but the new is not fully envisioned or embraced. This is a critical period where repatternings and psychological realignments occur.
- The new beginning. This is the final movement in the process and involves actually moving out of the transition period to affirm the new beginning. It is in this phase that people and organizations experience new energy, develop a new sense of identity, and ascertain a new sense of purpose.
According to the author, while the entire process appears to flow from the first to the final stage, in reality all three phases overlap. William Bridges describes how each step in the whole transition process begins before the preceding one is completely finished, and that people and organizations actually experience being in more than one phase at the same time. He names this movement through the stages of transition as more a sense of dominance of one phase over the others rather than a total shift from one to another.
As I reflect on my own recent transition from local church ministry to the Doctor of Ministry program at Boston University School of Theology I concur with Bridges’ description both of the transition process itself, and the overlapping of stages in the whole process. One of the quotes in “Transitions: Making the Most of Change that I found most meaningful is this statement by French critic Charles Du Bois: “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we would become.” I resonate with this avowal on several levels. First, it simply appears to be true when considering any lasting change in life, whether in reference to persons or organizations. Second, it acknowledges there is sacrifice involved in transition. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the recent transition in my life. Leaving everything and everyone familiar has been difficult. Unlike those who move for the sake of relocation of their employment, I moved without employment. I remain unemployed. Unlike those who move to be closer to family or community, I left all family and community. This is complicated by the lack of any family or community with which to engage. New England seems a difficult place to form community or forge new friendships. In many ways I and my spouse experience this as a lonely time of transition; hoping for more sense of belonging in the future. Finally, the new beginning and what I will become is yet to be discovered. This very much feels like an ambiguous neutral zone, one in which I hope for a creative and energizing new beginning that still seems somewhere in the distant future.
As I and my spouse continue to move through the recent transition in our lives I find the framework outlined in William Bridges book insightful and helpful. Some sections in the text, such as those focusing on the seven stages of organizational development and renewal are not as pertinent for my personal life as the overlapping three phases of transition itself. Still, even within these sections Bridges’ description of change as a new constant in the contemporary life of both organizations and individuals rings true. While the current transition in my life is huge, I believe there will never be a time when social or personal transformation ceases and life returns to some changeless form of life. That would be an oxymoron. The very nature of life is change, as William Bridges so aptly points out in “Transitions: Making the Most of Change.” Even during those many years of local church ministry the congregations and communities I served were never stagnant, but always in some form of transition. I agree with the French philosopher, Michel De Montaigne quoted by Bridges: “Stability itself is nothing else than a more sluggish motion.” Knowing this helps me face and move into the future with a sense of hope and expectancy as well as a willingness to embrace new beginnings with anticipation rather than fear. Whatever the future brings I believe this personal transition experience does provide me with new insights and perspective that will be invaluable for any potential work, relationships, and building of community.
William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 1991, 209), p.3
Bridges, p. 106
By Rev. David E. Weekley
My spouse and I enthusiastically and proudly watched the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on January twenty-first, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As we listened we were amazed to hear the word “gay” and a reference to the Stonewall riots included in the President’s speech. We waited hopefully for another word and another community within the TLGBQIA alphabet to be included: transgender. That word was never spoken. Retired Congressman Barney Frank did mention transgender later in the festivities, but my spouse and I longed to hear our President include us as he spoke about the equality of all Americans, and the right of all citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
At one point in the festivities my spouse tweeted two transgender acquaintances we knew were somewhere in the honored crowd and asked simply if they had any comment about this omission. Only one responded, and she did so curtly. She said it did not matter if the word transgender was spoken or not, she felt her family was included in the “gay” reference. Well, she is a transwoman and a lesbian, so I understood her opinion. I also know many transgender friends and colleagues did feel themselves included in the President’s remarks regarding “gay” and Stonewall. I too, believe it is a large step forward. But, it was a remark tweeted by a gay transman on the thread of our acquaintance, that disturbed me most about the whole incident. One person said, “This is unwarranted bitching.” Really? I do not think so. In the first place, it was not bitching at all; it was a question. In the second place, transgender people deserve and need to be affirmed and named by this President and administration.
I do not know the person who made this comment. I do not know what letter of the TLGBQIA population describes him, if any. What I do know is that I remember and participated in raging protests and marches with the gay and lesbian community for decades over similar frustrations about exclusion and discrimination. I have preached inclusivity in every church I ever served. I have marched in Pride parades, phone-banked for Marriage Equality, and protested and testified during legislative sessions in more than one state house. I listened to friends lament the secret support of other administrations, who hired gay and lesbian staff under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It was not enough for them, either. This time around, I am grateful my gay and lesbian friends have a President willing to claim them by name, out loud, and proud.
Do not misunderstand me. I fully support President Obama. My spouse and I campaigned for his election for both terms. We voted for him, encouraged others to vote for him; we donated to the Democratic Party numerous times during this election campaign although we are both currently unemployed, living on our savings, and could not really afford it. I understand this President has hired transgender staff and is supportive. When I sent him a copy of my book I received a personal letter of thanks for the gift. I also know this President has done more for TLGBQIA people than any previous administration. I agree with a colleague who said to me, “He is the best friend we have ever had in the White House.” I believe this is true. And this is my point. Friends are proud to name one another. Friends stand-up for each other, defend one another, and protect each other from harm. While I well understand the consequences of political fall-out from being too progressive, too inclusive, and too far ahead of our current culture; I still do not feel good about the word “transgender” being left out. This is not “unwarranted bitching:” this is grief.
Published at http://interfaithcoalition.blogspot.com on January 18, 2013
New Book – “Hung Jury: Testimonies of Genital Surgery by Transsexual Men” – editor Trystan Theosophus Cotten
Pictured are ICTE’s Rev. David Weekley and Deborah Weekley, outside of the Massachusetts Statehouse on Action Day for Transgender Equal Access (Thursday January 17th; photo by journalist Becky Garrison).
The Weekleys moved here to Massachusetts from Oregon last fall for David to attend Boston University’s School of Theology; David and Deborah’s writings are among those in “Hung Jury”, and David and editor Trystan Cotten will be presenting about genital surgery at the local First Event conference later this month.
David’s autobiography “In from the Wilderness (Sherman: She-r-man)”, with a foreword by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, was published in 2011 by Wipf & Stock –click here for more information; there is also a publisher’s flyer available as a PDF.
New Book Release
Hung Jury: Testimonies of Genital Surgery by Transsexual Men
Edited by Trystan Theosophus Cotten
Hung Jury is the first book of personal testimonies focusing exclusively on genital surgery of female-to-male trans bodies. Stories document the intricacies, ups and downs of genital surgery and the many transformative ways it changes transsexual men’s lives. [read more]
Baptism of Jesus
When everyone was being baptized, Jesus was also baptized. As he prayed, the Holy Spirit came in bodily form like a dove—a symbol of peace—saying, “You are my Son; whom I dearly love. In you I find happiness.”
The gospel tells us Jesus went from his baptism into the wilderness. He took time alone with God to set priorities.
With priorities set, Jesus returned from the wilderness to begin a ministry of teaching, healing and empowering the marginalized: sharing the good news of God’s love for people and desire to be in relationship with people, and calling people to challenge the false powers and priorities of their day.
Baptism is a sacrament, a gift of God’s grace, and a symbol of joining the Christian community.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything that I commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you until the end of this present age.” Mt. 28:19-20
Over time, baptism became a ritual act: “insurance.” But that not the point of baptism.
- Make disciples: follow Jesus’ teaching about God’s love and desire for relationship, healing body and spirit, empowering the marginalized through solidarity with the poor, outcast and oppressed.
- Set and live out our priorities in relation to the Gospel.
This is the good news: transformed life for ourselves, our community, for the world.
Transformed Life is Not Always Easy to Embrace
One day a philosophy professor was speaking to a group of students and to make a point she used an illustration those students will never forget. As she stood in front of the group of students she said, “Okay, time for a quiz.”
Then she brought out a one-gallon, wide mouth mason jar and set it on the table in front of her. She then produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, she asked, ”Is this jar full?”
Everyone in the class said yes.
Then she said, “Really?”
She reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then she dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then she asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”
By this time the class was on to her.
” Probably not,” one of them answered.
“Good,” she replied.
She reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. She began adding the sand into the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.
Once more she asked the question, “Is this jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted.
Once again she said, “Good.” Then she took a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.
Then she looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”
One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it.”
“No!” the professor replied, “That’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”
What are the big rocks in your life? What are your priorities?
Time with your loved ones? Faith, education, following a dream? A worthy cause? Teaching or helping others? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all.
But there is one more important point to consider. Unlike those large rocks the professor used to illustrate her point about priorities, the “rocks” in our lives are not always the same size.
Sometimes when we are born, or at some point in life, there is a “rock” so big it takes up far too much space in our “jar.”
This was true in my life.
For me, being transgender took up so much space in my jar there was little room for anything else.
My life was disproportionate.
This is where a second aspect of baptism is so important. Baptism is also a promise: Jesus said, “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Mt. 28)
When I was struggling with gender identity and crying out for help, it was my faith that carried me. It was Jesus’ promise, “I myself will be with you…” that provided strength to reach out, to risk.
And God brought people and situations into my life that provided a way for healing and wholeness. A way that slowly transformed that big rock into, not only a manageable part of life, but actually a bedrock for my walk as a disciples of Jesus in teaching, healing, and reaching out to help empower others.
I do not think it is an accident that water is the element God chose for baptism. The very nature of water is to give, sustain, and transform life. Water is a component of all living things, and is often referred to as “the universal biologic solvent.” Water:
- Provides a medium for chemical reactions
- Surrounds and carries us in our mother’s womb
- Transports substances through our bodies, including life-giving oxygen, all through our lives
- Dilutes toxic substances
- Breaks down and transforms big rocks into gravel, then into sand
Another way of saying this is that water transforms.
As with so much of scripture, sometimes the meaning and message is far more intricate than what we see at first. I think this is true in the story of Jesus’ baptism, and the element of water as the symbol of our own commitment to follow of Jesus.
Just as in my life, you may have something in your life that is disproportionate, taking up far too much space;
Something that needs to be worked on, broken down and transformed;
Or, like the story of the jar, maybe you need to think about priorities, the big rocks you need to place first in your jar before filling your life with other things.
I invite you to reflect on the story of Jesus’ baptism and ask yourself these two questions:
- What are my priorities, those big rocks with which I have filled my life?
- Is there a particular “rock” I need help with; something that needs to be carved, smoothed, and transformed?
Excerpted from Reverend David Weekley’s January 13, 2013 message to Lexington United Methodist Church.
Image credit (lower): Baptism of Jesus by Tissot scanned by Benmill222 – rotated and cropped by Editor at Large (scan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
by Reverend David Weekley
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was first introduced in the 103rd Congress as S.2238 in 1994. This act would protect employees from job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Senate and Human Resources Committee held its first hearings on ENDA that same year. There was no substantive action taken at that time. Thirteen years later, ENDA of 2007 was introduced into the 110th Congress (H.R. 2015). This version of ENDA included protection for those who indentify as transgender. Hearings were held by the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor. These hearings eventually led to the re-introduction of a sexual orientation-only version of ENDA during this same session of congress. Discussion of this version of the bill eventually led to the first House floor vote, and the sexual orientation-only bill passed 235-184 (Roll Call No. 1057). While the passage of this act was very good news for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, it left those who identify as transgender without legal protection in regards to employment discrimination. Another version of ENDA was introduced in April 2011 in the 112th Congress (S.811). The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing in June of 2012, but to date no action has been taken. The result of inaction means that today only 16% of states and Washington D.C. ban employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
This brief overview of The Employment Non-Discrimination Act offers the cold, objective facts about the state of ENDA today, but it does not provide the stories or faces of those who daily face employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity. As a transgender man and as a pastor who has worked with many transgender people I know first-hand of the blatant and subtle forms employment discrimination may take. In my most recent congregation, of the ten transgender women and men who were members, only one had full-time employment or any job at all; six of the ten survived solely on disability income, relying on food stamps and subsidized housing. The grim reality is that 68% of transgender people report employment discrimination. This does not include those who fail to report such discrimination, those who have given up trying to enter the work force at all, or those transgender people who remain closeted within their homes out of fear of verbal or physical abuse. Information gleaned from a recent survey provides additional statistics that are directly related to employment discrimination and lack of employment within the transgender community. These statistics are related to poverty levels, health care issues, and the general well-being of transgender people:
- 15% of Transgender people live in poverty
- 62% of Transgender people have experienced depression
- 50% of Transgender people have seriously considered or attempted suicide
- 51% of Transgender people avoid seeking medical care because of an inability to pay
As the Body of Christ in the world today, the church is called to stand in solidarity with those who identify as transgender, and to advocate for the inclusion of the transgender community in the Employment Non-discrimination Act. Such solidarity will assist transgender people to securely participate in the workforce, enjoying the human dignity inherent in meaningful labor and community.
In Laborem Exercens John Paul II discusses work as providing specific dignity to human life. In this same vein he speaks of the responsibility of both direct employers and indirect employers, (i.e. agents and agencies at national and international levels responsible for labor policies) to create and implement policies and practices that advocate for suitable employment of all those who are able to work. He then defines unemployment as the opposite of such a “just and right” situation. In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness Dorothy Day, founder of The Catholic Worker Movement also speaks of the human desire and need for meaningful work. In a discussion concerning the significance of community and a new social order Day references the slogan “Work, not wages” and comments, “Men wanted work more than they wanted bread, and they wanted to be responsible for their work, which meant ownership.” While she is speaking specifically about her involvement in the workers struggle during the industrial revolution this comment is also applicable to transgender persons seeking employment today. In this same volume Day is critical of the church’s lack of involvement and leadership at that time. Describing how Jesus was born in a stable, worked with his hands, lived his early years in exile, and called the working poor as his first disciples, she laments “businesslike priests” who consent to the poverty, exploitation, and oppression of racial and cultural minorities of her day, responding to the marginalization of whole groups of people “more like Cain than Able.” She remarks that such priests appeared to respond to injustice within the social order by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Day then speaks of Jesus’ acquaintance with migrant workers and draws upon the parable of the workers in the vineyard, describing the point of the story as supporting a living wage, not equal pay for equal work. The concerns expressed for those facing discrimination, unemployment or underemployment and adverse social conditions during the time of the industrial revolution in The Long Loneliness are also pertinent to transgender people facing similar conditions today.
Thirty years after Dorothy Day published her autobiography John Paul II issued Laborem Exercens, where he, too, draws upon Scripture as the basis for the church’s position regarding human labor. Referring to the church’s position on human work as founded in Christ, John Paul II writes: “Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it should harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and allow people as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.”
Because the church affirms work as a human responsibility, a primary source of human dignity, and the fundamental means by which all people provide for their needs and those of their family it is imperative that the church stand in solidarity with those who identify as transgender in seeking the passage of an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes protection for transgender people. John Paul II affirms: “But the church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help guide . . . changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.” Regardless of the church’s official position concerning the origin or validity of those who identify as transgender, Roman Catholic authors such as Dorothy Day, and the Laborem Exercens Encyclical Letter presented by John Paul II clearly affirm the church bears a moral responsibility to advocate for the full protection and inclusion of transgender people in their pursuit of vocational fulfillment.
John Paul II, “Laborem Exercens” To his Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, to the Priests to the Religious Families, to the sons and daughters of the Church and to all Men and Women of good will on Human Work on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, 14 September,1981, p.1 (see: Blessing)
Day, Dorothy, The Long Loneliness (San Francisco: Harper, 1952, 1980), p. 227
John Paul II, p.3
Ibid. p. 11
by Reverend David Weekley
This paper explores an emerging theology of reconciliation, the practices that sustain it, and how this theology may contribute to creating a culture of justpeace. The paper engages class resources from The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class, and my reflections on these resources. Through my reflections a visual image formed I believe describes my approach to creating a culture of justpeace. The image is of concentric circles moving from the inner circle outward, much as a raindrop falling into a pool of water creates such expanding circles. This image is helpful because I think justpeace begins with the inner self and undulates outward embracing interpersonal relationships, and ultimately the broader community and world. Words from two favorite hymns come to mind from this image. The first hymn is “Let There be Peace on Earth (and let it begin with me).” The second is a contemporary song composed by United Methodist musician Mark Miller, Draw the Circle Wide: “Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still, let this be our song, no-one stands alone; standing side by side….draw the circle, draw the circle wide.” Over the course of our class I discerned the necessity of such movement for creating justpeace. Many of the texts and resources explored in The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class affirm this type of progression. If I do not create peace within, how can I imagine peace anywhere else? Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore addresses a similar question: “How can people engage in peacemaking if they (we) cannot imagine a peaceful world? During the term I discovered this class not only provides many resources and tools for creating justpeace, it is itself an instrument of justpeace experienced through the readings, rituals, role-plays, day retreat, class discussions, and guests. Together these resources allow me to imagine peace within myself; peace in interpersonal relationships; and ultimately peace in the world.
The scripture passage that best speaks to me of peace within oneself is found in the gospel of Matthew: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt.22: 37, 39). Through this class I came to understand the utter impossibility of loving God or anyone else if I do not love myself; and, conversely, it is impossible to love myself if I do not reach out with love to God and neighbor. I have also come to understand that conflict is unavoidable, and that facing conflict is necessary for creating justpeace. This is a significant discovery because it frees me to face conflict rather than to avoid or fear it. How we think about, and then act in relation to the conflicts we encounter in our lives either extends or hinders justpeace. Walter Wink makes the following remark in reference to practical nonviolence:
“…the ultimate goal of nonviolence is not victory over an enemy but the transformation only
love can effect. And that transformation may change us every bit as much as those whom
we oppose. Nonviolence is an aperture open to God. It is intercession in action. It appeals, as
the Quakers say, to “that of God” in the other. It invites a miracle.”
I believe the initial miracle is opening ourselves to self and God through personal examination and practices that transform and prepare us to view and encounter others through the lens of nonviolence and reconciliation. Because transformation is wholistic and is affected by and affects personal choices about our bodies, our emotions, our relationships, our spirituality, and vocations; to begin with personal practices that lead toward self-mercy, healing and compassion are critical. Though not explicitly stated as a spiritual practice I find the Life Wheel as described in Ron Kraybill’s manuscript, Restoring Those Who Heal a very helpful a self-assessment tool, and an entrance point for self-reflection. Having a visual reference for understanding where my life is unbalanced is helpful. Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), a more formal spiritual practice, is also helpful in the process of personal spiritual work. I especially find reflection on scriptures related to peace useful. Contemplative prayer is another central practice for guiding and nurturing the inner, personal circle of justpeace. Less formal but equally significant to me are the practices of walking, gardening, music, drawing and journaling. In the past when my life became too busy with work I tended to let these practices slip away, but I have learned that ignoring them negatively impacts every part of my life. Each of these practices helps me to better understand myself, and prepares me to move into the second circle of cultivating justpeace: interpersonal relationships.
Building justpeace through interpersonal relationships begins with a willingness to move beyond bearing grudges and harboring hostilities from past injury. For many people, including myself, this is not always easy. There are times when it is not easy to forgive, or to ask to be forgiven. Sometimes I would prefer to move past this circle altogether, and just focus on the larger, more abstract issue of reconciliation and nonviolence in the broader world. It is at this level of personal relationships that issues around mercy, attentive listening, appreciative inquiry, dialog, and redressing harm become evident in a very personal way, often challenging and uncovering self-righteous attitudes and opinions about others. The scripture I find most challenging within the circle of interpersonal relationship is found in the fifth chapter of Matthew: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). This text also works when I turn it around to consider if I have something against another person and harbor ill will towards others while trying to follow Jesus. As a pastor I experienced instances of church members who would faithfully attend worship while refusing to speak to other members of the congregation because of unhealed wounds and ensuing bitterness. In one congregation two women had not spoken for over twenty years, though one of them had tried unsuccessfully to repair the relationship more than once. The bitter, obvious anger of the other made me wonder how she was able to participate in worship over weeks and years without recognizing the blatant conflict between her behavior and her faith. Chapter three of, “The Journey: Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation” includes a Prayer of Confession that acknowledges:
We confess that the circle of love is repeatedly broken because of our sin of exclusion. We
create separate circles: the inner circle and the outer circle, the circle of power and the circle
of despair, the circle of privilege and the circle of privation…
we confess that the circle of love is broken whenever there is alienation, whenever there is
misunderstanding, whenever there is insensitivity or a hardening of the heart…
we confess that the circle of love is broken whenever we cannot see eye to eye, whenever
we cannot link hand in hand, whenever we cannot live heart to heart and affirm our
In exploring the circle of interpersonal relationships the tools and practices I found most helpful from The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class are listening, appreciative inquiry, dialog, imagination, the circle process, and forgiveness. Each of these practices facilitates processes that encourage movement beyond barriers built by conflict into the possibility of new, just, relationships with others. I would also add the role of imagination in restoring broken relationship. Walter Wink’s, The Powers That Be speaks of the importance of understanding those we consider our enemies as gifts because they can reveal aspects of ourselves we could not otherwise see. For example, as I am able to focus on truly listening to the other, to hear their hopes, understand their concerns and what they care about; to ask questions that invite further understanding, it becomes more possible for me to engage the “other” as a human being rather than as an abstract problem or object of my anger. As my anxiety, fear, and anger subside I am empowered to imagine more creative solutions to conflict rather than retain a defensive, self-righteous posture. Throughout the term I struggled with a particularly difficult interpersonal relationship in which I experienced the abuse of power. Over the course of the term the resources and tools offered in this class have allowed me to move toward forgiveness. While it is not possible at this time to engage the other, I am endeavoring to practice forgiveness within my heart towards this person. I can imagine this person as a gift in my life because I am growing in both self-understanding, and compassion towards others. This is a beginning. Because I am able to take this step, I can also imagine the possibility of reconciliation in the future.
Whether considering an interpersonal relationship that has broken down or preparing for a circle process that involves a group, appreciative inquiry is another essential instrument for moving toward reconciliation. I had never heard about appreciative inquiry before this class and it is one of the most valuable tools I take away from it. Appreciative inquiry enables me, and hopefully all involved, to focus on the positive; to discover, share, dream, hope, and build upon the best of all concerned. I find that appreciative inquiry, and the process of reflecting about and preparing specific questions can itself be a movement toward reconciliation when I am attempting to sort through an interpersonal conflict. Appreciative inquiry helps to sort through possible negative attitudes and expectations of which I may not be conscious, towards a focus on common hopes, dreams, and aspirations I may have either forgotten or never considered.
Moving beyond inner and interpersonal concerns to consider reconciliation, non-violence and creating justpeace on a larger scale brings to mind this scripture from the gospel of Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on the right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42). For too many years I interpreted this particular passage as advocating a passive, nonresistant stance towards abuse and injustice. When I applied it within this framework to either personal or social injustice or mistreatment, I avoided conflict and eventually felt exhausted from the sheer pressure of ignoring my suppressed anger and the hopelessness that followed. The hopelessness and ensuing depression in turn created distress about the possibility of ever creating a just and peaceful world. This in turn led to feeling frozen, stuck; unable to imagine how to move forward. This interpretation was also confusing because of what appeared to be Jesus’ disregard for social injustice and human suffering in this passage. These words sounded so contrary to everything else modeled and said in other contexts. It was impossible for me to reconcile these words with Jesus’ intolerance towards injustice and inequity in the culture in which he lived. Jesus seemed far too passive and contradictory in these verses. As a result I disregarded this passage for many years. I avoided preaching on it whenever possible because there was no way I would encourage people to justify abuse, or to continue suffering in abusive relationships. Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be helped me to rethink these verses and come to appreciate their potential significance for interpersonal relationships, nonviolent resistance, and the genuine transformation of the world in a way that reconciles, heals, and restores justice without the use of destructive violence. As Wink states, the traditional understanding of this passage as nonresistance to evil is an odd conclusion when Jesus so clearly resisted evil with his whole being. I found these words extremely helpful:
But the gospel does not teach nonresistance to evil. Jesus counsels resistance, but without
violence. The Greek word translated ‘resist’ in Matt. 5:39 is antistenai, meaning literally
to stand (stenai) against (anti). What translators have overlooked is that antistenai is
most often used in the Greek version of the Old Testament as a technical term for warfare…
Jesus is not telling us to submit to evil, but to refuse to oppose it on its own terms. We
are not to let the opponent dictate the methods of our opposition. He is urging us to tran-
scend both passivity and violence by finding a third way, one that is at once assertive
and yet nonviolent.
Understanding the passage in this light provides new possibilities for addressing conflict, violence and injustice, and includes the use of creative imagination in developing practices of nonviolent resistance, dialogue, and circle process. In Wink’s book I found his examples of nonviolent methods employed by people in very threatening circumstances compelling. The woman who was able to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault or worse by engaging in conversation and interaction with her would-be attacker was especially gripping and persuasive. Through these examples I also realized the importance of rehearsal and preparation through training in nonviolence before encountering potentially violent situations.
While the image of expanding concentric circles is useful for organizing my reflections on a theology of reconciliation, clearly all three circles are interrelated, and practices overlap. This makes complete sense within a theological framework that envisions all of creation as intertwined and interconnected through the unconditional love of God. If Jesus is the human embodiment of God, it is impossible to deny that God desires all creation to embrace and embody unconditional love as well. Seen in this light there is absolutely no justification for violence, injustice, or inequity. Unfortunately human history reveals how difficult it is for humans to actually assume the responsibility and take up the challenge to follow this mandate. Equally unfortunate is the complicity of the Christian church and other religions as well in supporting unjust and violent cultures. The concluding section of this paper offers two related and significant elements for moving beyond injustice and violence towards justpeace: appreciating God’s gift of diversity; and recognizing the shadow within, that we may refrain from projecting onto others what we cannot see or accept within ourselves.
In, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations Jonathan Sacks writes, “One belief, more than any other (to quote a phrase of Berlin’s) is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great historical ideals. It is the belief that those who do not share my faith- or my race or my ideology- do not share my humanity. At best they are second-class citizens. At worst they forfeit the sanctity of life itself.” I believe this perspective and operating frame of reference whether contained in a religious, political, or psychological system of thought is directly responsible for the violence in our world. Seeing the “other” as less than human, as a threat to my security and therefore as an enemy is the fundamental root cause of every war, crusade, pogrom and act of violence recorded throughout history. Any theology of reconciliation and justpeace must begin by refuting this belief. The dignity of every person, and the dignity of difference, is central to the teaching of Jesus. Through his practices of eating with those considered sinful or unclean, his interactions with, and welcoming of women and children into community, and reaching out to those viewed as racially or religiously inferior, Jesus modeled unconditional love and compassion. Jesus embodied justpeace. As a Christian I am called and challenged to embody justpeace through word and act as well. Certainly resources such as dialog, appreciative inquiry, and circle process are helpful tools. Employing spiritual practices are also invaluable for personal transformation towards nonviolence and reconciliation. All of these help me grow as a disciple of Jesus. However, these tools and practices remain limited if I deny or neglect to address hidden aspects of myself that I do not like.
Of all the resources we engaged in The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformation class Walter Wink’s, The Powers That Be was one of the most powerful and personally helpful. Although I had studied Jung’s concept of the shadow previously I found Wink’s use of this idea in relation to nonviolence invaluable. His question, “How can we find God in our enemies?” and the discussion of the shadow that follows expanded my understanding of this concept, and how it functions in justifying and maintaining violence in our world. Wink’s use of the passage from Matthew 7:3-5 was literally eye-opening in this context: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” I have read this passage countless times but never connected it with the total blindness that projection produces, especially in relation to those we consider the enemy. To realize that an enemy can be a gift, helping me see aspects of myself I could not see in any other way; to consider that an enemy can actually be a way to God is transformative. This concept of the role projection plays, and the important function of those we name the enemy in leading us toward wholeness and individuation, is essential for my theology of reconciliation. It also empowers me to view people with whom I struggle in a new frame.The final theological piece and practice I want to address is The Eucharist. I found the discussion in Chapter ten of, The Spirit and Art of Conflict Transformationparticularly significant in relating Holy Communion with creating a culture of justpeace. This ritual has lost its power to heal and transform for many Christians. In every church I served as pastor there were people who told me they did not attend worship when they knew Communion would be included because it took too long! I believe teaching people about the power of Holy Communion to heal, to restore, and to reconcile is an essential element for moving people, communities, and the world towards peace. Tom Porter states, “As John Wesley said, ‘The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness, but social holiness.’ Here we understand our interconnection and interdependence. We need each other. The table is a place of accountability to God, to each other, to the cosmos. It is a table of restorative justice, of healing. What better place to bring our conflicts?” If we can imagine and accept that the Communion table is the place where we are accepted, even with our imperfections, even with the log in our eye, even with our projections, then maybe we can also imagine and believe the same holds true for those we name enemy. As we become conscious of this I believe we help fulfill the hymn, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” and that we do invite a miracle.
As part of Transgender Awareness Week 2012, GLAAD.org published a guest blog post written by Deborah Weekley, wife of Reverend David Weekley. In Being the Spouse of a Trans Clergy Man, Deborah shares her thoughts, hopes and concerns about a subject that is rarely written about, yet important in our quest to educate the general public and build awareness of the presence and needs of transgender/transsexual people within society.
Click here to read Being the Spouse of a Trans Clergy Man.
About Deborah: Deborah Weekley is a mother of 5 children and grandmother of 6. Deborah is a licensed massage therapist, providing safe space for LGTBQ persons, especially transgender persons, seeking personal healing through bodywork. Her hobbies include bead art, paper art and spiritual drumming. Deborah is also the spouse of Rev. David Weekley, one of two openly transgender clergy serving the United Methodist Church. She has recently contributed to a forthcoming book: Hung Jury: Testimonies of Genital Surgery by Transsexual Men, edited by Trystan Cotten, which explores the relationships between transgender men and their partners.
Deborah just found this on GLAAD’s website. Very cool!
This week is Transgender Awareness Week and to mark the occasion, GLAAD’s Religion, Faith, and Values Program wants to highlight the achievements of a few trans faith leaders who have helped make their traditions more open and welcoming spaces for all people. [read full post]